Project Management Institute

Improving quality of life in Colombia through project management



The purpose of this paper is to describe how project management has been introduced and is developing in an organization in Colombia, South America, and is being applied to various humanitarian projects focused on improving the quality of life of a rural and urban population impacted by 60 years of internal conflict.

This paper not only outlines the application and maturation of project management in an organization where principles had yet to be introduced, but it also sheds light on how a small PMI chapter in South Dakota is beginning to think differently about expanding membership beyond the footprint that it has known for the past 10 years. Through the development of this international connection in project management, members are beginning to see project management in a new light and will soon be developing strategies for growth throughout the state of South Dakota. Global diversity is challenging this small chapter to – “Think globally, to expand locally.”


Understanding the influential factors of an organization will have a significant impact on a project management team through the life cycle of a project. This is a first lesson in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition and is the cornerstone to the success of project management in an organization. This principle can easily be lost and can derail the best intentions of even the highest visible project. It would serve the project manager well to return to these roots from time to time in order to be reminded of how the culture, style, and structure of a business in any industry affects the outcome of a project. The external factors that affect a project can extend well beyond an organization when the outcome of a project is intended to have a direct impact on the lives of people who are in need of humanitarian support in order to improve their quality of life.

The impact that a project has on the quality of life and the wellbeing of a group of people is the basis of this paper. Project management was discovered to be alive and at work in a not-for-profit organization in Colombia; however, the disciplines of project management were not known, resulting in projects that lacked clear outcomes and seemed to have a tendency to perpetuate. The environment was right to bring forth guiding principles, but the approach needed to be such that knowledge could be shared and effectively applied to the strategies of the organization, the Iglesia Evangelica Luterana De Colombia (IELCO) or The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia in South America. IELCO is the Lutheran Church national headquarters, serving Lutheran churches and parochial schools across Colombia for over 50 years.


The current situation in Colombia is complex and long-standing. While many other Latin American countries have and continue to deal with social and armed conflicts, those conflicts have clear lines of dichotomy between government and a single opposing force, whereas the conflict in Colombia is highly fractured among no less than three separatist groups excluding the government. Colombia has experienced a multitude of social, economic, and religious tensions that have divided a rural and urban population across this entire mega-geographical and eco-diverse country. As a result, over a half a million people have died and over 2 million have been displaced from the homes and land which they have known for generations. Since the late 1940s, IELCO has made it its mission to reach out to these multi-generational displaced people, and strive to meet their needs for achieving a better quality of life and wellbeing.

Under the Mission Effectiveness System and Project Outreach, the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, the largest not-for-profit long-term healthcare organization in the United States, has shared a partnership and a common mission with IELCO for the past 7 years. In 2012, IELCO developed a strategic plan outlining multiple programs and projects. These programs and projects consist of existing and new initiatives that are designed to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of many Colombians that face an array of socio-economic factors. The following strategies were developed to help guide the mission of the organization with goals to achieve more holisitc outcomes under a desarrollo sostenible (sustainable development) umbrella:

  • Inglesia Comprometida (Church Obligation)
  • Evangelizadora y Discipuladora (Evangelism and Discipleship)
  • Inglesia Del Testimonio, La Comunonio y El Servicio (Testimony, Communion, and Service for the Church)
  • Iglesia Defensora y Promotora De La Justicia y La Paz (Defense and Promotion of Justice and Peace for the Church)
  • Iglesia Defensora De La Creacion (Defense of the Creation for the Church).

Project Management Opportunity

With the wide range of projects launched to deliver on the goals of the strategies and a limited resource of project coordinators, IELCO is challenged to plan, execute, and monitor the deployment of projects, each varying in service type and geographical location. The projects range from environment, justice and peace, sociology, and adult and child education and scholarships. In spite of the tireless dedication of the IELCO staff, projects are challenged to execute and deliver under the many constraints. In early 2013, it became apparent to the IELCO staff that formal training and deployment of the principles, tools, and techniques of project management would strongly benefit the efficiencies and outcomes of IELCO projects as they sought to operate under the new strategies.

Through the partnership of the society and IELCO, a commitment was made to develop and conduct a formal project management consulting and training program. This program, developed from the Spanish version of the PMBOK® Guide, focused on the project management principles in the areas of the phases of project management, key performance indicators, work breakdown structures, and cost management. Through the efforts of a society project management consultant, a training curriculum was developed months in advance of the on-site training session scheduled for July 2013 in Bogota, Colombia. In addition, one-on-one interviews were conducted over the course of a week following the training with the IELCO project coordinators.

Project Management Training

A two-day training session was conducted in July 2013, with 20 members of the IELCO staff, on the principles of project management, some of the attendees having direct responsibility as project coordinators and other attendees being operational staff. The objective of the training was to provide the IELCO staff with a better understanding of the essential components of initiating, planning, executing, and controlling a project, in order that improvements can be made in the budgeting and cost controls of a project so as to exercise more efficient stewardship in the delivery of projects for the consumers or end users in and around the Lutheran churches of Colombia. The workshop training outlined principles directly cited from the Spanish version of the PMBOK® Guide:

  • Phases of project management
    • Initiating Process Group – Grupo del Proceso de Iniciaion
    • Planning Process Group – Grupo del Proceso de Planificacion
    • Executing Process Group – Grupo del Proceso de Ejecion
    • Monitoring and Controlling Process Group – Grupo del Proceso de Seguimiento y Control
    • Closing Process Group – Grupo del Proceso de Cierre
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs) – Indicador clave de Rendimiento
    • Specific – Especifico
    • Measurable – Medir
    • Logical – Lograr
    • Relevant – Relevante/Pertinente
    • Time Bound - Tiempo
  • Work breakdown structure (WBS) – Estructura Desglose Tabajo
  • Cost Management; Estimation – Estimacion por Tres Valores
    • Most Likely – Mas Probable (Cm); del realista scenario
    • Optimistic – Optimista (Co); del major scenario
    • Pessimistic – Pesimista (Cp); del peor scenario
      • Ce = (Co+4Cm+Cp)/6

The training session took place in the form of a workshop, with breakout sessions following each segment of the formal class training. Teams of five members each worked through scenarios relative to their routine project work, then a lead person chosen by each team presented on their discovery, allowing the other teams to critique and ask questions. This proved to be one of the most valuable aspects of the workshop, as it enabled the content to become honed further to their daily project work.

The project coordinators were also exposed to information about PMI Global, the scope of project management worldwide and to the active PMI chapter in Bogota; PMI Capitulo Colombia, with its over 2500 members. This was highly well received by the project coordinators, many of whom were enthusiastic about seeking membership.

Given the dynamics of financial resources from a diverse set of partners, additional emphasis was placed on project coordinators having extensive training in the Knowledge Area of Cost Management. In discussions with the Director of IELCO prior to the start and in preparation for the training, it became evident that this extensive training in this area would benefit the coordinators in order that they might be more cognizant to and respond sooner to the fluctuations in funding that occurs from one year to the next. In order to better manage the reconciliation process, the project coordinators adopted a method of developing a budget within parameters for prioritizing the activities through the following thresholds:

  • Critical Activities – those activities in the project plan that are core to the program objectives. The total cost associated with these activities should be viewed as the baseline, and any shortfalls in funding resources to this level would be viewed as a jeopardy to the program
  • Essential Activities – those activities in the project plan that are necessary in order to bring the program beyond the initial objectives and to a new level of maturity
  • Desirable Activities – those activities in the project plan that will enable the program to advance to new levels of sustainability; however, they are not viewed as required and would not jeopardize project outcomes in the short term. They may, however impede the program’s ability to bring forth self-sustaining objectives

A specific following training session was conducted in November of 2013, to refine the project plans and budgets for 2014. The result of developing the project coordinators in Cost Management has enabled them to be more effective in their Plan Operativo Anual (POA) or annual project—operations plans. The POAs are the primary reports for the various funding sources, and the development of the staff in project management has been well received by the partners and constituents of IELCO.

Project Management Consulting

Following the two-day project management training/workshop, one-on-one consulting work began with each of the project coordinators, specific to the projects in their area of accountability and expertise. The project coordinators were interviewed on the activites of each project and the various methods of measuring, controlling, monitoring, and reporting of each project. The following is a summary of each project:

Asivida (Love Gives Life-Dignified Life)

The project coordinator for ASIVIDA is Ros Mary Rincon. Ros is a physiology coordinator and has been working to address the social aspects of individuals living with the HIV disease. ASIVIDA is a program that has been in place for the past 10 years, and is focused on addressing the legal and individual rights of victims of the HIV disease. In partnership with LEGASIA (Walking Together), ASIVIDA assists those with HIV to educate and defend them in their rights to medical care. Every Saturday, approximately 25 people with HIV meet at First Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bogota to learn about their legal rights, and to understand the process for filing claims through the legal system.

The primary outcome measures focus on success stories or testimonies, in addition to growth in participation and registration in the training programs. However these outcome measurements did not have any specific quantifiable goals that are time-bound or end-date goals for achieving certain outcomes for success. Following the training and consulting, the project coordinator was able to develop stronger metrics and timelines in a project plan. As a United Nations receipient of funding, education of the project manager in developing key performance indicators was crucial to achieving continued sustainability.

Ecovida (Ecological Life)

The project coordinator for ECOVIDA is Edgar Calderon. Edgar works with four volunteer resources in El Cocuy, San Luis, and Cancinadi regions of Colombia. The overall objective of ECOVIDA is to educate the local residents in developing clean water sources, re-forestation in order to prevent landslides, and planting gardens in order to improve self-sustainability. ECOVIDA is a four-step process of: 1) developing awareness to environmental issues (landslides, clean water, etc.); 2) on-site visits to assess water quality, spacing for gardening, type of trees and produce to grow, and gain commitment to advancing the program through the signing of an agreement; 3) providing seeds for produce and seedlings for trees; and 4) training in the use of natural fertilization and pest-control and harvesting.

Measureable outcomes for ECOVIDA are specific and time-bound, albeit long range. Over a three-year project plan beginning in 2012, the goal is to achieve the development of 25 forests and 75 gardens in El Cocuy. Three of the four-step process for this goal has been completed, and the second half of the three-year plan will be to conduct follow up sessions and gather success stories. While commerce and economics are not measureable outcomes for ECOVIDA, it’s notable that El Cocuy has achieved sustainability in the growing and selling of seeds and seedlings, and is the main source for other locations of the ECOVIDA program. The training has been beneficial to developing future project plans for other communities.

Salud Integral (Social Awareness/Prevention)

The program coordinator for Salud Integral is Maria Mercedes Cardenas. Maria oversees this program that is designed to achieve five results: 1) education on sexual behavior; 2) rights of the abuse and gender rights; 3) prevention of abortion; 4) family planning and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV; and 5) rights through awareness.

The Plan Operativo Anual (POA) was reviewed and the Indicadores de Efecto (Indicators of Effect), were found to have a number of quantifiable measurable outcomes of the program (e.g. 50% of personas involucradas [personnel involved in leadership]). Other indicators were less than specific (e.g. drop-out rates of the training process). It was recommended to be more specific in terms of the measurable outcomes, following the quality characteristics of key performance indicators. It was also recommended that methods be established to ensure that each indicator is measurable by utilizing techniques such as participant tracking and a Likert (psychometric) Scale for evaluations.

Centro de Atencion Integral La Vid Verdadera (True Vine)

Under the project coordination of Miledys Guevara, True Vine is a project in its eleventh year of operation under IELCO. True Vine is serving the needs of displaced single mothers and their children, many of which are challenged with various disabilities such as being hearing-impaired, ADT, and other cognitive disorders. Programs focus on two main aspects of the mothers and their children in need are: 1) providing pre-school education to 22 children ranging from 2–5 years of age through the use of government licensed teachers and a certified breakfast and lunch program. Children are supervised and on-site from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., while mothers are working; and 2) on Saturdays, the mothers return to True Vine, where they receive adult education in computer skills such as Word, Power-Point and the internet, and also training in arts and crafts (sandals, handbags, etc.), where items are distributed through street-vending sales. In addition and from the position of the Good Samaritan Society project outreach, it is notable that one of the successes of True Vine has been in the development and deployment of a music program that targets young adults at risk, to bring them into the environment of learning to play musical instruments. This program has led to success stories such as Andreas, of San Pablo Lutheran Church who was gifted with music instruments funded by Good Samaritan Society; he along with other young once at risk on the streets, are now leading the music worship team of San Pablo. It is the vision of True Vine to establish a Lutheran School of Music.

Miledys has developed and maintains a Plan Operativo Anual (POA), that outlines four main objectives and results that have progressively elevated the position of the mothers and their children over the past three years. Objectives have incrementally progressed from positioning a change in life and social environment (awareness) in 2011, training and increased knowledge (training) in 2012, to actions in leadership and buy/sell of products and trade (trade) in 2013. In support of these and other objectives of True Vine, there are a number of key performance indicators that are measureable in some aspects, however with some slight improvement in other aspects and with the use of good metrics, can be greatly enhanced.

Adulto Mayor – Soacha y Tunja (Adult Education)

As the project coordinator for the senior population of the Soacha and Tunja communities, Magda Castro serves the needs of the individuals through a range of services such as adult literacy, nutrition and daily meals, biblical knowledge and various social activities including dancing and crafts. Through the financial support of the Society, IELCO is able to provide for the maintenance and operations of the senior center in Soacha that serves as a location to support the above mentioned services and activities. By April of 2013, the senior center in Soacha began a process of monitoring the health status of the individuals participating in the services and activities of the center, through the measuring and recording of blood pressure and weight. These weights and vitals measurements have been taken and documented each month by a nurse in training; Rosa Yamile Duarte.

Since the early part of 2013, there are been a number of conversations between the Society and IELCO regarding the opportunity for expanding the senior center in Soacha. However there has not been a plan developed that will outline how the center will be expanded (purchase of an adjoining building or building a second level addition), nor has it been defined how the expansion center will be used in serving the seniors and/or general community of Soacha. Developing a formal project plan will be essential to defining the opportunity for expanding services in Soacha and many of the project management principles that were taught to the staff at IELCO can be used in the process for understanding how an expansion of the senior center in Soacha will be used. A recommended project for a health and wellbeing assessment was accepted, and a draft outline of a work breakdown structure was initiated. This health and wellbeing assessment would help in determining the needs of the seniors in Soacha and to determine if there is viability for serving this community in the area of medical services.

With the close support of the society’s mission in project outreach within this displaced and impoverished community, an assembly of make-shift dwellings and shanties situated along the Andes hillsides south of Bogota, known as Cuidad de Bolivar, IELCO engaged in the adoption of the principles of project management in the health and wellbing assessment. The scope of the assessment was intended to launch a process of gathering information about a small group of elderly displaced men and women, in order to gain an understanding of the health and wellbeing needs of individuals between the ages of 60 and 85. Through the project management training and consulting, the following work breakdown structure was developed:

  • Health screening assessment tool
    • Research assessment content
      • Demographic
      • Health conditions
      • Environmental conditions
      • Determine baseline content
        • img   blood pressure
        • img   heart rate
        • img   temperature
        • img   weight
        • img   blood oxygen
    • Develop assessment tool
      • Determine assessment frequency
        • img   Duration
    • Review/approve assessment tool
    • Finalize assessment tool
  • Medical equipment
    • Assess current equipment
    • Procure new equipment
      • blood pressure
      • stethoscope
      • scale
      • oximeter
  • Evaluators
    • Identify evaluators
    • Train evaluators
    • Develop communication
      • participants
      • families/community
  • Participants
    • Identify participants
    • Communicate to participants
    • Conduct initial questionnaire
    • Conduct assessment
  • Post-Assessment
    • Compile data
      • age
      • gender
      • origin
    • Analyze data
      • Determine risk factors
      • Develop summary report
      • Present report

The result of the WBS was the development of a health assessment tool that was launched in the spring of 2014. The tool measures clinical outcomes of blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen, glucose, and body temp. In addition to the vital measures, an assessment of individual pain levels of various parts of the anatomy and other qualitative assessments of nutrition, water quality, sleep quality, etc. The ongoing assessment throughout the second half of 2014 will help to ascertain the areas of focus for growth and development of the senior center in Soacha. Initial data has revealed that better services are needed for nutrition and physical therapy. The data, when the study is complete, will help to better define the health and wellbeing of this aging and impoverished population, and will inform grant proposals for expaning services in this region.

Holistic Approach of IELCO through Project Management

The analysis of the select projects suggests that the IELCO projects are highly targeted and very specific to needs within geographically widespread set communities, represented in the footprint of the Lutheran church of Colombia. While each project brings forth a strong purpose and outcome to a specific need within a specific group of a community, the sum total of the concentrated outcomes may not necessarily be enough to change the overall effect of a community, leading to a desirable transformation in the quality of life and wellbeing of the community as a whole. When a community to be analyzed from a cause-effect perspective (i.e., a community of displaced individuals), is looked at as the “effect” or their current state, and the various “causes” are analyzed to the root level, having projects that attempt to solve specific causes, without a concerted effort and outcome on all “causes,” the overall “effect” remains unchanged.

To expound upon this point, Figure 1 represents a community in a state of continued displacement as the overall “effect,” and the four main example “causes” as the factors that negatively influence the continued or ongoing effect—each “cause” with a set of deeper or more rooted issues that contribute the main negative cause. While many of the IELCO projects address some of the rooted issues that add up to a main cause, without a concerted or holistic approach to all main causes and their respective rooted issues, the overall effect of continued displacement remains unchanged.

In order to achieve a more holistic approach to the causes and overall effect of a displaced community, it is the recommendation from this analysis to explore the possibility of piloting the coordination of multiple projects by one project coordinator within one community to design, and to develop and deploy a series of projects that improve on all causes in a simultaneous and coordinated manner. This type of approach to project management would help to mature IELCO in achieving their overall strategies.

Cause & Effect Diagram

Cause & Effect Diagram – Exhibit 1


The partnership between the society and IELCO has been enhanced further through the work of developing together in the principles of project management. Dialogue has also been established with the UNOPS project management office, as there are several projects in locations that IELCO is serving with similar goals and outcomes. As IELCO develops their skills in project management, they may be in a stronger position to acquire new and sustain existing funding resources by means of more clearly articulating projects through their lifecycles.

For the PMI Chapter in South Dakota, the connection of its members to this global sustainability effort in project management has enabled them to see ways in which project management can be developed beyond its local corridor. This changing perspective by focusing globally enables a chapter to think differently about PMI, thus enable the members to reach out across other communities in the state, to begin the process of transforming into a state-wide chapter.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2014, James Reich
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA



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