Project Management Institute

Internet Project Kosovo


by Kay M. Fleischer, PMP

FOR THOSE OF US who live and work in secure, predicable environments, it is hard to imagine the sheer destruction, dislocation, and disorientation that follow a war; up is down, down is up. Everything that one took for granted is gone.

How does one manage a project, particularly a technology project, in this environment? By providing a service that is needed and wanted; by having a clearly defined scope; and by improvising, with grace, humor, and maximum flexibility.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) created Internet Project Kosovo to address the urgent communication needs of the international humanitarian community in Kosovo and to provide free Internet access to local educational, media, health, and community organizations. From the outset, the intent was to create a local revenue-generating Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that would inherit the project and continue to provide free connections to Kosovar civil society well into the future.

Background and Environment

Kosovo, a majority-Albanian province in southern Serbia, was an autonomous region within the former Yugoslavia. In 1989, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic altered the status of the region by revoking Kosovo's autonomy and bringing it under the direct control of Belgrade, the Serbian capital.

Kay M. Fleischer, PMP, has extensive experience in business processes, process reengineering, privatization, strategic planning, and project management and implementation services related to information technology, telecommunications, and Internet access. In addition to her consulting work with private and public sector entities in Chicago, Ill., USA, she has spent six years living and working in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Kosovo, Yugoslavia. She has also served four times as an electoral supervisor; three times in Bosnia and Herzegovina and once in Kosovo. She is employed by Xerox Connect as a principal in the Project Management Office.

During 1998 conflict between Serbian military and police forces and Kosovar Albanian forces resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 Kosovar Albanians and forced thousands of others from their homes. In October 1998 a cease-fire was agreed to and the Kosovo Verification Mission was implemented under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE).

However, violence flared again at the beginning of 1999, following a number of acts of provocation on both sides. Renewed international efforts culminated in negotiations held in Rambouillet (near Paris, France), negotiations that were brought to an end on 19 March 1999 with the refusal of the Yugoslav delegation to sign the proposed peace agreement.

Immediately after the failure of the peace agreement, Serbian military and police forces escalated their operations against the ethnic Albanians. Kosovo faced a severe crisis as nearly 1 million people fled the region, overwhelming humanitarian and relief efforts on the Albanian and Macedonian borders.

On 24 March, NATO forces began air operations over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. A 77-day air campaign ended on 10 June. By 20 June all Serb forces had left Kosovo and security matters in the province had passed into the hands of KFOR, a NATOled international force responsible for establishing security.

Almost as soon as NATO‘s bombing campaign ended, hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees poured over the reopened borders back into Kosovo. The refugees found destruction everywhere: roads mined, bridges destroyed, houses bombed and burned, and little electricity or water. Radio and television stations were off the air; all telecommunication facilities were devastated.

The already shattered infrastructure was further strained by the presence of representatives of some 300 relief organizations as well as KFOR and the United Nations. The situation worsened as autumn turned to winter and what remained of the aging infrastructure collapsed, leaving most of Kosovo cold and dark.

It was in this environment, with the urgent humanitarian communications requirements, that the Internet Project Kosovo was created.

The Project—A Mission of Mercy

On 14 August 1999 IRC and a representative of United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) signed an agreement to allow the Internet project to provide Internet access to Kosovo. The agreement permitted the implementation of a satellite and wireless microwave network. KFOR allocated the frequencies.

Initially, the U.N. Memorandum of Understanding limited the paying customers to international humanitarian organizations. The connected organizations each made a $6,000 contribution for 64k connections or $12,000 for 128k connections. These contributions covered the cost of installation, including the use of microwave antenna and router, Internet connection through 1 March 2000, and service support. By requesting a contribution double the cost of equipment from the international organizations, the project was able to provide free service to local institutions.

The main objective of the project was to connect the international relief communities. Additional goals included helping to rebuild civil society by providing free connections to educational facilities (University of Prishtina and secondary schools); shared resource centers (the OSCE-sponsored Political Party Service Center); cultural institutions (National Theater, National Library); and public institutions such as government offices and hospitals.

Why Wireless? A wireless Internet access link was proposed for Kosovo as a viable means of communication, because NATO bombing had destroyed the telecommunications infrastructure and most of the power grids in Kosovo. The mobile phone system run by MOBTEL, a Yugoslav company, was inadequate for the increased phone service demand, so was frequently unavailable.

Prewar Internet subscribers could log onto the Internet via one of the providers in Serbia (EUNET or the PTT), but this required a functioning phone line, and few remained. Most international organizations relied upon costly satellite phones for their communication needs.

How It Works. Wireless technology uses radio frequencies to send and transmit data between PCs or other network devices without twisted pair wire, coaxial cable, or fiber optics. Wireless communicates via spread spectrum radio waves, which are less susceptible to radio noise and interference, are therefore ideal for data communications. However, it requires a physical line of sight; an antenna must be able to “see” the repeater.

Worldwide Aid for Kosovo

The following list includes some of the international organizations connected to the Kosovo relief effort.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

International Organization for Migration

International Rescue Committee

Adventist Development and Relief Agency

U.K. Department for International Development

World Health Organization


World Food Program Mercy Corps

United Nations Mission in Kosovo


United Nations Development Program

Doctors of the World - USA

World Vision

Amnesty International

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

image Satellite connection. InterPacket Group Inc. donated the satellite dish and one year of free satellite time to the project. The servers are connected to the U.S. Internet backbone via a 3.8-meter satellite dish. The signal goes from Prishtina to New Jersey via a PanAm satellite.

image Microwave equipment. MikroTik of Latvia supplied the microwave routers, antennas, and bridges. MicroTik donated the equipment for setting up the network backbone. Aironet of Ohio manufactures the bridges and radio cards.

image Repeater sites. The project has two repeater antennas. The main repeater is on the roof of the Rilindja building (the tallest in Prishtina).

Project Challenges. The Internet project became operational on 21 September 1999. Between 14 August and 21 September, whatever could go wrong, did.


Police HQ in Prishtina, right next to the IPKO office, it was destroyed by NATO bombing.

Of the many challenges, probably the greatest was coping with the uncertain, chaotic atmosphere. On one level, absolutely everything was possible, and on another, everything was extraordinarily difficult—from communications to electricity to procurement to just plain living.

KFOR, the NATO-led international force, was responsible for establishing security. UNMIK was responsible for reestablishing a civilian government, and over 300 international governmental and nongovernmental organizations (IGO/NGOs) were providing disaster relief and assisting in reconstruction. Frequently, due to staff and troop rotation schedules, there was little communication or coordination among the various groups. Organizations clashed with one another more than they cooperated.

One of the major project challenges was electrical power. The NATO bombing campaign destroyed the electrical grids and the aging power plant was suffering from lack of maintenance, spare parts, fuel, and the staff to operate it.

Throughout autumn, the Prishtina power plant continued to produce electricity, but at a very uneven rate. There were frequent brownouts and power fluctuations, resulting in damaged and burned out equipment. After the BritFor 26th Armoured Engineer Squadron rewired the office, the project purchased a generator with an automatic switch that powered the server room, the satellite dish, and the RTF.

In late December the aging power plant collapsed, leaving Prishtina in the cold and dark. The project team powered the computers and space heaters by running extension cords from the main office to the server room; meanwhile the team worked by candlelight. The lack of electricity also affected the repeater sites; technicians took turns carrying deep cycle batteries up 17 flights of stairs—in the dark—to keep the repeaters powered.

Lessons Learned

Project management is a methodology for managing project activities, controlling risks, and capturing opportunities. However, constraints and common sense dictate that the project management techniques employed be appropriate for each project. Flexibility and the ability to improvise can be critical to a project's success.

A rapidly changing, dynamic environment requires flexibility. In these chaotic conditions, it was easy to get caught up in issues and problems that affected the project but were outside of the project manager's control.

The Internet project made me step back and reassess how I manage projects. It is very easy to adopt a method of managing without stopping to think, “Why am I doing this?” “Are these steps necessary or appropriate for this project?” “Is there another way it could or should be done?” For example, does this project require a detailed Gantt chart and copies disseminated to the entire team? The answer is “no” if you cannot print or copy. A bare-bones schedule on a whiteboard, updated as necessary, will do.

To maintain focus, a concise scope and a schedule consisting of milestones, without dates, were the main project tools. The scope, written on a whiteboard, was posted as a constant reminder of “this is what we are trying to do.” The schedule was basically a task list without dates—anything else would drive you crazy. We used milestones for tracking because of the need for clear project markers, but dates were essentially meaningless; everything took an inordinate amount of time and you never knew what might happen that would affect the schedule. For example, if a staff member managed to get the happy combination of water, water pressure, and electricity at the same time, the rare opportunity to bathe and do laundry took precedence over the project.

“Keep it simple” is the greatest lesson learned from this project. Almost everything is doable, if you do not make it too complicated and if you remain focused on the core project goals. However, you can simplify effectively only when you are intimately acquainted with all parts of a process or problem. Only then can you discriminate between what is essential and what is not.

IN ANY SITUATION, coordination of all of the components of a project can be difficult. Most major relief and reconstruction projects depend upon multiple donors to complete. No one donor is able to provide all the necessary components. Therefore, it is incumbent upon everyone involved to ensure that all the resources offered be effectively and efficiently coordinated. Project management supplies a process that helps coordinate these efforts.

The Internet Project Kosovo was a success. By 1 March 2000, when the project was handed over to a local NGO, approximately 80 international aid organizations, the hospital, the university, and the independent media had been connected. With the main project goal accomplished, the local team is now able to concentrate on the secondary goal of helping to rebuild the civil society. ■

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.

PM Network April 2001



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