The Greater Good—Lessons from Governments and NGOs

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™ with PMI, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career. For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified™ with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music or PMI.org/podcast.

Stephen W. Maye

Hello, I'm Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™ with PMI. I'm here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and in this episode we're talking about how governments and NGOs can run projects that will make a bigger impact in the world. You know, there are so many different types of needs that governments and NGOs have to address—economic development, healthcare, affordable housing. But the funding never quite matches the need. There’s always more to be done.

Tegan Jones

That’s so true. And it leaves organizations with really two options. You can either raise more money or try to cut costs. And obviously, project management can help organizations be more efficient, save some money, but there’s only so far you can go down that path. You can’t save your way to zero. So to do more work, you eventually are going to need more money.

But trust is a huge factor that influences fundraising—whether that means influencing people to make bigger donations or getting people to accept a higher tax rate. And we’re seeing a major deficit in trust right now. 

Stephen W. Maye

Trust in government is definitely lower than it’s been in the recent past. We’ve seen a lot of populist platforms gaining steam and people are showing a strong preference for elected officials that seem like outsiders. 

Tegan Jones

Edelman does a survey every year that actually measures this type of public sentiment. It's called the Trust Barometer. And the 2018 report found that government is distrusted—meaning less than 50 percent of a population trusts the government—in 21 of 28 of the countries that they surveyed. And overall, the global trust rate for government is just 43 percent.

Stephen W. Maye

I don’t care what your politics are, that is not good. It makes it really hard to get anything done. But I assume that figure would be higher when you’re talking about NGOs.

Tegan Jones

It is higher. But, it’s still not exactly where it needs to be, especially considering that these organizations are generally funded by donors. Edelman says only 53 percent of people around the world trust NGOs, and this figure is down from 64 percent in 2014. 

Stephen W. Maye

It makes you wonder what these organizations have to do to change course. I mean, is the problem that they aren’t delivering the results people are expecting? Or is it more about communicating the progress and talking more openly about how decisions are made? I don’t know. I’m not sure what the challenge here is.

I talked about this with our featured guest, Lori Tanner, who we’ll hear from a little later in this episode. Lori is the senior director for the IT project management office and services for the American Red Cross in D.C. And she shared some thoughts on how project management can help NGOs increase transparency and build some of that trust that’s lacking with external stakeholders.

Tegan Jones

Yeah, having that type of structure in place really helps create that accountability that people want to see if they’re going to be giving you their money.

At Nesta, a UK-based NGO that calls itself an “innovation foundation,” they really focus on tracking and forecasting to make sure that they’re providing the type of information that they need to keep stakeholders on board. Danny Scott-Rockel, who’s a senior program manager for Nesta, will talk about what that looks like for him and his work in just a few minutes.

Stephen W. Maye

But first let’s get a government perspective. I’m interested to hear from Riaan Husselmann, who works for the New South Wales Electoral Commission in Australia. What did you guys talk about?

Tegan Jones

He really focused on what it takes to make sure that elections are being run fairly, which is really a huge factor that influences whether people trust their government—whether they even see it as legitimate in the first place.

Stephen W. Maye

Well, that’s definitely something you have to get right. Let’s hear what he has to say.

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Tegan Jones

Free and open elections are the foundation of democracy. But it takes a lot of legwork to make sure every vote counts. From training temporary staff to validating results, the organizations responsible for running elections have their work cut out for them.In Australia’s most populous state, these tasks fall to the New South Wales Electoral Commission, where Riaan Husselmann serves as the director of enterprise portfolio management.

Riaan Husselmann

You need to understand who is eligible to vote. There are systems—IT systems and business processes—that exist that enable people to go and register to vote, then tally up and count and all the results, and then put it into a system, and then we have to publish that, those set of results. There are, just for the program we are running now, we would scale up from 250 people to 27,000. 

Tegan Jones

That doesn’t come cheap. But with government budgets under constant scrutiny, project teams have to keep a close eye on costs.

Riaan Husselmann

We have funding from various government agencies or governments. And that money essentially comes from the public. We have an obligation to deliver on the commitments that have been made to them and spend that money wisely and responsibly. 

Tegan Jones

Making smart, effective project investments requires a culture of accountability that starts at the top. 

Riaan Husselmann

We set the expectation of what a sponsor does on a day-to-day basis, and ultimately that they're responsible—or accountable, should I say—for delivering the business cases that they sign up to. Where they are unable to do that, they need to provide a Plan B as to how they're going to achieve it.

Tegan Jones

But the project management office doesn’t expect sponsors to go it alone. Proactive portfolio management helps them identify where projects could go off the rails.

Riaan Husselmann

All projects need to attend the portfolio steering committee on a quarterly basis, where they present the ongoing achievability of their projects and specifically the business cases. We look at previous performance, and we look at expected future performance and whether the ongoing plan is still achievable.

Tegan Jones

By keeping teams on task, the PMO does more than just drive efficiency. It builds public trust and encourages people to come out and vote. 

And the more people participate, the better the political system works.

Riaan Husselmann

Ultimately it's all to deliver democracy, okay? We put the systems out there, all the business processes, to deliver democracy.

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Stephen W. Maye

Delivering democracy. Wow, that is no small feat. But he made a great point that even this type of incredibly lofty goal depends on the same type of systems and processes you’d use to run any IT project. It’s all about integration, coordination and accountability.

Tegan Jones

Right, and he was talking about the type of accountability that gets executive sponsors to really take ownership of a project and see it through to a successful completion. And it’s those results, for him, that really get those external stakeholders on board. But our next guest, Danny Scott-Rockel from Nesta, talks about how clear project reporting can be a great tool for improving relationships with stakeholders and donors, in and of itself. 

Stephen W. Maye

Especially if you call yourself an innovation foundation, you have to expect that some of your projects will potentially miss the mark or start to head in an unexpected direction. That’s just what happens when you innovate. So I’ll be interested to hear how he keeps the lines of communication open when things go sideways. Let’s have a listen.

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Danny Scott-Rockel

Hello, it’s Danny Scott-Rockel here. I’m at Nesta in London. I’m working on major programs, an innovation foundation, and we try to basically leverage our capability for creating societal benefit.

NGOs are typically funded via grants from government or international innovation centers and large foundations who want to drive innovation and social benefit. Although their drivers are not normally profit or commercial return to stakeholders or shareholders, they still need to deliver value. They therefore need to have good resource and cost-planning tools inside a project management culture or framework, with cost control mechanisms for the programs that they are running, along with strong reporting and governance mechanisms.

For example, a large department of the innovation foundation that I’m working at currently wants to increase its impact significantly over the next two years and make sure that the staff are as productive and as efficient as possible in achieving their impact goals. So we have spent a lot of effort over the last few months, putting in place better finance, resource, and utilization forecasting tracking tools, so that they can control the spend and resource allocations better and get a much better forecast of what they need to achieve their targets. This transparency progress against the plan drives accountability and ownership as an inherent part of the monitoring and reporting process. Basically, if you know what’s going on in detail, you know what you need to do next.

When NGOs are providing services and innovation, conditions change and objectives, budgets and schedules need adjustment to suit. Situations like major political, weather or economic changes may render the original plans unachievable or inadequate. And even minor variations in conditions, such as a small change in exchange rates or productivity, or a team member leaving, needs to be dealt with to keep the program on track. Having a well-defined set of change control procedures gives you the tools to react effectively and in a timely manner to change when needed.

The way to regain and more importantly avoid losing public trust is to be transparent about what you’re achieving and what you aren’t. Things will always go wrong. But how you react and what you say makes all the difference.

Project management controls and mechanism in a framework empower you to manage your staff, your resources, your objectives, and your reporting to your stakeholders in an effective and productive manner. It’s imperative you know what is happening, what you need to do, and have a plan for successful delivery. And most importantly, leverage the impact you are trying to achieve.

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Stephen W. Maye

What Danny said there at the end is really great advice for life in general. Things will go wrong, and it’s about how you deal with that. Do you try to cover it up and act like everything is fine, or do you get out ahead of the issue and minimize the damage? How you respond will really impact whether others trust you or not.

Tegan Jones

In a lot of ways it’s just basic risk management. And if you pair that with good governance then you can do a lot to maintain stakeholder support—even if your project starts to go off the rails.

Stephen W. Maye

Lori Tanner shared a bit about what that looks like on the projects she runs for the American Red Cross. She’s the senior director for the IT project management office and services, and that has given her an interesting perspective on how running successful projects behind the scenes—so upgrading IT systems or communications infrastructure—ultimately helps the Red Cross make a bigger impact in the wider world.

Tegan Jones

The Red Cross does so much work in so many areas—I’m sure they couldn’t do it without the work of people like Lori and her team. So, let’s hear how she makes it happen.

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Stephen W. Maye

Lori, you’ve made a significant contribution to the NGO space, specifically the humanitarian space, primarily in disaster response. You have spent, I believe, 15 years with the American Red Cross. What are some of the big picture trends that you’re seeing today that are impacting how NGOs run projects?

Lori Tanner

So the things that we’re experiencing today or focusing on today are probably things that have always been areas to consider for a PMO but now they’re getting more focused. So things like ensuring that what you’re doing is delivering business value, looking for ways to cut costs, doing more with less, and from a technology perspective, which is where my work has been—it’s within the IT organization—we’re looking at more technology solutions that are hosted and partnering more with vendors.

Stephen W. Maye

Give me an example of how your work’s been influenced by trying to address not only these individual trends, but how these trends are coming together.

Lori Tanner

Well, one big area is a need and an importance to have greater transparency. What are we working on? Who’s working on it? How much is it costing? Is it on track? Does it need to be reevaluated? These are things that we need to look at not just with a small group, but the executives need more visibility into that—quickly, regularly, and it’s not left to individual project teams to sort of work these things out.

There’s more need for reporting, more need for access to data in a very quick way. Also, when projects are initiated or considered, there’s a lot more of a focus on ROI—does this have a strong business case? Will this deliver business value in a quantitative way? There’s more scrutiny over projects as they start to go over budget or scope changes.

And what that then leads to is more overall accountability. You know, you can’t just kinda come in and say, “We’re gonna do this project, and we think it’s gonna take six months, and we think it’s gonna cost about $500,000.” And then you get in month two and you’re like, “Nope, sorry, it’s gonna take longer and cost more money.” Now there’s more accountability, there’s more scrutiny around that, and there’s more overall, because we have more access to project information and we have more transparency, those kind of situations can be addressed immediately rather than languishing and becoming something that is difficult to resolve without significant impact later.

Stephen W. Maye

So Lori, the American Red Cross provides such a range of services, from disaster relief, blood services, international relief services. So the projects that your PMO supports really have life changing, and in some cases life saving, implications.

I’m interested to know what that means to your projects from a risk perspective. How do you approach risk or think about risk that might be different from what we’re accustomed to?

Lori Tanner

In the biomedical space, are building solutions to support the collection and manufacturing and distribution of blood. We are regulated, so we have very defined approaches for risk management. Because if we make a mistake there, it’s significant. So, we’re very cautious. We make sure we’re doing what we said we were gonna do when we said we were gonna do it. And there are various checks in place to make sure that the risks of any mistakes are mitigated significantly.

That’s one way to operate a project. And that’s a different skill set than, say, another project where there’s disasters that are coming, we can’t predict them, we know that we need to react to them quickly to help people who are impacted. And in that case, sometimes decisions and risks just have to be taken. And those things are accepted. And we know that we might not always get it right, but the business dictates that we need to respond.

Stephen W. Maye

When we think about that ability to respond quickly and shift quickly, does the PMO play a role in that, or what role does the PMO play in ensuring that projects can shift and pivot and continue to be focused on what’s most important today?

Lori Tanner

My approach has been project delivery, and meeting the customer needs, and providing business value is paramount. So I tried to put in place a structure that could provide the transparency, provide a platform for project managers to get help when needed, but not to impact the day-to-day operations of the project. 

So if a project needs to twist and turn—like they almost all need to—the PMO isn’t doing anything to make that more difficult. And in fact, through the clear communication, through the regular read outs, the PMO helps to make it clear that these twists and turns are happening, and the reasons behind why they’re happening, so that leaders and others can say, “Well wait a minute, that’s not the direction that we wanted to go. I hear that that’s what you’re being asked to do, but we need to circle the wagons and come back to look at this.”

Stephen W. Maye

When you think about project management in the NGO space specifically and this idea of really doing more with less, or doing more with the resources available, does project management play a role in delivering on that request or that commitment as well?

Lori Tanner

Absolutely. Project managers by nature are driven for results. They are persistent, don’t give up, and in projects that are either not fully staffed, ill-formed, project managers can take that and make it work. And they do that either by filling in roles, coming up with creative solutions, persuading people to go above and beyond what they might have otherwise done, motivating the team, building a sense of teamwork so that everybody is pushing as hard as they can. And without that element, projects that have multiple hurdles put in front of them would just crumble.

Stephen W. Maye

Whether it’s a new leader, or someone who is perhaps even midstream in the effort but is trying to establish stronger project management practices in an NGO environment, perhaps establishing a PMO or reestablishing a PMO in an NGO environment, what is your best advice? 

Lori Tanner

What I would do if I was going into a new organization, I would first understand. I would try to understand the dynamics, the culture, and the tolerance levels to process, structure and project requirements.

And I would then gradually try to move the culture and the tolerance to something that supports a structured, transparent, balanced approach. But I wouldn’t do it right away—unless the culture will allow that. But many don’t. And you have to do it gradually. 

I came in and I wanted to do it all right away. And I had to accept that cultural shift takes time, and to show every way that I could how it was beneficial to make that shift, either because I was adding value, or we were resolving issues faster. I sought to keep the team providing the good service that it can without a lot of overhead. So I would always keep in mind successful project delivery is the top, top priority. And then how can you build enough structure to keep that moving, and then also preserve the project if it hits bumps and enable it to bounce back from bumps along the way.

Stephen W. Maye

So seek to understand, accept that culture shift takes time, and demonstrate value every day as the top priority. And with that, Lori Tanner gets the last word. Lori, thanks. It’s been great having you on. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and talking with you. And thank you again for sharing your insight.

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Narrator

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