Project Managers Without Borders

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This blog provides project management content and tools for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Our objective is to inspire project managers to volunteer and make a positive difference in the world through project management.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Aliki Courmanopoulos
Deanna Landers
Romiya Barry
Marisa Silva
Jeffrey Cox
Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton
Veroni Brussen

Past Contributers:

Chelsa Dornian
Tony Van Krieken
Mario Trentim

Recent Posts

Millennials: Your Best Resources for Project Management in the World of NGOs

The Opportunity in Ambiguity

Increase NGO Value Through Project Closure

When the Only Constant is Change: Managing Projects in a World of Changing Stakeholders

Accra Flooding Initiative: A Real-Life Example of PMWB at Work

Millennials: Your Best Resources for Project Management in the World of NGOs

Unless you have been living in a different galaxy for the past decade, you have probably heard of Millennials and how they are conquering the workplace. However, who are these individuals with a cool sounding name, what are the traits that define them and, more important for us, how can they impact the project management space and, in particular, project management in the world of NGOs?

Simply put, Millennials are all those who entered their adulthood at the same time they entered the second millennium, that is, everyone who belongs to the generation born between the 80s and the 90s. Just like your humble servant writing today’s blog post, by the way.

When Millennials were growing up, so too was the now familiar @ symbol. The internet was just starting to gain adoption in its frenetic way to become a commodity and a necessity. Altavista, mIRC, the first Nokia mobile phones, oh, what an exciting time to be alive! Millennials were at the middle of it when the history of humanity suddenly become split in two periods: BG, AG – Before Google and After Google. Welcome to the future, 2018 AG.

It’s no wonder then, that Millennials are known for their increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies, to the point that they have even been called the “thumb tribe” or “thumb generation,” meaning that this group is more adept at texting using the thumbs than talking on the phone!

Adding to the previous, not only are the Millennials one of the most ethnically and racially diverse generation – one of the many effects of globalization – but they are also considered to be one of the most formally educated, with a natural impact on their view of the economy, religion, and politics.

From a workplace perspective, there are also significant differences between generations that should be acknowledged. While previous generations tend to value loyalty at work, a steady career path, and a nice pay check at the end of the month, Millennials resonate primarily with job satisfaction and personal realization, placing an emphasis on meaningful work rather than compensation, and in an improved work-life balance rather than a stable career.

Bearing this in mind, you cannot expect to project manage a Millennial in the same way you manage someone older and achieve the same results at the end. So, if you have a Millennial in your project, here are some tips on how to build a win-win scenario for both parties:

  • Find what makes them tick and focus on it: Millennials are driven by purpose and that’s why they are the perfect candidates for project management in the world of NGOs. If you want to attract and keep a Millennial, find what they are passionate about, what they aim to achieve, and work with them on realizing that vision.


  • Assign them meaningful work: Unless they can change the world, Millennials won’t be interested. They need to be assigned meaningful work because they want to contribute to something bigger than themselves, leave a legacy behind, a dent in the universe.


  • Give them the tools (and the space): Millennials learned to work anytime from anywhere, so don’t ask them to be in the office from 9 to 5. Give them the freedom to find their creative outlet, even if this means being in a coffeeshop 10,000 miles away from work and using Skype for a conference call with a key client.


  • Give them immediate feedback: No one is more concerned about personal advancement then a Millennial and this should not be confused with a need for a career path. Millennials don’t want a career, they want to collect experiences and learn from multiple sources. Hence, they value immediate feedback as an opportunity to grow and invest in their skillset.


  • Let them fail: Contrary to the norm, Millennials are not afraid to fail. In fact, they want to! The earlier the failure, the better since this will allow for a fast learning and for more opportunities for experimentation. As a manager, learn to embrace the failure as a positive thing and you’ll get a new ally in Millennials.


Further to the above, it’s easy to understand why Millennials may as well be your best resource for project management in a world of NGOs! Where else can one find a better place where resources are scarce, thus requiring creative solutions and approaches while, at the same time, offering an opportunity for experimentation and for meaningful work towards a better world, enriched by purpose? Pretty much a Millennial’s dream!

That’s surely why Susan Diec, herself a Millennial, has joined Project Managers Without Borders as a volunteer, a story that you can read here!

Are you a Millennial? There are plenty of NGOs in need out there, come and join us.

Posted by Marisa Silva on: January 03, 2018 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

The Opportunity in Ambiguity

By Deanna Landers

Most of us are pretty uncomfortable with uncertainty. Of course we are, we’re in project management. We like neat and tidy plans. We like the process to be defined, whether it’s waterfall, agile, a hybrid of the two, or something else. We want everything to be implemented perfectly, without using any of the contingency money that we fought hard to secure. At the end we like to check that box saying that the project was completed on time and under budget, realizing the expected benefits. But the projects we manage, and the business environment that we work within are not always perfect, in fact, they rarely are.

More often than we’d like, we face ambiguity in goals, requirements, schedules, vision, or a variety of other areas within the project and work environment. We need to accept that with the ever-changing business landscape, ambiguity is something we have to deal with. It may even become more prevalent. However, we can flourish when we encounter ambiguity by viewing it as an opportunity rather than a nuisance or a threat.

Simply recognizing an unclear situation as an opportunity creates an opportunity in itself. Being comfortable with a bit of ambiguity provides you with flexibility and freedom because you’re not following the playbook any longer. You’re not filling out the template, or going on to step C after steps A and B. You can view the situation as a turning point, a chance to take a new path, or to create a better one. Being comfortable in a rapidly changing world gives you an advantage, a flexibility that will be called upon often. From ambiguity, you are free to innovate, grow, and involve others in finding solutions.

As an example, just over a year ago Kris Troukens attended PMI’s Africa Congress and learned about challenges the local community was having with recurring flooding. It was a problem that had been in existence for many decades and it was not clear how to address it. People were struggling to define the essence of what needed to be done, though many had experienced unpleasant consequences from the floods.

After gaining an understanding of the magnitude of the problem, Kris recommended the conference organizers and PMI Ghana Chapter representatives initiate contact with all speakers who had addressed the subject and devise a scope statement that could be achieved with a few local and internationally based volunteers. This decision to forge a path through ambiguity and take the first step to clarify one essential component presented a grand opportunity for the community and volunteers supporting it - to recognize an approach and structure to address an important and challenging problem.

The initial ambiguity allowed Kris to step forward and involve the appropriate other people to set the objective and clarify goals. With the direction set and a clear understanding of the goal and path to achieve it, the team was able to advance, and ultimately achieve success together. 

This is how we have an opportunity to step forward into the face of ambiguity, to provide ground rules and some level of clarity for ourselves and others. THIS is leadership.


Deanna Landers is a portfolio manager whose work in ambiguous environments offers many opportunities. She also founded Project Managers Without Borders. 

Posted by Deanna Landers on: October 28, 2017 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Increase NGO Value Through Project Closure

Lessons learned and project closure reports are important organizational process assets that a project manager may find missing upon starting work with a new non-governmental organization (NGO) or non-profit organization (NPO). This historical information is useful for many activities such as on-boarding new members, explaining the mission of the organization to the community, or developing project charters. The final project report becomes an important advocacy tool and gives ideas for articles or stories to attract wider attention or to spread news about a particular situation. Additionally, performance information from previous projects can help make the best use of limited resources and funding.

Three ways to bring value to the NGO through project closure:

#1 Engage stakeholders to determine project or phase closure guidelines or requirements. An organization can guide its actions throughout the project by knowing what the expectations are for documenting project successes and failures from the beginning, when to gather lessons learned, and how to archive the project information for future use. These activities can be incorporated into the NGO’s monitoring & evaluation program. It may also open lines of communication to other stakeholders, including in the community the NGO operates, as input on reporting requirements are gathered. Work with the NGO, members of the community, and other stakeholders to determine their reporting needs. Then, suggest templates that may work well for their purposes.

#2 Encourage documentation of project failures. Failure happens. That is the opening line on the Admitting Failure website. Formally closing an aborted or cancelled project is needed to continue critical thinking in the field where the organization works and to help other organizations succeed in those areas. At Admitting Failure, organizations share information as a way to bring “new levels of transparency, collaboration, and innovation across the for-purpose sector.” Project closure reports can provide NGOs with the project history that they can summarize and share on the website. The reports can also provide a foundation for developing a “Failure Report.” A how-to guide developed by Engineers Without Borders Canada can be found on Fail Forward’s website.

#3 Promote dissemination of project success. Formally establishing a project’s closure helps the NGO redirect resources to the next project or project phase and guides communication to internal stakeholders, external funding bodies, and community members. Published peer-reviewed literature by non-profit and NGOs is not common (Allen, 2016). This is a gap in dissemination of information about potentially innovative interventions as evidence-based practices are often formed by peer-reviewed published literature and not unpublished studies, or grey literature. Even if an organization does not develop a scholarly article, the information can be used to inform future decisions on projects. Working with an NGO on its reporting needs is a great opportunity to exercise creative skills and to think beyond a standard report. It’s important to “consider the audience” and communicate the project findings in ways that best suit the stakeholders. You may not consider filming a video on the latest software development project, but this could be the perfect medium to supplement the closure report!

In closing...

A project closure or evaluation report supports the organization in formally documenting the end of the project. It can be used to promote awareness, develop project strategy, and disseminate knowledge in the field of work. Use your project management skills to help an NGO complete a project life cycle and to get a good start in its knowledge management practice




Allen, L. (2016). Why Is There No Funding For Non-Communicable Diseases? Journal of Global Health Perspectives. Retrieved from

Admitting Failure. Accessed December 24, 2016.

Fail Forward. Accessed December 24, 2016.

Better Evaluation. Accessed December 28, 2016.

Posted by Romiya Barry on: March 08, 2017 09:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

When the Only Constant is Change: Managing Projects in a World of Changing Stakeholders

The saying goes that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. However, experience confirms that a third element can be added to this list: change. Change is now the new normal and in the context of not-for-profit projects, this reality is more visible than ever.

Numerous articles have been written about our changing environment, ranging from the way new technologies are revolutionizing our workplaces to how people can cope with change as an individual process. Even in project management events, there is now usually a track for exploring the relation between projects and change. Change management appears to be the current hot topic.

Change is at the core of what project managers do. Projects are vehicles for change, and through their execution they seek to create a better status quo. Despite the strategic importance of change management within project management, changing stakeholders is seldom addressed. That is, the interested and/or impacted parties that can make or break your project.

Stakeholders can change for various reasons. Examples include stakeholders who haven’t been previously identified and suddenly become a driving force in the project, a change in the structure of a supplier’s organization, a major donor who decides to get involved, or for political reasons.

If changing stakeholders is a scenario which some project managers in for-profit companies may be familiar with, this situation is even more evident in the setting of not-for-profit organizations. In fact, non-profit organizations play a vital role in creating value in and for the civil and public societies, however, they often encounter themselves at a crossroad. The rapidly changing environment where they operate – such as extreme cases of disaster recovery and emergency response projects – may not always allow for a thorough stakeholder management analysis, not to mention government and government-related institutions are often one of their key stakeholders Thus, the risk of changing priorities from key partners and fund providers when elections are due being a constant risk to be managed.

Bearing this in mind, it is therefore crucial for project managers to know how to deal with the new stakeholders in town. Here are a couple of strategies you can employ:


Get to know your new stakeholders

The official email is out and you’ve been informed that a new person is joining today. Don’t be shy…go introduce yourself! Briefly explain what your role is, what projects you are involved in, and even point out where your desk is, if applicable. Show hospitality and be approachable. First impressions are lasting ones, so it is important to establish a connection from the first day. However, don’t dissertate on every little detail of your projects or the new stakeholder will be overwhelmed with too much information. Instead, set up a meet and greet meeting over coffee and learn what your new stakeholder cares about, what his/her interests and priorities are, or where can you assist him/her with. Make the newcomer an ally!


Don’t make comparisons

Most people don't like to be perceived as the replacement of someone else, so you should avoid making any kind of comparisons between the new stakeholders and his/her predecessors. Every individual is unique. If the new stakeholder is making unpopular decisions and strategy is taking a U-turn, don’t complain how good life was with the previous stakeholder or persist in telling what he/she would be doing differently. Instead, try to understand the reasons behind the change and focus on the big picture. Don’t weaken your relationship with the new stakeholder by being impatient or impolite. However, this does not mean abandoning critical thinking! It means providing an opportunity for the new stakeholder to establish his/her own management approach and considering different points-of-views without a judgmental tone.


Revisit roles and responsibilities

In order to ensure that people are on the same page and know what is expected from them, it is important that the project manager provides sufficient context on the project and current status to the new stakeholder, as well as an introduction to key contacts, their roles, and responsibilities. There are not many things worse to the momentum of the project than perplexed or misguided stakeholders who don’t know what to do or who to contact.


Get out from behind the emails

E-mails are a useful way of communication, but an emoji cannot replace the feeling of receiving a genuine smile or express body language. Emotions can oftentimes get lost in translation. Adding to this, emails can be perceived as an impersonal way of passing your message as it immediately creates a distance between interlocutors. So next time, use the phone or get out from behind your desk and spend time establishing connections. Make no mistake; most project issues are people issues, not schedule or cost issues. Hence, it is crucial to invest time in building rapport with your stakeholders. Sometimes, it is easier to answer questions and solve problems next to the coffee machine than in meetings!


No one destroys what one helps to build

This is one of the key lessons I got from my mentors and one that I try to embed in every project I manage: if people are involved in the project, they will be less likely to challenge or oppose it. To ask for someone’s opinion, give them a call to inform about the latest update on the project, or even call for support in peer reviewing a document may sound like little things, but they can make the difference between a stakeholder who is engaged with the project or not. Remember: no one destroys what one helps to build.


Best practices will tell you that you should add the new stakeholder to the stakeholder register and define what your management strategy should look like. In which quadrant of the stakeholder matrix do they fit? Informed, keep happy, manage closely?

This is, of course, something that you should do but you should also be aware that you can’t manage stakeholders, just their engagement and expectations. Above all, you should remember: stakeholders are not simply entries in a register. They are human, just like you and I. Tream them as one.


Marisa Silva, the Lucky PM, is an experienced certified PMO and PPM consultant, trainer, and speaker, with a track record of building capabilities in complex organizations undergoing transformational change. A passionate advocate of the value of PMOs and project management, she is Committee Member of the APM PMO SIG and PMO Manager and Deputy Programs Director at Project Managers Without Borders. Marisa is the author of “Bedtime Stories for Project Managers” and the founder of in2PMO, a specialist PMO and business transformation consultancy firm dedicated to help organizations deliver impactful and sustainable business value from their PMOs, projects and programs.

Posted by Marisa Silva on: February 21, 2017 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Accra Flooding Initiative: A Real-Life Example of PMWB at Work

Project managers work to connect problem-solvers with problems. So, it may seem natural to find certified Project Management Professional Kris Troukens learning about a problem and contacting Project Managers Without Borders (PMWB) to help solve it.
Kris Troukens has been involved with Project Management Institute (PMI) in various national and international roles over the past 15 years. Professionally, he has worked as project manager and senior consultant, in addition to remaining active in the project management realm as a speaker, teacher, and consultant. 

As Director at Large for PMWB, Kris is leading a collaborative program between PMWB and the Ghana Branch of Project Management Institute. The collaboration is aiming to tackle the recurrent flooding program in the Accra region of Ghana. Kris and the program team are exemplifying a real-world application of project management skills to support community leaders solve their problems. Their work on the Accra Flooding Initiative reflects themes project managers may be familiar with in their everyday professional roles.


A Complex Problem

Kris highlights how a single natural event can be complex and have unfortunately detrimental consequences for a community. The criticality of the situation can create an urgency to motivate change.

Accra is flooded at least once a year; in bad years this happens more than once. The loss of life is important each time. However, the year 2015 was particularly bad, as a petrol station exploded because of the floods, thus causing in itself about 180 casualties. 


Collaboration in Innovation Development

Kris realizes the Accra Flooding is an example of a world problem that could benefit from the knowledge and expertise of project management.

During the PMI Africa conference in Accra, I had the opportunity to talk about this recurring problem with several city officials and authorities. Several other initiatives had been tried in the past, but none made any significant progress. With the help and knowledge of the local PMI chapter leaders, we decided to try and do something to find a possible solution.

 Today, we are concentrating our efforts on two things. The first phase is to inform all stakeholders, and create a "forum" where these different parties communicate efficiently together. The second phase is the creation of detailed technical plans (WBS in project terms). It is not our ambition to actually execute these plans ourselves, but to provide very useful input to guide local authorities and agencies as they start improvements. 


Beyond the Triple Constraint

Project Managers are familiar with the triple constraint of time-quality-costs. As with many development projects, there are other internal and external factors that must also be equally balanced. For the Accra Initiative Team, ‘time’ is a self-imposed construct, allowing the team to develop the program without too much pressure. However, careful stakeholder management is one of the most critical constraints in the project. 

Stakeholder engagement in development projects is often complex. There are often several players with a multitude of expectations. Having the right level of collaboration is key to supporting the success of the project. 

Beyond project managers, we are teaming up with engineers and experts from the water-treatment industries. These are the main areas where actions plans will need to be compiled. However, other more general project management skills are also required. For example when a topic such as "how to develop a garbage collection system from scratch" is on the table. Some of the other relationships we are managing include working with city and government officials. This is sometimes very sensitive, and we don't want to upset anybody. So our wording and planning needs to happen carefully. For example, when holding the international workshops we try to engage the Ambassador for Ghana in the host city.

PMWB acts as the coordinator of the "stakeholder platform" as well as the organizer of the workshops that will deliver the WBS [work breakdown structure] plans. These workshops are happening in various international cities, with the help of local PMI chapters.

When managing the relationships, we don’t use any project management or stakeholder management tools in particular--just common sense and lots of energy! Respect is of the essence. In other countries and other continents things are happening differently than in some of our "Western" countries. But I noticed that with mutual respect you can come a long way.


A Personal Commitment to Making the World a Better Place

Applying project management skills to your community or to another community is an impactful way to learn how to drive innovation. Kris’s words show this is also a way to develop soft skills such as empathy and leadership as well as to foster growth as a global citizen.

This project matters to me because of some of the personal stories that I heard in Accra. People at the conference were personally involved at the recent floods, and some kind of desperation was hanging in the air that no tangible progress can be seen to resolve the floods.

My work on this project has changed me personally. I’ve learned to appreciate another country, and another continent. Relating this to project management steps as they are applied at home is a very rich experience. And I made lots of new and dear friends, for which I will be eternally grateful.


As exemplified by the PMWB logo, the Accra Flood Initiative brings together the hands of various people reaching from around the world to provide integrated support to the world’s communities. Kris and the PMWB team are showing us how the knowledge and skills developed as project management professionals will transform ideas to outcomes.

To keep updated about the Accra Initiative, visit the project site There you can sign up for the newsletter, lend your expertise, or make a donation.

Special thanks to Kris Troukens for sharing his story! Kris can be contacted at




Romiya Barry is a clinical research professional using the project management framework to improve patient care and community health.  She is recognized by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals and PharmaTimes Inc. for her leadership in clinical project management. Romiya is on the Board of Directors for Health Horizons International, a healthcare NGO serving communities in the Dominican Republic. Connect with her on LinkedIn and

Posted by Romiya Barry on: February 10, 2017 04:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)