Project Managers Without Borders

by , , , , , ,
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

Building Volunteer Management Practice in Your NGO

You’ve recognized that your non-profit organization (NPO) or non-governmental organization (NGO) needs volunteers to help transform your ideas to outcomes. The organization’s program may require the volunteers to co-locate to work on a complex project or to collaborate in a virtual team environment. No matter where volunteers perform their work, it is important to remember why they perform their work.

Volunteers join an organization because they share the interest and passion advocated by the NGO or NPO. As valuable stakeholders and resources for the organization, it is critical that considerations are made for keeping the volunteer engaged.

Here are 9 Quick Tips to build Volunteer Management Practice into your organizations.


Welcoming, On-boarding, and Integrating

  1. Practice timely communication from day one. Connect with a prospective volunteer once he/she reaches out with interest of joining the organization. This illustrates the norms of the organization and helps set expectations for new volunteers.

  2. Orient new volunteers to the organization. Provide training on the culture, structure, relevant processes, policies, and role descriptions of the organization. Early knowledge of key stakeholders will facilitate integration in the organization.

  3. Establish a support network for new members. Provide opportunities for current and new volunteers to build camaraderie and establish trust. The shared vision towards a common goal can serve as a foundation for developing a positive working environment.



Roles and Responsibilities

  1. Be specific in your request for help. Let volunteers know the specific knowledge, skills, and attributes you are looking for them to bring to the table.

  2. Clearly communicate each volunteer’s function, level of authority, and assigned tasks. Eliminating duplicative efforts is an efficient use of resources. It also helps to mitigate the risk of individual volunteers completing work that is not aligned with organizational goals or objectives.

  3. Trust your delegation. Once an assignment is given to the volunteer, continue to check-in on the progress, but resist the urge to micromanage or take over the assignment.


Rewards, Recognition, Motivation

  1. Acknowledge the contributions of the volunteers. It is important for the volunteer to know that individual efforts make a difference in the operations of the organization. Additionally, it is also lets funders and other stakeholders know about the type, quantity, and quality of work that is being done by volunteer support.
  2. Support information exchange. Freely share information on the progress of the organization’s programs and the impact the programs are having on the community being served. Ask volunteers for their input and opinions on the organization and their experience.
  3. Encourage continuous engagement. When possible, make a range of opportunities available that are flexible to fit within the volunteers’ schedules. Use general meetings, teleconferences, social outings, etc. as ways to keep volunteers connected to the organization when there are limited or no volunteer opportunities currently available.


The relationship between volunteers and NGOs/NPOs should be one of reciprocity. Project management professionals often volunteer to contribute to the solutions of today’s world problems and set a future legacy through projects, while gaining valuable personal and professional skills. NGOs and NPOs can capitalize on the altruism to further their missions while providing a valuable experience to the volunteers. The volunteer relationship can be even more imperative as the volunteer’s enthusiasm for the organization’s mission can translate into funding from the individual and the individual’s personal and professional network.

So, set a plan for recruiting, engaging, and retaining volunteers!




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 here and on LinkedIn!

Posted by Romiya Barry on: December 02, 2016 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The PMO Maturity

Focus on Value, not Maturity

Previously, we discussed the importance of project management maturity for NGOs. However, if your NGO has a project management office (PMO) in place, it is relevant that the maturity of the PMO is assessed also (yes, they are different things!).

Before we start, I must make a confession: I personally dislike the term “maturity” for three reasons. First, just like with experience, one can be mature while doing the wrong activities well. That is, the ones that don’t add value. Second, traditional maturity models speak of the greatness of achieving the pinnacle of level 5 but, for some organizations, achieving level 4 may be enough for it to live happily ever after. Finally, maturity models assume a standard set of functions and activities one is expected to do or achieve based on industry best practices, however – let me tell you a little secret – project management is contextual! What fits for one may be different from what fits for others, and there should be no embarrassment about it.

In the world of PMOs, where one size doesn’t fit all and where each PMO is a unique species, this is even more true. Bearing this is mind, I prefer to use the term “value roadmap,” and putting the emphasis on value rather than maturity and on the journey, rather than the destination. Just like happiness, they say!

In fact, some organizations become so obsessed with improving their maturity that they tend to forget why they are doing it. Make no mistake: maturity improvement is just the means, not the end goal. To discover your journey, you should start with “why.”


PMOs as Value Enablers

PMOs are integrators, they bridge interdepartmental silos, and bring the pieces together to support the portfolio of projects and programs the best they can. In summary, PMOs are enablers of value delivery in the organization.

This is done by performing a set of key functions and building dynamic capabilities in the organization that facilitate the successful delivery of strategic initiatives. That is, capabilities held by the PMO which, when properly performed and embedded in the organization, enable value to be achieved:

  1. Project Management Capability: how able is the PMO to establish, tailor, and embed project management processes in the organization?
  2. Program Management Capability: how able is the PMO to establish, tailor, and embed program management processes in the organization?
  3. Portfolio Management Capability: how able is the PMO to establish, tailor, and embed portfolio management processes in the organization?
  4. Change Management and Communication Capability: how able is the PMO to manage change resulting from projects and programs and well as to communicate that change?
  5. Benefits Realization Management Capability: how able is the PMO to ensure that projects and programs realize the benefits they were intended to deliver?
  6. Knowledge Management Capability: how able is the PMO to manage knowledge resulting from projects and programs and facilitate project learning amongst project teams?
  7. Resource Management Capability: how able is the PMO to manage resources and perform demand planning?
  8. Audit and Assurance Capability: how able is the PMO to provide independent audit and assurance services over projects and programs?
  9. Project and Program Recovery Capability: how able is the PMO to assist project and program managers in recovering their projects and programs?
  10. Training and Facilitation Capability: how able is the PMO to provide training and facilitation services to project teams?
  11. Reporting Capability: how able is the PMO to provide consolidated reporting to support informed decision-making?
  12. Organizational Governance: to what extent is the governance of projects and programs established in the organization and how is it facilitated by the PMO?
  13. Professionalism and Career Development: to what extent is project management established in the organization and how is the PMO promoting the profession and supporting career development?
  14. Tools and Technology: to what extent is the PMO making use of appropriate technology to support the management of projects and programs in the organization?
  15. PMO Management: to what extent is the structure, competencies, and direction of the PMO enabling the delivery of value?

While some of these enablers are not applicable to all PMO types (e.g. a project-specific support office is likely not to be involved in training and facilitation), they are certainly familiar to PMO practitioners and can be grouped into what I refer to as the “PMO golden triangle,” formed of people, processes, and tools:

Figure 1 - The PMO Value Framework


However, the balance of these three indispensable ingredients doesn’t happen in isolation. Just as great projects are the result of great project management and leadership, valuable PMOs are highly influenced by how the PMO is being managed, where they fit in the organizational structure, and how they are supporting portfolio, program, and project governance.


A PMO Value Roadmap (or Maturity Model)

Individual PMOs each have a unique path, making the case of why PMOs need their own maturity model. In fact, while P3M3® (from Axelos®) and OPM3® (from PMI®) are well-known organizational project management maturity models, there are not many options available when it comes to PMO maturity models, lending most PMOs to assess their value through a model that is, simply put, not fit for its purpose.

Yes, PMOs are enablers of project delivery, but the relationship between PMO performance and project performance is not linear or easily identifiable. How can a PMO demonstrate its value when it is not the one delivering projects, but is indirectly contributing to the project’s success?

PMOs play a pivotal role in supporting the delivery of strategic change and, as important, in establishing a culture of project management in organizations. However, their value is often only recognized in relation to direct outcomes. As such, key activities performed by PMOs that unleash value to the business often go unnoticed (at least until the PMO stops doing them, which is reflected in poor project performance or people on portfolio boards start complaining about not knowing what’s happening!). How well senior management is informed, to what extent is the PMO developing the skills of its project managers via training, or how well are projects supported that go into exception are critical questions that the PMO should aim to answer, but that one can rarely find in project management maturity models.

Project management maturity is undoubtedly linked to PMO maturity, but they are very different concepts. We need to look at the world of PMOs with new lens and that’s why I’m proposing a PMO-specific framework for assessing and developing their value: a PMO Value Roadmap (or Maturity Model!).

The PMO Value Roadmap uses the traditional 5-levels scale, where 1 represents an initial, ad hoc status, and 5, the maximum, a level of optimization and continuous improvement:

Figure 2 - PMO Value Roadmap Levels


The assessment of value is done by answering a set of questions relating to each value enabler, which allows a score to be achieved and used as a baseline.

Figure 3 - PMO Value Enablers


Nevertheless, don’t rely too much to the final score - the beauty of the assessment lies in the opportunity of reflection it provides, and, as important as the assessment findings, are the recommendations and action plan that should come from the assessment.

As the saying goes, “if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there,” so find where you are, determine the road you want to take and, most important, have fun along your journey!

Posted by Marisa Silva on: November 17, 2016 03:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Virtual Team Collaboration

By Deanna Landers

Agile principles indicate that teams should be co-located. However, sometimes, there is no option other than to have team members geographically dispersed. In fact, sometimes this distribution and diversity may be a key advantage to delivering a particular result, such as handing off between time zones for continuous support, and providing a service to communities throughout the world. 

Oftentimes, a distributed team is not only dispersed geographically in the same city or across the world, but also culturally. This not only contributes to the richness of diversity on the team, but also can include differences in the areas of communication style, business protocol, decision-making, dealing with authority, concepts of time, and negotiation styles.

There is a world of difference between simply working together and truly collaborating. The following are some tips to improve your distributed team’s collaboration and subsequently their performance:

Share the project vision
●    The team needs to document the vision, the value, and benefits realized from the successful completion of the project.
●    Translate this vision into the activities required to achieve the vision.

Build a social contract
●    Identify how the team will interact, what behaviors are acceptable and encouraged, and what is forbidden or discouraged.  
●    Hold each member accountable for adhering to the contract.

Share a dedication to collaboration
●    The team and its sponsorship need to be dedicated to enhancing collaboration among a group of people that does not have opportunities to communicate face-to-face.
●    Help all stakeholders recognize that success is dependent upon greater connections and understanding between team members is essential.

Select the appropriate medium for connection  
●    Take or make opportunities to be face-to-face - even if it’s by video conference - during the first meeting and especially when you find communication difficult. In person interactions are more effective at building trust.  
●    Schedule a teleconference when you find the back-and-forth on a particular topic takes several rounds, or even better, a video conference.
●    Use tools that support remote collaboration, such as information sharing (e.g. Slack, Campfire), videoconferencing (e.g. Skype, Google Hangouts), team social networking (e.g. Yammer, Chatter), scheduling (e.g. Doodle, Timebridge), presenting (e.g. Mural, Prezi), and document sharing (e.g. DropBox, Google Drive).

Increase cross cultural awareness
●    Develop skills for working in a multi-cultural team. Increase the team’s cultural knowledge and sensitivity.
●    Karen Smits, renowned cultural anthropologist, indicates that it's important to remember that "bringing several people (from across borders) together to complete a certain task does not make them a team. You don't build a team by just getting to know each other. You build a team by joint learning and facing challenges together."

Plan for continuous results 
●    Whether officially agile or not, avoid the big bang deliverable at the end approach.
●    Frequently allow team members time to review results and for customers time to provide feedback. This reduces the impact of communication issues caused by distributed teams.

In the end, our teams are dedicated to collaboration. We will be able to attain project success as a team, grow as individuals, and build lasting relationships and trust that will allow for even more success and fulfillment going forward. 

Deanna Landers (@deannalanders) is the founder of Project Managers Without Borders. She was on the PMI International Board of Directors for 6 years, and was the Chair of the Board in 2013. She is a PMO and Portfolio Management leader at IBM. Find her on LinkedIn!


Posted by Chelsa Dornian on: November 03, 2016 03:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Developing Project Teams in a Complex Project

Food shortages, climate change, social unrest, and public health crises are just a sample of the complex situations we face in the world.  A team of professionally trained experts is often assembled to produce knowledge or carry out a project to address these issues. This team may be comprised of several leaders known in their fields for solving complicated, multi-factorial problems. The team may also involve members of the sponsoring non-profit organization (NPO) or non-governmental organization (NGO).

Along with expertise, the team members bring their own professional values and worldviews to the context of the project. Within their individual environments, the typical steps taken in a project may be linear with predictable outcomes. In contrast, the emergent situation that is characteristic of a disaster or crisis is unpredictable and complex. This is true whether the situation is acute or results from a slow build-up of pressure from external forces.

Developing effective project teams is one of the primary responsibilities of the project manager(1), and in complex environments, this is all the more challenging. 

The Develop Project Team process described in the Project Management Institute’s guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) provides a framework to help the project manager improve teamwork and overall project performance. The project manager is encouraged to acquire and apply the skills needed to “identify, build, maintain, motivate, lead, and inspire” the dynamic project team. Having an understanding of the complexity of the team-- or, their patterns of relationships, interactions, and behaviors--can be helpful in managing their diverse personal, cultural, and industry experiences.  The science of team science (SciTS) helps us understand that complexity and the “factors that maximize the efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness of team science initiatives” (2). While the emerging fields of complexity science and SciTS  focus on scientific endeavors, the multidisciplinary approach to solving the world’s complex problems often involves collaboration of technical experts in various fields and is a rising trend in many disciplines(3). A project manager can use concepts of complexity and team science to enhance the skills and knowledge needed for developing a multidisciplinary team.

Using the seven characteristics of work relationships(4) together with guidance from the PMBOK(1) , the project manager can lead the team through the obstacles of complex situations:  The challenge for the project manager is to bring together the heterogeneous inputs from various team members and guide the team to support the overall goals of the project and the function of the organization. In turn, the sponsors and champions of the project must provide an environment for quality interactions between the individuals and the broader stakeholder community. The responding project team must keep in mind that predicting the long-term impact of the project on a complex situation may be impossible even when the variables and the relationships among the variables are known. This is the very nature of the complex system.

Project managers can help bring the team, sponsors, and other stakeholders together and build confidence by celebrating every win and learning from the unpredictable outcomes.


When faced with a complex challenge, what steps do you take to quickly develop the group into a highly functioning team?



  1. Project Management Institute (PMI). (2013). A guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK®) – fifth edition. Project Management Institute, Inc.: Newtown Square, PA.
  2. Stokols, D., Hall, K.L., Taylor, B.K., and Moser, R.P. (2008). The Science of Team Science: Overview of the Field and Introduction to the Supplement. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35, S77–S89.
  3. Wuchty S, Jones B, Uzzi B. The Increasing Dominance of Teams in Production of Knowledge. Science. 2007 May 18;316(5827):1036-1039.
  4. Martin, C. M., & Sturmberg, J. P. (2013). Handbook of Systems and Complexity in Health. New York: Springer.


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 here and on LinkedIn!

Posted by Romiya Barry on: October 19, 2016 04:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Project Maturity for NGOs

In my previous blog entry, ”When you are making the World a Better Place, Who Has Time for Paperwork?, the blog provided a framework that improves the chance that a project delivers on-time, on-budget, and actually meets the needs and expectations of the organization’s stakeholders. This oversight can help ensure a steady donor stream, maintain public confidence, and support continued commitment to an organization’s strategic objectives and goals.

What are the levels and characteristics of Project Management Maturity?

  • Level 1: Initial Process.
    • The organization and project management is in a knee-jerk state.
  • Level 2: Structured Process and Standards.
    • Concept of project management is being grasped by the organization. Local experts may be present.
  • Level 3: Organizational Standards and Institutionalized Process.
    • The organization is structured throughout its processes and the projects are carried out via standardized, repeatable Delivery Frameworks.
  • Level 4: Managing Processes.
    • Project management is a key delivery mechanism of change. Improving delivery is accomplished through measurement and the use of performance key indicators.
  • Level 5: Optimizing Process.
    • Continuous improvement is the ongoing motto through the use of Project management, small changes leading to larger changes in the future. Key performance indicators on effectiveness and efficiency monitored and achievable. The organization and projects follows the continuous improvement.

How to measure the progress to maturity?

The best means to measure this progress is through the following performance measures as Mohammed Abo Ramadan (2015) indicates the following table:

Table 1: Summary of the performance measures in NGOs literature

Performance Measures


Fundraising efficiency

The ability of an NGO to access to funding.

Financial transparency

Preparing reports and submitting them to the concerned stakeholders.

Programs/Projects financial efficiency

The best use of the funds or financial resources to achieve the required or the planned outputs.

Programs/Projects non-financial efficiency

The best use of the non-financial resources to achieve the required or the planned outputs.

Outcomes performance (effectiveness)

To what extent have the outcomes of an NGO’s program been achieved?

Impact performance

The long-term consequences of an NGO’s program including positive or negative effects.


The level of networking with partners, their relevance and satisfaction.


The quality of services provided by an NGO.

How does a NGO increase its maturity through the use of Project Management?

Tools exist on the website in which you can use:

Use the above tools to take project management maturity snapshots of your organization. Take another maturity snapshot six months later. Compare snapshots to one another to determine which project management practices have demonstrated an increasing level of project management maturity and which areas need further work. Work on those areas and in short time Level 4 and Level 5 is achieved.

Another maturity tool comes from the financial sector. Improving the financial maturity level within the organization is the backbone to Project Management Maturity. The United Kingdom National Audit office has developed a financial management maturity model ( The model has similarities characteristics to the Project Management Maturity Model.


Project Maturity is really the NGO being organized and mature in its operations, strategies, and future directions. Maturity can help ensure a steady donor stream, maintain public confidence, and support continued commitment to an organization’s strategic objectives and goals.

What other benefits have you noticed (as a PM or as an NGO) Project Management provides to the Non-Profit sector? What kinds of challenges does one face in the Non-Profit world that you would never see in private or public sector industries? Chime in the comments section below!

Posted by Tony Van Krieken on: October 05, 2016 02:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Love your enemies just in case your friends turn out to be a bunch of bastards."

- R.A. Dickson