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
Filipe Bergami

Past Contributers:

Chelsa Dornian
Tony Van Krieken
Mario Trentim

Recent Posts

How to be a more effective volunteer

Why Water?

The Art of Asking Questions

Lending Your Expertise When You Have Limited Time

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

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.




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 Follow @romiyagbarry

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)

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 (4)

"If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things."

- Rene Descartes