Project Management

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.

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

Past Contributors:

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

Viewing Posts by Marisa Silva

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 (26)

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)

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)

Sustainable project management: it matters for NGOs too

Climate change. Desertification. Pollution. Species disappearing. Not enough to grab your attention? What about a world water crisis? Could this be enough? I bet the thought of a sixth mass extinction is frightening though. But the scariest part of it all is that this is happening today right in front of you.

If current trends continue, two planets might be needed by 2050 to meet humanity's demands. I’m not sure if you’re paying attention to the news, but… it may take a while until we all get to Mars! However, not all is doomed. If you are working on a project, then you certainly are a problem-solver, a firefighter or, likely, a superhero. You may be exactly what the world needs.


Sustainability is starting to make the rounds in the project management arena, but we still have a long way to go. This is mostly because people don’t understand much about it, incorrectly perceive it is an endeavour that will bring more costs than benefits, or they simply assume they have to comply with the short-termism views dictated by the industry.

However, as a project management practitioner, you have a role to play. You are in a privileged position to influence what the world will look like in the future, and, if you are working with an NGO, you certainly know that every action counts towards a better tomorrow.


So what is sustainability and why should you bother with it? Sure, you may drive an eco-friendly car and recycle, but sustainability is much more than environmental concerns. Simply put, sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future ones. To achieve this, sustainability is composed of three key dimensions that must be effectively balanced, the triple bottom line: the economic dimension, the social dimension, and the environmental dimension.

As project management professionals, the triple constraint is the bread and butter of our profession. Thus, to incorporate sustainability with project management is essentially a matter of extending our much-loved triangle to account for long-term impact:



Project managers have an opportunity to advance sustainable development through particular practices and conduct and help shape a viable future for the world.

Nevertheless, what does this mean in practice and what can you start doing in your projects to apply sustainable project management in your organization? Here’s a list to start with:

  • Focus on long-term impact rather than the immediate outcomes of the project
  • Pay attention to the interests of the extended project stakeholders circle (community, planet, etc.) rather than limited to project sponsor interests
  • Select sustainability-oriented suppliers
  • Use sustainability as criteria for measuring a project’s success
  • Extend the role of the project manager to include driving sustainability as a primary responsibility in day-to-day tasks
  • Extend the role of the sponsor to include directing and promoting sustainability in the project
  • Conduct a project impact assessment from a triple bottom line perspective: people, profit, and planet
  • Make sustainability concerns visible in decision-making and in the project business case
  • Identify requirements relating to sustainability, i.e., not just present, but also future needs
  • Identify benefits relating to sustainability
  • Start with the end in mind through early planning of the project legacy and how it is going to be managed once the project is finished


Contrary to what some people believe, sustainability doesn’t have to be costly. In fact, it enables valuable benefits such as the more constructive use of resources and consequent cost savings, better risk mitigation and maximization of opportunities, or more motivation and engagement from workforce. Ultimately, it creates a sustainable business, that is, one that could last.

We’re here for the long-run. Are you?

Posted by Marisa Silva on: September 07, 2016 06:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Successful Projects: Planning the Future Ahead

Projects are the way organizational strategy comes to life, they realize visions and can make dreams come true. Projects are not simply a piece of work to be planned, managed and delivered. They are not simply an end, but a mean to something bigger.   Projects make an impact : they can transform lives.

However, the dominant paradigm of project management is still execution-oriented only, with project managers being taught that their role is to get things done. My view is that we need a different mindset, one that accounts for the real impact of projects. A mindset that:

  • Understands projects as part of a wider picture, legacies that we leave for the future

  • Goes beyond merely getting the job done but rather addresses impacts in the short-term and in the long-term

  • Is inclusive, meaning that all stakeholders are considered instead of just the Project Board

  • Measures success beyond the attainment to the triple constraint by putting the emphasis in the realization of outcomes and benefits

  • Sees project professionals as agents of transformation instead of mere spectators

  • Has at its core the purpose of value for many, and not simply value for money

Let’s not forget that the world is facing dramatic demographic and societal time-critical issues that demand our attention: a refugee crisis, hunger and poverty, or the climate changes and its implications for the planet, just to mention a few. As project management professionals, we are well positioned to be the change we want to see in the world. We have a tremendous opportunity and an imperative responsibility to make the world a better place for the future.

Once our perspective and our timescale horizons are expanded, sustainability and meaningfulness come into play. Sustainability, the ability to meet the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future ones, is slowly gaining traction in the project management arena and you don’t need to be an expert, or go for green projects only, to be part of it - more to come on this topic soon, stay tuned! In summary, it’s a brand new different way to look at our profession and it’s the way project practitioners can be heroes and save the world.

Make no mistake, much is at stake! Our projects are our legacy to the future. Let’s make it a good one.

The world of tomorrow is created today, through our projects. How could you participate more?

Posted by Marisa Silva on: July 04, 2016 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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