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

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)

Telling Signs Your NGO Needs a Project Manager

Bringing change to the world can be a herculean task, and many leaders of NGOs embark on their mission with valiant vigor and passion. But, there is a risk of not creating a plan and following it appropriately due to the excitement of carrying out a project. We’re reminded that “people don’t invest in good ideas; they invest in people who can execute good ideas” (Tiffany Dufu, 2016).  An unsystematic way of delivering the project can result in inefficiencies and -- worse yet -- ineffectiveness. It’s one of the many pitfalls to avoid for NGOs.

Projects that are over-budget and over-schedule or that fall short of the expected deliverables can leave donors, volunteers, staff, and community stakeholders feeling frustrated and disappointed. While these are – unfortunately -- common outcomes in projects in other industry sectors, the impact of these projects can affect the health, safety, and well-being of people in the community the projects aim to serve. The risks of project overruns can be far greater for an NGO. They can cost lives.

A project manager possesses skills and tools to keep track of tasks and time. A project manager can facilitate alignment of infrastructure, thereby stabilizing areas in the organization such as planning, budgeting, supervisory controls, performance management, and reward systems. The project manager can also help align people in the organization, in addition to motivating and inspiring them to keep working towards their noble cause. 

If your organization understands why it should care about project management, then you know that having the right combination of skills can help your NGO’s performance. But, if you’re like many other organizations, your organization may not know when to bring in project management practice. 

You should consider finding a project management volunteer to help lead your project if:

  • The organization has little or no ability to replicate projects because project teams do not use tailored practices that have been standardized across the organization.
  • The changes and/or impacts realized in the initial completion of the project are not sustainable.
  • There are frequent “surprises” due to infrequent use of risk management practices, the heart of managing projects (PMI Pulse of the Profession, 2015).
  • There is goal misalignment amongst the team members that creates barriers to trust and restricts collaboration.
  • Stakeholders are getting frustrated because the organization is developing a pattern of not meeting the stakeholders’ expectations.
  • Reports to governing and funding bodies are often delayed, resulting in an untimely release of funds for future phases of the project.
  • Work teams within the organization are large, highly diverse, and/or permeable so communication breakdown or incomplete knowledge transfer is a frequent occurrence.
  • There is strong likelihood for passions and self-interest in the organization’s mission to hamper shared vision and connective thought.

Passion can help initiate a change. However, if making a long-term impact is the desired outcome, then your NGO should consider how to increase effectiveness and achieve strategic objectives by encouraging project management practice.

Reach out to a project management professional and learn how you can engage a valuable partner in accomplishing your goals!

Posted by Romiya Barry on: September 28, 2016 02:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

4 Steps to Effectively Engage Stakeholders in Non-profit Project Management

By Mario Trentim

All projects and organizations struggle with getting stakeholder engagement right. Unfortunately, there are few guidelines, techniques, or case studies available to overcome this common obstacle . A successful project depends on stakeholders’ expectations and perceptions and satisfying these expectations is crucial. Most of the time, stakeholder engagement is considered synonymous with soft skills rather than methodology, which leaves engagement up to chance and the luck of having a charismatic project manager.

But stakeholder engagement does not need to be left to chance! Here are 4 steps to improve stakeholder engagement and obtain valuable support in non-profit sector projects.

Figure 1 – Four steps to engage stakeholders effectively (Trentim, 2015)


#1 Establish What Results Your Stakeholders Care About

The first step is to identify stakeholders, document their expectations and engage them in a collaborative effort to define project purpose and value propositions. Uncovering needs and aligning realistic expectations right from the start is paramount.

To identify stakeholders, there are different tools and techniques, such as brainstorming, organizational analysis, categories, checklists, lessons learned, historical information, benchmarking and expert opinion.

One of the most effective tools is to create and update a Stakeholder Breakdown Structure with common categories or types of stakeholders. In Figure 2, you find a suggestion of stakeholder breakdown structure for an IT project.

Figure 2 – Stakeholder breakdown structure (example)


#2 Develop A Plan to Deliver to those Expectations

Once you have a long list of potential stakeholders, it is possible to analyze and prioritize based on importance and influence. Sometimes, there is a large number of stakeholders and it is not possible to involve all of them in the same way.

That’s when analysis and categories are useful. Based on common interests, individual and group contributions, the project manager can decide on the best strategies to involve and engage persons, groups and organizations.

There are various tools and techniques to collect requirements and define scope. We will discuss some of them in a future article. If you’re curious, take a look at problem structuring methods, collaborative approaches to combine different perspectives into a “big picture” in problem solving.


#3 Work Your Plan!

     Now that you have your project plan in place with all the input and help from your stakeholders, it is time to put engagement strategies to work. Project execution is always challenging because it depends on a variety of factors.

It is not uncommon that stakeholders lose interest along the way because they engage in new ventures, raising issues in commitment, buy-in, participation and contributions that were agreed in the beginning.

Never take planning and commitment for granted. Always confirm along the way and frequently review the stakeholder register for new stakeholders and to analyze changes in attitude.


#4 Follow-up and get Feedback (Please Keep in Touch)!

     In daily activities of running a project, it is easy to forget the importance of keeping in touch and getting feedback. It is essential to have a process in place to review stakeholders’ satisfaction at every phase or milestone. This prevents problems from growing bigger and jeopardizing the end of your project.

What challenges have you faced in creating stakeholder engagement, and how have you managed them?? What are the main challenges of project management in nonprofit organizations? Any suggestions of tools and techniques we could add to those steps? Please leave your comments below.


Posted by Mario Trentim on: July 29, 2016 07:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

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