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)

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)

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)