Starting a Project

Writing a sound project proposal is not easy, and getting project funding is becoming more and more like winning a lottery. However, once you do win that lottery not all your problems are over! Why not, you may wonder. After all, getting money for something you want to do is not a bad deal at all.

Well, to a certain extent that is indeed true. However, project proposal writing has become such a highly specialised job that the people who are supposed to implement the planned activities which will achieve projected results need to “translate” the proposal into concrete steps to be taken.

Such project planning should include not just steps needed to implement the planned activities but should also specify steps to be taken to collect certain data and steps to compare these data with the targets set.

Project grant = money IF we do what was promised and prove it!

Project grant = money IF we do what was promised and prove it!

Before the project team can start planning, they will need to thoroughly understand the project as a whole: what are activities foreseen, what are the outputs to be generated by these activities, to which results will these outputs lead and ultimately what is the reason behind the project – what is the aim they should strive towards achieving?

This understanding will bring perspective to the implementation and will shift the focus from simply trying to do what has been written down to doing what is needed in view of the bigger picture. It could well be that circumstances in the field are not as foreseen and that the planned activities alone will not lead to the desired results. For example, if you had planned an Internet-based e-learning intervention it is necessary that your target group can access this platform. If they for whatever reason cannot do so, you will need to rethink the intervention (and perhaps use an e-mail based platform) or you will need to add steps to enable your target group to go online (for instance organise Internet connections for them).

Grasping the above is basically understanding part of the Logical Framework. But there is another side to most Logical Frameworks or Performance Measurement Frameworks – the part in which targets, baselines and indicators are formulated along with sources of verification and the like.

This is the part where many project teams can feel cheated by the person who created the framework: do we have to do this, too? Aren’t all these activities enough already? No, indeed, they are not. Because in order for a funder to reimburse costs incurred they will want to see some evidence that you have really achieved what you promised.

And that is where the indicators and their friends come in. This part of the framework will help you collect data that can show clearly and without doubt that you have been successful in your implementation. It tells you what data to collect, where to find them, and when to collect them. And once you’ve got them, it provides you with standards that can show you whether you are on the way to achieving your targets or not.

Proving success: part 2 of the Logical Framework

Proving success: part 2 of the Logical Framework

I use the phrase on the way on purpose – with help of the indicators you cannot only assess success at the end, but you can also monitor during project implementation. This gives you a chance to make adjustments as needed if you see that you are not getting where you planned to be at the end. These data collection and monitoring actions are not always included in the general project planning and thus will need to be added to the activity plan by the project team.

The final step in this project start up phase is of course to assign roles and divide concrete tasks, so that every member of the team will know what to do and when to do it. As a result of the process of “getting” the project, they will by then also understand what other team members are up to, how their work is related to that of others and above all else, why they are doing it all. This insight, more than the mere planning of own tasks assigned by a project leader, will result in a greater team feeling and a sense of responsibility.

In my experience it helps tremendously to hire an external facilitator for a day or possibly two to guide the project team through the project and build a real, responsible team in the process. Of course, being such external facilitator myself, you might expect me to make such a case. But having been a project manager, too, I really believe in having an external party with good understanding of project management take care of this task so that the project manager him or herself can take active part in the discussions and the work instead of being side-tracked by having to pay attention to the process and ending up being the one voice not heard in it.