An action-training strategy for project management

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An action-training strategy for project management
Solomon, Morris J.
Heegaard, Flemming
Kornher, Kenneth
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Office of International Cooperation and Development, Technical Assistance Division, in cooperation with USAID,
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Farming ( LCSH )
Agriculture ( LCSH )
Farm life ( LCSH )


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An international cooperation and resource center established to sup-
port the development of effective systems and training for project
design and management in developing countries.

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Office of International Cooperation
and Development
Technical Assistance Division


U.S. Agency for International
Development, Bureau for Development
Support, Office of Rural Development
and Development Administration


The Center operates under an agreement between A.I.D. and U.S.D.A. with funding from A.I.D. pro-
ject 096, Project Management Effectiveness. The Center's full-time staff provides consultant ser-
vices and technical materials to LDC institutions. The Center also maintains a skill bank of con-
sultants with expertise and prior experience in various areas of project planning and implementation
who are available for short- or long-term assignments. With its location within the Technical
Assistance Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Center is able to draw upon a wide
variety of agricultural specialists to complement its work. In addition, through the A.I.D. project, the
Center has a collaborative relationship with the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs
and Administration and can draw upon a wide range of development administration specialists.

Further information can be obtained from:
The Development Project Management Center
Technical Assistance Division
Office of International Cooperation and Development
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250
Telephone: (202) 447-5804

USAID Missions may contact:
Office of Rural Development and Development Administration
Bureau for Development Support
Agency for International Development
Washington, D.C. 20523
Telephone: (703) 235-8902
Telegram caption: RSIRAD


By Morris J. Solomon, Flemming Heegaard
and Kenneth Kornher


By Morris J. Solomon, Flemming Heegaard and Kenneth Kornher

This paper describes a strategy for achieving indigenous project
management capability in developing countries. Parts of the strategy

have been tested in a number of countries with encouraging results. The

strategy is now being applied in one country and is under consideration

by a number of others.

Development requires the creation of new capacity to deliver goods

and services to improve the quality of people's lives. "Capacity"

implies a capability to deal with social and institutional as well as

physical change. The project is the prototype activity for creating

such capacity. It encompasses planning for and establishing new capacity

as well as preparation for the subsequent ongoing operation of the


Every country needs its own capability to build new organizational

capacity from its own resources. This is far more important, but often

receives less attention, than specific capabilities to execute projects

financed from international sources.

This paper describes an evolving model arising from research and
development work sponsored by the Agency for International Development
with applications testing supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Numerous development professionals have contributed to the ideas we are
trying to express; we would welcome additional suggestions. Please
.address comments to: Development Project Management Center, International
Training, ERS/FDD, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20250.

What Project Management Is All About
Project management is the direction of a project from the idea

stage to the point where the repetitive flow of output begins. It is a

process which provides for activities and material inputs (investi-

gations, construction, equipment, training etc.) that are necessary

before the actual generation of output can begin. While there may be

overlap between project management and what we call ongoing management,

it is useful to distinguish between the two. Project management is a

one-time function. Ongoing management is a continuing activity, basically

repetitive. Project management is typically more innovative, uncertain

and interdisciplinary. It achieves results that are time sensitive and

relatively irreversible. When intermediate outputs are not carefully

controlled, substantial damage and cost maybe incurred. These qualities
make effective project management dependent on:

good teamwork among participants

high interaction among disciplines

rapidly paced action

prompt adjustment for new information and error

an organizational environment which facilitates sharing of


The Context of Project Management

There is general recognition that a low level of project management

is one of the most serious bottlenecks to economic and social develop-
ment. While the problem is generally seen as a shortage of trained

people, it is far more complex. It involves political, cultural, social

and institutional, as well as economic dimensions. The milieu within

which project management operates contains many organizational, political,
social and cultural forces which may be helpful or dysfunctional from
the point of view of development. These forces have to be dealt with in
ways which facilitate the desired development outcomes while respecting

the legitimate interests of the groups involved.

The traditional project management training effort isolates itself
from this milieu. It creates an artificial environment in which indi-
viduals are temporarily taken out of their organization to be taught

concepts and techniques of project management. Upon returning from

training, each individual is surrounded by colleagues and superiors
whose experience, knowledge and customary ways of working are different
from what the trainee has learned. It is the rare individual who can

apply what was learned in training within his organization, even where
the training was appropriate and effective. 1

Projects generally involve activities that are new for the country
and/or are carried out under changing conditions. The requirements for

effective project management training go beyond those of academic edu-
cation where the transfer of knowledge and skills is seen as a sufficient
goal. The real test of effective project management training is whether
those being trained behave in such a way as to be effective in planning

1/ Some difficulties with past training has been an undue concentration
on economic and engineering variables with relative neglect of organi-
zational and behavioral considerations; preoccupation with appraisal and
relative neglect of project design and implementation process; neglect of
the role of values; neglect of creative opportunities in the training
situation and little attempt to stimulate creative thinking; and lack of
attention to the management requirements of the operating organization.

and carrying out actual projects. The critical behavior required is

that which results in the full collaboration of those associated with
the effort. Effective project management requires profound changes in
relations among colleagues, superiors and subordinates, between organi-

zations and their clients and among collaborating organizations. Where

a project involves a large number of people with many different roles

and jurisdictions, problems of coordination and behavior change become
particularly difficult. For "people projects" the problems connected
with physical structures and technology are often dwarfed by problems

arising from behavior and organizational patterns that run counter to

the attainment of project objectives. This highlights the need to take
much fuller account of cultural perceptions, social organization and

human needs in the management of all development projects.

Projects involving a large number of people and complex organi-

zations, such as rural development projects, may involve informal

education, new agricultural technology, extension, credit, health and

feeder roads--all of which impact on each other. The farmer may

distrust government on the basis of previous experience. Government

officials may stick to their historic role of ordering peasants about

when a more participative approach is required. The farmer may regard
government-extended credit as a gift. Competitive and independent

action by the different organizations involved may prevent the colla-

boration that is required for effective action. Finally, at the farm
level, new behavior may be required. For example, if the project calls

for the farmer to use insecticides on a particular crop it may be neces-

sary for him to learn how to recognize signs of particular insect

and take appropriate action. A crucial objective of training for many
projects must be to change behavior (community; personal and organizational)

toward collaboration and participation.

A Strategy of Increasing Indigenous Project Management Capability

In the proposed strategy for project management training the learning
process is closely related to the forces which bear on the real world of

organizations and people. It is concerned with a multi-dimensional

understanding of that real world so that analysis and action is not too
strongly dominated--as it has been in the past--by economic or tech-
nological concerns.

The Indigenous Training and Consulting Teama

Perhaps the best way to build a substantial indigenous capability
in project management and simultaneously generate a flow of successful

projects is to create an in-country training and consulting team. Such
a team should include a minimum of three and preferably four indigenous
full-time people: e.g. an engineer; a financial manager/economist who
can handle financial and cost benefit analysis; a person broadly skilled
in management, organization development and training; and an agricultural

economist of wide scope. Members of the team should have some knowledge

of fields outside their immediate specialty and should be interested in
increasing their knowledge and skills in other areas--notably in the
social sciences. They should be able to relate well to others in a

collaborative rather than a professorial or bureaucratic mode. They

should bring to their work some experience in either planning or imple-

mentation of projects, preferably both.

The availability of suitable team members will vary among countries;

but if national leaders recognize the potential impact of a training
team they will place high priority on recruiting such persons. To the

extent that inexperienced or untrained-persons are recruited, greater

stress has to be placed on training of the team itself.

The indigenous training and consulting team will generally require

some help from outside consultants until desired patterns of operation

have been well established. Even where the indigenous team members have

an initial mastery of the content and some understanding of the process
of project management, an outside consultant or two can play an extremely
important role in facilitating intra and inter-organizational commu-
nication and in helping to establish a collaborative climate in the

training process. Consultants can function as part of an augmented team

with the understanding that the indigenous members of the team are to

assume all responsibilities for consulting at the earliest possible

date. The stance of learner is healthy for all concerned, perhaps most

of all for the expatriate "experts." It is vital that the outsiders

exemplify the ideas of continuous learning, team building, and infor-
mation sharing. The recruitment of the expatriates, their orientation
and the plan of action must be carried out with these objectives in

view. Henceforth in this paper the combined host country/expatriate
team will be referred to as "the team."

It is generally useful for the team to spend some time in "team

building" activities which focus on how a group can function more
effectively, goals of the group, the functions which the various members

will perform, a mutually agreed on program for future action, and how

they can function more effectively in their environment. Such team

building activities are best carried out in an atmosphere where people

feel free to practice new patterns of relationships in a non-threatening
atmosphere. A specialist in organizational development can help a group

organize itself more effectively for its tasks. In addition, the team

can and should achieve a capability to help others function in a similar


The Operating Organization As Client

The team is seen as a service arm of the organization that has
overall responsibility for projects. A model currently developed for
one country places the team in a centrally located Projects Division and
all the operating organizations and Ministries of the government are

regarded as clients. Before the training team can start any training,

it will require guidance on what to teach (format, criteria, and general
terms of reference). This guidance can be sought from and provided by

the Central agencies involved (Finance, Budget, Planning) in cooperation

with the operating organizations. The team should interact with policy-

makers, and not be merely passive receivers of information. Because
conditions, knowledge and perceptions can be expected to change, what-
ever guidance is provided is regarded as provisional, pending later


The team approaches operating organizations with an offer to help

them plan and carry out projects. If the organization is interested, a

session is arranged with senior personnel, at which time questions such

as the following are raised:

What goals of the organization are or can be served by development
projects? How do organizational goals relate to the national

What forces and conditions support these goals?

What forces and conditions serve as constraints to reaching these

What terms of reference should be given to the groups working on

What will the program consist of, including measures to be taken to
strengthen development projects?

As part of an agreed-on program, it might be desirable to have a
short orientation on the project management training program for all pro-

fessional employees of the organization and to get continuing feedback

from them.

The Project Working Group

Once the top management of the responsible operating organization

decides which project prospects it wants to pursue, it then appoints a

project working group with knowledge and skills appropriate for the project.

Depending on the time urgency of the project and the availability of the

project's working group, the training of this group may be full time or

part time, this option being left to the top management of the operating

organization. Instructions for the working group will be provided by

top management, including important considerations such as objectives,

budget constraints, coverage, and general constraints. These instruc-

tions should be regarded as provisional, and subject to re-negotiation

by the working group as conditions change.

Where a project is inter-ministerial in nature, the project working
group should be drawn from the relevant ministries and report to a joint

Committee of Ministers or to the office of the President or Prime

Minister. Where projects are closely related, it is desirable that the
working groups for the related projects undergo joint training with a
stress on coordination of plans in both the training and application

components. For social impact projects, local representation on the

working group is particularly vital.

Initial Training of Project Working Groups

The initial period of training is designed to give a project group

skills to operate effectively as a group along with the basic tools and

understanding to prepare their project. The same kind of team training
that the training and consulting team underwent should now be received
by the working groups with a strong focus on their particular project

and the skills and understanding necessary to plan the project. Great

stress is placed on establishing and maintaining close linkages with
beneficiaries and participants in the project as well as an alertness to
the forces operating in the environment of the project.

There are a variety of exercises that specialists in team building

and organizational development can use with great effectiveness provided
they are planned and carried out as an integral preparation of the task

facing the working group--to plan their project. While structured

exercises and content are important in this training, at least as

powerful is the actual style and manner in which the trainers relate to
each other and the working groups. The climate established is crucial.

The way in which different disciplines are integrated, the degree of

collaboration among trainers, the openness to change that each trainer

exhibits, and the genuine interest of trainers in getting the trainees'
inputs are all powerful factors in creating a collaborative climate in

which working groups behave in a way that draws on the talents, exper-

ience and enthusiasm of all its members.

As concepts and techniques are presented and discussed, they
are applied by each working group to its own project. For example,

after objectives are dealt with in class, each working group will draw

up the objectives for its own project. Where it is awkward or too time-

consuming to apply techniques to the group's own project in the class-

room setting, participants may be given practice exercises or case
studies, but this is a much less desirable alternative.

Creative approaches to problem solving (e.g. brainstorming, force

field analysis, diagnostic approach, creative design) are introduced and
utilized in a natural way to generate project alternatives to be con-

sidered by the group. For example, the group could list difficulties

experienced in designing and implementing previous projects similar to

their own and then consider what action could have been taken to minimize

such difficulties. These corrective actions are then pooled among

groups to be used as a checklist when they design their own projects.

At the end of the initial training the project groups prepare a
short summary of what they propose to do on their own projects and

present them orally to the decisionmakers of the sponsoring organi-

zation, with a request for guidance. Included in this summary would be

relevant issues to be considered by the decisionmakers. Of particular

importance are value-laden or political issues that could have an impact

on the project design. These must, of course, be raised tactfully.

This first period is a very intensive period of learning. It
provides the group with the basic tools and understanding needed to

prepare its project and establishes firmly the collaborative mode
essential to cooperative planning and problem solving.

Drawing Up A Preliminary Project Plan

In the next training phase each working group operates on its own
to prepare a preliminary plan for the project on the basis of the terms

of reference and other guidance it has received from its top management

and/or sponsors. It can call on the training/consulting team as needed.
As issues or opportunities arise, the project working group or a
representative consults with the decisionmakers. A preliminary project

plan is a detailed plan, based on readily available data. Each working

group would be responsible for evaluating the data it is using and
proposing what further steps have to be taken for a final project plan.
An important part of a preliminary plan is a statement of
sensitivity of project payoff or cost to policy and procedural

parameters (e.g. sensitivity to foreign exchange rates, price policy,

marketing, land tenure, customs procedures, cultural and community

relations patterns, etc.). It would be desirable that a separate

memorandum be addressed to policymakers showing the effects of a range

of policies on important project indicators. A routine reporting of

such effects from each project could furnish valuable information to


Such a memorandum on sensitivity would have two purposes. First,

it would point up issues which require decisions or action by the

decisionmakers along with estimated consequences. Normally it would

call for a response in the form of guidance in drawing up the final

project plan. Second, such a memorandum would provide information that

would have a bearing on general policy.

In both the training component and the applied work the project

working group must be continually oriented toward constituency analysis

and toward a design of the project that makes it most acceptable and

beneficial to those affected.

Critique of Preliminary Project Plan

The preliminary project plans are then received and evaluated by

the operating agency, by the training and consulting team, and if

possible, by a potential funding source or lender. These critiques are

oriented to project authorization. After receiving whatever technical

assistance was recommended in the analysis, the working group proceeds

to draw up a final project plan and submits it for approval.

Implementation Working Group

When there are indications that the project will be approved, an
implementation working group is constituted, which may or may not be the

identical pre-approval group. It is highly desirable that at least one

member of the planning group be included in the implementation group in

order to assure continuity. It is also desirable to include represen-
tatives of the intended beneficiaries. The Implementation group would
receive training in planning with greater concentration on implemen-

tation concepts and techniques. The implementation group would then

consult the team as needed.2
Before authorization, it is necessary to plan for all aspects of
implementation that require resources or have a bearing on the soundness

of the project. The hallmark of good planning is to plan for implemen-

tation of both the investment (and/or social change) and operating
phases. Once the project is authorized the planning for implementation

takes on a more detailed character.

Work breakdowns, job descriptions, staffing, team building, de-

tailed budgeting and scheduling, preparation and award of bids, pro-

vision for other procurement and storage, setting up an accounting and
management information system all have to take place. Creativity and
teamwork as well as control are key ingredients. Projects involving

social impact require continuing field work, social and institutional

analysis, and group process planning.

2/ In spite of its long-recognized need, training for project implemen-
tation is relatively new and experimental. The authors would especially
appreciate receiving ideas and materials on implementation training.

Because development projects have an element of novelty or unique-
ness, no previous management experience is exactly pertinent. Since the

project is not a precise replication of activities that occurred in the

past, managers are not able to anticipate all of the factors that

eventually will influence the success of the project. As implementation

of the project begins, unanticipated problems occur. For example,

scarcity of human or physical resources or the inapplicability of tech-

nology cause delays or changes in the configuration of the final project

output system. After control processes direct managerial attention to
these unanticipated problems, analysis may reveal that initial plans
must be modified. Specifications must be changed, schedules adjusted,

and new sources of project inputs sought. The ramifications of these

managerial corrective actions must be examined in terms of their effect
upon project plans, particularly budgets (human and financial) and

schedules. Replanning and rescheduling is necessary to assure proper

coordination as project implementation activities change, and project

supporters and participants must be consulted on the problems and remedial

actions to be taken.

Before and during implementation, the group has to strive for a

number of capabilities. First, it must understand the proposed project.

Second, it must be able to evaluate the project as authorized, especially

from the point of view of implementation. Third, it must be able to
modify the proposed project in the light of its understanding and its

findings. Fourth, it must get the work done in a timely fashion that

produces clear benefits to sponsors and constituents. The training of

the implementation working group is designed to give them these four

In many environments, the idea of an implementation working group
modifying the project would seem bizarre. This is because planning is

often conceived of as finished once the project is authorized and the

task of the implementing group is seen as strictly "implementation."
This concept is reinforced by the generally lower status of implementers
vis-a-vis the planners. It is the task of the team to convey to all

concerned a much broader and more dynamic role for the implementation

working group, particularly to top management and the working group

By definition, development projects are new for the environment.
Conditions seldom unfold exactly as planned. Unforeseen conditions

call for innovative solutions. Unless an implementing working group

maintains a creative and problem solving atmosphere it cannot meet the
challenges that are commonly faced in the investment or social change
phases of a project. These challenges could be late deliveries of

equipment, shifts in demand, transportation difficulties, contractor
unreliability, changes in project perceptions by beneficiaries, changes
in local or national conditions, and a host of other problems.

During the training of the Implementation working group, just as in
the training of the planning working group, the concepts and techniques

presented would be followed by their application by the group to its own
project. As issues of policy arise or potential obstacles became evident,
policymakers would be consulted for decisions. For example, after

discussing how one deals with beneficiaries of a project, each working

group would analyze these for its project and initiate appropriate

action. After a discussion of the various ways in which a project can

be organized, a specific analysis can be made by each working group of

how its particular project can be organized. The training and consulting

team would be available for assistance throughout the implementation

Whatever the makeup of the implementation working group, the previous

plan for the project would be regarded as provisional, to be modified on

the basis of the facts available to the group and any new developments.

Such changes would have to receive approval by the responsible authorities,
but the initiation of changes should be the clearly stated responsibility
of the implementation working group.

A particularly valuable function performed by the team during

implementation is to participate in periodic reviews of progress,
in discussions of corrective action to be taken and ways of taking
advantage of previously unforeseen opportunities. The instructor/

consultants can help establish a future-oriented climate and overcome a

tendency to inaction. They can also provide a discriminating rein-
forcement of what was learned in the more structured training.

An important function of the team is to promote continuity of

effort between projects. Many projects are experimental or pilot projects

or the first in a series of similar projects. Other projects make

possible or point to opportunities for additional projects. Participation
in a project as consultants and concern with future projects puts the
team in a good position to regard each project either as an experimental

or pilot project which will provide valuable information for future
projects. It is quite reasonable to expect the team to be an important
catalyst for future projects, and a reservoir of experience for launching

such projects.

Applicability of the Strategy
Various parts of the strategy described have been tested and
adapted to different countries and found to be very effective. It will
be useful to point up factors that will affect the success of the
strategy and the kinds of modifications that may be necessary.

(1) The strategy will work best where top management is thoroughly
committed to development goals, but is open on specific means to

achieving the goals. This presupposes that-top management is willing

to share on a de-facto basis their influence on the shaping of projects
with their subordinates, even though they reserve the final decisions
to themselves. Contacts with the training and consulting team and the
project working group can help decisionmakers be more open ended in
their thinking. (2) A corollary to such commitment by decisionmakers is
a reward system that supports successful project planning and implemen-
tation. Where rewards are related to project performance, it will be

relatively easy to sustain successful development. (3) To the extent
possible, some personnel involved in the initial planning should be
carried over to implementation.

The strategy can be used as a starting point for a country that
wants to upgrade its ability to plan and carry out projects and it can

be modified to fit country circumstances. A large country may require a

number of indigenous training and consulting teams (e.g. one for each

state or district). In some situations it may be advantageous for

indigenous training and consulting teams to operate exclusively within

a particular Ministry, such as Agriculture. In the one ongoing country

effort the team is being closely integrated with a newly appointed

agricultural task force. The team's training of project working groups

will be followed up by task force consultation to agricultural working


Where professionals are in short supply there would have to be

greater stress on the training component and sharing of scarce pro-

fessionals by several working groups. Where indigenous specialists and

university graduates are scarce there may have to be greater stress on
training of the team as well as members of the working group. In such

cases projects would also be smaller and simpler.

For local projects, the project working groups being trained can be

composed of local functionaries who are in close contact with local bene-
ficiaries and participants of the project. A part-time arrangement can

facilitate local participation in the design as well as implementation.

Needless to say, the proof will be in how projects work out. The

first projects covered should have relatively short gestation periods

so that future training and consulting efforts can be improved promptly
on the basis of experience with projects. While all aspects of project

management are important and need to be dealt with in detail none is

more critical to its success than establishing a creative and collaborative

climate where members of the working group freely offer and utilize each

others diverse talents, thoughts and experience, all directed toward

accomplishing project goals.

Experience With the Strategy

In the early implementation stages of the strategy a number of

lessons have emerged:
1. It is important to choose the members of the indigenous training
team very carefully. Commitment and openness to change are both essential

qualities. Unless a team member is a "learner" and also has high commit-

ment he cannot fulfill the complex role of trainer/consultant. There
may have to be some trial on the job before the right team is in place.
2. The approach works best where there is a sense of urgency about

getting things done and the approach is seen as a vehicle for accom-

plishing ambitious goals. This implies that in the beginning one should
work only with those organizations which are highly committed to early
3. A country may find it difficult to immediately provide four

experienced nationals to serve on a training and consulting team. In

civil service terms it means setting up four "permanent positions." The
detailing of persons to serve for a short stint makes it difficult to
achieve commitment and erodes the learning orientation. Under such
circumstances an alternative may be to use an expatriate training and

consulting team to carry out the action-training strategy. This alter-

native is contrasted with the indigenous based alternative discussed

Alternative #1
Expatriate Model

i team

Train Indigenous
Project Working

Alternative #2
Indigenous Model

Expatriate Indigenous -
Consultants Interdisciplinary

STraining and
Consulting team _

Groups and consult on projects Train Indigenous I
Project Working
Groups and_ consult on jroc j't
Under alternative #2 the training and consulting team would require
an indigenous coordinator who would have formal responsibility for the
team effort.

Alternative #2 is clearly preferable from the host country point of

view, providing that the host country can make available several highly

skilled and motivated professionals on a full time basis.

A third alternative is to start with alternative #1 (an exclusively

expatriate training and consulting team) and plan to move to alternative

#2 on a phased basis. An advantage of alternative #3 is that it permits

the identification of indigenous trainers in the first or second cycle

of training who would be outstanding members of the training and consulting

team. But to be successful, alternative #3 requires a high priority on

recruitment of such persons when they are identified.

The developing countries have legitimate aspirations for increasing

autonomy. The proposed strategy is fully consistent with such aspirations.

A country will have taken a significant step in the direction of national

autonomy when it has the capability to design and carry out projects

that it wants both for and by itself.

- .