Mission & Evangelism
HIV/AIDS resources

Project Design and Management

This paper highlights issues that will assist organizations and community leaders to put together project proposals attractive to potential funders, and to manage projects in an acceptable manner. There are no fixed rules. Different factors should be considered, according to the funding agency and type of project. The paper also discusses briefly the relationship of organizations with funding agencies, and especially areas of disagreement.

What is a project?
There are varying definitions, as follows:
• Golding defines a project as an operation of sufficient complexity to require a formalized method of planning and control. It has specific objectives and it is subject to time and cost constraints.1
• Elsewhere, however, it is defined as an endeavour, human or mechanical, in which material and financial resources are organized in a novel way, to undertake a unique scope of work, of given specification, within constraints of cost and time, so as to deliver beneficial change defined by quantitative and qualitative objectives.
• Finally, Chong and Brown define a project as an enterprise or activity planned to use a combination of resources and aimed at achieving a goal or set of goals (2000).2

All the above definitions have some common words (italicized), suggesting that there are certain characteristics to a project. These are:

Objectives: The objectives should be specific, measurable, verifiable and attainable.

Uniqueness: Each project is unique, for several reasons. For example, it involves different groups of people; it is temporary, it will start and end; people with different skills work on it; and different relationships develop.

Resources: Projects are accomplished through resources – funds, human and material.

Organization: Many individuals with varied skills, interests, personalities and unpredictability are involved. In this regard it may be quite frustrating because of the varied levels of commitment and personal agendas.

For many organizations, projects are set up to deal with specific issues or needs. The needs may be to service the target groups or the organization itself. Projects may be commercial (raising money), economic (to sustain the organization), or for social development (serve the target).

Project planning
The old saying “When you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there” is true, because you can have a plan only if you have a destination in mind. Basically, planning is:
– knowing where you are;
– knowing where you want to go; and
– defining which way you will get from where you are to where you want to be.

Therefore the main purpose of planning is to facilitate good choices of goals, strategies and methods. Project planning and control is concerned with the achievement of predetermined objectives by planning the relationships between, and by setting restraints on, the use of resources; and by subsequently monitoring progress against that plan and, where necessary, rescheduling.

Experience indicates a common tendency to concentrate on the implementation of activities rather than on objectives when planning development projects, illustrated by statements such as “the goal is to start a dancing group” and “our aim is to start a crafts training school”, instead of “the goal is to reduce unemployment” and “our aim is to curb juvenile delinquency”. The tendency to jump directly to the envisaged activities creates mental blocks, which obstruct development of alternative solutions. It is important to set objectives first before making a decision on the means to be employed.

For a project to reach a satisfactory planned conclusion, many elements must be considered and controlled. A most important one is the human factor, which has the capability to influence the project from both within and without. Plans are needed to:
– aid coordination and communication;
– provide a basis for monitoring;
– satisfy requirements;
– help avoid problems.

Coordination and communication: There is a golden rule to project planning: “Get the person who will do the job to plan the job.” No job is too hard for the person who does not have to do it, but persons who plan their own tasks are more likely to be able to do them. Project planning coordinates various expertise as people with different skills come together to work on a project. The planning must communicate because in the absence of the project manager someone should be able to take it forward.

Monitoring: Plans are the basis for project monitoring activity. What we do not know when we start is where and how our project will deviate from the plan. Deviations, detected by monitoring progress, constitute early warning signals of problems to be resolved or the need for replanning. It could also be a sign that the project will not achieve its intended aim.

Requirement satisfaction: Plans are sometimes created merely to satisfy requirements imposed by others, for example customers or bosses. They are in such instances often set up under duress rather than because they are perceived to be valuable. They are often a waste of time because they never take off.

Problem avoidance: Project management is sometimes a race against disaster. Plans cannot prevent problems, but good plans help avoid problems during implementation.

Main stages in development of a project
Identification: At this stage the initial project proposal is conceived and formulated. The description of the potential target groups and anticipated outcome of the project are important at this stage.

Feasibility study: To avoid wasting time on developing ideas that might be discarded, it is important to undertake a feasibility study that provides a thorough background with information on overall justification for the project, target groups, their needs, and the effects (positive and negative) and major results anticipated. Feasibility studies are not a must in all cases; there might be instances where no formal studies are required, as information may already be available from previous experiences. However, some research into the literature or interviews and meetings might be conducted. This stage should determine and confirm the need for a project.

Project design: Main components are designed at this stage without necessarily going into the details of activities and necessary inputs. The perspective is the whole project and its context.

Detailed planning: This entails the project implementation plan, the intended output, activities and input, as well as monitoring systems, time schedules and budget.

Monitoring: This is the periodic and/or continuous surveillance of the project. It is important to build it into the project.

Project review: There must be agreement for review of the project as an element in the follow-up by the donor/funder. This aspect is dependent on the nature and size of the project, but also on the policies of the donor.

Evaluation: The evaluation process should involve all stakeholders. This exercise should assess the impact and relevance of the project in relation to its stated objectives, target groups, etc. The evaluation is complemented by the monitoring system and therefore should not need to go into detailed historical evaluations.

The above stages are not a rule. They are or may be dependent on a number of issues such as the size of the project, the donor, the environment, and so on.

An effective project plan accomplishes the following tasks:
– identifies everything required to complete the plan successfully;
– contains a schedule for the timing of these tasks, and related milestones;
– defines the required resources, assuming that these will be available at the appropriate time, and reflects participation of these resources and their management;
– has a budget for each task;
– includes suitable contingency;
– is credible to both performers and management.

Project memorandum/proposal/document
Before we can even start to write a proposal, it is important to research and get to know the funders available, their requirements, their mission and objectives, to determine their relevance to the project. Most project proposals are modified to suit the various funders; therefore, a thorough knowledge of their areas of interest may assist you in preparing a proposal that would suit their language and desires. The unfortunate scenario that often develops here is the diversion of organizations from their original intentions, mission and goals in order to suit donor requirements for securing funding.

Donors themselves are quite varied in their set-ups, as far as their areas of interest are concerned. However, since they are basically development agents, the areas of interest usually revolve around the same issues, such as HIV/AIDS, women and gender, the under-privileged or disadvantaged, youth, environment, etc. Consequently, it is important to know the donor community very well.

A project proposal should answer the following questions:
• Why this particular project?
• What does the project hope to achieve?
• Who will benefit from the project?
• How will it be implemented?
• Who is responsible for it?
• How long will it take to implement?
• What kinds of resources are necessary?
• What external factors must be present so as to ensure a reasonable chance of success?

Most applications require the following information in some form or another:

Summary: This part of the proposal summarizes the main content of the document. It varies from a few sentences to a few pages. It should be specific to the proposed project, and is usually written after the rest of the proposal has been drawn up.

Introduction: In this section the organization is introduced, with its background, mission, vision, legal status and capacity.

Purpose: The aims of the proposal are described, and this includes a problem- or need-synopsis. Insights are given into the solution which the proposal addresses, the donors’ interests are compared with the project interests, and factual/statistical information is provided.

Objectives: The specific objectives that must be addressed in order to meet the needs described in the purpose section are listed.

Proposed intervention/implementation: “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” For each objective, the work to be done and achievement at each stage are given. The outcomes expected, resources available, and the monitoring and evaluation systems are described.

Financial plan/cost/budget: A financial plan should outline what each stage and work package costs, who is accountable, the financial benefits to be derived, the financial commitment made, the cash flow, and the financial authorization in place.

Financial management
A key element in managing finances, especially a project budget, is to know it in detail. The record-keeping systems should supply the following information: the project budget, what has actually been spent, where the money came from, justification for all the expenditures under the grant, and the proof of expenditure made, work done and materials received.

If the system provides this information, the financial feedback to the donor is more or less satisfactory.

Project implementation
“There are those who make things happen and those who watch things happening.” The involvement of stakeholders in projects, such as users and customers, adds considerable value to the project at all stages. Usually the earlier they are involved, the better the results. Involvement enhances the spirit of belonging and ownership of the project. It also assists the stakeholders to understand their current and future needs. Involving stakeholders is a powerful mover for change, while ignoring them can lead to failure. When viewed from a stakeholders’ perspective, the project may be just one more that they have to cope with, as well as fulfilling their own usual duties: it may even appear irrelevant or regressive.

Innovative ways of enhancing involvement are through focus groups, facilitated workshops, early prototyping and simulations.

Relationships with funding agencies
It is important to understand that most funders start with the belief that the funder-project relationship will be cooperative and relatively free of any serious problems. Most productive relationships change when channels of communication are not kept open, transparency is lacking, and programmes develop beyond the original proposal once the grant has been made. Typical areas of disagreement are the following:

1. Financial
– differences as to the actual approved line-by-line operating budget for the project, given that project budgets originally submitted in a proposal are often revised during the process of negotiating the grant;
– whether the project is remaining within the total approved budget amount and/or will continue to do so over the project’s life;
– the extent to which cost-sharing and in-kind contribution arrangements are adhered to;
– timely submission of financial reports, and conformity to funders’ requirements;
– transfer of funds between budget items without approval;
– overspending/underspending in line items;
– whether agreed upon and accepted book-keeping principles and methods are employed;
– control and maintenance of proper financial records.

2. Staffing and personnel
– recruitment and selection;
– salary levels and benefits;
– justification of qualifications;
– adherence to agreements.

3. Participants
– intended target groups being reached;
– the extent to which the project serves target groups falling outside the purview of the funder.

4. Facilities, equipment, services
– importance attached to project by host agency or government;
– time project can wait for resources like land;
– project not following procedures of host agency.

5. Legitimacy and approval
– NGOs complement and/or fill in the gaps that governments in the various countries are unable to attain; however, governments want projects to legitimate their own operations in terms of their social purposes and legal obligation;
– project activities’ consistency with the objectives of funding agencies in terms of targets, kind of services, and amount of services offered;
– philosophy, ideology, purpose and objectives consistent with the hosts’ interests.

Bargaining and negotiation techniques
– provide written documentation of the request with sufficient factual data to support your claim convincingly;
– get the other party to agree on at least the initial facts, such as the approved budget figures, objectives, and what the project is requesting or wants;
– be patient: keep the door open for further presentation of material and communication;
– keep extraneous and unrelated items out of the negotiation process;
– be prepared to bargain, to give up something in exchange for something else, “make a deal”;
– show that funders’ interests and the project’s interest overlap;
– take things one step at a time;
– identify what items cannot be decided upon, set them aside and try to agree on those that can be;
– explain what you plan to do and why;
– be persistent;
– keep a written record of all concerns and confirm your understanding in writing whenever you come to an agreement satisfactory to the project.

– be provocative;
– make threats;
– be vague about what you want;
– involve third parties in negotiations;
– argue over global issues;
– imply a lack of ethics;
– fail to listen to what the other is saying;
– argue about who said what when there is no formal record or correspondence;
– close all doors to further discussion.

• Know your audience, key persons to build relations with, establish their interests, background, role, etc.
• Present the efficiency and effectiveness of the project in convincing ways.
• Show how project is connected to and promotes the interests of the funder.

Attracting additional funding
Demonstrate that the project is actively seeking other funds from other sources. This is a sign of viability of a project. Donors delight in the knowledge that the project they are funding is also attractive to other funders.

Cooperation and cooptation
Compliance may not always be in the interest of the project, but other techniques that could be employed to gain the support of funders include:
Provision of information: To make funders aware of the activities, accomplishments and problems of a project, use clippings from newspapers, magazines, journals, published articles, etc.; descriptions of presentations by staff at workshops, conferences, meetings, etc.; copies of project newsletters; notice of awards and honours received by staff; copies of studies and reports issued by project; copies of pertinent internal reports, e.g. monthly activity summaries; and copies of letters from satisfied customers/clients.

Personal contact: Written material may be important but should not substitute personal contact. Routine visits should supplement the official contacts. Keep them businesslike but informal. Be sure to have real issues to talk about, e.g. changes that may occur or are anticipated; problems that may be cropping up; progress in implementation and achieving of objectives, consultation for instance for funder mileage and how if it is to be published it should be worded, etc.

Principles of effective reports
1. Clarity
– language and organization of material should be easy to follow;
– use the “keep-it-simple” style;
– avoid long, ambiguous sentences;
– use technical and professional terms when necessary, but explain their meaning if the funder may not be thoroughly familiar with them;
– arrange in logical sequence.

2. Relevance and responsiveness
– relevant to funders interests;
– no unnecessary and irrelevant information;
– adherence to funders’ requirements, content, length, deadlines, etc.

3. Consistency
– no contradictory material: each part should be related to and consistent with other parts, e.g. statistics, budget figures, etc.

4. Interest and impact
– effective reports get attention and are regarded positively by funders; they often use brief case stories, graphs and charts, headings and sub-headings and bullets instead of numbers.

The issues discussed in this paper are by no means exhaustive. A great deal of common sense and adaptation to the particular situation needs to be exercised. Organizations in different political and administrative settings will encounter different experiences.

Practical exercises
Work out a project proposal on one of the following:
– needs of orphans in an HIV/AIDS context;
– empowering widows in rural areas;
– training-of-trainers workshop on mainstreaming HIV/AIDS in the curriculum;
– any subject of your own interest.

1 D.H. G. Golding, Project Planning and Control, Manchester, NCC Publications, 1978.
2 Chong, Y.Y. and Brown, E.M., “Managing Project Risk”, in Financial Times, Prentice Hall, 2000.

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An HIV and AIDS curriculum for theological institutions in Africa

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