Saturday, October 11, 2008

SE-session 9: Project Management

I would like to start off at the last! My take home of the day! (more of a suggestion than a rule of thumb though)
Identify what your beneficiaries need, sensitize the beneficiaries about their need and your solution, involve the beneficiaries of the social initiative to participate and if possible manage the initiative.

Project planning should be approached from a mixture of top-down and a bottom-up approach. Top-down, as in using "from the book" ideas like management and leadership principles, business models etc. Bottom-up as in getting to know what the beneficiaries (or end users) want and forming strategy based on that.

The class started off with some basics about project management. It is not only a science, as it involves rational thinking, data analysis and decision-making, but also an art since it involves getting the job done using your wits.

We moved on to a brief analysis of the difference between a program and a project.

Program: Long-term or on-going activity, continually funded and has regular allocation of budget. Example: National literacy mission

Project: Usually short-term, one-time funding. Usually a program is made up of a lot of projects that achieve the purpose of a program

Following this, we discussed a questionnaire, answering which one may have planned an entire project well considering all aspects and would be ready to hit the road. This took us all the way up to the break and formed a very important learning session of the class (so, don't skip the link!)

During the second half of the session, the instructor presented the way his initiatives in eliminating rural poverty made an impact in the livelihood of the rural society. He devised and designed various initiatives for the benefit of rural poor in various sectors like agriculture, education, micro-finance, health, income generation.

He talked about the federated model of self-help group (summarized by slide-3 of the PDF doc) in Andhra Pradesh, which was a run-away hit in the whole of the country. The success of the model was summarized by the fact that about 42% of all the money allocated by the Indian government is used by AP, while the repayment rate is 98%, unmatched by any other SHG anywhere else. Delegates from other states and even countries like Vietnam visit AP to study the SHG model.

Since this post is not about singing the praise of AP's SHG models, I move beyond to aspects that are common to all the government projects (including SHGs) that he was involved.
  • All project involved formation of Village organizations (VOs) which essentially is a representative body of the village. They were legally registered as co-operatives. All SHGs and VO are composed of women from the village
  • The relevant govt. representatives train and sensitize them about the need of the co-operative. (If it is agriculture.. training is on retaining profit and eliminating middle-men during procurement... if it is micro-finance, training is on how important savings is etc..)
  • Once training is done, the initiative is implemented and the outcomes are measured!
The model of sensitizing and involving the beneficiaries in various levels from management to volunteering has largely produced good results (will be evident from the slides of the session that I will post once they are available to me). But few do fail to scale up after initial success.

The whole session was finally summarized by the discussion titled "Why do projects succeed?"
highlighting the points user involvement as a participant, continuous funding, Clear understanding of goals, effective planning and setting realistic expectations of scope, quality and time involved.

By the then, we were about half-an-hour past time and we didn't even realized it. (I was especially mesmerized by the facts and figures he presented by the success stories of SERP's rural development initiatives). But he left us with a mention that goals should be SMART

Specific: Well-defined and clear to project managers
Measurable in terms of qualitative parameters
Agreed upon by all stakeholders
Realistic, as in set within the availability of resources

Brief Profile of Mr B. Ravi Shankar

Mr. B. Ravi Shankar has completed Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Applications and also in Management (Rural development) from Xavier’s Institute, Ranchi.

Earlier he worked as a project officer in the Society for Rural Industrialization, Ranchi, Jharkhand, as a Community Coordinator in Girijan Cooperative Corporation, AP, and as a Project Director of Leather Industries Development Corporation of AP. He also has the experience of working in IT sector for sometime. Presently he is the Project Manager of Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), (IKP-VELUGU project), AP.

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