PM4NGOs is developing the Guide to Program Management for Development Professionals to provide advice, tools and guidance to help Program Managers work effectively at a pivotal level in local, national and international NGOs.
Program managers play an essential role by providing an interface between their organization’s strategic management team and project managers who are accountable for the successful delivery of small, medium, and large projects.
The Guide is expected to be launched in the first semester of 2016. However, we would like to anticipate discussion about this new approach and to gather feedback from the PM4NGOs community in advance by sharing our new Program Lifecycle diagram and approach.
The initial ideas phase when key stakeholders, together with beneficiaries, outline the basic needs and gaps in services or opportunities in target communities. High-level goals and outcomes are identified and these can then be turned into tangible concepts for which funding and buy-in is then sought.
The program foundations are built through solid design and integrated mapping of each of the diverse elements of the program. This is the framework through which Program Managers can control, monitor, and execute all components associated with program implementation. Repeating this phase several times over the lifecycle of a program is the best way to ensure continued relevance and impact.
Program Planning and Implementation
Assuming that the program is funded and the initial design is complete, it is now time to start the program planning and implementation. Program Managers invest time in translating the design into more accurate plans: managing and leading different teams, engaging key stakeholders, responding to challenges and risks (known and unknown) of multiple projects, and overseeing internal controls. Like the Program Design phase, this process is also iterative, with each phase complementing the other, resulting in programs that that are targeted and reflective of changing environments.
Programs should come to a natural end, closing when all of their constituent projects are completed and benefits realized and accepted by stakeholders. There should be a transition through which the implementing agency transfers responsibility of maintaining those benefits elsewhere.
A Decision Gate captures the objective of each phase in the form of a question, prompting the Program Manager to check that all activities have been completed before moving onto the next phase. For example, the Decision Gate between the Identification and the first Design phase is: Do we design? Do we have all of the information that we need to move forward into the next phase? Decision Gates are powerful tools for Program Managers who have the big picture overview to ensure that multiple projects move into different phases so as to achieve the overall program goal.
The Program Lifecycle Diagram shows five essential principals that cut across all program phases and should be applied skillfully at program and project levels. As the diagram indicates, all programs must be: Well governed, Participatory, Comprehensive, Integrated and Adaptive. Each of the five principles should be applied together, throughout the life of a program.
Good governance defines the management framework within which program decisions are made. It is essential to a program’s success and should be emphasized at each phase of the program life cycle. This necessitates establishing program governance structure defining the roles, responsibilities, authority, and accountability for each component of the program.
An excellent program is inclusive and Program Managers should seek the perspectives of a variety of stakeholders in all program phases. This ensures that program implementation reflects the current context and the true capacities and inclinations of all those involved.
A good program plan needs to demonstrate a thorough understanding of how each of the component parts (projects) fit together to create a greater whole. It is also an opportunity to show how each of the elements combine to provide the leverage and added value gained as a result of working in an integrated way.
Processes should be aligned and coordinated through all phases in the life of a program, with each of the component parts combining effectively to operate smoothly as a whole.
The Program Manager should ensure that management processes are revisited and repeated through the life of a program to check that designs and plans are still relevant to improve efficiencies and allow adjustments to be made to keep a program on track.
What happened with the monitoring and evaluation?
When a program is underway and project teams are focused on the implementation of activities and operations, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture. The Program Manager needs to ensure that the work of their project teams remains aligned with the program vision and plan, and this necessitates building in processes to monitor output standards and gather feedback about performance.
Working in this way is invaluable for highlighting potential problems and making course corrections, and if done regularly throughout the lifecycle of a program, provides the insight needed to deliver excellent and informed evaluations that inform future programs and meet the requirements of donors.
Monitoring and evaluation are critical processes that cut across all phases, and are systematically and intuitively built into the entire lifecycle of a program rather that at specific moments or milestones. Rather than identifying these elements within the program phases, or as representing a specific moment, our approach is to ensure that the tools and disciplines of monitoring and evaluation are built in as a core element of each of the principals as a permanent and consistent component of program management.