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It´s all about the impact of a project, not the deliverables!

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In trainings project managers are often told that the main focus of a project is to deliver in time and in budget. In fact, that´s only partly right, as we should measure success of a project rather based on the long-term impact than its deliverables.

What is the impact and how does it relate to input, activities, outputs and outcomes of a project? Following guidance for Development Aid Projects  the terms could be defined as follows:

  • Inputs: The financial, human, and material resources used for the development intervention
  • Activities: Actions taken or work performed through which inputs, such as funds, technical assistance and other types of resources are mobilized to produce specific outputs
  • Outputs: The products, capital goods and services which result from a development intervention; may also include changes resulting from the intervention which are relevant to the achievement of outcomes
  • Outcomes: The likely or achieved short-term and medium- term effects of an intervention’s outputs.
  • Impact: Positive and negative, primary and secondary long-term effects produced by a  development intervention, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended

The Logical Framework Model is a simple and commonly used way of illustrating how a project will work in order to achieve the desired impact. Let me explain this in the context of a social project in Nepal that I was able to analyse last year during a visit to Kathmandu.

After the devastating earthquake in Nepal during April 2015, thousands of people were killed and millions lost their homes. Thanks to generous donations an initiative was launched to support the people of Nepal. One focus of the project was to rebuild as many of the houses as possible, but also to support the people in making their living and having a better future. The inputs of the project were the financial support mainly from Switzerland and the UK, experience and proven concepts of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation being active in Nepal for more than 60 years and an established network of partners Helvetas is working with since many years. During the project other resources were made available. The project activities of the Core Team at Helvetas were setting up a project organisation, planning the project activities with all partners, such as training programmes, monitoring and controlling the progress and filing reports to the Government and the donors.

Key Activities that are performed through the project are as follows:

  • Designing a Train-the-Trainer Curriculum for earth-quake resilient construction of home and performing such trainings to the instructors
  • Providing 50-days training to 6.500 Masons and 1.000 Carpenters in house construction work
  • Finding employment for the trainees nearby Kathmandu

The outputs of the project are the concepts for the Train-the-Trainers, the Training Curricula, earthquake-resilient homes, re-constructed during the training as well as job counseling and placement for the trainees. The outcomes are gainful employment of economically poor and socially discriminated youth, an increasing know-how in earthquake-resilient construction of homes, which will help to avoid massive destructions during the next earthquake and a much stronger network of construction people in the community. The employment of the disadvantaged Nepalese youth will have great impact on their self-esteem, their wealth and social situation. Through the strong network of partners and people in the case of a next disaster, the response is much faster and powerful than it was before the project.

Another issue is worth mentioning as the monitoring and controlling of the progress was done through an innovative “Electronic Photo Monitoring System”. Through smart phones the supervisors could upload pictures to an APP, which was transferring them to a central data base which provides the basis for project controlling. The payment was progress-based. 25% of the fees were paid upon signing the agreement (to prepare for the project activities). The next 25% were paid upon training completion. The remaining 50% will be paid after 6-months verification of employment to a minimum wage. In addition, there are financial incentives for training and providing employment to underprivileged or discriminated people. Thus, the payment is focusing rather on outcomes than on activities. For me that´s the future and we should adopt this in business-related context …

Here is a link to a insightful source of the World Bank on Impact Evaluation in Practice.

- Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defence, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is President of IPMA, Past President and Honorary Fellow of GPM (the German Project Management Association), and founder and CEO of Projectivists, a PM Consultancy.

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One response to “It´s all about the impact of a project, not the deliverables!

  1. Reihard,
    Nice article as I am a big fan of the LFA, but your use of the terminology seems a bit convoluted.

    Given that the PRODUCT of the project is a completed house, then how is that different from the DELIVERABLES?

    Asked another way, if a completed house is the DELIVERABLE of the project, consistent with the LFA approach, then shouldn’t we be measuring and evaluating the impacts (both + and -) of the PRODUCT of the project, (the house)?

    Another point that concerns me is how the project manager can be held accountable for the success or failure of the PRODUCT of the project? In order to have accountability, there needs to be two criteria:
    1) “Reasonable Control”- that is no person can be held accountable for that over which they have little or no control)
    2) “Authority to Act”- that the person has the formal authority to act to both manage risks and opportunities.

    So where or how can anyone claim that the project manager has either reasonable control or the authority to act once the house has been completed? As I see it most project managers barely have any control over the scope, time, cost and quality of the house construction and virtually no control or authority beyond that. And in many cases, the project manager does not even have any control over the budget or time frame, much less the resources.

    Bottom line- I really like the article but many of your conclusions just don’t make any sense to me as a practitioner.

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