VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) has partnered with Humentum for the last two years to host tailored Project Management for Development Professionals online workshops (Project DPro) complemented by VSO-specific materials.
VSO wanted to professionalise their project management methodology and standardise it across the organization by shifting organisational practices and setting up the infrastructure to support staff across functional areas. As they enter into their third and final training of 2020, Josephina Blumberg reached out to them to take a moment to reflect and discuss lessons learned.
Blumberg: Why was your organisation initially interested in running a workshop on Project DPro?
Ujhelyi: We started engaging with Humentum on Project DPro around 2016. At that time, we were keen to build project management skills across VSO. We also wanted to ensure consistency in our methodology and how we apply project management to our programmes. We set up a research group to compare the various methodologies and service providers. Project DPro came out as a standard for the sector, including its potential to equip VSO staff with critical skills.
We ran three pilot groups of staff members which were cross-functional and cross-geographical on the standard Humentum Flex workshops without any VSO specific material. We received a lot of positive feedback but did not manage to take significant steps forward in terms of how we would organisationally change project management practices. VSO and Humentum started to discuss a more effective way to train our colleagues. We also wanted to build in systemic support to ensure higher completion rates and adoption of the tools and approaches. Our staff needed to view this as part of their role, and ownership of the content had to live within VSO.
Karau: Our programme portfolio had also continued to grow, and we were seeing a diversification of funding from different types of donors and the size and scale of projects. There was a need to standardise our approach and to have a common mode of doing things to ensure program quality. We also needed to infuse a shared understanding and practice of project management across the board.
Blumberg: Why did you select Humentum to deliver this training and support?
Ujhelyi: The relationship between VSO and Humentum helped us feel that we were shaping the learning together, bringing our voice, but at the same time not taking away any value from the Project DPro. Humentum has been a great partner in that there has been flexibility and teamwork. The relationship and the continuity provided has helped our internal practices around training staff and allowed us to feel more confident. For all these reasons, we have continued working with Humentum over the years.
Karau: The specialised service that Humentum provides with the weekly team meetings has been valuable in helping us infuse our content into the course. The collaborative approach enables us to maximize the learning for our colleagues when they access the platform. Overall, Humentum’s interest in our course and our learners has been another reason to stay.
Blumberg: What would you say have been the keys to success?
Karau: The bi-weekly webinars our team has hosted allowed us to create the space for collective reflection: “where am I struggling and where am I at in the process?” The webinars have also been beneficial to help pace the participants.
Ujhelyi: We were quite good in putting together a well-functioning, diverse project team. Having clear roles within that team have really helped. This team have also reinforced the learning in our internal practice. People see this play out at every webinar and in every single comment that we make in the forum, so we model this cross-functional way of working as a training team.
The other thing I would say is that we include participants from across VSO. In the beginning, there was a temptation only to offer the Project DPro course to project managers, program staff or monitoring and evaluation staff. We have stated since the beginning that it is mandatory [for those staff members] if you are implementing a VSO project; you cannot implement a project without Project DPro knowledge. However, we also recommend it for staff in other functions. We all need to know what our role is in successful projects, which requires working in partnership with our colleagues.
Furthermore, we set clear expectations for the course and encourage conversations with line managers, which has meant that we have fewer drop-offs. Being transparent with people and making it clear that it is an intensive course which requires time investment is crucial. Leadership has also helped, which in fact has been really critical. I don’t think we have got this 100% right just yet, but clear messages from our CEO and some of our operational directors have helped to cement this as an organisation-wide effort.
The other thing I would say is that we include participants from across VSO…We all need to know what our role is in successful projects, which requires working in partnership with our colleagues.
Another important point to note is the use of mentors who are trained Project DPro professionals. Their engagement has helped with peer to peer support, which brings in a different sense of engagement, ensuring the team gels.
Blumberg: What would you say have been the tangible and intangible outputs of running these trainings?
Karau: Some tangible outputs are increased confidence across our staff in specific program tools and approaches. An example is the Issue Log. We saw countries customising it, and it almost went viral. There is also a renewed clarity around terminology in the organisation. I give the example of portfolios; one of our senior staff members participated in the workshop, and he started to talk more along the lines of, “How do we see that decision in terms of the entire portfolio?” They are no longer foreign concepts.
Ujhelyi: A lot of global technical leads began to say, “If I want to get something out to a wide range of colleagues in VSO in the right context, maybe I should put it into the Project DPro course.” That shifts the mindsight of people in VSO from “I have a critical business process and I need to let everyone know about it…I am just going to run a stand-alone webinar or send an email.” towards a “ people are managing projects all the time; how does it link to that?” perspective.
Blumberg: Any specific advice that would like to give to other organisations?
Ujhelyi: Before starting a new workshop, think about ownership. Where does it sit internally and who will be responsible or accountable? For us, it went back and forth until we found that it needs to sit in the programmatic team. It is not an HR function to train people in an international development organisation on something so critical as project management skills. In VSO, it was the programme development area.
Karau: Begin with the end in mind. It’s more than numbers. It is really about how we are going to track what it means? How do we provide the right infrastructure to enable them to utilise the tools and approaches from their learning? How do we ensure the tools are accessible?
Ujhelyi: Certification is a massive value proposition. We want participants to feel valued. So, it is crucial to think through how we certify people, the processes around that and the budget implications. This is an investment that speaks volumes to how an organisation values project management, its people, and how we bring those together.
Ann Karau works as a Programme Development Specialist at VSO, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Ann ensures program- design quality across the portfolio alongside members of the Program Development Team. Ann joined VSO is 2016 and has been instrumental in developing programme practice across VSO. She has supported the design of numerous programmes globally, through her participatory approach to technical support and facilitation skills.
Zsuzsanna Ujhelyi works as Organisation Development Manager, based in London, UK. In her role, she works with leaders, managers and technical specialists globally, to build sustainable people development solutions on the individual, team and organisational levels. She joined VSO in 2012 and has since trained in organisational relationship system coaching methodologies and applied this within her practice, and is also a member of the International Coaching Federation.
If you are interested in hosting a similar style of Project DPro workshop for your organization in partnership with Humentum, please contact our team at email@example.com.