Project managers work to connect problem-solvers with problems. So, it may seem natural to find certified Project Management Professional Kris Troukens learning about a problem and contacting Project Managers Without Borders (PMWB) to help solve it.
Kris Troukens has been involved with Project Management Institute (PMI) in various national and international roles over the past 15 years. Professionally, he has worked as project manager and senior consultant, in addition to remaining active in the project management realm as a speaker, teacher, and consultant.
As Director at Large for PMWB, Kris is leading a collaborative program between PMWB and the Ghana Branch of Project Management Institute. The collaboration is aiming to tackle the recurrent flooding program in the Accra region of Ghana. Kris and the program team are exemplifying a real-world application of project management skills to support community leaders solve their problems. Their work on the Accra Flooding Initiative reflects themes project managers may be familiar with in their everyday professional roles.
A Complex Problem
Kris highlights how a single natural event can be complex and have unfortunately detrimental consequences for a community. The criticality of the situation can create an urgency to motivate change.
Accra is flooded at least once a year; in bad years this happens more than once. The loss of life is important each time. However, the year 2015 was particularly bad, as a petrol station exploded because of the floods, thus causing in itself about 180 casualties.
Collaboration in Innovation Development
Kris realizes the Accra Flooding is an example of a world problem that could benefit from the knowledge and expertise of project management.
During the PMI Africa conference in Accra, I had the opportunity to talk about this recurring problem with several city officials and authorities. Several other initiatives had been tried in the past, but none made any significant progress. With the help and knowledge of the local PMI chapter leaders, we decided to try and do something to find a possible solution.
Today, we are concentrating our efforts on two things. The first phase is to inform all stakeholders, and create a "forum" where these different parties communicate efficiently together. The second phase is the creation of detailed technical plans (WBS in project terms). It is not our ambition to actually execute these plans ourselves, but to provide very useful input to guide local authorities and agencies as they start improvements.
Beyond the Triple Constraint
Project Managers are familiar with the triple constraint of time-quality-costs. As with many development projects, there are other internal and external factors that must also be equally balanced. For the Accra Initiative Team, ‘time’ is a self-imposed construct, allowing the team to develop the program without too much pressure. However, careful stakeholder management is one of the most critical constraints in the project.
Stakeholder engagement in development projects is often complex. There are often several players with a multitude of expectations. Having the right level of collaboration is key to supporting the success of the project.
Beyond project managers, we are teaming up with engineers and experts from the water-treatment industries. These are the main areas where actions plans will need to be compiled. However, other more general project management skills are also required. For example when a topic such as "how to develop a garbage collection system from scratch" is on the table. Some of the other relationships we are managing include working with city and government officials. This is sometimes very sensitive, and we don't want to upset anybody. So our wording and planning needs to happen carefully. For example, when holding the international workshops we try to engage the Ambassador for Ghana in the host city.
PMWB acts as the coordinator of the "stakeholder platform" as well as the organizer of the workshops that will deliver the WBS [work breakdown structure] plans. These workshops are happening in various international cities, with the help of local PMI chapters.
When managing the relationships, we don’t use any project management or stakeholder management tools in particular--just common sense and lots of energy! Respect is of the essence. In other countries and other continents things are happening differently than in some of our "Western" countries. But I noticed that with mutual respect you can come a long way.
A Personal Commitment to Making the World a Better Place
Applying project management skills to your community or to another community is an impactful way to learn how to drive innovation. Kris’s words show this is also a way to develop soft skills such as empathy and leadership as well as to foster growth as a global citizen.
This project matters to me because of some of the personal stories that I heard in Accra. People at the conference were personally involved at the recent floods, and some kind of desperation was hanging in the air that no tangible progress can be seen to resolve the floods.
My work on this project has changed me personally. I’ve learned to appreciate another country, and another continent. Relating this to project management steps as they are applied at home is a very rich experience. And I made lots of new and dear friends, for which I will be eternally grateful.
As exemplified by the PMWB logo, the Accra Flood Initiative brings together the hands of various people reaching from around the world to provide integrated support to the world’s communities. Kris and the PMWB team are showing us how the knowledge and skills developed as project management professionals will transform ideas to outcomes.