Managing projects is critical in humanitarian responses. The humanitarian sector largely operates on the basis of projects. Funding proposals are made on the basis of projects, and what we do meets all the classic criteria of a project: it has a set duration; it has set resources (budget, staff, others); it tries to achieve a particular objective.
Humanitarian responses are very tough environments to manage projects. They change rapidly, you have to move fast, and information is lacking. CARE believes that this means that project management becomes more important, not less. You have to be more skilled, be comfortable with a bigger set of tools, and apply them appropriately. The project manager is often not the most senior position in an organogram – but if it is your job, you are one of the people that can make the biggest difference to the women, men, boys and girls affected by a crisis.
Humanitarian responses are tough environments, but the challenges are not unique. They might be particularly urgent, the stakeholders might be different or particularly challenging, the information might be less complete, but the challenges that a project manager faces are very similar to those faced by project managers in other sectors. You need to communicate with all those involved; you need to ensure that the project is designed in a way that meets the needs of the groups it is being run to support; you need to manage expenditures and resources to avoid overspending and maximize the efficiency of the project; you need to organize a team and get them to actually get the work done. These are all challenges that would be familiar to project managers everywhere – whether they are designing a new printer or piece of furniture; building a factory or a sports stadium; or reorganizing a social insurance or customer service system.
So the good news is that there are many tools developed for different environments that can help you in your job as a project manager in a humanitarian response. The difficult step is that many of them need thoughtful usage and adaptation to work effectively in an emergency response. Outside the white-hot emergency response phase, if you’re working in recovery or rehabilitation, you will have less need to change and adapt them.
This section complements the chapter on Operations Planning. Much of the guidance suggested there is essential for project managers. Note that whilst the CARE Emergency Toolkit has been developed in partnership with the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation, this section is CARE’s guidance. Though it draws on PMI good practices and the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), it is not official PMI guidance.