14 October 2022, 12:37
Project Management in Local Councils: Why It Should Be Implemented

Local self-government bodies are “providers” of various kinds of services to hromada residents. Thus, city, town, and village councils work with social policy, housing and communal services, education, investments, etc. Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has led to several problems that local authorities solve. Among them are information, food, and civilian security issues, as well as the lack of residential space and destroyed infrastructure.

It is not enough just to develop new projects and programs under these circumstances, it is also necessary to ensure their effectiveness and timeliness of implementation. That is why it is necessary to introduce project management practices in municipal management systems that are standard for all types of projects or programs without exception. And PMO (Project Management Office) will help with this.

Experts of the program “Transparent cities” offer to figure out how this approach works, what will help to optimize the work, and why it is useful.

How PMO Works

PMO is an approach that is often used in business and IT for step-by-step implementation of projects according to a standardized scheme. The main goal of this approach is to increase the efficiency of the team, to implement and coordinate projects and, as a result, to achieve goals faster and better.

However, it is critical to understand that the implementation of project management in business and in municipalities is significantly different. Thus, planning processes, in local self-government bodies, depend on meeting the expectations and needs of the persons involved (citizens, business, donors), and not on the desire to make a profit. In addition, city councils often work with limited financial and human resources, access to technology, and knowledge. And, despite this, we must provide quality services and create effective tools. Therefore, it is crucial to plan and allocate resources correctly to achieve the set goals.

“PMO allows moving from vertical decision-making processes, when time is spent on the very process of waiting for a decision, to horizontal processes, when project teams can do it themselves. In the long run, any self-learning and self-improving system, in which people and processes are more important than a quick result, always wins compared to the system, where no one counts losses from achieving the goal,” says Oleksii Prosnitskyi, one of the experts of the PMO for Ukrainian hromadas project.

Sometimes, municipalities regard the PMO as a costly approach in terms of finance and human resources. However, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, institutions around the world, including municipal ones, began to recognize that the introduction of standardized project management practices was a necessity rather than a choice. For example, thanks to the incorporation of the PMO approach into the city management system, it was possible to implement 100 important projects for the city Cape Town with greater efficiency and attract additional funding, in particular from foreign governments.

Standardization is an Integral Part of the PMO

Each office or department of the local council has its own microculture of project management. It depends on procedures, software, reporting, etc. At the same time, when implementing the PMO, it is necessary to systematize approaches to planning and implementation.

It is the standardization of processes that will increase the likelihood of project success. To do this, institutions should:

  • determine what you want to achieve through the implementation of the PMO in the long term (10 years) and short term (2-3 years) perspectives;
  • analyze current activities, identify priority areas of work and make sure that they correspond to the city's development strategy, available financial, human, and time resources;
  • clearly establish the powers of each of the project participants, provide an opportunity for everyone to grow within their competence;
  • implement a project management policy by creating databases with organized information, document templates, tools, methodologies, and procedures that will help achieve efficiency;
  • provide training and professional development for the team through the access to educational resources, mentoring, development of training programs, as well as support for certification of professional qualities, not just giving instructions;
  • organize continuous monitoring of current activities through cost, risk and achievement assessment; focus on projects with the greatest risk, then on previously launched projects, later — on current tasks, and future activities.

It is also important for institutions to determine what type of project management should be implemented to maximize success with available needs and resources. There are some types of the PMO:

  • The organizational PMO, which helps a structural unit or subdivision to achieve individual goals.
  • A program or project office is created temporarily to support a specific project or program.
  • The project/services/control support office provides enabling processes to continuously support project, program, or portfolio management.
  • A strategic, corporate, or global PMO is responsible for aligning projects and programs with development strategies, and establishing, ensuring appropriate governance.
  • Centers of excellence or competence play a supporting role and support teams and projects through training, mentoring, developing methodologies, and management standards. This type of the PMO helps to respond more quickly to the changing economic and political context, as well as to stakeholder requests.

Experience of Cities

The practice of using project management in the field of municipal management has become increasingly widespread over the years, and not only abroad. Thanks to the PMO, the already mentioned Cape Town was able to implement projects on time and within the allocated funding. At the same time, King County, Washington, has improved its management of solid waste, with a positive impact on more than 1 million residents.

The Ukrainian cities of Kryvyi Rih and Mariupol also began to use project management to improve the efficiency of certain areas of their activities. The EU Project​ ​Office has worked before the full-scale war with the support of the​ EU​​ in Mariupol, which was engaged in programs to support decentralization and anti-corruption struggle. In particular, and thanks to the efforts of the team, the city came first in the City Transparency and Accountability Rankings of local councils for several years in a row.

According to Oleksii Prosnitskyi, the use of PMOs has allowed cities to use more money per unit of time, to attract funds from sponsoring organizations more efficiently, to implement projects faster, and to abandon unnecessary programs and initiatives for cities.

Where to Start and What to Avoid?

Although project management is not an established process in local authorities, some departments and units, without realizing it, use elements of project management. For example, they create standardized document flow databases or unified approaches to reporting and use the same procurement guides for all departments. So, it's not difficult to start because these won't be completely new processes for employees.

The implementation of project management approaches should start with individual departments and individual programs. This will allow learning how to dispose of available resources, carefully plan steps, establish communication, and eventually understand whether your model is suitable for scaling.

Tip: be ready to start from scratch but of course do not forget to consider the experience gained.

You should devote enough time to the training of employees during the transition to the new standards.

“There are different practices and moves in project management. And they can actually be “sorted” from simple to complex. The simplest, but no less effective, are constant training, the transition to project document management in cloud services, calendar planning and reporting on projects, building real-time analytics with public access,” says Oleksii Prosnitskyi.

Moreover, you should avoid silence, respond to employees’ inquiries, and communicate progress to all stakeholders. It is also important as the resistance to change will be significant at first, and it is natural, but over time, when the new approach will show effectiveness, it will be easier.

It is worth counting initially on internal and often limited resources, or grant funds in the case of funding. After the results obtained and the proven effectiveness of the approach, it is likely that the relevant direction will be able to receive more funds from the city or the national budget.

Advantages for Ukraine

The post-war reconstruction of our cities is expected after the victory of our state, as well as a change in management approaches and behavior patterns as a response to existing problems and needs.

The PMO could be the tool that will change not just the standards of municipal governance, but also the standards of living of hromada residents. This approach will allow:

  1. To manage resources rationally in the face of shortages of funds and people, looking for new ways to meet the needs of residents in the current circumstances, and compensating for the consequences of the economic downturn.
  2. To learn to better plan the time, budget, goals of the program, or individual projects, achieving results and not exceeding the provided funding.
  3. To develop targeted programs and projects that are in line with the city development strategy, and not just formally perform tasks.
  4. To increase accountability and transparency in the use of budgetary and donor funds, improving approaches to control, monitoring, and reporting. This will allow you to form an image of a responsible money manager and partner.
  5. To form innovative tools and applications that will not only facilitate the work of municipal employees, but will also be converted for the authorities into reputational and political dividends.

We know that Ukrainian hromadas are interested in improving the efficiency of their work, and we believe that they will be able to implement this modern approach.

The material was prepared by Transparent Cities analyst Viktoriia Onyshchenko in collaboration with the program manager Olena Ogorodnik.

Source: Decentralization.