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Projects involve the use of resources by activities designed to achieve pre-defined objectives. The objectives usually address a specific need that has been identified through needs analysis. The justification for any projects arises from the outcome of needs analysis based on the identification of deficits in the existing provision of goods and services or in the state of relevant knowledge. These deficits are referred to as gaps. These are best identified with those parts of the community affected by such gaps and who perceive of the gaps identified as legitimate needs for their group. This provides the constituent legitimacy and justification for consideration to be given to the funding of an appropriate project designed to satisfy the needs identified.

Depending upon the objectives, projects can be very simple or highly complex. The process of identifying, designing and implementing projects, that is the Project Life Cycle, requires the maintenance of consistent and coherent standards across all project activities to as to secure effectiveness, efficiency and economy and, indeed, the likelihood of achieving the desired results. The Project Life Cycle consists of the phases that follow the standards of the so-called process approach of the International Organization for Standards (ISO:9000). This is summarized in the following diagram:

  • "ACT" is where a need is identified and action is taken to draw up a Plan or where a Plan has not worked out as expected and needs to be changed

  • "PLAN" is a proposed action which should represent an effective, efficient and economic proposed solution based on available information and knowledge

  • "DO" is the execution of the Plan

  • "CHECK"" is an assessment of the Plan implementation effectiveness and the cycle loops back to "ACT"

Reviews of project cycle management in rural development projects have identified the following weak points that have led to a significant waste in financial resources allocated to international development arising from failure of project to deliver stated objectives. The main weak points have been:
  • lack of rigour in gap and needs analysis
  • failure to develop operational dialogues with all stakeholders affected by a project
  • lack of effective involvement of stakeholders over the whole project cycle
  • deficient decision analysis methods applied to project design
  • little attention given to a full identification and review of different project design options
  • little effort put into project design optimization with respect to effectiveness, efficiency and economy
  • inadequate provisions for project implementation and post-implementation sustainability
  • weak risk analysis and provisions to mitigate identified risks
  • inadequate attention paid to experience and capabilities of human resources in project teams
  • inadequate allocation of responsibilities for delivery to specific individuals
  • weak real time implementation monitoring and decision support
  • over-reliance on a single project option in the form of a Log Frame
  • the use of irrelevant indicators or willingness to change them instead of changing project response to change
  • over-reliance on ex-post, after-the-event monitoring and evaluation systems resulting in slow or no effective response to critical events
  • lack of flexibility arising from accountancy regulations and fixed project budget allocations
The above list of issues is compounded in the case of natural resources projects because of the their complexity dealing with of groups of populations of diverse plants, animals and elements under the direct influence of variable climatic and associated conditions creating a wider range of uncertain variable values that need to be taken into account in project design and management.
Based on: McNeill & Belko, "Towards more effective Project Management", 2011, ISBN: 9780907-833-024

ISO:9000 was based on the British Standards Institute work, initiated in the 1960s on quality standards associated with the defense industries. The reiterative cycle of constant improvement has been in use for many years. The system is effective in manufacturing and highly engineered and predictive processes. It is sometimes referred to as the "evolutionary" or "innovative" spiral" in the sense of cycles separated by time and each slightly different from the previous one.

However, after almost 50 years of direct experience in the application of this approach to the planning and management of natural resources and agricultural projects, it is evident that the system is not flexible enough to accommodate the many variations in conditions that disrupt the planned course of projects (see box on the right). This is because natural resource based processes are subject to significant variance associated with the heterogeneity of animal and plant genotypes and their interactions with diverse environmental conditions such as seasonal weather conditions. This situation has resulted in many disappointing project outcomes including numerous project failures.

The scarcity of financial resources supporting natural resources projects for research and economic development requires a more effective project management system able to adapt to the inevitable changes in conditions that accompany implementation.

OQSI:1 is one of the first international standards to address this specific issue facing natural resources projects.

OQSI:1 is a process approach that is based on the ISO 9000 principle. However, OQSI:1 embeds more thorough analytical methods designed to maintain a practical flexibility in management of the project cycle to maximize logical adjustments to changes in conditions without compromising the final objectives. OQSI:1 emphasizes practical guidelines and methods, rather than being limited to principles, for such details as:
  • stakeholder identification and needs analysis
  • the involvement of stakeholders throughout the project cycle
  • project design and in particular emphasis on technical, economic & financial sustainability and risk factor analysis
  • real time audit during implementation
The full cycle can be observed top right from where issues of interest to the reader can be accessed.

OQSI:1 takes advantage of the capabilities of modern digital technology and well established methods applied to needs and decision analysis. OQSI:1 is not a general recommendation but rather a structured scheme of due diligence designed to ensure that all relevant aspects of the management cycle are taken into account. OQSI monitors the advancing state-of-the-art in analytical methods and digital technology and therefore OQSI:1 is a work in progress. Advances in planning methods are based on the incorporation of a computer-based project planning method that builds an effective operational management and monitoring system. This replaces the conventional static Log Frame approach with an interactive program. The inefficiency of conventional monitoring and evaluation (ex-post and after-the-event) is removed through real time ongoing analysis (RTA). RTA enables the rapid implementation of new decisions as a real time response to any significant events/changes likely to affect project progress.

The Decision Analysis Initiative 2010-2015
George Boole Foundation