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2.3 - The secrets of a successful project

What matters in delivering a project? Understanding and managing the key elements of projects is clearly a route to success – this is not rocket science. But what are the key elements for GEF IW projects? This section attempts to illustrate key issues within five important headings – People, time, money, results and project closure – issues and examples are expanded later on topics of specific relevance to GEF IW that will help in the delivery of more successful projects.

There are no easy GEF IW projects: but in a well designed project and through good project management objectives can be met.


Understanding the needs of stakeholders, keeping people informed on project activities and progress (good and bad) and dealing effectively with consultants and project staff are central to good project management. There is much guidance on all these issues but understanding the requirements (and limitations) of GEF IW projects together with the additional expectations of the GEF agency responsible for implementing/executing the project and other stakeholders will assist in leading to the delivery and implementation of a successful projects.

Project Managers need to have a wide range of skills, including:

  • Inter-personal skills
  • Good communications skills
  • Good diplomatic abilities to influence stakeholders
  • Appropriate technical skills (and/or to be well advised by technical staff)
  • Staff-management capabilities.

The quality of the project is of course dependent on the quality (and dedication) of those involved – again a common sense observation, but a Project Manager has the ability to influence the project by the careful selection of staff, consultants and stakeholder representatives, for example with teams for TDA/SAP activities, (within the constraints of tendering etc.) and more importantly by engendering a positive team spirit. This is essential in all teams but particularly in multi-national teams usual for IW projects where people will come with a range of different technical backgrounds, languages and cultural experiences.

a)    Project Staff Issues

As a Project Manager you are responsible for supervising the PCU staff and thereby ensuring the objectives of the project are achieved through the appropriate use of the skills within the PCU (including those of the Project Manager) and through consultants/partners’ inputs. The GEF executing agencies’ approaches will differ but the Project Manager will potentially advise them on a number of issues, for example:

  • ToRs for PCU staff
  • Annual appraisals for staff
  • Staff holidays
  • Planning workloads
  • Encouraging a ‘team spirit’ within the PCU

These more ‘administrative issues’ of managing teams can be over overlooked with the pressures of managing an IW project and responding to the demands of national ministry stakeholders, for example. However success of the projects is often very dependent on the exceptional roles from PCU staff members and it is important that all staff within the PCU feel both part of the ‘team’ and that their contributions are both officially recognised (through the appraisal system) and acknowledged during official meetings.

b)    Recruitment

This applies to both recruitment of project staff and to consultants. For both cases the procedures of the GEF executing agency will be paramount. Procedures and requirements will exist on local and international recruitment of staff and consultants. This is clearly a key component of the work of the project management unit.

The first requirement for any recruitment is to have a good definition of the expected work activities and deliverables in the form of a detailed ToR, and that the costs are consistent with the agreed project budget.

Examples of consultant ToRs can be found at Part 4 (Case Studies and Experiences) of this manual.


This applies to project staff, the GEF implementing/executing agencies personnel and the wide range of stakeholders national and regionally. The project will need to develop a communication strategy on what and how it presents information to address the main outreach vehicles, including:

  • Website
  • Newsletters
  • Blogs
  • Press releases


Four key lessons on Time

Without wishing to state the obvious…..

Lesson 1: There is never enough time for projects:

Lesson 2: Time disappears quicker than you imagine – so set and manage expectations

Lesson 3: Don’t procrastinate.

Lesson 4: Read, review and question all workplans – are they feasible? What will happen if one element of the project is delayed?

Sticking to the project timeline is one of the biggest challenges of project management: it is also where good project management can have the most impact by ensuring through close attention to project activities and good reporting from consultants/partners. Following the revisions made in the inception period and the preparation of a detailed Project Implementation Plan there should be good awareness and ‘ownership’ of the time-line for the project by the PCU. This said, it is clear that problems will arise and it is the responsibility of the project management team to anticipate problems where possible, but more importantly, to acknowledge the existence of problems and to be quick in proposing appropriate (adaptive management) solutions. Clearly there are situations where delays in project implementation are outside the project’s control, but good risk analysis should at least be able to identify most situations where potential problems can and will arise.

Project managers will need to consider a range of time related issues within a GEF IW project including:

  • Project extensions – how, when and what is required?
  • Revisions to workplan – how, when and what approval is required?
  • Dealing with late delivery (or sub-standard) delivery of activities;
  • Force majour
  • Conflict resolution

In all cases project management units should refer to the GEF Agencies and be aware of the terms and conditions of contracts issues by these organisations to consultants/companies.


This is obvious, but still a challenge to many projects, particularly: insufficient funds, currency fluctuations and tracking resources (including co-financing) are some of the issues to be addressed. The PCU needs to be able to:

  • Track project spend (the use of shadow budgets)
  • Ensuring that the whole project team understands budget and their responsibilities to deliver expected work programme
  • Develop a close relationship with the GEF executing agency on financial management
  • Attract additional co-finance (ensuring all the GEF agencies and other donors are aware to eliminate double counting etc.)
  • Tracking co-finance / reporting co-finance
  • Attract private sector and NGO inputs
  • Be flexible with regards to changes to budgets and to understand what approval is needed (guided by the responsible GEF Agency)


The GEF, the GEF Agencies, co-financers, and stakeholders all need to understand how the resources are being utilised and what the results of the work are. Projects co-ordination units are (inevitably) very familiar with their outputs, success stories etc. but we all need to become more proactive at ‘selling’ the achievements of the Project. The PCU will need to develop approaches to ensuring:

  • The project achieves the expected outputs which deliver the planned outcomes.
  • Results also matter to the GEF and the GEF agencies. It is essential that projects communicate their successes in clear, concise way
  • It is important to continuously identify ‘results’, especially those that convey meaning against project indicators (P, SR or SE&E) and that these ‘successes’ are reported to key stakeholders
  • Reporting through Experience Notes etc.
  • Developing approaches to show that the project has ‘made a difference’;


All projects come to an end – hopefully on time, budget and having delivered the expected results. Important that the ‘end’ is planned as well as the rest of the project so there is an effective hand-over of results, documents, etc. as part of a sustainability or ‘Exit’ plan. The key activities associated with ending the project includes:

  • Finalising reports (technical, progress and financial),
  • Overall project completion reports
  • Identifying follow-on actions,
  • Summarising replication potential and how project actions can be sustained in the region.
  • It is important to establish how to keep project staff until the final report is ready. Too often key staff start to leave when the project nears completion – which is completely understandable.