Better Management of International Partnership Project Work
Better Management of International Partnership Project Work
By Patrick Creed
While much work and research has been carried out on what project governance is and how it can be used and developed in different industries, little research has focussed specifically on project governance and governance practices in English language training institutes that participate in project work, including Erasmus + partnerships. While ELE (English Language Education) organisations are involved in projects, working both alone on projects and with international partnerships, the question emerges if these organisations have given real thought to project governance and how effective any project governance systems are that these organisations have in place.
When defining project governance relating to projects in ELE, we need to consider all the factors that are involved in projects, including guidelines used, governance structures, processes involved in project delivery, policies needed to define processes, where responsibilities lie, who is accountable for project outcomes, and the relationships between stakeholders and the project team.
The reason behind project governance is to set the goals for the project, control the development of the project and its roll out, and to ensure accountability for project outcomes and deliverables (Musawir et al. 2020). Project governance differs from project control in that it involves the creation and implementation of procedures designed to align project decision-making with the objectives of the organisation that is in control of the project (Biesenthal and Wilden 2014). McGrath and Whitty (2015) describe project governance as a system by which a project is directed, controlled, and held to account. Alie (2015) discusses the importance of having an adequate project governance model that complements the organisation.
When looking at the key components of project governance for English Language Education (ELE) organisations, who work in the field of further and higher education, consideration must be given to any project governance practices currently being employed by these organisations and what gaps lie in these practices. We must also examine what ELE organisations understand about the meaning of project governance and explore the working environment of project managers in this field, and additional roles they may hold.
In many cases project managers are academic staff or those working in academic management who are given additional responsibilities to run or be part of project work without much consideration given to where they will find the time for the additional work, how they will manage the additional workload, and what additional resources they may need to complete the work.
Project Governance Practices
When considering any ELE organisation and the projects they deliver, influences come from the organisation that funds the project and the organisation that delivers the project. ELE organisations may serve in both roles and so hold control over decision making and over the evaluation of the project. Project governance must act to protect the interests of the ELE organisations themselves that are investing in projects. Projects funded and controlled solely by ELE organisations allow the organisations maximum control over the projects, and project governance. In this case the ELE organisation has access to all knowledge on the project, can make decisions relating to the project and even terminate the project if conditions are not favourable, provided that the project governance system is run by capable individuals who have the required business and technical knowledge (Musawir et al. 2020).
The governance challenges associated with these types of projects involve managing the different organisational departments or individuals involved in the project, providing adequate senior management and support for the project (Crawford et al. 2008), and finally making sure that the information that is needed by those who make decisions is made available to them when needed (Too and Weaver 2014).
ELE organisations may participate in projects with one or more international partners (e.g. Erasmus + projects), where the ELE organisation may have some financial control over the project or instead be the performing organisation (Musawir et al. 2020), which does the work but lacks financial control. The financing partner holds power over governance structures that have to be followed in governance procedures.
Do the academic staff in ELE organisations, involved in a multi partner project, get adequate support to help manage their day-to-day work, and liaise with their international partners to meet these externally set guidelines and project demands? Most academic staff would likely say no.
What do organisations need to consider in good project management?
There are a number of different factors that ELE organisations need to consider before becoming involved in project work, and specifically becoming involved in Erasmus + international partnerships project work.
Project governance provides direction and definition of procedures, processes, and metrics through the project lifecycle (PMI 2017). It is key to provide discipline to any project and any ELE organisation becoming involved in a project must ensure there is clear project direction from the outset.
Managerial Support and Project Control
There is a need for someone to maintain overall responsibility for project management in any organisation, and that the roles and responsibilities for the governance of projects are clearly defined. Too and Weaver (2014) discuss the importance of management support for projects and the importance to project governance success of having that support. Organisations cannot simply assign work to busy academic staff and expect it to just get done!
Choosing the Right Project
It is of vital importance to ELE organisations to choose projects that are relevant to the organisation, linking these project choices to organisational strategy (Englund and Graham 2019). It is also important to terminate those that are no longer working for the organisation. This is of key importance for SMEs, like ELE organisations with limited budgets and time to spend on projects. If organisations do not have an organisational strategy, this is a good place to start.
ELE organisations, that are often small- to medium-sized enterprises, must ensure they have enough resources in terms of manpower and other financial resources to allow project governance to be conducted appropriately and efficiently. If ELE organisations cannot afford the time or money to commit to doing a project properly, then perhaps they should not become involved at all in the project?
Project Planning and Risk Management
Projects should always have an appropriate plan that maps to the organisation’s overall strategy (Englund and Graham 2019) and they should ensure it includes a realistic case for its implementation, appropriate costings, risk analysis, and review points where the project can be assessed (APM 2011).
Good project governance practices benefit from good communication and must ensure all the project stakeholders, staff, teachers, and students affected (Derakhshan et al. 2019) be kept informed of project development and progress (or lack of), and value creation remains a key part of any project. We often in ELE organisations spend time focusing on communication abilities and development in the classroom, but we sometimes do not focus on how we communicate with each other in our offices, meetings, and project environments.
Monitoring Project Performance
Monitoring project performance is a crucial project governance function (Biesenthal and Wilden 2014). Nyandongo et al. (2019) discuss the importance of monitoring projects, and in a project world that is changing at a rapid pace, businesses require the ability to respond quickly to changes in project environments. We simply cannot start a project and hope it goes well, or only check in on projects at the start and finish. Management and monitoring is ongoing and developmental, and requires focus and time.
Good project governance must include defining the roles of stakeholders and being responsive to their needs (Derakhshan et. al. 2019). Stakeholders can be everyone involved in the project and those who benefit from its outcomes, and may include teaching staff, management, student body representatives, and anyone else involved. A stakeholder management plan ensures stakeholders are considered and kept central to the project development, execution, and review process.
ELE business owners, or those in charge, need to provide sufficient resources for projects, and support their personnel involved in project delivery. Project time needs to be given to project managers to work on projects, where currently they are sometimes simply too busy with their regular day to day duties. Although ELE organisations do have organisational strategies, projects are not always chosen to compliment that strategy. In general there is no framework in place for how projects should be run and managed. Stakeholders need to be considered in project work and engaged with in a meaningful way, and benefit realisation and tracking of project outcomes must be better managed. Developing appropriate project plans is key, and should be preceded by a review of what Strategic Planning means for the organisation. Training needs assessments need to be conducted to evaluate the training needs of staff involved in project management.
Further research is needed to understand the wider international ELE communities, to evaluate their approach to project governance practices.
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Patrick Creed’s background is in English Language Teaching and Training in which he has worked since 2004 (post certificate training). He has held roles as Teacher , Teacher Trainer, ADoS, DoS and now School Owner and Director having worked in Italy, Greece, Australia, Kenya (volunteer position) and Ireland. He co-wrote the Clockwise Intermediate Teacher Resource Book published by OUP and completed his Delta qualification in 2016. He holds a Masters in Ergonomics and Physics, Masters in Renewable Energies and a Masters in Project and Programme Management.
He currently runs an English language teaching institute in Galway Ireland, Bridge Mills Galway Language Centre, one of the founding members of Select Ireland.