1000 words (Risk Management Plan) instructions
Google has agreed to fund ATA’s East Timor Solar project, but has requested a copy of the Project Risk Management Plan as part of their due diligence before final ‘sign-off’. Since you are a diligent international project manager assistant, you have already discussed the need for a risk management plan with Kate. In light of Google’s request, Kate has asked you to put together a risk management brief for consideration.
We recommend you watch *all* of the ATA videos before you begin your assessment activities. You may need to review these specific videos for this assessment task:
• Video 3: Stakeholder Engagement and Management
Stakeholder Engagement and Management
Kate was asked about the philosophy that she adopted in managing stakeholders, especially when she paused the project after the pilot phase, and how she kept stakeholders engaged. In this video, she continues her discussion of how the decision to pause the project allowed her to develop a more rigorous management plan. She explains some of the measures instigated to support her aims; development of KPI’s, control and monitoring, and an end-users survey to establish a monitoring/evaluation baseline. She further explains the reasons why it was important to actively engage the East Timor Government and local stakeholders with the project. (7 minutes)
Kate:Honesty is usually the best policy, I find, and I think it was really important to stress how crucial it was that we took that extra time to really plan the project out and to ensure that the community engagement side had more time and investments spent on it before we went out there. And so it was a question really explaining the rationale behind that decision to delay. Also as well from a practical point of view, by delaying we were actually going to be doing the main implementation more in the dry season whereas actually it was due to start really at the tail end of the rainy season, I felt that was still quite a risk starting as early.
So it was really just a question of explaining the rationale, explaining that the deliverables would all be met in the overall time period but it was just a question of taking a couple of extra months just to make sure everything was in place. The other main reason for that as well was also to give us time to actually develop a more rigorous monitoring and evaluation plan.
So as with many small projects that’s often something which is overlooked. And I really felt that to have the opportunity for us to manage this big project we really needed to know exactly what we wanted to achieve and what we would want to be evaluating at the end of the project to know if was a success. And in order to do that we actually needed to go through more of a systematic process of, okay putting down on paper what’s our actual theory of change, how are we actually saying that change happens here in this context, what are we aiming to achieve, what outcomes do we expect to happen and what indicators, what we use to measure those outcomes. Who will be involved in this monitoring and evaluation plan and what will we be preparing against.
So one of the first things we did as well was to design a baseline survey, so in each of the communities where the solar systems were going to be installed, we actually, with our new partner organisation, we went and we interviewed a selection of households to basically ascertain the situation at the beginning of the project. So what are you currently doing to light your house, are your children currently studying in the evenings, what do you do in the evening now, can you work in the evenings. Asking about the situation of their health and their children’s education and their livelihoods, so that when we go back after six months or 12 months to do monitoring and an in line evaluation, we actually have data to compare to what the situation was at the beginning of the project.
And at that point we didn’t have that baseline survey, it hadn’t been created and so I felt it was very important for us to have that in place so that we could actually, during the course of this project, really gather evidence about the progress and the outcomes.
So if we’re explaining that to stakeholders, our partners were always on board with giving ourselves more time, it was just explaining that to our donors. Also the developers of the system were also very pleased to have some extra time and it just gave us a bit more leeway as well if there was any problems with shipping because all of this equipment has to either get shipped from China or Australia over to East Timor and that can be really problematic. Things never go as they should and so it’s very important to have that buffer so that we hadn’t committed to be somewhere at a certain time and have the equipment not actually be there. So we needed that extra time. So it took a few conversations of just explaining the rationale and being very honest about the approach and there were no major concerns with that delay.
And it’s been very important for us working with the Government to make sure that our efforts are well coordinated and that we don’t duplicate. Now one of the issues we have actually is that the Government scheme is quite different to our scheme and I see that as bit of an opportunity and a challenge. The reason it’s quite important for us to be in different areas of East Timor is because the Government scheme is a hand-out to the community and it’s also, from a technology point of view, it’s not quite such a robust system.
So our experience of when we’ve gone back to some communities where the Government has installed their solar systems is that they really haven’t lasted for longer than a year or two and people have tampered with them and drained the battery very quickly through leaving the lights on all the time and there’s nothing to stop that from happening.
And so one of the other things we’re actually trying to do is actually work quite closely with the Government to provide case studies and evidence of why a slightly different approach is perhaps a good way to go. So they’re actually very interested in our village lighting scheme and we’ve shared a lot of materials with them around how we set up our committee structures and how we train the local technicians to ensure that there are people who are skilled locally to maintain and repair the systems. And there is money saved for the repairs and the spare parts to ensure that the systems are sustained into the future.
So I see that actually as a big part of our – it’s not our direct service work but it’s actually probably an even more important part of our longer term work in East Timor, is actually working with the Government, sharing lessons learnt with them and actually trying to do some influencing of their approach as well because obviously the Government of East Timor will be there for years and years and years. So the important thing is that their capacity is as great as it can be in this area and that they actually have information about what we’ve found that works well in our project as well.
• Video 4: Project Risks
Kate discusses some of the issues which can arise when outside organisations try to engage with local communities, and how utilising local knowledge and experience can help lower barriers to successful project outcomes. Topics covered include language, international procurement and supply chains, currency exchange rate risks, and health and safety risks. (11 minutes)
Kate:Certainly the benefit of working with a local organisation is I feel that they have the cultural legitimacy to actually really engage with the local people who are the ones who stand to benefit or lose out from the scheme if it doesn’t go well. And so, the important thing is, I think as an outsider organisation you just can’t bring that legitimacy to the table.
And something which I think is also quite unique to East Timor as well is of course, that with the history of the country. It’s such a new country and it’s had such a troubled past of people coming in and taking over their country and colonising their country and that they’re now fiercely independent, and as they should be. And so, it almost seems inappropriate for a foreign organisation to come in and tell people what to do.
So, I think what our local partner organisation really brought to the table, is that they’re speaking Timorese to Timorese, so the power is equal as well. As the external organisation that comes to the country with the money to do the project, automatically there are power issues at play there. You know, you’re outsiders and you come with the money and it’s how that’s perceived also as you coming in as an outsider.
And so, I think the important thing with the organisation as well that we contracted, is that they were very experienced as well. As I said, they’ve worked a lot on water and sanitation projects, they already knew what kind of things worked really well with committees and managing money. Because this is the other crucial thing in Timor as well, is the concept of communities managing large sums of money, that’s quite a new concept and it’s also quite high risk. So, they had worked a lot with communities on managing water, water *[00:02:16] [inaudible] previously. So, they knew what things tended to work well, what didn’t work so well, some of the pitfalls, some of the factors for success and so they could really talk to them about their experience on those projects and give them real examples about why it would be a good idea to try doing things a certain way.
And I think, previously ATA had done that role itself, of going to visit the communities and engaging with them. But also, one of the main barriers there was language because out of all of the ATA volunteers and Project Managers, nobody really speaks fantastic Tetum. And in East Timor that’s absolutely crucial, you really need to have a good grasp of the language skills or else have a fantastic interpreter. And so, even just the language barrier is a hurdle to overcome.
But I feel that the local organisation that we have on board now, they can just pick up on those nuances, that even if we understood the language directly translated, there’s just certain things about the culture and the values that they will be able to understand and pick up on and address those concerns that may not be expressed directly. Because a lot of communication – I don’t know, just in East Timor and in other developing countries too – is very indirect, the communication. People won’t necessarily express something in a way that’s a direct concern or a direct problem but they’ll say something in a way where a local person would be able to pick up that that was something that needed to be addressed and discussed but they wouldn’t necessarily say that directly to you as an outsider. So even that, just them being able to pick up on those nuances which are often missed by foreigners, is very important.
Allen:You touched on this little bit in your previous answer, but procurement; how do you, with when you engage a local supplier, did you have a plan in mind, a risk management strategy that you put in place to make sure that whatever you ordered, whatever you purchased, actually arrived and it’s of great quality?
Kate: So in terms of procurement, what’s a bit challenging in East Timor is it’s pretty much impossible to use local suppliers. That’s unfortunate because obviously wherever possible we’d like to support local industry. So, when it comes to local partnerships, the organisations that implement the project on the ground, we work with Timorese organisations. But when it comes to the actual materials and equipment that are needed to make these solar systems which are installed on people’s homes, we actually can’t use a Timorese organisation in that case.
So, one of the benefits that I guess we have, is the ATA’s. We actually have some of our members and supporters are actually people who have electronics businesses who actually we’ve worked with over a long period of time. And a lot of that design work to develop a specific system for the context in East Timor was actually done in conjunction with an organisation who is also member of the ATA. And so, from obviously from a cost point of view there was probably a lot of pro-bono design work, the development work that went into that process.
So, some of the components were actually – are sourced in China through an ethical supply chain. And some parts, the actual brain of the system or the regulator, is actually the part which was designed here in Melbourne as part of a team effort, and that was very much on the basis of protecting the battery life of the system.
So, it did end up being quite a complex process because obviously, we had some components being ordered, like the panels and the cable and the LED lights were ordered in China. And then we had the microcontrollers and their battery cases were all manufactured here in Melbourne. So, there had to be an assembly process here in Melbourne and then once everything arrived together in Timor, but at different times obviously, it had to all be cleared and collected by our partner organisation *[00:06:55 Senith Kay], and then everything had to be basically assembled together there, the systems were assembled and tested there in East Timor.
There is some exchange rate risk that we have to allow for because the currency in East Timor is US dollars, when we’re purchasing from China there’s obviously exchange rate risk there. And so, we did have to make sure that in our budget we always make an allowance for risk for contingency in terms of the exchange rate, so for the purchasing the materials and equipment. So, that’s very important part of your budgeting process is allowing for those foreign exchange fluctuations.
Allen: Health and safety; being in a foreign country and you hear – how was it managed?
Kate: It’s extremely problematic. If you can imagine two completely different contexts. So, Australia where everything’s so regulated and then in East Timor, basically there’s not really a concept of Occupational Health and Safety, there’s certainly no regulation around it. So, it would be completely inappropriate actually, to try and actually superimpose what’s normal here in Australia onto the context in East Timor. Actually, you can’t do that because it’s just – well, it’s not possible and it could never work.
So, I sort of had to approach in two different ways really. So, when I travel over to East Timor or volunteers working for the ATA travel over to East Timor, we have to obviously abide by our Occupational Health and Safety standards and the volunteers who go over are given a pre-departure briefing on security and risk and OH and S.But when it comes to our in country partners and local technicians, we actually decided that it’s better to follow the lead of our partner organisation and follow their policies, which would obviously be – they would never work in Australia but that’s what appropriate in East Timor.
Just to give you an example, it’s completely normal and commonplace for people to climb up ladders and work in thongs; you know, flip flops. In East Timor that is completely and utterly normal. You’d never be able to do that in Australia but we can’t actually tell technicians over there when that’s completely normal, that they can’t wear thongs when that’s what they do every single day and that’s completely normal. So, I think as long as the risk is normal in that context, then that’s what we’ve decided is the standard that we should hold ourselves to.
So, the good thing with these systems as well of course, is that they’re very low voltage. So, there’s no particular risk, in terms of major burns or injuries from installing the systems. It’s a 12 volt system, so nothing bad is going to happen to anybody from installing these systems. But certainly, that’s a really challenging area when you work in a developing country where there aren’t such standards.
If we had employees over there it would be much more problematic. As it is, ATA doesn’t have employees based there, so we very much follow the lead and the policies of our partner organisation that has a Timorese appropriate OH and S policy and we basically support them in implementing that.
Allen: Thank you.
In Module 3, we discussed project planning and explored the impact of cultural diversity on planning. We examined issues relating to scheduling, resource planning and cost estimation that are peculiar to international projects. In Module 4 we discussed risk management from an international project management perspective. Since international projects are by nature characterised by their high uncertainty, risk management is an important element of international project management.
Scope of the task
You are expected to use the risk management cycle as a guide and describe how the ATA should proceed with each stage of the cycle in order to come up with a sound project risk management plan for this project. You are expected to use the information provided to you on Kate’s video(s) and information from a credible source in relation to East Timor’s environment. For example, who would you include in risk workshop during the risk identification stage to find out more about importing licencing requirements? After ascertaining the requirements, and assuming there may be potential delays, how would you analyse and prioritise the risk? You are allowed to make some assumptions, provided you can justify how and why you make those assumptions. Using the fictitious import licencing example again, you may wish to mandate that any risks that cause a delay in the activity completion date greater than five working days is identified as critical, and structure the risk matrix accordingly. The reason could be you have assumed the Australian installation expert could only be in East Timor for a fixed period of time, therefore there is no ‘float’ for the installation activity on the schedule. There is room for some assumptions since you don’t have all the facts at hand but they need to be sensible, logical and based on certain facts (which require referencing) – don’t just make things up!
Again, it must be stressed that the aim of this task is for you to demonstrate how well you understand the concepts and well you can apply them in this semi-realistic case study. Simply repeating the generic processes taught in the Modules would earn you very little marks.
Please note this is a brief on what you believe should contain in the Project Risk Management Plan. You are not expected to draft a comprehensive Risk Management Plan, there isn’t sufficient word allowance for you to do that. Similar to the PEP, there should be an introduction and the outline of the sections/sub-sections accompanied by an explanation and justification, and also the potential risk exposure.
Present your brief in an essay format, but as if you are actually working for Kate. It should look and sound professional and to be suitable for tabling in an official meeting.
Preparing your submission:
Prepare your submission as a Word document, up to 1000 words (excluding references). Make sure you include at least three references to academic and/or professional body publications, using the Academy of Management referencing style.
Refer to the Assessment 2 marking rubric before starting work on your submission.