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Prabesh Aryal, health development project manager

Adeline Teoh
March 9, 2011

Skills development

Aryal did not stay in business projects, soon transversing into development projects where he realised the flexibility of project management. “Development projects have a different approach: to help needy people, to support the environment, to have an outcome in the communal space,” he says. “At this time I learnt to manage a team, the stakeholders and, most importantly, manage risk.”

Learning how to deal with stakeholder expectations was crucial, Aryal found, especially if one stakeholder party was an aid organisation. Ideally, a contract should contain one set of project activities on which you will deliver, but he concedes that the reality was different. “Things will need to be changed and you’ll have to deal with stakeholder expectations. When you change something, you often have to change everything. You need a system where any changes you make will be in the work plan. You have to start with a change request, get it approved and make the changes.”

And while he admits that “projects are always a challenge”, he singles out development projects with aid agency stakeholders as particularly troublesome with regard to two-faced budgets. “Project cost control is difficult in practice. It includes the processes required to ensure that the project is complete within the approved budget, and hence involves a significant amount of work. It is more difficult when the project scope changes due to external factors,” he points out.

However, the opposite is true, too: development projects are often scrutinised more closely such that “if you are unable to spend budget regardless of whether you have already achieved the delivery, [it] results in questions and accusations of inefficiency,” notes Aryal. “That’s a challenge for the project manager, how you should meet the expectations of the beneficiary when they think all the money should be used for that development project.”

Having acquired a taste for development projects, Aryal moved into the health sector in 2006 when he started to work for Family Health International (FHI), an organisation that runs public health programs in 30 countries. “In Nepal we’re working with our donors and the government administering HIV/AIDS projects. My current job is to develop a country program strategy, business plans, operational plans and work on planning, budgeting and staff management,” explains Aryal.

He enjoys his work, which has often led to accusations of workaholism, but says he always makes time for family: “One thing I have always managed is to take a minimum of three weeks off from work every year and to spend it with my wife and two kids. That makes me completely refreshed when I come back to take charge of a project.”

Recharging the project management batteries is a must, says Aryal, acknowledging that project managers “often work under huge pressure to stay afloat and deliver results”, but in citing management expert Peter Drucker, he can’t quite conceal his professional ambition. “Drucker mentioned in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices [1973] that a manager is expected to make independent contribution to the success of the organisation. That made me think I have to be proactive through to the conclusion of the project I’m doing. Sometimes you have so many things to complete and may be a bit challenged to manage your work/life balance, but being a project manager, you should be clear on what constitutes a high priority task and focus on that.”

In addition to this systemised way of doing things, Aryal says he also enjoys the flexibility of project management for different types of projects. “You can go into any situation worldwide and understand it clearly and put a project management system in place,” he declares. “But always be aware of the context, and be flexible. For example, in Nepal we had over ten years of insurgency, which has had a lot of disadvantages and consequences. The project execution is a real challenge and involves a lot of risks and issues. You have to manage expectations in such a way that you have to remove all the politics but at the same time keep up your expectations.”

Considering these challenges, it is therefore not surprising to learn that he derives a simple pleasure from seeing a project to completion: “In community development, when we managed to do more than was planned, we were excited. I was always happy when I finished a project.”

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Adeline Teoh
Adeline Teoh is the editor and publisher of ProjectManager.com.au. She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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