PCM in practice
Where the Logical Framework Approach (LFA) is all about getting the point of view of the stakeholders to define the project, PCM focuses more on the project manager. It is not surprising that this method became popular in large organisations and donor institutions. PCM is a good method of managing multiple projects at once, seeing to it that they comply with the overall strategy of the organisation and respond to the right procedures and rules.
For smaller organisations with fewer projects, PCM may seem more of a burden than a benefit and not worth the overhead. However, PCM does show us that there is more to development than just doing activities with your beneficiaries. You do need an idea where you are going in the long run, and your projects should all originate from a common sense of direction. Otherwise you’ll just end up with a whole bunch of different activities that are difficult to manage (and fund). There are plenty of organisations that ended up in that situation.
PCM also forces you to reflect on what you will do when things don’t go as planned, and allows you to learn from these experiences. It acknowledges that the environment you work in is constantly evolving, which means that you must be flexible and capable to adapt.
Learning from you successes and failures is equally important. Just trying to do good is not good enough. Your beneficiaries have a right to get quality assistance and to get the best you can deliver. International development and the fight against poverty, disease, inequality are complicated domains that need more than well-meant amateurism (although professionals can also learn from the enthusiasm and the good spirit of small volunteer actions).
The idea of the learning cycle in PCM is a solid one. It also teaches us to check what we do and react, in other words to be flexible in the execution of our projects. However, we all know that theory and practice are sometimes far apart. PCM is also an approach that favours standardised procedures and models, which lead to rigidity and to (huge) administrative overhead. PCM is a simple model that facilitates project management, but this very simplicity also pushes people to oversimplify complex development situations. As with LFA – which it incorporates – the rigid cause-and-effect logic forces people to leave out important parts. Especially when combined with rules such as ‘a maximum of one specific objective / project purpose per project is allowed’.
On the other hand, PCM has been used to manage enormous and complex programmes that combine actions in many countries and regions all over the world, over long periods of time. In these cases, the overall programme regroups specific actions and sub-actions in different places at different moments. To manage such complex programmes, you need a project management approach that goes further than that of a simple individual project.