Project cycle management (PCM)

PCM cycle logoProject Cycle Management or PCM is an approach that allows you to manage many different projects and improve the quality of your projects over time. PCM uses the idea of a continuous learning cycle and incorporates logical framework analysis to guarantee that the beneficiaries are involved in the project's design. However, PCM's built-in flexibility is often threatened by the way its tools and models are used in a rigid way by donors and strong NGO partners.

PCM or Project Cycle Management is an approach to manage multiple projects or programmes and to improve the quality of projects by learning from one project and applying the lessons in the following ones. The approach was introduced by the World Bank in the 1980, and spread throughout the development world in the 90s, when it was picked up by the European Commission. Following an evaluation on Aid Efficiency, the EC introduced PCM as its main approach to manage and evaluate development project proposals.

Since then, other donor agencies and NGOs picked it up, although not always voluntarily. The fact that donor agencies actively pushed PCM and models and tools related to PCM led to resistance and often gave this approach a bad rep. One of the main tools of PCM, apart from the overall cycle, is the logical framework. With its emphasis on participation from both partners and beneficiaries, PCM incorporated the logical framework approach (LFA) and added two main elements:

  • The link between the long term policies or the strategic framework of the organisation and their execution in the form of projects (or programmes)
  • Learning from experiences: PCM puts a heavy emphasis on monitoring and evaluation. The main idea behind the cycle is that the quality of projects gradually improves as lessons are passed on from one project to the next. Also, within a single project there is flexibility and learning, as continuous monitoring allows the people who manage the project to adapt the activities and planning to the (changing) situation in the field. At least, that is the theory.

Another benefit of PCM, both from the management point of view and the quality improvement point of view, is that it presents a standardised approach with standardised tools. However, this is also the main reason why PCM meets with a lot of resistance. As a project management approach, PCM is mainly interesting for donor agencies and large NGOs. The problem is that these large organisations tend to force their partners to use the procedures and tools in a very rigid way. This goes up to the point that the emphasis shifts from flexibility in the field and learning between projects, towards respecting contracts, forms, procedures, administrative rules, budget restrictions, and so on. PCM is used to manage contracts, control projects and see to it that laws, regulations and budgetary restrictions are respected. Often, this leads to a situation where both beneficiaries and the NGO or NGOs that manage the projects are bound by hands and feet to the contract, the logframe, the budget and the planning. This is a far cry from the original notion of flexibility and learning.

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