Thursday, September 2, 2010

Virtues of Micro-Management: Dr K’s Reverse Pyramid of Aid Project Management

Don’t know about you, but I love micro-management, me. It is one of those things, halfway between art and science that, if applied correctly, can yield amazing results in line with the objectives of our work and become the source of endless personal and professional satisfaction to the humble aid worker.

Done properly, it requires the correct bureaucrat to implementer ratio (B:I), best achieved by a reverse pyramid approach to “coordination”, in which the upper part (the reversed base) all the way down to the bottom-tip are packed to the rafters with countless coordination and advisory mechanisms, staffed by reasonably paid HRI consultants, advisors, government representatives and, of course, Emma, all united by a blatant lack of understanding of matters of implementation and an affinity for knee-jerk overblown reactions to any “feedback from the field”, in particularly if the feedback has to do with life-and-death matters such as the “inappropriate use of communication channels” and the use of the wrong word in the acknowledgement section of reports.

We call this "Dr. K's Reverse Pyramid of Aid Project Management (tm)/ RPAPM":

Besides the fact that it allows for a fairly consistent and predictable “burn” on the budget and an equitable allocation of resources among “partners”, the reverse pyramid approach creates an ideal environment for implementing aid projects for reasons that include but are not limited to:
  1. It allows plenty opportunity for unsolicited advice in the planning phase. Additionally, given the impossible-to-define dynamic between various coordination mechanisms, it is relatively easy to pretend one was not aware of a discussion happened in one committee, for example, and demand changes well beyond the time when implementing such changes would be possible or reasoonable, with the added benefit of plenty opportunity for subsequent passive-aggression;
  2. It allows the same people to “wear different hats” as members of different committees and, as a consequence, disagree with their different-hat-wearing-persona ("this matter must be brought in front of us as members of the other committee; Oh, the other committee only meets two months from now, on Tuesday morning").
  3. It allows for repeated invitations for “implementers” to attend meetings that never achieve a quorum and then get forever rescheduled; if they once don't show up, the quorum is met and crucial implementation decisions are taken;
  4. It allows for free interpretation of “conclusions” reached by various committees that no-one knew were meeting, in order to play highly satisfying power games with competitors other partners and stakeholders;
  5. It allows all of us an opportunity to share our wisdom and advice in areas we nothing about, providing, as it were, an opportunity for “fresh perspectives” and “thinking outside the box”; We like to call that innovation;
  6. It allows creative decisions of the lowest-common-denominator variety - the only golden standard in our sector;
  7. It allows for an ideal and equitable flow of credit and blame: blame is always flowing down the reverse pyramid, towards the tip (in particular for decisions taken by committees in which implementers were not present), and credit for success is always flowing up towards the base:

 (The correct flow of blame and credit in Aid)

UPDATE: seeing that it is in fashion to update and review iconic pyramids i thought i should use the opportunity that I had to correct some typos made by Nathan the intern in the illustrations above to also make some content changes to dr.K's RPAPM. I have noticed that in my academic fervor yesterday I seem to  have forgotten about the 6 or so "Poor and Vulnerable" people, who of course have a well-deserved place on the reverse pyramid (tm):


  1. Kurtz, baby,

    I just got out of a 'lessons learnt' presentation where 'coordination' by an HRI affiliate was touted as the competitive edge it is offering in a great big advocacy campaign. The logos littered the powerpoint all over the place. The sincerity of the Emma was astounding. While I sat there and raised my eyebrows in feigned interest - I thought of nothing but you and your brilliance. I think I may just be in love with you.

    Big kiss.

  2. You've clearly been in cluster meetings in Southern Sudan. Did you run trainings for the UN in this?

  3. Great stuff. Somewhere, in an air-conditioned trailer office behind a very very high blast wall, there is an Emma reading this post and nodding vigorously.

  4. Emma, and her trusty swipe card, are indeed nodding vehemently:

    'A big thanks to Dr Kurtz for bringing this important issue to the attention of the International Community', Emma said earlier today. 'I am happy to communicate the centrality of my position in order to more effectively harmonise my different hats and ensure that, holistically, they adequately represent the Bigger Picture (which should probably just be my face, blown up a bit but with a lot of Photoshop). I welcome increased dialogue. Don't mind who with.'

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