Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Man With The Plan

In khakis, polo shirt, ergonomic boots and special filter shades – the field uniform of any experienced consultant – Samuel “The Excel Sheet” Malone looks comfortable in a sumptuous patent-leather Chinese armchair while savoring his well stirred nescafe fitting right in the landscape among plastic flowers, various generations of HRI-donated computers lined up under a culturally-appropriate cover on a desk nearby, and pictures of the country's top brass, adorned tastefully with a rig that is partly fairy light partly paper garland.

Samuel's job in Moroni is almost completed and he carries the features of man ready to reap the benefits of his hard work. In a folder he carries the latest draft of Comoros' Strategic Plan 2007-2011 for Agriculture and Livelihoods. Samuel is one of HRI's top Technical Advisors, posted here back in 2007 and tasked with “supporting” the government of Comoros with the development and “operationalization” of the mentioned 5-year strategic plan (2007 -2011).

This was very serious business, funded through a global HRI mechanism for Policy Development, yet another area of maximum expertize for HRI. It was a multi-million project, of utmost strategic importance for our donor and this is why we put HRI's finest on the job: Samuel has been cutting his teeth in policy development projects the world over and his archives contain strategic matrices used successfully in other such similar projects. He doesn't like to refer to his work as a copy-paste/ Ctrl+H job, but rather as a job in which he manages to leverage “lessons learned” and “best practices” with fine diplomatic skills.

Once politics were taken care of and the need for a 5 year plan was agreed upon at HRI's strong suggestion (after all, the money was already in the bank), it all started with Sam's very detailed Planing Matrix which got shared with all relevant “focal points” and the “kick-off” in November 2007. At the kick-off meeting – a residential affair in a stately location, to ensure that participants were not tempted to leave the premises to attend who knows what urgent issues on their busy agendas - Sam facilitated several plenary sessions and ensured that sufficient break-out groups are formed to address the various section of the policy, which had to be formulated in the strategic plan and then "operationalized" in various action plans, divided by strategic areas and years.

Names were put forward for the various sub-committees and working groups, timelines were agreed upon and a special group was formed to agree on various indicators. It all run by script and, out of experience, Sam knew that it would take about two years to agree on “strategic objectives” and respective indicators. Once that happend, at the end of 2008, annual action plans started to be developed, and by the end of 2009, the plans for years 2007 and 2008 were finalized and the M&E group kicked in. A consultant was hired to ensure that the performance was in line with the plan.

An extra 100K and 6 months later it turned out that it was. But then, it always is.

We are now halfway through 2011, the last year of the 5 year-plan, and the Strategic Plan is almost finished. The 60 or so various focal points are already well into their routines; the vast groups, sub-groups, working-groups and committees are meeting regularly, emails get sent to all partners to remind them of each meeting, consultants are on the job churning out reports and toolkits. People were hired, cars were bought along with printers, computers, field trips were organized, suppliers contracted - the whole machinery, the works. 

Presently, the Plan is a complex document, 46 sheets, each covering one important strategic area of implementation, impossible to print and with a healthy dose of circular formulas, that can only be sent around in .zip format and is occasionally projected on a wall in minuscule characters when the various groups meet (in such situations, Sam often complains about conference facilities that do not have a Mac adaptor. “It's 2011, for fuck's sake” is his signature reaction, muttered half-loud but with a certain note of  smugness.)

Time is short though and it was decided that more money must be thrown at the Plan, to ensure it will be finalized before the end of 2011. And indeed it will, with great effort. A meeting is about to get called, the final draft gets presented and then, finally, it will be forwarded to the Cabinet, where it will be expected to be approved within the first quarter of 2012.
Sure, this strategy has its critics, but hey, look at the benefits:
1. Money gets disbursed, keeping HRI's “burn” at a healthy level;
2. The government gets involved, which builds their capacity; What kind of short-term thinking asshole doesn't agree with that?
3. Any plan finalized after the passing of the period it covers benefits from clarity of hindsight - this is a very obvious but crucial benefit, which ensures high scores when judging compliance with the plan;
4. HRI is well placed to support the Government in developing their 2012-2016 Strategic Plan: with more lessons learned and best practices from right here, in Moroni.

And Samuel? Well, Sam will leave – his time is up here, he already accepted the Integrated Policy Support Chief Of Party position in a newly Awarded HRI project in Indonesia.

Which means that the Advisor Job in Moroni is currently vacant so we are welcoming applications. Any experts out there?


  1. I am wondering if Sam had to use facipulation to achieve such excellent results?

  2. OMG I want that job. Is Nathan still around? Would I get to work with him?