Standard 7: Realistic and participatory detailed implementation planning for program impact.
Develop, jointly with partners, an evidence-based detailed implementation plan that includes programmatic, financial, procurement, logistics and donor engagement activities.
Update/refine the proposal activities schedule to develop a comprehensive detailed implementation plan for the first year of the project.
Most proposals include an activities schedule that summarizes project activities, the planned timing for each activity and the individuals or organizations responsible for carrying them out. Proposal activities schedules are not sufficiently detailed to guide project implementation, however, which makes the development of a project detailed implementation plan (DIP) an essential step in the project start-up process. Developing a DIP through a participatory process helps to ensure that:
- The right activities, performed at the right time and in the right order produce the intended outputs and impact, on time and on budget.
- Members of the project implementation team fully understand, agree to, and own important decisions about the sequencing, timing, responsibilities for, and relationships between project activities.
- The project implementation team carefully analyzes project implementation risks, issues, and opportunities, and incorporates appropriate activities into the DIP to manage risks and issues, and to optimize opportunities.
What is a DIP? A DIP is a schedule of activities and sub-activities that includes sufficient detail to facilitate smooth and effective project implementation. Every project needs a DIP. DIPs are usually presented in the form of a table. The project’s initial DIP documents:
- What is to be accomplished over the course of the entire project for successful implementation—with an emphasis on defining what is to be accomplished within the first 12 months of the project.
- When the activities will be accomplished and how they will be sequenced.
- Who specifically on the project team is responsible for each activity and who else participates
- The milestones managers will track to ensure the project stays on schedule.
- Primary responsible: Project manager/chief of party (PM/CoP)
- The PM/CoP is responsible for organizing the DIP workshop, finalizing the DIP (and subsequently updating it as part of quarterly and annual planning and review), and ensuring that CRS and partner staff develop workplans based on the DIP.
- Others involved: CRS and partner programming and operations staff; CRS and partner senior management, especially for large, complex, or otherwise strategic projects; technical advisors and deputy regional directors, as applicable
- CRS programming and operations staff support the PM/CoP to prepare for the DIP workshop;
- CRS and partner programming staff participate in developing the DIP during the workshop, and develop and manage workplansA workplan is a document that describes the detailed tasks required to complete the sub-activities of a project. (Note that this is not to be confused with the USAID term “Work Plan”, which is a specific award deliverable.) based on the DIP;
- CRS and partner operations staff help detail operations-related activities and help ground overall DIP timelines in operational realities;
- CRS and partner senior management support DIP planning and may participate in the DIP workshop;
- Technical advisors and regional staff may contribute regional and/or global experience for complex or otherwise strategic projects, particularly if the project includes approaches or activities new to the project team.
Per the timeline developed in the early start-up plan and any donor requirements.For example, USAID agreements typically require submission of an “annual work plan” within 45 days of award. Generally:
- For projects shorter than 12 months, in the first month
- For projects longer than 12 months, in the first quarter
- As soon as possible for emergency projects
Start-up and DIP workshops: For complex projects and projects with a consortium or numerous implementing partners, consider separating the start-up and DIP workshops (see Project Start-up Key Meetings and Events for more details on workshop sequencing and focus). For a complex project, organizing a separate, earlier start-up workshop may:
- Help ensure that the team that will develop the DIP has a solid understanding of the project fundamentals before starting detailed implementation planning.
- Offer more time for building rapport and perspective among potentially diverse consortium/partner staff who will work together on DIP planning.
- Provide an opportunity to identify information to collect and other preparatory activities that can help DIP workshop participants use workshop time more effectively.
- Help organizers make the best use of participants’ time. For example, senior management should participate in big-picture start-up workshop discussions but may not need to be involved in the details of DIP planning.
Follow these steps to develop a comprehensive project DIPA detailed implementation plan is a schedule of activities and sub-activities that includes sufficient detail to facilitate smooth and effective project implementation. :
Prepare for DIP development
- The PM/CoP, working with a small planning team as needed, identifies appropriate CRS and partner participants, develops the agenda and facilitation plan for the DIP workshop, and organizes logistics and materials, using the steps outlined in Planning a DIP Workshop: A How-to Guide. Keep the following in mind during preparation for the DIP workshop:
- Inputs from experienced program and operations staff are key to a realistic DIP: Involve both programming and operations staff in the development of the DIP. Field staff and operations staff inputs are critical for realistic activity sequencing and duration estimation.
- Ensure fluency with key activity scheduling terms and concepts: In addition to the many terms and concepts that may be part of the project technical program design, activity scheduling involves another set of terms, concepts, and approaches (e.g., work breakdown structure,A work breakdown structure is a hierarchical task list created by decomposing the project into components and breaking down the project process into increasingly detailed tasks. network diagram,A network diagram is a pictorial summary of the decisions and flows that make up a procedure or process (e.g. delivery of an output) from beginning to end. critical path).The project’s critical path is the sequence of activities that represents the longest path between the start of the project and the project's end. Be sure that the DIP workshop facilitator and any small group leaders are familiar with these.
- Plan carefully for project risk analysis as part of DIP development: The best-laid project plans can be derailed by insufficient attention to risk. Plan workshop sessions so that the DIP development process builds on earlier project risk and issue identification and analysis, and deepens participants’ understanding of and ability to manage project risks and issues.
- Think about the most appropriate way to document and store the DIP: Use of project management software (e.g., MS Project) is not currently standardized across CRS. Think about the most appropriate and useful way to document the project DIP (e.g., in a project management software, if staff know how to use it effectively; an Excel sheet that maximizes spreadsheet functionality to facilitate milestone and schedule adjustments and tracking; or a Smartsheet or other similar software). Consider also how to ensure key staff can access the most up-to-date version of the DIP (e.g., a cloud-based folder) while protecting file and data integrity.
- Click here for Additional considerations for DIP development for complex projects (e.g., large multi-sectoral projects; multi-country projects; projects implemented across multiple locales with very different operating contexts).
DIP development is especially challenging for complex projects. For such projects, the PM/CoP will need to consider how best to break down the project complexityIt’s worth noting that many of what CRS and donors call “projects” may better fit the project/program management sector definition of a “program”, namely, “a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available through managing them individually” (A Guide to the PMD Pro).
Individual SO streams or even certain complex IR streams could be considered “projects” in their own right. by focusing on smaller components (e.g. each objective; activities by country for a multi-country project). In some projects, while most activities may be the same across implementation locations, the implementation contexts may be quite different and the PM/CoP will need to plan how to ensure that activity breakdown and scheduling in the DIP reflects the unique realities of the different implementation contexts.
In cases like these, discuss with the HoP and other senior project staff (e.g., deputy chief of party, sector leads) how best to organize DIP development. Focus on ensuring that each piece of the project (e.g., an objective stream focused on one program sector) can be planned in the most useful level of detail by those with the greatest understanding of that project component, but keep in mind the connections between the different project components.
Telescope the DIP facilitation guidance appropriately for such projects and variations. For example, the team may decide to organize a two-stage DIP development process. The first stage could involve organizing separate DIP workshops by location (province, country, etc.). The individual teams working in each location follow the same facilitation plan, guided by the overall project design, but each develops a DIP that reflects the unique context for project implementation in that location. A central-level DIP workshop would follow, with representation from the first stage of DIP workshops. This workshop would consolidate, and as needed, reconcile, the individual plans that emerged during the first stage, address cross-cutting components, and generate an overall project DIP.
Develop the DIP through a participatory workshop
- The PM/CoP (or other identified facilitator) facilitates a workshop focused on transforming the project activities schedule into a DIP with sub-activities, an updated schedule, and assigned responsibilities. In addition to the detailed facilitation ideas and planning guidance provided in the DIP Workshop “How-to” Guide and the Facilitation Guide Template, keep these key points in mind:
- Build/reinforce participants' understanding of the project results framework, outputs, and activities; operating context including implementation risks; and key approaches before starting activity detailing and scheduling.
- See the Start-up Workshop Building Blocks for guidance on the key project details which participants need to understand before engaging in DIP development.
- Schedule activities across the life of the project, but develop more detailed sub-activities for an initial period (e.g., the first year for a development project).
- Balance time for detailed planning in small groups and plenary review and feedback on small group work. This helps the project team identify: connections between sub-activities across intermediate results; potential efficiency improvements; and potential workload issues for staff with responsibilities for various sub-activities across outputs and intermediate results.
Sustainability and exit/transition plans: The project sustainability and exit/transition plan in the project proposal is often very general. During DIP development, spend time detailing plans to phase down,Phase down: Reducing the level of an activity but continuing to providing support. The Phase Down stage may be preparatory to phase out or phase over. (Hello, I must be going…) phase over,Phase over: Substantially reducing support for a project activity or service but also identifying a successor institution that will continue providing the service. Sponsor assists the new institution in developing needed capacities and resources. (Hello, I must be going…) and/or phase outPhase out: Discontinuing support or involvement in a project activity. There is no attempt to find a new sponsor to continue the activity. (Hello, I must be going…) activities (for more on information on these concepts, see “Hello, I must be going…” in Other Resources). Be sure to start thinking about sustainability and exit/transition from the beginning of the project. Identify and schedule stakeholder and community-level outreach and communications activities, particularly with direct participants, to lay the early groundwork for anticipated project transitions and ensure CRS accountability. Schedule a subsequent planning session as needed to further develop sustainability and exit plans.
After the workshop: Finalize, use, and update the DIP
- The PM/CoP coordinates the following:
- Finalization of the DIP.
- Note: DIPs should be developed before the development of the full project MEAL system; after MEAL system development, the PM/CoP works with MEAL staff to incorporate key MEAL actions in the DIP.
- Distribution of the final DIP to all CRS and partner project team members (see step 1 – consider the best options for how and where to save the DIP).
- Submission of an appropriately consolidated version of the DIPThe DIP developed through CRS’ process may include more detail than is needed by a donor. Revise and package the DIP appropriately before submission to the donor – for centrally-managed donor relationships, consult with IDEA staff about the appropriate level of detail to include. to the project donor, if required.
- The country program senior management team ensures that all managers and teams involved in project implementation use the DIP to inform their quarterly or monthly team and individual workplans.
- In rapidly changing project environments, teams should consider preparing workplans for shorter periods (e.g. weekly or monthly—see the “Emergency projects” section below for additional considerations).
- The PM/CoP and other project staff who work with partners encourage and support partners to follow a similar process with their own teams.
- The PM/CoP leads the project team, including partners, in regular reviews of project progress against the DIP.
- Organize formal DIP reviews quarterly at minimum (see Standard 11, key action 4 for guidance).
- Update sub-activities, responsibilities, and schedules as needed based on DIP reviews, review of MEAL data, financial analysis, and regular review of project issues and risks.
- The project team develops a new DIP for each subsequent project period (see Standard 11, key action 4), using the guidance and tools from this key action (adapted as needed for the implementation phase of the project).
Don’t let your DIP sit on a shelf (or gather virtual dust on the PM/CoP’s hard drive)! The DIP is a critically important project management tool – but only if it is used! Leadership by the PM/CoP is crucial for ensuring that the DIP is used and updated as part of regular program planning and review discussions, budget planning and analysis, and individual team and unit planning.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Participation of experienced partner programming and operations staff in the DIP workshop and wider DIP development process is essential to ensure that the DIP reflects the field and partner realities. It also contributes to shared CRS and partner understanding of organizational and individual roles and responsibilities for project implementation.
- Based on the activities and sub-activities identified in the overall project DIP, partner staff develops unit and staff work plans, with support from CRS as needed.
- Partner staff directly involved in project programming and operations activities also participate in quarterly reviews and updates of the DIP and annual development of subsequent DIPs (see Standard 11, key action 4).
- CRS should have developed a project early start-up plan to guide implementation of project start-up activities prior to the prime’s DIP process. However, even as a sub-recipient, CRS needs to develop a DIP for the full implementation of activities for which CRS and any second-level CRS sub-recipients are responsible. In some projects, the CRS PM may decide that CRS and any partners should develop a preliminary DIP before participating in DIP development activities led by the prime, and finalize the CRS DIP after the prime’s process. In other cases, the PM may decide to wait to organize CRS and partner-level DIP development until after the finalization of the overall project DIP.
- Reach out to the prime early in the start-up process to inquire about the timing of the prime’s DIP development process and confirm CRS’ participation in the process. Participating in the overall project DIP development process helps ensure that the project DIP timelines and responsibilities reflect CRS’ and any CRS partners’ understanding of the operating context, programming realities and best practice. It also helps establish appropriate and realistic expectations and responsibilities for CRS and any partners.
- Whenever possible, both the CRS PM and technical staff (programming and operations, as applicable) should represent CRS. Make sure that any CRS staff member contributing to the development of the overall project DIP brings a strong understanding of the project implementation context and local realities.
- After receiving the final DIP from the prime, review it with other CRS and CRS sub-recipient partner project staff. CRS and partners use this information to develop or finalize their own project DIP, as well as team and individual workplans.
- Develop the DIP sooner for emergency responses; typical practice is to develop a DIP for the full emergency project timeframe, but detail sub-activities and tasks only for the first quarter or two given the likelihood of rapid changes in the operating context.
- Joint operations-programming development of the DIP is even more important in emergency contexts. Pay special attention to the sequencing of activities, and the risk of cascading delays if key milestones are missed or operations tasks delayed.
- Critically review assumptions and risks as part of emergency DIP development, building from the start-up operating context review and project design validation (see Standard 7, key action 1 for guidance).
- Review and update the DIP more frequently (typically monthly), and organize weekly joint meetings of operations and programming teams to monitor progress on team and individual workplans developed based on the DIP.
- If you are working on a large-scale emergency where several Caritas Internationalis (CI) Members are responding and/or supporting a response of the national Caritas, please refer to the Protocol for CI Coordination in Emergency Response, Emergency Framework and Toolkit for Emergency Response documents on the CI Baobab website. These documents provide guidance on coordination and the process of developing, implementing, monitoring and reporting on an Emergency Appeal for funding via the CI Network. If you are not registered on the CI Baobab site, please register here.When registering for the CI Baobab site, CRS staff should select "Caritas United States - CRS" as their organization and list the Humanitarian Response Department and firstname.lastname@example.org as the reference contact. If you have any questions, please contact CRS’ Humanitarian Response Department (email@example.com).
Tools and templates
Forecasting and Planning Section (from CRS' Supply Chain Management Handbook)
A Guide to the PMDPro, Phases 2 and 3, pages 44-50; work breakdown structure and critical path, pages 73-86
Hello, I must be going: Ensuring quality services and sustainable benefits through well-designed exit strategies (Levinger, B. and J. McLeod. 2002; Education Development Center, Inc.)
Network Diagram Overview and Video (PMD Pro Starter)
Work Breakdown Structure Overview and Video (PMD Pro Starter)
- Primary responsible: Project manager/chief of party (PM/CoP)