Lessons Learned from Implementing A Multi-Country Project - Part I

By Olajumoke Arinola & Nwanyibuife Obiako

Managing a multi-country project requires substantial time, strategic planning, and team effort. The very nature and scope of multi-national projects already pose a challenge, especially when the implementing organization does not have a previously established presence in the implementing countries.

eHA's Technical Officer with community informants in N'Guigmi, Niger using the AVADAR mobile application to send in their weekly AFP case report.

eHA's Technical Officer with community informants in N'Guigmi, Niger using the AVADAR mobile application to send in their weekly AFP case report.

One must consider several factors including staff recruitment, efficient management of multicultural teams, managing changes in project requirements, mitigating risks, ensuring adherence to best practices, and knowledge acquisition of country-specific regulations & policies. These factors inform the strategies employed in executing the project.

Under the disease surveillance program, eHealth Africa (eHA) collaborated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Novel-T to implement the Auto-Visual AFP Detection and Reporting (AVADAR) surveillance project. AVADAR is a multi-country project which aims to increase the sensitivity and quality of Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) detection and reporting. The project combines the use of an SMS-based mobile technology for real-time reporting with a community participatory surveillance approach. Building on the pilot’s success in Nigeria in 2016, the project was expanded within a period of seven months to six additional countries (Chad, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cameroon, Niger and Democratic Republic of Congo) in 2017.

eHA has country offices in only two of the six countries (Sierra Leone and Liberia). Over 150 team members were required to support kickoff and field activities in about 30 districts across countries where expansion was planned. Below are lessons learned from the AVADAR implementation that will be helpful for health-related project managers as well as those working across other sectors and industries in multiple project environments:

Standardize Communications

Every project needs a communication plan and strategy. Standardizing internal and external communication channels helps avoid confusion and unify processes across all countries. Confusion easily arises when team members have overlapping responsibilities, multiple reporting lines or when information is not adequately documented.

Multi-country projects usually involve multi-cultural teams separated by distance.The AVADAR team conducts routine remote meetings for cross-country team members to provide project updates, discuss challenges, and collectively develop resolution strategies. Mentoring sessions for country teams are also held on best practices, routine reporting expectations, and proper documentation procedures. In addition, routine progress reports are shared with global and country-level partners to keep them updated on project activities, change requests, challenges, and action items for collective follow up and resolution.

Look Inward for Resources

To save time and improve the efficiency of the work, it’s important to look inward for resources. There may be potential human resources within your organization; across different programs and departments, that may have relevant skill sets required for your project. We engaged francophone staff across eHA’s country offices as part of the AVADAR cross-country training team, resulting in cost and time savings related to recruitment and onboarding of new staff.

During 2017 scale up planning, I was tasked with recruitment of the expansion training team. I liaised with eHA department managers to engage their team members with the required skill sets; including multilingual capabilities and prior experience implementing mobile-based application projects.
— Wilson Inalegwu (AVADAR Technical Lead)

Leverage on Existing Relationships with Partners

Implementing AVADAR has been a multi-organizational effort that required each partner to rely on shared resources and existing infrastructure for optimization and efficiency. One must anticipate the areas where partner assistance is required during project planning and make prompt requests through the appropriate communication channels. Although eHA did not have established offices in four of the countries, our team benefitted from partner relationships and the engagement of 3rd party recruitment and logistics vendors in establishing contractual agreements with local vendors, clearing shipped equipment at each country’s Customs office, facilitating in-country travel, and securing storage space for project equipment/materials.

In Part II of the series, we’ll share key lessons learned directly related to implementation in the countries without a previously established eHA office. Sign-up for our newsletter today and get all the latest information on what's happening at eHA.