You Say You Want A Resolution?

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This is my last post of 2017 and since it’s intended to get you to think long term, I’m making it two parts so as to bridge into 2018.  In this way, (in a way) you’ll be thinking about it for a year.

The theme at this month has been success.  This is such an important word in project management because it is a goal but it is also a word which begs a torrent of some pretty weighty questions: what kind of success?  For whom? In what timeframe? In what arena will the success take place?  When will ‘success’ be visible?  How is it measured?  Who owns that success if it can’t be measured immediately?

To quote Andy Jordan’s excellent post, “What Does Success Look Like?”:

The problem is we tend to think of projects as solutions to specific problems. Even if we think in terms of the business benefits a project is expected to enable, it tends to be very specific: revenue growth, cost saving, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that—those are the “headline” reasons for completing the project. But unless we think in broader terms, we tend to miss some of the important related areas that need to be addressed.

If, for example, our project is a toll bridge, is it a success if the ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place on the planned date, it comes in 5% under budget, traffic begins flowing smoothly right away, and it is easily transitioned to the highway department for maintenance?

Slow down, cowboy, and hold on to your “yes” for a moment.  A “yes” means that you have thought of the bridge (your project’s product) only as a piece of highway that solves the problem of crossing the river. Consider these questions:

  • What if the bridge costs three times as much to maintain as planned?
  • What if it starts to warp and twist over the first three years, or if it doesn’t seem stable in moderately strong (but not exceptional) winds?
  • What if the paving material causes vehicles to experience poor fuel efficiency or even skidding due to a delayed release of a lubricant which gets on the tires of vehicles?
  • What if the traffic patterns change and the bridge doesn’t generate the revenue planned per year?

As PMs, we are often programmed to think of the “end” of our project as that handoff – that ribbon-cutting ceremony, and of course, as PMs, we’re justified in our need to move on to the next project and demonstrate our skills at building that next bridge, or telecom project, or advertising campaign.  But should we at least think about the realization of benefits from our project?

Up until recently, I’ve heard mainly pushback.  “We should cut the ribbon and run – the bridge’s operation is none of our concern” would be the refrain – or something to that effect.

However, I am increasingly hearing a choir of “absolutely” from people in the know.  For example, right here on, Andy Jordan has posted a “Benefits Realization Thought Guide” (BRTG) – a two page, power-packed piece that you can use to test your project for strategic alignment, benefits analysis, and accountability, with a focus not only on the product’s ‘immediate’ deliverable, but on the long term.  Note: also available is a Benefits Realization Planning Template. The PMBOK® Guide and PMI Pulse of the Profession documents have increasingly stressed the idea of benefits realization as an important part of project management thinking.  Dr Harold Kerzner’s latest talks on PM 2.0/3.0 are focused on benefits realization and longer-term thinking.  This was covered in a post here on called “Harvesting Project Value”.

What’s missing for me – and for others (see Part 2, in January 2018) though, even in all of these thought leaders’ expression of the importance of Benefits Realization is a view of benefits realization, and a view of long-term thinking that explicitly includes social and ecological aspects.  Andy Jordan’s BRTG does touch on this: he asks if the project has intangible benefits in one or more areas, and further probes whether those areas align with strategic goals.  I’d like to insist that we should consciously look for social and ecological benefits in that query.  In line my post on responsible investing, corporations and organizations of every ilk are increasingly putting ‘triple bottom line’ metrics and key performance indicators in their strategy statements, annual reports, and commitments to their (increasingly aware) customers.  Companies – all kinds of companies - like Interface and Patagonia have been doing this for decades; others, like JP Morgan Chase LeviStrauss and ExxonMobil, and LEGO are definitely doing it now.  See, for example, ExxonMobil’s Corporate Citizenship Report, or JP Morgan Chase’s Corporate Responsibility link, ,

In fact, since CSR reputation is so important these days – to consumers, to investors, and hopefully to project managers, I urge you to check this list of the top companies for socially responsible reputation – in other words, how they’re seen as accomplishing ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) aspects:

In case you are wondering how they measure and analyze this reputation, you can see their entire rationale, research, and methodology here.

How does your organization stand?  Check out the list.

By the way: the companies who chose to pay attention to all three legs of the triple bottom line do good but they also do well.

Companies with their eye on the “triple-bottom-line” outperform their less fastidious peers on the stock market.

–The Economist


Let’s have a look at the company at the top of the reputation heap this year: LEGO. 

LEGO statement:

All children have the right to fun, creative and engaging play experiences. Play is essential because when children play, they learn. As a provider of play experiences, we must ensure that our behaviour and actions are responsible towards all children and towards our stakeholders, society and the environment. We are committed to continue earning the trust our stakeholders place in us, and we are always inspired by children to be the best we can be.

So, these companies are focusing on the long term along multiple aspects.  When Andy’s BRTG asks if the benefit areas align with strategic goals, I’m asking that you, too, explicitly check Environmental and Social aspects as well, as indicated by the guidance of the organization.  Think of it as a New Year resolution.

In Part 2, I’ll talk more about how this has started to really resonate in project management circles.  In the meantime, Happy New Year – may it bring… success!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: December 22, 2017 11:31 PM | Permalink

Comments (13)

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Good article and thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !!

Hard to swallow that some of these monopolies can rate highly for socially responsibility, when they clearly lean to one side of the political spectrum: ahem Google! Thank goodness Facebook and Twitter didn't make the list or I would have found it difficult to keep my food down.

Good post. Thanks for sharing.

Was the title (amended) a reference to the Beatles song? ;-)

Considering sustainability, social and environmental effects of projects are important aspects which are barely considered in project management (some aspects of sustainability are there in project management standards) until they are enforced by some regulatory compliance, There is a need to realize the impact of these factors for us and future generations and implement these concepts in the management of projects.

Great article Richard! Merry Christmas and happy new year to too.

If project managers are to take on benefits management, on top of everything else, you will have to start giving them the tools - people, budgets, authority - and incentives to do so.

My domain of responsibilities has always been the project, and the project alone.

@Stéphane, thanks for the comment. Even if you want to keep the domain restricted to the project alone, I would still assert that the project itself will benefit if you extend your thinking beyond the handover, at a very minimum for improved risk identification. No additional budget, no extra authority, no new people, but a great incentive - better projects!


If I identify non-project risks, should I manage them? For example, should I try to mitigate them within the project? if so, I am using project resources for risks outside the project.

Don't get me wrong, Richard. I'm all for ensuring a smooth transition and assuring benefits are accrued from the project results. I'm just worried when we start using very finite resources for things outside our scope or realm of influence.

Thank you for the article.

I held my “YES”, and carefully looked at the questions that were asked in hind-sight as the project was ready to final turn-over the project products to the Owner. The questions are certainly valid, but citing them at turn-over phase of the project suggests there are flaws in Owner’s project/program process including project development and design development for constructing the product. Each of the questions should have been asked and answered in the project charter at the earliest and in the best value analysis during the design phase at the latest.

Thank you for the valued information!


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