Although other standards related to Project Management have begun to incorporate and ‘thread through’ sustainability concepts, the PMBOK® Guide, even the brand-spanking-new 6th Edition, does not mention it – it’s not in the dictionary, nor in the index.
But, like our canine friend Wiley above, it is there, and I intend to prove it to you with these two posts (and maybe further ones as I discover the hiding places).
I’d like to start with a new concept introduced in the 6th Edition – Overall project risk. This is not the risk of showing up at a wedding wearing overalls – although, I’m sure that if you did, and the invitation said ‘black tie invited’, that would likely be a threat. No, this form of “overall” I read as ‘overarching’ risk. PMI defines it as follows: “the effect of uncertainty on the project as a whole, arising from all sources of uncertainty including individual risks, representing the exposure of stakeholders to the implications of variation of project outcome, both positive and negative.”
For the past decade (actually two… how time flies when you are having fun) I have taught project management classes, and for most of those years, I have used the video below to express this concept.
Have a look. It's one minute long, and it's worth it, I promise you. It speaks for itself (even though there are no words). Overarching risk – overall risk – has to do with the fact that even if you do everything in your power to mitigate, transfer, and/or avoid the threats to the project, even if you do all in your power to enhance or exploit the opportunities, it still may be possible that the entire outcome is still a failure. In the video, the project is ‘over’ for the ragtag crew driving the truck, when the box is delivered to the ship, but the objectives of whoever is responsible for transporting the box across the ocean – well, let’s just say they don’t fully meet requirements.
In the PMBOK® Guide definition, the hidden sustainability element is the key words, “implications of variations in project outcome”. The project outcome, after all, is often not known until some significant time has elapsed. In the case of The Box, it’s not known until the customer on the other side of the Atlantic signs off on their receipt of whatever is inside that wooden crate marked “FRAGILE”. You could make the analogy that a stretch of highway (see “Paved With Good Intentions”) has not really delivered its benefits until years after it has been put in service. That’s long-term thinking. That’s ‘benefits realization thinking’. That’s sustainability thinking. Note that there is nothing here about ecological or social considerations – sustainability is about long-term thinking, full-stop.
There’s one more risk element that contains some hidden sustainability thinking: Integrated risk management. Here the PMBOK® Guide says, “A coordinated approach to enterprise-wide risk management ensures alignment and coherence in the way risk is managed across all levels. This builds risk efficiency into the structure of programs and portfolios, providing the greatest overall value for a given level of risk exposure.” The same paragraph also has a reference to ‘escalated risk’ which will be to subject of Part 2. But staying with this idea of integrated risk management, it evokes a post I wrote called “Golden Threads and Ruby Slippers” which similarly emphasizes the importance of providing overall enterprise-level value by assuring that the project’s goals are integrated with the programs and portfolios which, in turn, are only launched because they (hopefully) tie in with organizational aspirations. And, because most organizations now do aspire to be socially, ecologically, and economically responsible, that connection – that integration – means that the project manager not only has permission to link these goals to their project objectives, they actually have a responsibility to do so.
Stand by for Part 2 – in which I will talk more about some other hiding sustainability elements – this time having to do with escalated risk.