"When does a project manager’s responsibility begin and end?"
This is the first line of text from Bournemouth University’s “Responsible Project Management” landing page. It’s also – if you have read any posts from this blog – the main theme here at People, Planet, Profits, and Projects. The coaching we’ve been giving here since 2010 in one form or another is that your projects’ outcomes are lasting and we should be thinking about and planning to accommodate that fact, even though we are eager to move on to our next projects.
In fact, nothing stops you from moving on to the next project, and we don’t expect you to “stay on” with your project’s operations for the long term – that’s not the point. The point instead is that you consider what the project’s outcome contributes in terms of value, benefit, and impact, for the long term.
At Bournemouth, they are focusing on this element and I’d like to share some of what they’re up to with you in this post.
They discuss this in detail on a separate site, RPM (Responsible Project Management), which was the inspiration for the image in this post (by way of the 33 RPM vinyl record album format). On their RPM site, Drs. Williams and Thompson start with the Ten Principles of RPM:
- 1. Purpose. Identify and understand the purposes underpinning projects from different perspectives.
- 2. Awareness. Raise awareness of possible impacts and consequences of projects.
- 3. Engagement. Engage with a wide range of stakeholders and promote common interests.
- 4. Curiosity. Be curious, uncover and address ethical complexity, conflict, and unintended outcomes.
- 5. Uncertainty. Recognise uncertainties and encourage clarity and sharing of new knowledge.
- 6. Anticipation. Anticipate changes, evaluate options and promote informed decision making.
- 7. Creativity. Understand needs for creativity and innovations: make space for imagination.
- 8. Transparency. Foster transparency and sharing of visions, thoughts, and feelings among stakeholders.
- 9. Stewardship. Encourage stewardship of human and environmental resources and ethical considerations.
- 10. Balance. Seek balance between the needs of people, planet and profit; short, medium and long term.
You may recognize these as traits, or character strengths, or capabilities, or competencies, or the lack of them, in some cases, in yourself.
Here we have a strong tie-in to a several books that come to mind immediately:
Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management (Ruth Pearce) - this book talks about Character Strengths and even gives you a chance to measure your own.
Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience: A Leader's Guide to Walking in Fog (Carol Osterweil) - this book talks about how the brain works when faced with challenges such as thinking way into the foggy distance, beyond your project's end-date.
Bridging the PM Competency Gap (Abramo/Maltzman) - this book looks at how PM has changed, and where there are some pretty big competency gaps that need to be filled for modern project management, including that of 'perspective'.
Cognitive Readiness in Project teams (Belack et al) - This book dives deep into the neuroscience of project management and helps the reader understand how PMs can be more ready for change - such as considering the longer term.
These books – in different ways – approach the issue of what it takes to do what the RPM folks are asking us to do – because it isn’t necessarily in our basic DNA as project managers to think this way. A fundamental change in mindset is required.
This team is doing important work and has just published the second edition of their guide to RPM, which they have published here.
I highly recommend that you have a look at this 32-page powerful document TODAY. Here’s a brief extract that will give you a flavor of what they’re up to:
Why does Project Management need to be responsible? The Project Management profession faces a paradox of influence on visible, high impact projects and invisible project managers. Projects can influence communities before, during delivery and after delivery.
Before delivery, the announcement of a planned project can change perceptions of a location, attract protests and encourage economic activity by entrepreneurs. During delivery, projects can have significant environmental impacts and can displace communities. After delivery, project outputs may positively or negatively impact economies, the environment and society. Project managers therefore have a responsibility to ensure that communities, the natural environment and wider social ecology are not harmed or even further, are restored by the activities under their purview. The scale of this challenge is even more urgent given the recent warnings of disruptions to economic systems likely to occur from a changing climate and the related human impacts such as forced migration and resource conflict.
As I like to say, they get it. They understand how Project Management must change, and they are taking a strong lead in guiding us there.
Before you do, you can consider one other resource – a PMI-published book called “Responsible Leadership in Projects – Insights Into Ethical Decision Making”, by Nicholas Clarke, Alessia D’Amato, Malcolm Higgs, and Ramesh Vahidi. This book is a study of four projects, focused on the nature of personal, value, and ethical dilemmas faced by project managers and the factors that influence how (project managers) make ethical or value-related decisions. This is a good companion to the Guide, and I plan to post again soon with a more thorough review of this book as well as the RPM Guide. In the meantime, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the concept. Please respond after you’ve had a look at the Guide. I’ll sum up the feedback as well in that post.
So please take some time from your day and read the RPM Guide. In fact, I don't want to FORCE the issue, but I have a very specific, Obi-wan Kanobi sort of suggestion. You will dust off an old vinyl record, you will get that rickety old turntable working again, and you will listen to your favorite old-timey music while you read the RPM Guide. You will comment here in response.