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Unconscious Eloquence

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Richard Maltzman
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We’re just back from the PMI North America Congress.  It was a very good take with well over 2,000 colleagues sharing knowledge and doing some pretty intense networking.  We were presenters ourselves, but this post is not about that talk, it's about others.

Let's start with the venue - New Orleans was the backdrop and theme for 2013, and that city knows how to host a convention full of project managers.  Everywhere you go in NOLA there is music, beautiful music, flowing around each streetcorner and from classic locations like Preservation Hall.

The music of New Orleans is jazz.  We got to experience this wonderful, expressive, eloquent music at Preservation Hall.  This is some of the most eloquent music we've ever heard.

And speaking of eloquence, that’s what we want to discuss with you.  Although there’s a twist.  This is eloquence in which the speaker doesn’t necessarily even realize that they’re being eloquent.

Here’s the deal.  Over the last four or five years, we’ve been expressing (hopefully eloquently) a need for project managers to be more focused on their products’ triple bottom line.  Yes, we mean product, not project or process.  Every project has some sort of outcome – we’re using the word product to refer to this.

And we’ve seen others discuss this topic – or surrounding topics – in such a way that they describe our exact main points - the points of what we call greenality:

  • Long-term (sustainability-oriented) thinking - beyond the delivery of their project's product to the steady-state operation
  • Use of information from the above in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing processes
  • Connectivity to the organization’s mission/vision/values
  • Strong awareness of, and concern for, for a triple bottom line, including social, economic, and ecological aspects.

But they do this in a way in which they don’t…. quite… get… to sustainability.  We've seen it in PM Journal magazine articles (see posts on EarthPM).  We've seen it in blog posts.  And we saw it in the presentations at PMI North America Congress in New Orleans. They come so, so close, but don’t make the point that this is really about integrating sustainability into project management.

Here’s an example from the PMI Congress.

One of the speakers, Kevin Repa, in his talk, “Planning for Program Closure”,  was eloquent in his description of the closing of the Space Shuttle program.  He held the audience’s attention as he described the intriguing story of ending the space shuttle program and figuring out what to do with its significant artifacts (see sidebar). 

To summarize, the shuttle program initiated a “closing project” initially estimated to cost $2.8B or more in and of itself.  Through good project management practices enumerated by Kevin, the project came in well under that, almost by a factor of ten.

One very striking and practical example is what happens to the shuttle vehicles themselves.  They are a “must” for the museum that has one of everything.  And when these shuttles go to a museum, the planners have to know whether the shuttle presents any safety issues to museum-goers.   Are there radiation issues?  Are there any components that will outgas poisons to bystanders?  These are questions that may not have been thought of if the project managers hadn’t thought about the steady-state disposition of the product of their project.

But the underlying message was this: had the planning for the disposition of the shuttle and all of its supporting infrastructure been incorporated into the project from the start, the closure would have had better management of risks, lower environmental impact, and overall even further improved financials.

Mr. Repa used the phrase, “think centuries, not decades”.  Eloquently put.  And unconsciously, Kevin was a huge proponent of our effort to incorporate sustainability thinking into our discipline of  PM.

Kevin, we at EarthPM salute your eloquence, and your being right on target from our perspective.  We would humbly suggest that you and others could parse out the excellent message that you have with the 'greenality' framework we provide above.

And the rest of you?  Eloquent or not, we urge you to be very, very conscious of your key role as project manager when it comes to disposition of your project’s product.  Stay tuned here and at EarthPM's main blog, we can help.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: October 31, 2013 08:14 AM | Permalink

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