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.
As I was preparing this blog post, a news item came across the “crawler” at the bottom of my screen indicating that U.S. President Trump had just “unveiled a controversial plan Thursday to permit drilling in all U.S. continental shelf waters, including protected areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic”.
This news just underlines the main point of this post, which is this: when governments remove funding for research, nonchalantly and haphazardly relax regulations, and in general ignore scientific facts (or – even worse - the seeking of those facts in terms of research and analysis), it may be incumbent to us as individuals to take on some of the burden ourselves.
This is why I was fascinated by an article called “Punk Science” in the 23-Dec-2017 edition of The Economist.
The article starts with the story of Max Liboiron, a Canadian geographer, who was working on monitoring the plastic debris content of the waters off of the coast of Newfoundland – when the government passed legislation that weakened environmental protection and specifically cut the budget for this monitoring. Ms. Liboiron developed a tool she called “BabyLegs” which is a pair of baby stockings which can be affixed to a cut plastic bottle and towed behind boats as a way to collect debris samples. Below: a photo of the inventor and her BabyLegs, the unit in service, and the inexpensive ingredients/tools to create them.
Using these BabyLegs, and using Liboiron’s Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research, the data can be gathered for literally .08% of the cost of using the Manta Trawls that were being used by scientists via the funded program. The point is that this makes science, data, and interest in this effort more accessible and public.
You may not live near the ocean or be interested in plastic debris off the coast of Newfoundland. But everyone drinks water and/or wine, and/or beer… and that brings me to the next part of this post.
Included in the article was a section on how ‘crowd science’ determined the true scope of the damage from the Deepwater Horizon incident, via PublicLab, a New Orleans NGO which helps individuals come together to investigate environmental concerns. Here is PublicLab’s mission statement:
Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns. Using inexpensive DIY techniques, we seek to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.
In this case they used software called MapKnitter to assemble photos from helium balloons, old digital cameras and smartphones (see photo below) into photographs more detailed than those available from Google Earth.
Another example of a PublicLab effort is the ability to create spectrometers for pennies. A spectrometer can be used to determine the chemical composition of light – including light passed through a liquid, such as drinking water, wine, or beer – and to find pollutants or contaminants in that liquid, such as lead or mercury.
Inspired by the article, I actually created a small project for myself – build the referenced spectrometer in the article and test it out. The project was on time (15 minutes) under budget (effectively 0) and met scope (working spectrometer)!
Below is a picture of my spectrometer, and an example of a reading on a CFL bulb (the ones that look like a soft-serve ice-cream cone), which shows that the CFL’s main chemical signature is mercury. You can compare my reading (look where there are very bright spots) with the chemical signature of mercury.
Individuals could use such a spectrometer to ‘crowdsource’ data on (for example) drinking water, to look for lead in their water, for example. Instructions for making the spectrometer can be had by clicking on the image below.
Reading this as a citizen of planet Earth, perhaps one with an interest in science, I hope this ‘tickles’ the creative side of your brain… maybe you will take on one of these mini-projects, or do it collaboratively with your science-minded kids or nieces or nephews.
Reading this as a project manager, I hope that you’ll take away the idea that your stakeholders may be a source of ‘crowdsourced’ data for you in ways you may not have imagined before.
Happy New Year!
As promised, here is a brief (but important) follow-up to the Part I post on the relationship between success and sustainability. Starting 2018, with this first post of the year, I’d like to be optimistic and there is reason to be so, based on recent publications and the increased focus and buy-in to the idea of integrating sustainability thinking into PM, not just by myself but by colleagues around the world.
Topping this off is a very recent article from the Dutch IPMA magazine (the photo in this blog post’s banner). Below is a list of resources for your use, for your consideration, and to perhaps stimulate a ‘sustainable’ New Year’s Resolution:
Note: This paper has an interesting figure summarizing the relationships which I have included at the bottom of this post.
The conclusion of this particular paper is interesting in and of itself, finding three factors which enable sustainability in projects – which match what I talked about in Part I:
• Factor 1: Benefits driven (Sustainability if it has benefits)
• Factor 2: Demand and intrinsic motivation driven (Willing to integrate sustainability if it is asked and paid for)
• Factor 3: Demand and Strategy driven (Sustainability if it is asked for and fits our strategy)
However, besides the findings, the paper ends with a very, very important – and reflective – question which ties right back to the New Year’s Day (resolution) theme. I have paraphrased it a bit below. The way I read the question, it asks whether you should be a follower or a leader. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion and make your own resolution:
...For suppliers integrating sustainability in projects is strongly dependent on the demand and willingness of the customer to pay for sustainability.
On the one hand, customers can take that into account into contracting strategies. On the other hand, adoption of sustainability in the supplier’s policy could be a successful measure for integration of sustainability in projects as well. In that respect, it should be questioned whether a supplier (and their project management leaders) should wait for the customer to ask for this, or should they take the initiative and distinguish themselves from their competitors?
What do you think?
Below is the figure from the reference, Exploring the relationship between sustainability and project success.
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 ProjectManagement.com 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:
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 ProjectManagement.com, 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 Projectmanagement.com 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, , https://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/Corporate-Responsibility/corporate-responsibility.htm
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: https://www.reputationinstitute.com/csr-reptrak
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.
Let’s have a look at the company at the top of the reputation heap this year: LEGO.
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!
Scientific American has just published its “Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2017”. As a project manager, we should be closely tuned in to emerging technology because we all know that new technology drives new projects – either directly (launching a new telecom network based on a 10x faster optical network) or indirectly (a new smartphone app helps you track team members’ progress instantaneously).
Well, I’ve been focusing on the intersection of project management (and projects, and project managers) and sustainability since ancient times (2007), and it’s interesting to see that fully half of them are sustainability-oriented technologies. So, I thought that this near-end-of-year post could highlight those technologies. You’ll see the connection to projects – at least I assert that you should.
Water Made By The Sun
In a cross-continental effort led by MIT and the University of California Berkley, researchers are taking advantage of the properties of Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) which have phenomenally large pores and a strong affinity for water. It’s actually quite amazing: one MOF crystal the size of a sugar cube has an internal area approximately the size of an American football field. By using these MOFs, the initiative forgoes the usual way of removing water from air (like your home dehumidifier) which takes lots of energy. The places that need this water (where billions of people suffer from the lack thereof) require a lot of electricity – something those same people also don’t have. These systems can be powered by the sun.
Projects to implement this technology are already taking place. A startup in Scottsdale, Arizona called Zero Mass Water has already started selling a system which, with one solar panel can produce 2 to 5 liters a day. The company has even shipped such systems to Lebanon to provide water to Syrian refugees. You can imagine the projects that could ‘waterfall’ of this technology.
Fuel From An Artificial Leaf
Researchers at Harvard University, in partnership with commercial interests, have actually exceeded the efficiency of a leaf in converting energy from the sun to create glucose. The researchers, Daniel Nocera and Pamela Silver, paired the technology with microbes specifically engineered to produce multiple types of fuels, even with low CO2 concentrations. Now, Nocera and his team are working on a new idea that allows the bacteria to produce nitrogen-based fertilizer into the soil. This bacterium can actually form a biological plastic which can serve as its own fuel supply – a closed system which would not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Reminiscent of scenes from the movie Sleeper, this technique has yielded radishes that weigh 150% more than a control group. So this is about more than fuel – it could assist in the capabilities of farming.
Continuing the farming theme, this initiative focuses on combining the technologies of drones, big data analytics, sensors, improved seed development, and advanced software to produce healthier crops with increased yields for a world that has increasing need for food. Who’s involved? Lots of stakeholders and concerns, small startups, government, and companies such as John Deere, Dow, and DuPont. However, in another example of how this set of technologies brings other technologies (and projects) into play, this combination of technologies requires movement of vast amounts of information – which in turn means an increased demand for broadband. The stakeholder count (and the plants) just keeps growing.
Hydrogen Cars For The Masses
Want a hydrogen-fueled car? It’s possible. All you need is $57,500 and that will buy you a Toyota Mirai. But projects galore – at the moment research projects – are aimed at removing the most expensive part of a hydrogen fuel-cell: the catalyst. Many fuel cells today use platinum. Palladium, one substitute, doesn’t perform quite as well and is still fairly expensive. So the researchers are looking for radically different catalysts, made from more readily-available materials, such as copper or nickel. Even more radically, researchers such as Liming Dai at Case Western University, are working on a catalyst that uses no metal at all, and instead uses nitrogen and phosphorous-doped carbon foam. Working together with manufacturers, the goal is to create inexpensive fuel-cells that power vehicles with no emissions, and also produce zero emissions during their production in quantity.
While building a green house is an admirable goal, this emerging technology is about building blocks of homes in such a way as to be even more effective and efficient. An example is the Oakland EcoBlock project. Near the Golden Gate Bridge, this collection of about 35 contiguous older homes will have existing sustainability technology applied – but there will be additional program advantages at the community level – such as a smart microgrid and shared electric vehicles. Other innovations involve the use of community water, reducing the demand of this block by up to 70%. But perhaps of the most interest to project managers is the collaborative nature of the program, a multidisciplinary effort involving urban designers, engineers, social scientists, policy experts, governments, and academics. This is what projects are all about, right?