Project Management

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from

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5 Challenges of Integrating Sustainability into Project Plans

Back in December I wrote about how to reduce your project’s carbon footprint by taking sustainability into account during the management of the work.

There were some really interesting comments on the article, and one of the questions was:

What challenges might project managers face in integrating sustainability into their project plans, and how can these be overcome?

Let me spend some time today talking about 5 of the challenges I think are top of mind when it comes to managing sustainability in a project environment.

sustainable working

Challenge #1: Stakeholder buy in

The first thing I think you need to overcome is the challenge of stakeholder buy in. Are your project stakeholders as committed as you to putting sustainable working practices at the heart of this project? And what do they mean, really?

I’d tackle this by including a sustainability management plan as part of the project artifacts, making sure that we all agreed what measures we are prepared to take.

Challenge #2: Supplier buy in

Next, suppliers. It’s fine having the support of your internal team, but if you are bound to use certain suppliers who are not aligned to your value, a big part of your sustainability effort could be undone.

It’s great to think you might have the freedom to select the partner who delivers all their supplies in electric vehicles powered by green energy, wrapped in recycled paper packaging, but honestly, not all suppliers are able to meet those, nor may it be practical or desirable for them to do so.

Yes, think about which suppliers you contract with, and talk to them about their sustainability plans and approaches, but sometimes you’ll have to accept that the preferred supplier and the best fit for your project is not the greenest option. Perhaps tackle this by looking at carbon offset schemes?

Challenge #3: Team collaboration

One of the things you can easily to do reduce the carbon footprint is to travel less and reduce the overhead related to driving or flying to work-related meetings. But what is the impact on productivity and collaboration for the team?

We all know of the advantages of collocated teams, and while many of us are reading this article while working from home or not in the same location as our colleagues, it is still lovely to meet up with the team from time to time.

Think about what travel is possible for the team to do, and how you can build informal networking and team events into your remote working schedule.

Challenge #4: Tracking

Let’s say you’ve got agreement to work in green ways or to consider sustainability seriously as part of your project management approach. How are you going to track this?

One of the challenges is identifying meaningful measures. For every car journey avoided, what does that mean? Look for your company’s standard measures for calculating carbon by weight, and think about how that translates from what you are doing.

Alternatively, you might decide that you’re going to be as green as possible without tracking (which might defeat the purpose if part of your goal is to contribute to targets like net zero) but at least that would be something. Deal with this challenge by talking to your sustainability manager or finance team, or the department responsible for looking at energy saving and carbon tracking.

Challenge #5: Consistency

It’s fine starting out thinking you are going to be all green on this project, but it’s often hard to keep the momentum, especially if there is no corporate mandate or wider sustainability plan, and you are up against stakeholders who don’t attribute the same level of importance to this as you do.

Overall, building in sustainable working practices and choosing to manage the project and the deliverables in a sustainable way shouldn’t be hard, but in practice I’m sure you’ll face these challenges.

What else did I forget? Have you tried green ways of working or deliverables and found them easy to build into the way you work? Let us know in the comments below!

Posted on: February 13, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

7 Summer Sustainability Suggestions for Supplier Management

Categories: supplier management

Here in the UK we’re well into the summer now. It’s hot enough for me to be grateful for the air conditioning unit that was fitted in my garden office a few years back. But air con isn’t exactly the most sustainable of gadgets given the energy that it uses to keep my space cool.

I’ve been thinking of how our projects can be more sustainable through the way we deliver them. Here are 7 suggestions for how we can build sustainable practices into project management through working with suppliers.

  1. Delivery methods

How does the supplier’s product get to you? Consider prioritising suppliers who have low-pollution delivery options.

  1. Packaging

How much plastic is involved in packaging goods? Talk to your vendors about how they ship materials. They might be investing in smart packaging options or using more cardboard to wrap goods.

  1. Sustainable materials

This is quite a simple one: ask vendors how they choose what materials go into their products. This is important for equipment that uses minerals or other materials that have a limited supply. They may be investing in changing up what they use so their products have a lower environmental impact

  1. Manufacturing environment

Find out where the vendor is manufacturing their goods. Many of the manufacturers I work with are investing in their production line and factories to introduce things like motion activated low energy lighting, low water options or recycling waste water, paper recycling and more on their journey to carbon zero. 

  1. Staff engagement

One of the vendors I am working with at the moment puts a lot of effort into engaging staff in environmental awareness, and you may find your vendors do the same. For example, they have recycling on site for staff to bring their personal home recycling, they do awareness weeks and promotions for staff and more.

  1. Training delivery

If your team needs to be trained on how to use the equipment you are buying, consider how that training will be delivered. There is probably a lower carbon footprint for online training delivery than having a trainer fly to your location and deliver in-person training. Consider what your options are and work with your supplier to come up with something that meets your needs.

  1. Compliance

There are several schemes applicable to vendors nationally and internationally, for example in the use of conflict-free minerals. Check out what schemes are relevant to your purchasing and whether your vendors are taking part.

Plenty has been written on this subject already, and I’ve only touched on each of these areas. Hopefully you’ve already got some sustainability approaches baked into the way you consider, select and deliver projects, and have a focus on sustainability in your procurement plans. If you need some ideas, check out PMI’s ESG report. What are your top tips in this area? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: August 02, 2022 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

What to check with your project supplier (before you start working together) [Video]

How much do you really know about that supplier you are thinking of using on your project? They’ve sent you a quote, and you’ve got a nice glossy presentation with photos of their account managers, but what’s it really going to be like?

In this video I share some of the things I’ve found important when starting a relationship with a new third party – in fact, before the relationship even gets going it’s important to ask these questions.

If you prefer to read, there’s an article here on what to check before you sign on the dotted line: What you need to know about your supplier.

If you’re a video kind of person, and you want to hear my personal experience, then click Play on the video below! Let me know in the comments under the video what else you consider when you are assessing what organisations to partner with for project delivery. I’m sure you’ve got some great stories too!

Posted on: January 11, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

What to do when supplier costs increase [Video]

supplier costs increase

Let’s say your company has entered into an agreement with a supplier and now the bills are starting to rack up. This could happen if your agreement is on a time and materials basis, or a fixed price plus extra costs for changes to scope.

Find out why the costs are overrunning. Is it because your team is putting through too many change requests, which is hitting a contract clause that lets the supplier charge more? Or is something else at play? Whatever the cause, pin it down and work from there. Involve the supplier as well, so that they know that you can’t afford, or choose not to afford, to put up with those costs going forward. You may end up renegotiating the whole thing, but better to do that early than to put up with overspends for too long.

This video explains more.

Pin for later reading

supplier costs increase pin

Posted on: February 02, 2021 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Collaborative Contracting: 5 Ways to Do It

Categories: supplier management

collaborative contractingAre you working with suppliers on your project? Chances are you probably have – or if your current project doesn’t require external contractors/suppliers, then one in your future probably will. These days, it’s common to have suppliers partnering with you on a project because companies choose to outsource work to those who are specialists.

However, a lot of project failures begin an end with customer relationships breaking down between you and the supplier. I remember one (huge) project we were going to work on and we had a supplier in mind. They were lovely people as well as being specialists. We were at the point of signing their contract and then… the deal fell through. I can’t go into the specifics of why, but suffice to say that as a project team that gave us a big problem. Our preferred supplier was no longer available, and we needed a replacement fast.

In hindsight, that was a great project for learning about contracting.

Building collaborative contractual arrangements

When you set out to nail your suppliers to the ground, and get the most out of them for the least possible price, you are setting yourself up to fail. Not only is not ethical business practice, it puts your project at higher risk because you are creating a ‘them vs us’ or ‘winner vs loser’ situation. Be a nice client.

Taking a collaborative, partnership approach is something that will be common to many of you, including those on agile teams. I’ve worked in partnership with suppliers over several projects and many years. It’s always best for team harmony and productivity, and project success, for the supplier to be fully involved, supportive and partnering with us as part of the core project team.

Let’s say you want that for your project, but you still need the formal boundaries that come with having a third-party relationship with another company. Here are some contracting techniques that you could consider as the building blocks of your relationship.

1. Multi-tiered structure

Be more flexible. Document different elements of the project in different documents. You can have a master service agreement and then add on extra elements as the project progresses. Then you can amend the schedule of services to meet your current needs. Use a statement of work if you need more formal ways of defining scope elements etc.

Having a more flexible way to procure services makes it easier to make changes and gives you more options with how you work together.

2. Focus on value, not progress

The contracts I have been involved with have all hinged on having fixed milestones based on delivery or phase gates around when certain moments come to pass on the project. That’s OK, but you can also look at staggering contract payments based on the delivery of value instead of particular artefacts. That’s something I would look at for future contracts. If you are focused on value-driven deliverables, there is more incentive for you both to be agile and flexible to achieve the goals.

3. Price by increment

Another suggestion is to have flexible pricing based on smaller aspects of the project e.g. user stories, instead of one big payment for the whole thing. Fixed time and materials contracts are not something we use very often because they tend not to work out for either us or the supplier. If you know exactly what you are buying, and they know exactly what they are delivering, perhaps that will be OK. But for the kind of work we do, it’s more helpful to have a fixed price plus add ons for extra things. It gives us more control over how money is spent and lets us change our mind (with agreement from everyone) later in the project if necessary, without putting a financial burden on the supplier!

4. Cancellation options

Consider adding in cancellation optiosn that let you both escape the contract early. But build in enough notice for you both to make a graceful exit. One contract we gave notice on had a 3 month notice period. Given that it was a legacy system, in use for years, and with multiple integrations, it was difficult to extract ourselves in such a short period of time!

Another way to look at this, especially with agile work in mind, is that you should be free to exit a contract if you have got enough out of it. For example, let’s say you contract with a supplier to do a bunch of work, but you get to a point where you’ve achieved adequate business value from only half of the original scope. You don’t need to go any further, so you should be able to exit at that point. If the project contract has been written effectively, hopefully the supplier will not be at a loss either – you’ll want this to be a collaborative discussion. A cancellation fee could offset some of the inconvenience to the supplier, while still ‘getting back’ money for you.

5. Fund the team, not the deliverable

Another flexible way to build a solution that meets your needs in an agile team is to embed the supplier’s expert resources directly in the team. You basically buy in the skills you need, for the time you need them. They work alongside you, on whatever scope elements or user stories are at the top of the priority list. Then you are reserving the right to change scope or make flexible direction shifts, while still working with expert supplier resources.

This option works if you need what’s in people’s heads, or a spare pair of hands – but it’s less useful to you if your project is using what the supplier makes themselves.

There are other ways to look at collaborative contracting and the Agile Practice Guide has more information on alternative ways to have formal, but flexible, relationships with third parties. 

Pin for later reading:

Posted on: January 20, 2020 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

"My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a producer."

- Cole Porter