Happy Farther's Day
Today is Father's Day in the US.
Thinking about Father’s Day made me think (aside from my own great Dad, of course) about the similar word, “farther” and how it relates to sustainability. On this blog, in in books, we’ve promoted a view of long-term thinking for project managers. Thinking beyond – farther – than the end date of the project, beyond the handover to operations. We’ve provided a rationale as to how that helps make a better project, a project better-connected to the mission and vision of your organization, and likely a project which will have stronger benefits realization. Heck, it even could make the project itself execute more smoothly.
But we won’t repeat all that here. Instead, what we’ll do is to talk about the “farther” and “father” views together by using the analogy to a marathon. Even if you have a long-lasting project, such as a bridge construction, the project itself is a sprint, not a marathon. The marathon is the bridge, in place, transporting people and vehicles safely across the river or gap, for decades.
So, what came to mind for me as I thought about “Farther’s Day” was the father and son team of Richard Eugene "Dick" Hoyt and Richard Eugene "Rick" Hoyt Jr., of Holland, Massachusetts. If you are from New England, you know these two as Team Hoyt. If you don’t know about them, there’s a nice summary of their efforts here.
You see, Rick has cerebral palsy and during competition Dick pushed Rick in a purpose-built wheelchair as they ran the Boston Marathon. And not just one marathon, and not just the Boston Marathon, and not just marathons. The Hoyts have competed in well over 1,100 endurance events, including 72 marathons and seven Ironman triathlons. They had run the Boston Marathon 32 times. Also adding to their list of achievements, Dick and Rick biked and ran across the U.S. in 1992, completing a full 3,735 miles in 45 days.
And even the marathon aspect of what they do doesn’t convey the long-term aspect we espouse. Because the reason that Team Hoyt is Team Hoyt, is NOT the individual events, although each one considered on its own is astonishing. No, the real amazing thing here is that they’ve chosen to do this, yes, for the challenge, but also to (according to their web page):
…raise awareness of inclusion, educate, inspire and enrich the lives of individuals, families and communities by pairing athletes of differing abilities in endurance events to promote the Team Hoyt motto, "Yes, You Can!"
So when Dick Hoyt and his family set about the project to build the special wheelchair, it was done with the long-term thinking that we want you to adopt. It was for more than the purpose of one race, or even one event, or even one person – it was done with a broader purpose in mind. We hope that you consider this inspirational story when you plan your next “wheelchair” project. Think Farther!
Happy Farther’s Day!
The article led me down the road (pun intended) to some interesting research about haulage companies and the change in business model, driven (pun intended again) by sustainability.
The article starts off:
We believe sustainability can mean business, too. By turning it into a creative constraint and taking an entire business model perspective, there is an opportunity to generate superior value for the organization, for the customer, and for the planet.
The company they’re talking about? Michelin. The change in business model? Michelin began selling miles (or kilometers) instead of tires. It’s an interesting twist because rather than just donating money to sustainability-related causes, or improving efficiency (good ideas, still), they took on an entirely different perspective. From the article:
The traditional approach on environmental or social sustainability in large companies has typically been to respond with a big cheque (philanthropy), a nice ad (public relations), or a team of lobbyists (to influence regulation).
Michelin essentially re-architected its business model to give haulage companies its tires away for free. The organization would provide a suite of services and start charging its customers by the kilometre (chips inside the tires would monitor distance and maintenance needs). This change to the business model transformed the customer relationship from being transactional into one focused on long-term contracts.
On Michelin’s website, the focus on sustainability is evident.
To improve Group sites' environmental performance, we need to be able to measure it. This is why Michelin defined an environmental performance indicator in 2005.
Called the Michelin Environmental Footprint (MEF), it spans the six most important environmental factors for the Group's medium-term manufacturing operations. This compound indicator comprises:
If you’re interested in the concept of selling miles instead of tires, and how this may apply to your business (or project), you’ll find an article from Harvard Business school here. It’s a great example of People, Planet, Profit, and Projects – with results:
By encouraging careful handling of the truck equipment, the company has unlocked significant savings for their customers: a reduction in fuel consumption of 2.5 litres per 100km represents annual savings of €3,200 for long-haul transport travelling over 120,000 km (at least 2.1% reduction in total cost of ownership and 8 tonnes in CO2 emissions).
So, when it comes to a focus on sustainability – keep on truckin’!
We did this project On Purpose
A while ago, I blogged about the book “Purpose” by Nikos Mourkogiannis. That book had an image of a tree and focused on the roots of a tree as a way to show that business’ purpose is really what gives it its foundation, its nutrients, its structure, its basis.
Flipping through what turns out to be an excellent journal called Biz Ed, I was surprised to find an article with a similar graphic, and a related title – and a strong connection to project management.
The article is “Rooted in a Sense of Purpose” by Mie Augier and Arjay Miller. In it, the authors focus on the possibilities of building business schools (and the appropriate curricula!) that hae a social conscience. The quote that told me for sure that this article was ‘blog-worthy’ was this one:
Students can help build bridges between sectors.
Isn’t that what we do as PMs? We’re silo busters – making sure that different parts of our business connect properly with each other so that they contribute properly to the project objectives. Since most companies have made strong commitments to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), then if project management students (of any age!) learn how to do their job of connecting sectors, and the sectors themselves are all properly connected to the company’s CSR goals, it only figures that these newly-educated PMs will be able to help root their companies in their purpose. So I would assert the following:
Project Managers can help root their companies in their purpose.
As a seasoned instructor of graduate-level business students, in most cases PM-focused students, I see an eagerness to learn in this integrated fashion. Yes, many of the students are Millennials and Gen-Y’ers so that is part of it, but by the same token, I have many students who are “older” – in their 50s and 60s – and they also seem to crave the idea of understanding how their business’ purpose connects with their own projects and how their businesses respect not only economic but also ecological, ethical, and social goals.
The article features a case study on Public Management at Stanford University. It focuses on their MBA program and their PMP certificate. But wait: it’s not the PMP® of which you are thinking. Rather, it is a Public Management Program, a part of Stanford’s MBA since 1971. The acronym may be “wrong” but the effort is quite “right”. The program teaches the usual business disciplines – economics, management, marketing, financial analysis, and although not mentioned, I’m sure it includes project management. The difference? The courses are revised to include components related to ethics and social responsibility.
This is not hard to do. I have actually started to do this in my own teaching by using project cases based on (for example) the BP Macondo Well (mostly known as the Deepwater Horizon) incident, the Takata air bag problem, and the recent Volkswagen attempt to ‘work around’ EPA regulations on carbon monoxide emission levels. And I must tell you, this becomes one of the more interesting parts of the course and really gets people energized on the issues. We don’t’ always all agree, of course, and in fact sometimes vigorously disagree. But through argument, in the most positive sense of this word, students are learning more about purpose, and importantly more about how their projects (and project management education and knowledge) help – really help – their business form the roots that make the business truly successful.
The Fix is In
Let me start with an amazing “makes-you-go-hmmm” thought. It takes 13 tons of water to make your mobile phone.
Glug. Glug. Glug.
Let that soak in for few seconds. Then read on.
My first engineering assignment was in an organization which focused on repair of telecom equipment. This equipment was designed and manufactured by one of the top (if not the top) designers and manufacturers of equipment at that time. One of my assignments was to do a “road show”, traveling to the locations which did the equipment design and explain to them (all PhDs and most of whom had at least two or three patents to their names) how the end result of their design – the product – lived its life “in the wild” and also what defects or other reasons resulted in their return for repair.
I think this may be one of the reasons that I believe strongly in – if possible – repairing something rather than disposing of it and ‘just buying a new one’.
Yet, our culture, increasingly, has become a throw-away culture. Smartphones are tossed, laptops are only expected to last a year or two, and people by clothing to wear –maybe – once or twice, and then those also get tossed.
I came across an excellent episode from the “Costing the Earth” podcast from BBC 4 to which you should lend an ear. In fact, bookmark the podcast, not just this episode.
The feature in this 20-ish minute podcast is about “Restart Parties” – which is a real thing, increasingly popular in the UK and several other countries, and it’s not only right in line with that first engineering assignment of mine but also represents a project that is literally reducing carbon emissions and other waste by thousands of tons. They are also collecting data points from consumer who face failed products and getting that information back to the manufacturers – the organizers actually also used the phrase “how the product does in the wild”.
Some statistics: in the UK alone, 800 pounds of electric/electronic products are brought into households per year and a similar amount is disposed of. If that sounds like a lot, sit down, because according to Earth911.org, the figure for electronics disposed of annually by the US consumer is 9.4 million tons.
In smartphones from the US alone, this represents $60 million in gold. Literally.
In fact, if you decided that gold mining was your thing, you would be 40 to 800 times more productive mining in discarded circuit boards than in gold ore. If you’ll excuse the pun, I think we should treasure that fact!
But back to our podcast. People are doing something about this which I found fascinating and it’s also considered a project. It’s called The Restart Project, and you can read about this idea here.
Even better, have a look at this video from the Restart Project:
What do you see here? It’s about consciousness of the impact of waste, but there’s more than that – there’s a social aspect and even a sense of freedom from the thruway syndrome, which somehow emphasizes hope rather than just a cycle of discarding.
A lot of what you’ll find in this podcast and the other resources linked in this post has to do with the thought that goes into the design of a product – or for that matter, even a service – about what the long-term impact is of the product. We, as project managers, often have a say in decisions that could change these long-term effects, something like what we used to preach on our road shows of days gone by: make the products repairable. Make them long-lasting, durable, reliable. In general, we should be speaking truth to power when it comes to designed-in obsolescence. We should be seeking designs in which the hardware platform can innovatively use software to make the product compatible with the changing outside world. As an example, I just replaced my cable modem on the recommendation of my service provider. Suddenly my wireless router began to act up and provide unreliable service. The recommendation from the service provider? “Get a new router”. Even the manufacturer of the router (no big surprise here) said, “just get the latest-model router”. Friends and family said, “get a new router, it’ll be more likely to work with the new modem. No – not me. Remember? I said I had this background in repair engineering? So, I did 10 minutes of research, found that I could download a revised set of firmware for the router, did so, and voila! The old, about-to-meet-its-maker router, which is actually not all that old, is working fine again!
Multiply that sort of transaction hundreds of thousands of times and consider the impact of that 13-ton mobile phone – and we’re talking about a significant environmental impact reduction (in addition to saving a trip to the electronics store and the $50 for the new router in my case)!
So check it out! See if there are any Restart Parties near you?
You can join the Restart Parties Facebook page here and check it out!
Pump Up with CSR
This is a story that links two unlikely people: Arnold Schwartzenegger and Jessica Kirshenblatt-Gooderham. You have probably heard of the former, based on his roles as The Terminator, Conan the Barbarian, and even Governor of Caifornia. But If you want to learn about Ms. Kirshenblat-Goodenham, you’ll have to read on.
First, let’s focus on the California connection.
As President Trump moves to reverse the Obama administration’s policies on climate change, California is emerging as the nation’s de facto negotiator with the world on the environment. The state is pushing back on everything from White House efforts to roll back pollution rules on tailpipes and smokestacks, to plans to withdraw or weaken the United States’ commitments under the Paris climate change accord.
The aggressive posture on the environment has set the stage for a confrontation between the Trump administration and the largest state in the nation. California has 39 million people, making it more populous than Canada and many other countries. And with an annual economic output of $2.4 trillion, the state is an economic powerhouse and has the sixth-largest economy in the world.
California’s efforts cross party lines. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, and led the state in developing the most aggressive pollution-control programs in the nation, has emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s biggest Republican critics.
So, with this talk of Governor Schwarzenegger – and reflecting on that famous Saturday Night Live sketch where Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon (and sometimes with ‘their cousin Arnold), we are inspired to 'pump up'. Aren't we?
So, as a project manager, can you “pump up your career” with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)? A recent story inspires me to say ‘yes’ and to even provide some tips (thanks to the heroine of this story) for you. It’s the story of Jessica Kirshenblat-Gooderham. Kirshenblat-Gooderham.
Jess began her career at General Mills in sales about ten years ago. At that time, there were few, if any, sustainability projects – at least framed in that way. Now, she helps direct the General Mills Canada Sustainability Team. Think about it. This is about a portfolio of green projects, tied to General Mills’ corporate commitments to sustainability, which you can find here:
One thing to note here. Projects which are ‘green by nature’ like efforts to reclaim energy from oat husks (one great example from General Mills’ Cheerios™ products) are easy to connect to sustainability. The challenge for project managers in projects which are more ‘workaday’ is to connect the sustainability elements – usually related to benefits realization, and often involving CSR goals that go beyond pure economics. The way to justify CSR considerations in these projects is to connect them to the company’s statements about CSR. This is what we call “the golden thread”. You can test this out yourself by referring to and oldie-but-goodie post which includes a “the three-click challenge” – the post is called “Golden Threads and Ruby Slippers”.
So let’s get back to Jess Kirshenblat-Goodenham. In the article from “BMeaningful” – an excellent website, by the way - she provides three tips for those interested in pumping up the CSR element of their career.
So – be like Hans and Franz – it may be time for you to pump up your career using CSR!