Project Management is an art and a science. Most of the practice areas in which we apply our art and science are indeed science-oriented: Pharmaceuticals, IT, Telecom, Research, Medical Devices, and Data Science. In all cases, we need to manage projects – and make decisions – based on fact, based on truth. At times, authorities in power seek to alter the truth to suit their own narrative.
It’s at these times when we need leadership. We need to listen to leaders, be inspired by leadership, and act like leaders. And project managers are nothing if not leaders. We do need to do the hard work of speaking truth to power, even when, as often is the case, we are not at the top of the hierarchy.
It’s in this vein today that we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the celebration of his birthday, and this short post is about speaking truth to power, illustrated by one example I found recently in Nature magazine. They had a feature article called “Natures 10”, covering 10 people who ‘mattered in science’ in 2019. The first person featured was Ricardo Galvão (pictured below).
Credit: Micah B. Rubin for Nature
From the story:
On 19 July, Brazil’s leader, Jair Bolsonaro, lashed out against a report on deforestation by Galvão’s team at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in São Paulo. The group’s analysis had incited the president’s wrath because it found a sharp spike in forest clearing in the Amazon. The president accused the scientists of lying about the data and suggested that Galvão — as head of the institute — might be in cahoots with environmentalists. The 72-year-old fusion physicist was stunned by the accusation. “My wife had to bring me a glass of water,” he says.
Rather than rush to react, Galvão gave himself 12 hours to craft a response. After a nearly sleepless night, he spoke out in defence of INPE scientists. He also accused the president of cowardice and called for a face-to-face meeting — acts that he knew would lead to him losing his job. What he didn’t know was that he would become a hero of sorts, hailed by his scientific colleagues as well as by strangers on the streets. A woman even stopped him on the subway in São Paulo to thank him for standing up to Bolsonaro and helping her to understand why preserving the Amazon matters.
Galvão lost his job. He was dismissed two weeks after he defended INPE, just as the burning season kicked off in the Amazon where farmers light fires as the last step in clearing the land for agriculture.
NPE’s latest numbers, released on 18 November, show that an estimated 9,762 kilometres of land — an area larger than Puerto Rico — was cleared in less than one year - between August 2018 and July 2019. That is an increase of 30% over the previous year, and more than twice the area cleared in 2012.
This was indeed something which deserved (and still deserves!) some speaking of truth.
Galvão now works at University of São Paulo where he continues his work from that perspective. From the article:
After receiving messages from fellow scientists thanking him for speaking out, however, he realized that he has a responsibility to continue to advocate on behalf of science — and scientists — in the face of political pressure. “I’m just a humble old man who works in physics,” Galvão says. “But I decided to go on for this reason.”
Let’s return to Dr. King. Although Dr. King was assassinated before the environmental movement really gained momentum, he was speaking about and inspiring action on the environment.
MLK: It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.
In a speech given by then US Attorney General Eric Holder in 2011, Holder said:
“Dr. King did not have the chance to witness the impact of the movement he began. But he left us with the creed that continues to guide our work. His enduring words – which he penned from a Birmingham jail cell – still remind us that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
This truth was understood – and honored – by the coalitions of activists who rallied against hazardous waste dumps near African-American communities in the 1970s and ‘80s. Their activism helped to drive updates in our environmental laws. President Clinton’s 1994 Executive Order – which required each federal agency to address environmental justice in minority and low-income populations – was also an important step forward. And the work that the EPA and the Department of Justice have led to ensure that our environmental laws and protections extend to all people – regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status – has strengthened this tradition of progress.”
How does this come back to project management? Take a look at the exposure draft of the 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide. You will see that The Standard for Project Management now includes Project Delivery Principles – and the first one listed is Stewardship. It’s in this section that you will now see guidance for us as project leaders that we should be speaking truth to power.
From the exposure draft:
Being a steward entails acting responsibly to carry out activities with integrity, care,
and loyalty while maintaining compliance with internal and external regulations. Stewards demonstrate a broad commitment to care for financial, social, and environmental resources.
You (yes you, Mr. or Ms. Project Manager!) can help here by going to the 7th Edition Exposure Draft and commenting on this Stewardship principle. Support it. Strengthen it. PMI is now listening to your comments! Go to http://pmi.org and navigate to PMBOK® Guide and Standards, About Standards, Get Involved With Standards. You will need to log in to PMI to have access to the Exposure Draft.
Take inspiration from leaders like Galvão and King. Speak truth to power in your projects. When you see something “wrong”, speak up and object. When you see something done “right”, reward that behavior. Have a Truthy Dream.
That's not a typo.
That says "how to B".
We often write about the importance of the connection between the enterprise’s mission/vision/values and project rationale. We often find that project managers – due to their justifiable need to meet specific, generally short-term, deadlines – are not as connected as they should be to the longer term.
Interestingly, the “enterprise” is a main “customer” of the project team. And, increasingly, our “customer” is buying into the idea that there exists not a single bottom line, but a triple bottom line, which includes (of course!) economic considerations but also includes social and ecological considerations.
To illustrate this, let’s take a look at something called a “B Corp”.
You can learn a lot about the concept of a B Corp is to read the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence
THE B CORP DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE
We envision a global economy that uses business as a force for good.
This economy is comprised of a new type of corporation - the B Corporation -
Which is purpose-driven and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
As B Corporations and leaders of this emerging economy, we believe:
That we must be the change we seek in the world.
That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.
So there is motivation for the enterprise to move this way – towards a more holistic view of what “success” means.
And it’s catching on. Here are some up-to-date statistics…
Is your company on the list? You can look it up here.
So…why? Why is this catching on? Rather than try to explain this myself, I’ll refer you to this article from Harvard Business Review.
The landscape of American corporations is changing. Since the financialization of the economy in the late 1970s, corporate governance practices have tightly linked the purpose of business with maximizing shareholder value. However, as the 21st century pushes on, there has been an increased emphasis on other stakeholder values, particularly social and environmental concerns. This trend in corporate governance – which has led to the growth in “triple-bottom line” thinking – has fueled the emergence of a new organizational form: the Certified B Corporation.
But why? Why not just go after the dollars, the yuan, the pounds, the Euros? Here’s what the article has to say about that:
Increasingly, corporations are donning the persona of a responsible citizen, while continuously performing practices to maximize profit. These contradictory tendencies motivate traditionally “green” and ethical businesses to unite and stake a claim to their authentic difference, fueling the growth of B corporations and other new types of organizations. For mission-driven businesses, these alternative forms of organizing provide an opportunity to better communicate their commitment to society and to the natural environment in a world where everybody claims to be “green” and “good.”
If you disagree with this reasoning, or even if you disagree with the movement of companies to this more holistic view, as a project manager, you do have to understand, appreciate, and align with your sponsor’s thinking.
And this is how they’re thinking.
So maybe it's the way you should B thinking as well.
Have a look at this very brief video – which makes a great analogy to the birth of human flight – to get a great background on what it takes to become a B Corporation.
This one is a little ‘glitzier’ but it’s also very informative.
This post is just to let you know that I intend to share with you our own solar project in a series of update posts which I'll intersperse with regular posts. We’ve had solar panels installed on our roof. I’ll be discussing the installation itself, the inspection process, and then, as I have preached here on PPP&P, the handover to “operations” in which we’ll (hopefully) generate an economic and environmental benefit for the longer term.
Here are some photos of the installation to whet your appetite.
So we will be crisply at the intersection between projects and sustainability! Look for the first posts in very early 2020. For now, just think about this question: what would happen if everyone ‘went solar’? You'll find some help with this question here.
In the meantime, we wish you a very happy new year – and we leave you with this charming and optimistic view for 2020…
What happens to that ugly (Holiday?) sweater you decided you no longer want to wear, even to Ugly Sweater Contests? Well, it joins hands (cuffs) with 15 million tons of clothing which goes into landfill each year from the USA alone, making it second only to plastic in terms of what goes into our landfills. With respect to clothing, or perhaps WITHOUT respect - Americans throw away a little more than half of their own weight per person, per year (see references below). And synthetic clothing could take hundreds of years to decompose, with that decomposition releasing potentially hazardous substances.
So it makes sense that the number of projects aimed at improving when, where, and how we recycle clothing. You can see more statistics in the infographic below.
It’s a dreary story. You can read more about it in this article, “Are Our Clothes Doomed for the Landfill?”. One thing that has changed recently in our dynamic world is this: countries to whom the wealthier countries have been shipping used clothes for resale and reuse, have started to say, “no more, thank you very much". The graph below (source: United Nations) shows that recent decline in imports of used clothing.
So, that puts the emphasis again on science, on projects, and on more sophisticated ways to make clothing more directly recyclable. When I started researching this I found a variety of projects to look at, and I may cover several in this blog. For now, one that caught my eye actually comes from an article placed in Nature magazine by Deakin University of Australia.
The following is paraphrased from the (promoted) article.
Researchers at Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) have developed a ‘fibre to fibre’ technology to recycle textiles, based on cotton being an excellent source of cellulose. The research is part of IFM’s focus on designing materials and processes for a circular economy.
The Deakin team, led by Nolene Byrne, has found a solution to the dyeing process, a known stumbling block in recycling fabric.
In Australia alone, more than 500,000 tonnes of clothing waste is sent to landfill each year, making it the second largest waste material after plastic. Researchers at Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) have developed a ‘fibre to fibre’ technology to recycle textiles, based on cotton being an excellent cellulose feedstock. The research is part of IFM’s focus on designing materials and processes for a circular economy.
The institute’s Associate Professor for Circular Design, Nolene Byrne, who leads the research, says that current mechanical methods of recycling cotton textiles shorten the fibre length, meaning that only 30% of the recycled fibre can be incorporated into new fabrics without compromising quality and performance.
By contrast, in the method developed by Byrne and her team, 100% of the recycled fibre can be reused. They have developed a binary solvent containing an ionic liquid to dissolve the cotton, and an aprotic solvent, which reduces the cost, makes recovering the solvent easier and improves the processability.
This is exciting news. Project managers will be needed to continue the research, and to make the process real and practical, and then to implement the systems that will really do this work, to promote their use, to advertise the benefits. The more project managers understand about this business, the more they will be excited by the possibilities it holds, and the better-qualified they’ll be to serve in these projects.
To come back around to our Ugly Sweater, learn more about the used clothing business in the video and associated link below.
Used clothing business: a report from BBC.
And you know what? Keep that ugly sweater for one more year. Maybe you’ll win that contest after all!
Happy Holidays from People, Planet, Profits, and Projects!
The image for this blog post is oddly appropriate. It’s about a breakthrough in science which is called “a milestone” by Nature magazine in a recent article. Nature is not exactly a sensationalist journal. So when they say milestone… it is one.
The article’s key paragraph is here:
The achievement is a milestone, say scientists, because it drastically alters the inner workings of one of biology’s most popular model organisms. And in the future, CO2-eating E. coli could be used to make organic carbon molecules that could be used as biofuels or to produce food. Products made in this way would have lower emissions compared with conventional production methods, and could potentially remove the gas from the air.
Normally, E. Coli (officially Escherichia coli) prefers to eat sugars and emits carbon dioxide as a waste product. In other words, it eats here and gets gas. We want the little critters to instead consume carbon dioxide. There are aquatic microbes that transform CO2 into oxygen but these are difficult to genetically modify in quantity so that they could become a “biological factory’ to mass-capture CO2 and produce beneficial outcomes.
E.Coli is actually easy to genetically modify – and it grows quickly, so the engineering changes can be quickly optimized. But it has that sweet tooth habit that’s hard to kick.
The breakthrough that’s taken place here is a switch in diet. The E.Coli can be tricked into eating CO2 for their source of carbon rather than eating sugars and er… gassing out… CO2.
Paraphrasing the article:
Ron Milo and his team at the Weizmann Institute in Israel used a mix of genetic engineering and lab evolution to create a strain of E. coli that can get all its carbon from CO2. To trick the E.Coli, , they gave the bacterium genes that encode a pair of enzymes that allow photosynthetic organisms to convert CO2 into organic carbon.
To overcome the fact that E.Coli does not have any means to use light to process the CO2 into organic carbon, they inserted a gene that lets the bacterium glean energy from an organic molecule called formate.
But that wasn’t enough. The E.Coli still wouldn’t go for the CO2 meal. The project team had to persist.
To further tweak the strain, the researchers cultured successive generations of the modified E. coli for a year, giving them only minute quantities of sugar, and CO2 at concentrations about 250 times those in Earth’s atmosphere. They hoped that the bacteria would evolve mutations to adapt to this new diet. After about 200 days, the first cells capable of using CO2 as their only carbon source emerged. And after 300 days, these bacteria grew faster in the lab conditions than did those that could not consume CO2.
Isn’t that interesting? It’s almost like breeding dogs for certain behaviors, as we did with shepherds to modify their hunting instincts into one that stalks but does not kill sheep. This team found a way to turn the hunting (sugar eating) bacterium into herding (CO2 eating) bacterium.
Milo and his team hope to make their bacteria grow faster and live on lower levels of CO2. They are also trying to understand how the E. coli evolved to eat CO2: changes in just 11 genes seemed to allow the switch, and they are now working on determining how.
See a short video explanation of the work here:
From a project management perspective here are a couple of takeaways:
Persistence – this team had to deal with setbacks when the bacterium did not respond as they had hoped to the first modifications
The multi-disciplinary and global nature of projects – this team combined engineering, biology, genetics, analytics – and many others to achieve success.
Long-term view – this team focused their efforts on producing a solution aimed at helping to solve climate change.
Reference: Nature 576, 19-20 (2019)
Also, you can find the technical article from Cell right here: https://www.cell.com/cell/pdfExtended/S0092-8674(16)30668-7