Photo Credit: Hanna Rosin
Legal disclaimer: In this post it may seem like some of the stakeholders, perhaps even your humble author, have a nonchalant attitude towards children’s injuries. No children were hurt in the writing of this blog post, and as it happens, the author has a very non-nonchalant attitude to such injuries.
Blog disclaimer: This post is a little less about sustainability than usual but it’s still very much about long-term thinking and it’s definitely related to major project management topics.
Disclaimer disclaimer: There are no further disclaimers.
Those of you who have been to a playground, lately, at least in the USA, have most likely noticed that everything is super-safe. Rounded corners, padded flooring, not a 90-degree angle in sight. As a parent, this makes you feel proud, good, calm, and less worried. Right?
Things like putting down layers of rubberized mulch, super bouncy floors, and round, smooth edges -these are all example of a risk response we call mitigation – reducing the likelihood of a threat (in this case injury to a child). However, as good PMs we also recognize that there is something called secondary risk – new risk introduced by a risk response. But is there a secondary risk HERE? That is, do these risk responses to protect our kids from any possible threat, trigger any new risks? And what in the world would those risks be?
Well, think a bit about it. Think of the threat of lost learning opportunities. Think of the way this may be insulating kids from the way the world really works. Is it possible that all of these safety measures are preventing kids from learning (albeit the ‘hard way’) about the world around them, the way things really work?
There’s some very prevalent thinking that says something to the effect of: “Beware The Padded Floor”.
For example, have a look at this extract from an article called The Overprotected Kid in The Atlantic magazine, discussing an adventure playground in North Wales called “The Land” at which from time to time there are fires:
If a 10-year-old lit a fire at an American playground, someone would call the police and the kid would be taken for counseling. At the Land, spontaneous fires are a frequent occurrence. The park is staffed by professionally trained “playworkers,” who keep a close eye on the kids but don’t intervene all that much. Claire Griffiths, the manager of the Land, describes her job as “loitering with intent.” Although the playworkers almost never stop the kids from what they’re doing, before the playground had even opened they’d filled binders with “risk benefits assessments” for nearly every activity. (In the two years since it opened, no one has been injured outside of the occasional scraped knee.) Here’s the list of benefits for fire: “It can be a social experience to sit around with friends, make friends, to sing songs to dance around, to stare at, it can be a co-operative experience where everyone has jobs. It can be something to experiment with, to take risks, to test its properties, its heat, its power, to re-live our evolutionary past.” The risks? “Burns from fire or fire pit” and “children accidentally burning each other with flaming cardboard or wood.” In this case, the benefits win, because a playworker is always nearby, watching for impending accidents but otherwise letting the children figure out lessons about fire on their own.
A more recent article in The New York Times delves into this even further, featuring a playground in a town in England with the very interesting name Shoeburyness.
It describes playgrounds in this town as having removed the plastic playhouses with soft edges and introducing a mud pit, tire swings, logs and branches, and a workbench with hammers and saws (see photo).
Photo Credit: Andrew Testa, New York Times
And in London, says the article,
Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been “intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.”
Amanda Spielman is the head of the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted). Late last year, she announced that her agency’s inspectors would undergo training that will encompass the positive, as well as the negative, side of risk. She said the Ofsted agency plans to re-train its inspectors to recognize the “positive” side of risk. Humph. You could have just sent them to the PMBOK® Guide, Ms. Spielman!
Finally, the article references a study (see cover below, linked to the PDF) that compared playgrounds in London to those in the US and reached these conclusions (pay attention in particular to #5):
The U.S. seems to have reached ‘peak safety’. We have created a nation of overly expensive, homogeneously safe, and insidiously boring play spaces. Our injury rates demonstrate that these spaces have unintended consequences. In pursuit of fun, children are using play structures in unintended ways, falling on surfaces too expensive to maintain, and are not moving enough, becoming too weak to play without injuring themselves. To turn the tide, the solution is to follow London’s lead:
1. DESIGN FOR ALL AGES
Both passive and active spaces are important, blur the lines between play and park. And don’t forget cafes and bathrooms!
2. PLAY EVERYWHERE
Provide ‘play affordances’, such as boulders, logs, plants, and topography for inexpensive, but effective fun.
3. THINK OUTSIDE THE CATALOG
All playgrounds should have the top five: grass, sand, climbing, swinging, and sliding. Water and loose parts are another plus.
4. PLAYGROUNDS ARE FOR PLAY
Everything on a playground should be playable, including surfaces. Fun should be prioritized over safety and maintenance.
5. RISK IS A GOOD THING
The best playgrounds look dangerous but are completely safe, offering ways to play based on skill level, strength, and bravery
Click on image for full "London Study of Playgrounds" report.
I cannot leave you without at least one sustainability element here, and I found one, at least according to one commenter in a discussion about this topic. “Emily” says:
“does anyone else think that ripping out the current playground equipment, because it’s “too safe,” after ripping out the previous generation of playground equipment, because it was “too dangerous,” is massively wasteful? Why not start with keeping the existing equipment (and bringing in some boards, hammers, nails, ropes, tires, et cetera, for “loose parts” play if desired), and just, giving kids more freedom in how they play? For example, right now, a lot of schools have rules against climbing up slides, hanging upside down from the monkey bars, sitting on top of the monkey bars, running on the playground equipment and/or in certain areas, doing cartwheels and handstands on the grass, et cetera. If those rules were reversed, even that would be a start.”
Go Emily – think long-term!
Photo ©2014 Valerie Dionne
Maybe it’s because I was looking up at the sky, wondering if the Chinese satellite (Tiangong-1) would land on my house*. Maybe it’s just a lifelong fascination with space. Or maybe looking skyward is a proxy for the idea I’ve had trying to get ourselves as project managers to stop thinking “in the box” and through the end of their project, as well as around the project - to consider triple bottom line concerns. Maybe. But for whatever reason, an article in PM Journal caught my attention and I’m glad it did.
The article, Project Networks as Constellations for Value Creation by Markus Laursen (see citation below), talks about the idea of project networks – not the ones that have critical paths and float and dependencies, but the stakeholder-interaction sort of networks, the ones that we study in terms of ‘number of channels in a network of stakeholders is “N times N-1 all divided by 2”, where N is the number of stakeholders.
Laursen, with whom I chatted just today, says that he was aware that many people would think of the “Network” concept this way, so this is a learning moment – consider the communication connectivity network in your project – that’s what this article discusses. We’re talking about something that looks a little like the below:
This looks like a constellation, right? Thus the name for this sort of network drawing and the title of the article.
But alas, my focus was not on the heavens, but rather on the afterlife.
Yes, this is one of the terms Laursen uses in the article to deftly describe that portion of the project after it starts delivering value, after you as the PM have moved on to other projects. This is a main theme of this blog and one of the main things I am trying to convince project managers to do – to think of the project’s longer-term use and delivery of benefits, of value.
This is where the article really started to get my attention, because Laursen takes pains to point out that value is not only limited to immediate economic benefit. He says, “Knowing more about how value is created and how organizations act in value constellations has implications for how projects are managed,prepared, and handed over to operations.” And then, “It is especially interesting to explore non-financial effects and value, as focusing on these types of value may lead to better project performance also in terms of financial value”. He cites Martinsuo & Killen, see reference below, who have written on this very subject in detail. Their point (and you should read their article cited below) is summed up well with this extract:
We use the term strategic value as the key concept in this study, referring to ecological, social, health and safety, societal influence, learning and knowledge development, and longer term business value. Thus far, few studies have explicitly covered how strategic value should be assessed when managing a project portfolio. Some studies include synergy (Jonas et al., 2013; Teller et al., 2012; Voss & Kock, 2013), sustainability (Luchs et al., 2012), future preparedness (Meskendahl, 2010; Martinsuo & Poskela, 2011; Voss & Kock, 2013) and other related aspects as criteria for portfolio selection, balance or success; however, there is little guidance on practical project portfolio coordination and control mechanisms for promoting such values further.
The article has a great discussion, beyond the scope of this post, but worth reading, regarding the definition of value. Laursen correctly says that in PM, value is “a concept that is often understood as somewhat vague and is sometimes used interchangeably with words such as benefit, outcome, and worth. Indeed, I think I’m guilty of this in this very blog post. He uses this definition: value is the relation between benefits and costs. The key, then, is what sorts of benefits, for whom? Are the benefits only related to economics or do they consider ecological, social, and economic benefits?
Well, that’s what this blog has been asking PMs to do since 2011! It’s great to see that this is gaining ground in the technical journals. Next, in my humble opinion, we need to see this in the PMBOK® Guide itself, and also in the Program and Portfolio standards.
Projects do have an afterlife, and we can be stars as PMs if we look up and consider it in our planning. What will the project deliver? What side effects does its daily operation have? How can we provide more benefit and value for our customers and other stakeholders (like the Earth) by considering that afterlife in our planning?
Check it out. Things are looking up!
*this actually reminds me of the film “The Discovery of Heaven” in which [SPOILER ALERT!] one of the main characters, Max, an astronomer, is actually obliterated by a meteoroid because he has located Heaven and you’re just NOT SUPPOSED to do that…
So long, Max.
Cited articles from PM Journal:
Project Networks as Constellations for Value Creation - Laursen, M. (2018). Project Networks as Constellations for Value Creation. Project Management Journal, 49(2), 56–70
Value management in project portfolios: identifying and assessing strategic value. Martinsuo, M. & Killen, C. P. (2014). Project Management Journal, 45(5), 56–70. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/pmj.21452
For those who don’t know their Dutch, “fiets” means bicycle. But here I use it (in wordplay) to describe a feat – an accomplishment.
I was going to blog about the Blue Orchard Bee, osmia lignaria – in terms of a project in which that species of bee was going to be used to supplement pollination duties for the declining honeybee population in vast fields of almonds in California.
But that “backup bee” post will have to become a backup post. Why? Well, as a good PM and author, I double-checked the status of the project to make sure all was on track - and I’m glad I did this form of mitigation. It turns out, The sponsoring “Wonderful Company” has decided to stop funding the project. It won’t die – it will most likely be taken over by academic and government interests.
So instead of discussing flower petals, I’ll talk about bike pedals.
The most recent issue of PM Network features a story with the title “Pedal Power” and it discusses a Dutch project which is building the world’s largest bicycle parking garage. Having lived in Holland* for two years, I know this personally. I think you can get familiar with the context without moving there (although I recommend it) by simply stopping here and watching this 5-minute video. Then, return to the text.
Just in case you missed the video, here’s a summary of some of the key context. The Netherlands has a growing population of 17 million people. All together the Dutch own 22.5 million bicycles. This means that on average they own 1.3 bicycles per capita, more than any other country in the world. Many people might think the Chinese cycle a lot too, but they own only 0.4 bicycles per person, just slightly more than the US with 0.3 bicycles per person. Not everybody has a bicycle though, not even in the Netherlands. The bicycles are owned by 84% of the Dutch. That means there are many people who have more than one bicycle.
So here’s a question for you: where do all these fietsen (bicycles) get parked?
If you have been to The Netherlands*, you know that parking a bike can be difficult.
The PM Network story talks about Utrecht, a city of about 350,000 people in the center of The Netherlands, and the way in which the government of the city worked with other stakeholders to build a E4 million Stationsplein bike parking garage – the largest in the world.
My favorite quote in the article comes from Rutger Siderius, a Senior Project Manager at Procap, the PM consultancy that represented the Utrecht government during the planning and design phase. “The most important benefit is that people are using the garage”. Uitstekend, Rutger! This goes back to my theme that the project is really a success only when the organizations and stakeholders involved are really reaping benefits.
The article is worth reading, from a sustainability perspective and from a project management perspective – the usual project challenges are there: scope and stakeholder management, realized risks (in this case, other projects nearby that caused a crowded work area and delays due to structural design changes in the foundation, caused, in turn by other real-estate developments).
But it all came together and the garage opened in August 2017.
And here is a video that shows how this all came together!
Notice the frequent use of stakeholder engagement throughout the project. I’d assert that this was one of the reasons for its success.
*remember, The Netherlands is the country, Holland is really only the western part of the country. Granted, this contains a large percentage of the population and important cities like Den Haag (The Hague) and Amsterdam, however, when you say Holland, you are only covering 2 out of 12 provinces. It would be like calling the USA “California”. This article is about Utrecht - which is in neither of these provinces, and in fact is a province of its own!
I like the title of the latest Pulse of the Profession report by PMI. It’s a little long and it feels like they tried to squish a lot into the title:
Success in Disruptive Times - Expanding the Value Delivery Landscape to Address the High Cost of Low Performance
See what I mean? All in one title they are trying to cover:
But in reality, these things are related, so I applaud the report. In particular, I like the idea of ‘expanding the landscape’. Why? Landscape usually implies a horizontal view, as we know from our use of PowerPoint slides – the A4 or 8.5x11 paper is turned so that the longer dimension is horizontal. We're going for a broader, wider, more panoramic, all-encompassing view. And that’s how I think of a project’s schedule… think of a Gantt chart… start on the left, end on the right… in ‘landscape mode’. But instead of stopping at the project's 'end date'... we expand our view a little... further... out.
Here’s how this very important report opens:
“The traditional measures of scope, time, and cost are essential but no longer sufficient in today’s competitive environment. The ability of projects to deliver what they set out to do—the expected business benefits—is what organizations need. When determining project success, we analyzed levels of benefits realization maturity as well as the traditional measures.”
Translation: PMI, as we did back in 2010 with our book Green Project Management, are recognizing the idea of thinking through – thinking past – the project end date to days, months, years, even decades and centuries after the project is handed over to its customer. They are acknowledging that bringing benefits to customers, to the organization, and the world at large, must be considered in planning a project.
This is huge!
PMI goes on to compare what they call Champions* and Underperformers** and notes what distinguishes the two. Not surprisingly, a mature attitude towards benefits realization – which is really just another way of saying sustainability thinking – are in the former category.
* CHAMPIONS: Organizations with 80% or more of projects being completed on time, on budget, meeting business intent, and having high benefits realization maturity.
**UNDERPERFORMERS: Organizations with 60% or fewer projects being completed on time, on budget, meeting business intent, and having low benefits realization maturity.
In the body of the report, they say:
"1 in 3 organizations report high benefits realization maturity. A key challenge many companies face is managing projects based only on traditional outputs—such as time, scope, and budget—without consistently tracking whether they help the organization achieve its larger strategic goals. Benefits, tangible and intangible, should be considered in the equation."
Did you catch that? Tangible and intangible. They’re talking about the triple bottom line. Benefits, of course, should include economic measurements. Money makes the world go around. But not all of the benefits are economic. Some are social. Some are ecological. And guess what? They all count. Not only that, some of the intangible benefits come right back around and pay economic benefits, and not always so far out in the future. Ask Patagonia. Ask Interface. Ask Southwest Airlines. Or just read this. And/or read this. Both are well-researched, recent reports that demonstrate the connection between stock and economic performance based on viewing success in the longer term – i.e. sustainability or Triple Bottom Line thinking.
But let’s get back to projects and project management. Is it actually possible that enterprises which focus on outcomes – longer-term outcomes – benefits realization – whatever you want to call this – actually have more successful projects?
Well, yes. Yes, exclamation point. The data says yes. Have a look at this chart which maps resulting project performance based on what PMI calls “Value Delivery Capability Maturity” but what I’ll call ‘thinking past the end of the project’, because, well, that’s what it is.
In every case where important measures such as ‘on time, within budget, meeting goals’, the green bar – representing the organizations who think past the end of the project – outperform those who think only in terms of scope, schedule, and cost. Notably, the number of project deemed failures is almost TWICE AS HIGH in enterprises which take the limited, ‘triple constraint’ view.
That’s food for thought – food for thinking – food for thinking past the project’s end date. Isn't it?
Read more about this in the actual report, linked here.
Out Like A Lion
The saying about March is that it “comes in like a lion and out like a lamb” However, someone forgot to tell that to March, at least as far as the Northeast US is concerned. This post is being written from the Boston, Massachusetts, area, which has (so far) had 3 back-to-back-to-back nor’easters - watch the video below, very well-produced and a bit scary...
...and as this is being written, a possible FOURTH nor'easter is being predicted for the 20th of March....
I realize that this is weather and not climate. However, we should understand the dynamics behind this weather. Some would say, ‘so much for Global Warming;, look at all of this snow. However, what powers a Nor’easter?
From a Scientific American article called ‘Nor’easters May Become More Intense with Climate Change’:
Nor’easters are born much like other storms. “They’re low pressure systems of the same kind that give us our precipitation in the United States throughout the year,” says Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground. “But they happen to form right off the Northeast coast and in winter.” The winds blowing from the northeast that give these storms their name also push them ashore.
And adapted from an article posted on Climate Central:
The storms… exploit the contrast between the cold air over land and the warmth of the oceans, which are running more than 2°F warmer than normal along much of the coast, said Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The warmer ocean waters mean more moisture in the atmosphere for the storm to suck up; the cold air over the continent ensures that moisture falls as snow.
About half of the current anomalous ocean warmth, and therefore the enhanced moisture, can be attributed to climate change. As the oceans and atmosphere warm due to the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, that moisture source could continue to grow, to the tune of 4 percent more water vapor in the atmosphere for every 1°F rise in global temperatures. Earth’s average temperature has already risen by 1.6°F since the beginning of the 20th century, and is expected to rise another 0.5°F to 9°F by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, depending on greenhouse gas emissions.
So there is at least a likely dynamic, if not a cause-and effect relationship, between climate change and these nor’easters.
And even if there isn’t, such a link, or you don’t believe there is, feel free to debunk and diminish the above. It doesn’t matter. And that’s because regardless of the cause, the effect is causing projects to be initiated in reaction to the anticipated increase in intensity and frequency of storms in the Boston area.
A recent opinion piece in the Boston Globe focuses on ‘climate readiness’ and refers to the Climate Ready Boston report recently issued. You should have a look at this executive summary, if not the full report. It starts: “Climate Ready Boston is the City of Boston’s ongoing initiative to adapt to climate change. Working with partners at all levels of government and in the private sector, we can protect Boston as severe weather and sea level rise create more challenges. There is much more to be done. That’s why Boston is getting started now.”
The report is basically a launch of a portfolio of projects and programs. Here’s a view of these programs and progress against them.
The point is that whatever the drivers, and whether you agree or not with the rationale, climate-readiness projects are being launched in a big way, not just in Boston, but all over the world. So it pays to understand the science and the reaction. As project managers, these initiatives will provide ‘sustainable’ employment – for what I would assert are worthwhile efforts for humankind, agree or disagree with climate science.
So as we slowly “roar” our way out of March, take a moment to get smart about these types of projects. Here are some other recent examples: