People, Planet, Profits & Projects

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Richard Maltzman
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Forest Gumption

Project Managers - we're full of BS

Screaming Monkeys and Project Management (Part 2)

Screaming Monkeys and Project Management

They Smelt Opportunity

Forest Gumption

Screenshot from the movie "Forest Gump" via YouTube


My last post – Project Managers – We're full of BS - promised a follow up, a second part called, Backward Pass, Forward Fail, and that is still forthcoming.

However, in the meantime, and in the process of researching that post, an article in the June issue of PM Network caught my eye and deserves treatment immediately if only for its awesome title - which I have borrowed for this post.  Full credit to the article - read it here.

The story is about a very low-tech, and literally down-to-earth application of fighting climate change.  And it’s as basic and old-school as planting trees, but with a fancier, more project-management name: reforestation initiatives.  The United Kingdom launched a 500 million pound , 25-year project to plant 50 million trees in a large area of northern England.  China’s government is launching a project in 2018 to plant trees covering a an area the size of Ireland, aiming to increase forested areas in China over 5% by 2030.  And in Africa, a joint 21-nation program, seeks to cover almost 250 million acres with trees by 2030 – a $1B investment in fighting climate change with CO2-capturing trees.  That’s equivalent to the total combined area of US states Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma!

The initiatives also require public-private partnerships, like the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact program in Brazil which will restore 2.5 million acres of tropical forest in Brazil.

What’s important to note here is that these projects – of course – reap ecological benefits.  Forests help absorb carbon dioxide, and provide wildlife habitats, but they also provide social and economic benefits.  Assembling a coalition of stakeholders is key.  In a partnership with the World Bank, for example, Conservation International worked with the Brazilian Ministry of Environment and other NGOs on a six-year project to plant 73 million trees by 2023.  In doing so, the coalition of stakeholders hired indigenous community members and farmers to execute the project, bringing in as many as 2,000 local people to aid in the reforestation of each hectare.  This generates jobs and income for the communities.  Taking stock of the long term benefits from reforestation is an important element in reaching out to the various stakeholder groups.  And yes, gaining this stakeholder engagement early on means a longer time between planning and execution - but it makes for a more sustainable sustainability project. 

It’s not all success stories, however, when it comes to planting trees.  My own hometown, Boston, as recently reported in this Boston Globe story, is lagging other cities in keeping its promises with respect to planting trees.  The photo of Boston’s iconic Citgo sign with a tree stump in the foreground, is representative of what you’ll find in the story.

Photo Credit: John Tlumacki, Boston Globe

The story begins:

A decade ago, Mayor Thomas M. Menino stood with other local officials in the Geneva Cliffs Urban Wild in Dorchester and vowed that Boston would plant 100,000 new trees by 2020, expanding the city’s tree canopy by 20 percent.

With climate change a growing concern, cities across the country made similar pledges, a simple way to soak up carbon emissions and curb energy use, among many other benefits. That same year, New York City set an even loftier goal to plant 1 million trees by 2017. New York met its goal — two years early. Boston, however, has fallen woefully short. Not only has the city abandoned its goal for this decade, but it has barely kept up with tree mortality.


The article goes on to describe some or the reasons the project has failed so far – a mixture of mismanagement, lack of focus on the project objectives, and some realized threats, such as the amount of trees that have actually had to be removed based on such things as redevelopment projects and disease.  It’s actually a good case for students of project risk management, I suggest reading it from that perspective.

But it doesn’t take away from the overall thrust of the post – the focus on reforestation projects – mainly successful ones – and the contribution they have to offer in helping to provide long-term benefits of the social, ecological, and economic variety… in other words, People, Planet, and Profits.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: June 16, 2018 10:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Project Managers - we're full of BS

Project Managers are really full of BS.  By that, of course, I mean Breakdown Structures.  Work Breakdown Structures.  Risk Breakdown Structures, Organizational Breakdown Structures, Resource Breakdown Structures. 

That last one – Resource Breakdown Structure – and a recent episode of the excellent US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS – yet another BS, but not a Breakdown Structure) show, called Nova – got me thinking.  Isn’t the Earth a resource?  Is there such a thing as a World Breakdown Structure?

The episode of Nova was called “Decoding the Weather Machine”.  It’s a fascinating show in and of itself, but made even more fascinating in that it states in plain terms that climate change is real, it’s caused by humans, and it has significant consequences to us NOW and certainly to our children and grandchildren.  “We're poking at the climate system with a long, sharp, carbon-tipped spear”, says Paul Douglas, a meteorologist and former climate change denier, “and we’re not entirely clear of the consequences”, adds Harvard scientist John Holdren.  And here's what may be the most amazing and somewhat heartwarming thing: the show is funded by the David H. Koch fund for Science.  Yep.  THAT David Koch, of the Koch brothers.

This is a 2-hour show and it’s incredibly well-produced – and in a way, entertaining (in a worrisome sort of way).  But let’s circle back to our affinity for BS.  Breakdown Structures.  Remember – they’re all about decomposing something too big to get our minds around into smaller chunks? 

Well, have a look at this transcript from a segment of Decoding the Weather Machine:

NARRATOR: To do something about our climate future, we need to know what lies ahead.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: It's kind of as if you are driving down one of our dead straight roads, here in Texas. You can be driving down the road, even staying in your own lane, if you are driving along looking in the rearview mirror, because the road is completely straight, so where you were in the past is a perfect prediction of where you are going to be in the future. But what if you are driving down this road, looking in your rearview mirror and a giant curve comes up? You're going to run off the road, because the past is not a perfect predictor of the future if the road is changing.

NARRATOR: To see the road ahead, scientists at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, in Princeton, New Jersey, are working to turn our understanding of how the land, sea, ice and air interact into a powerful simulation called a "climate model."

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Using nothing but basic physics, we can actually produce, in our computers, a virtual Earth.

NARRATOR: With this virtual Earth, scientists like Kirsten Findell work to predict where our climate is going, before it's too late to change course.

The first step is breaking the climate machine into its core components.

KIRSTEN FINDELL (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory): Every climate model has four major physical components represented. We represent the ocean, we represent the land, the sea ice and the atmosphere all around the earth. Within those four components, we also then break up the earth into little grid boxes. And then we can slice up the atmosphere into thin layers and slice down into the ocean and down into the soil.

NARRATOR: Once they have divided the system into manageable parts, they use well-established mathematical equations, grid box by grid box, to run the model forward in time.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: These models are amazing. They can produce weather systems, even hurricanes; they can produce droughts and floods.

NARRATOR: Worldwide, there are dozens of models. They predict how each part of the climate machine will change, like sea surface temperature, storm intensity or the extent of the ice caps. Every detail is included. But the path to perfect models is still a work in progress, because Earth's climate machine is such a complicated one.

The role that clouds play, for instance, is important, but poorly understood. And the speed at which ice sheets will break apart is another big unknown.

STEPHEN PACALA: We're definitely making progress on making better predictions, but there is still an enormous amount about the climate system that we don't fully understand.

NARRATOR: But the models can be checked against things we know, like air temperature over the past hundred years. The models can be started in the past and run forward. The blue line shows the average of those predictions.

When compared with the actual temperature record, in red, their accuracy is revealed.

Below is a screenshot that compares the model output for temperature when run backward (blue) against the actuals (red) – you can see that the alignment is pretty good, speaking to the ability of the model to forecast.  So what happens when you let the model run forward?

You’ll just have to wait until the next blog post: Backward Pass, Forward Fail.

If you can’t wait, view the show here:

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: June 06, 2018 09:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Screaming Monkeys and Project Management (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog post I said that I would give examples of BIO projects.  Instead, since they are all really good examples of how a project can clearly state its charter, I present you with a more in-depth view of one, rather than a collection of loose descriptions of many.

I really do invite you to look at all of them here:

What I really like about the way in which the single selected project is described – and this would be true whether it is a ‘sustainability-oriented’ project or not – is that it links the rationale of the project back to the main portfolio and mission of the parent organization.

Here is the background of the ‘charter’ of this project (Boyacá’s Useful Plants):

Colombia is known to be one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Nevertheless, the current knowledge on inventory and monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystems does not fully reflect this richness, being incomplete in certain regions. Counteracting this situation, the nation-wide ‘Colombia Bio’ programme has recently been established by the Colombian government with the main aim of making sustainable economic use of Colombia’s biodiversity resources. This programme offers a unique opportunity for Kew and partner organisations in Colombia to undertake primary research on biodiversity and ecosystem services in parts of the country as yet completely unexplored. The ambition of this exploratory research is to enable long-term plans for the conservation and sustainable use of Colombia’s natural capital to be established.

This particular project is focused on the Boyaca region of Colombia and by Spring 2018 will deliver a catalogue and prioritisation of the huge number of useful plant species of Boyacá, to boost the economy of the region whilst supporting livelihoods, food security and health.

It then goes on to specify objectives and outcomes:

  • Data compilation and databasing: Collect, classify, digitise and organise information on the useful plants of Boyacá, to develop a robust and comprehensive database with structured high-quality curated botanical information on useful plants of Boyacá. 
  • Online platform: Build an open-access online dynamic platform that can retrieve species information in real time from our databases, displaying it in a user-friendly environment in Spanish and English, to provide authoritative, expert-driven, up-to-date information on uses and characteristics of these plants.
  • Prioritisation of useful species: Prioritise useful species, testing various algorithms and methods, taking into account conservation status, endemism, rarity, number of references in literature, category of use, ecological importance, information on seed germination/propagation and bio-prospecting potential.


  • Catálogo de Plantas Útiles de Boyacá (PUB): The information on Boyacá’s useful plants will be available online through the PUB catalogue, integrated with Kew’s Plants of the World Online Portal (POWO). The PUB will be the go-to source of information for all the useful plants of the department, organised and reliable information based on the highest taxonomic resolution, and maintained and updated over time as part of the POWO.
  • Prioritised species profiles (generated from the database): These will be published in a book edited by Kew/IAVH in English/Spanish for local users, along with key priorities for management, research and engagement, integrated into national/regional/local decision-making,
  • The final algorithm for species prioritisation: This will be published in a high-impact publication.

In Part 1 of this post I also mentioned that, in Part 2, I’d cover the relationship of this program to the upcoming election in Colombia. The success of the BIO program is not immune to politics.   The presidential election in Colombia, one almost concurrent with this blog post - may determine its future.  This extract from the article which inspired this two-part post:

Whether the president’s aspirations are shared by other national politicians will soon become clear. On May 27th, Mr Santos having served as president for the maximum period permitted by law, Colombians go to the polls to elect a replacement. After a possible second round in June, the winner will take office in August.

One candidate, Iván Duque, talks of an “orange economy” of knowledge-based production, which might bode well for aspiring biotechnologists. A second, Gustavo Petro, is a former guerrilla who says he is keen on renewable ways of creating wealth. And a third, Sergio Fajardo, a maths professor who was once mayor of Medellín, also seems interested.

…BIO offers an opportunity to clarify which parts of the country’s wild areas most deserve protection at a moment when the offer of protection is still meaningful. And, since no one actually knows how the biotechnological future will turn out, just possibly the surveys it is sponsoring will reveal riches that make the gold rushes of the 19th century look like chump change.

The election results are in, and, it turns out, are not conclusive.  This story just in from The Guardian:

 Colombians have failed to elect a president outright, setting the stage for a bitter runoff between two frontrunners from opposite ends of the political spectrum, while a peace process with leftist rebels hangs in the balance.

Iván Duque, a hardline conservative who viscerally opposes the peace accord, took the largest share of the vote on Sunday with 39%, though fell short of the 50% required to win at the first round. Instead, he will face Gustavo Petro – a leftwinger and former mayor of Bogotá, who came second with 25% – in the second round on 17 June.

So, there is not quite a resolution there, but I do hope you have noted the important connection between screaming monkeys and project management!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: May 28, 2018 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Screaming Monkeys and Project Management

Photo: Getty Images, via The Economist

Have you ever seen a photo of three screaming monkeys and thought, immediately, “wow – what a great idea for a blog post!”?   Nah.  I didn’t think you would.  But it happened to me while reading an article in The Economist about Colombia and its BIO program.

As background, you may be familiar with Colombia’s long history with FARC. The acronym FARC is Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. 

FARC was a revolutionary military organization which you can read about in detail in this BBC article.

They were founded in 1964 as the armed wing of the Communist Party and follow a Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Their main founders were small farmers and land workers who had banded together to fight against the staggering levels of inequality in Colombia at the time.

While the Farc have some urban groups, they have always been an overwhelmingly rural guerrilla organisation.

A peace treaty between Colombia’s government and FARC was signed in late 2016. 

So, I hear you asking, what does any of this have to do with project management and screaming monkeys?  Quite a bit.  I think you can imagine that the FARC was not exactly ‘welcoming’ to visitors in its vast territories in Colombia.  Because of this, per the featured Economist article,

As a consequence, areas they controlled, which amounted at their height to about 40% of the country, are often more or less pristine from an ecological point of view. They are also, as far as flora, fauna and fungi are concerned, poorly catalogued.

Now, let’s think about project initiation and value.  Projects are initiated because they bring value to stakeholders.  Colombia has an unknown amount of resources worth an unknown amount of money, needing an unknown amount of protection.  Now, they have a way to get to this area and determine what’s there, what needs protection, what value may be extracted (sustainably, we hope), and in general – getting a handle on a huge chunk of their country once again.

Enter BIO.

BIO is an attempt by the government to take advantage of the FARC’s departure and to explore what is living in the recently vacated habitats. So far, since 2016, the project has sponsored 13 expeditions staffed by botanists, mycologists, entomologists, ornithologists, herpetologists and many other sorts of biologists. The figure should rise to 20 by the end of the year.

So it really is a program (or portfolio) of expeditions (projects) to explore this area.

Colombia BIO is the brainchild of the country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos. Just as, in the 19th century, many countries set up geological surveys to assess their mineral assets, so Mr Santos aspires to survey, in a comprehensive and systematic way, Colombia’s biological assets.

The potential is gigantic. Colombia’s biodiversity is second to Brazil’s. What Colombia does not yet know, however, is what sort of value they have in this 40% of their land. For example, without knowing what sort of potential water power they may have in certain areas, the government does not know the effect of deforestation on the potential of hydroelectric power generation. When the President talks of turning Colombia into a “bioeconomy”, the government’s aspiration is that biodiversity itself might be harnessed as an economic resource, and that this might contribute as much as 2½% of Colombia’s GDP by 2030.

You can learn about some of these projects from the Kew organization, part of the Royal Botanical Gardens – see the image below.

And, you can learn more about BIO, especially if your Spanish language skills are good, at this Colombian government site which describes the entire BIO Program.

In Part II of this blog post, I’ll discuss some of the specific projects (because they’re interesting and the way in which they connect to the sponsoring organizations’ overarching objectives is also interesting).  I’ll also discuss some of the existential threats to BIO that are tied to the Colombian election cycle.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: May 21, 2018 12:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

They Smelt Opportunity

Categories: apple, carbon, elysis, metal, oxygen, smelting

Last month, Apple made a rather startling announcement.  Its global operations were now (and will be henceforth) run 100% on renewable energy sources.

What’s behind this?  Apple decided, under Steve Jobs’ “Green Apple” initiative, to consciously focus on its environmental impact.  This story, called “Why Apple was bad for the environment (and why that's changing)” from Macworld provides excellent background on the ‘sustainability evolution’ of Apple. It’s worth a read as context for this post, but you can read on if you wish.

As part of its evolution, Apple hired Lisa Jackson, the former EPA administrator in the Obama Administration, as its vice president for sustainability and government affairs, and early last year and issued a $1 billion bond to finance green energy products.

So what’s all this about ‘smelting’?  It has to do with aluminum – a big part of Apple (and many other!) products.

Have a look at the old (130-year-old) process and a new process for smelting aluminum, using these ridiculously short videos:

The Old Way (since 1886)

The New Way


How are they different?  Let us count the ways.

From a very recent story in the Washington Post:

… the classical process (of smelting aluminum) is viewed with some disdain by environmentalists, because it takes about half a pound of carbon to make a pound of aluminum, and half a pound of carbon converts to about a pound and a half of carbon dioxide,” explained Donald Sadoway, a materials scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has worked on aluminum.

“Even though Alcoa evidently had this technology for making aluminum without the greenhouse gas emissions, they were in such a situation with respect to profitability that they couldn’t afford to make the transition to the CO2-free process,” Sadoway said. “Because you know, nobody pays a premium for green aluminum.”

Until now, that is.

“Apple swoops down and says, we are prepared to buy aluminum made here in Canada to build our phones and our computers and whatever … if that aluminum is made in a sustainable manner,” he said. “So these two competitors sit down and say, let’s make a deal. It was fantastic.”

It’s a great example of how the mission and vision of a company – actually several companies - can drive project initiation decisions.  This is at a large, sweeping level.  However, I’m willing to bet that you can find microcosms of this scenario in your projects.

A lot of it has to do with connecting statements at the top level of the company – public statements, such as those found on the “About Us” sections of the organization’s web page or in their shareholder reports, and weaving a ‘golden thread’ through the organization so that everyone understands the priorities at that mission/vision level.

Here is one such statement from Apple:

"We strive to create products that are the best in the world and the best for the world. And we continue to make progress toward our environmental priorities. Like powering all Apple facilities worldwide with 100% renewable energy. Creating the next innovation in recycling with Daisy, our newest disassembly robot. And leading the industry in making our materials safer for people and for the earth. In every product we make, in every innovation we create, our goal is to leave the planet better than we found it."

I also suggest you take a look at Apple’s 2018 Environmental Responsibility Report.

For some of you, this may seem like fluffy stuff about saving the planet, subtracting from a for-profit’s goal to just go out and make stuff, sell stuff (and services) and generate cash for shareholders.

But is it really only about Planet?  Nope.  There’s a (valid!) profit motive here as well:

From an article on this topic from Metal Bulletin magazine:

“The aluminum industry currently generates 12 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per ton of aluminum at the smelter, analysts estimate.  Environmental benefits aside, it will boost the anode life by 30 times plus cut operating costs by 15% and increase productivity by the same amount, something that no smelter is likely to turn its nose up at either.”

So this makes economic sense!

The article goes on to say:

Changes in aluminum production and suppliers transitioning to renewable energy have meanwhile already cut Apple’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6 million tons. Similarly, it has already prioritized aluminum smelted using hydroelectricity rather than fossil fuels, re-engineering its manufacturing process to reincorporate the scrap aluminum.

As a result, over the past three years Apple has reduced emissions associated with every gram of aluminum in its iPhones by 83%. For the enclosure of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, it’s a 47% reduction compared to that of the previous-generation MacBook Pro.
It won’t be just Apple that will be interested. Automakers in particular are increasingly using aluminum and are looking to reduce their emissions through the supply chain as the result of government-mandated programs and regulations across the world.


From a People, Planet, Profit, and Projects perspective, this news cross-cuts all of those aspects, from the people brought into Apple to help guide it along its environmental mission, to the reduction in environmental (planetary) impact brought about by this investment, to the profit it will generate for those who are investing in the initiative, and of course to the initiatives – the projects – themselves. 

How about you - and your organization?  I realize you may not be involved in the smelting of metals.  But as a project leader you can facilitate this connection between organizational aspirations (and public statements!) and how - and sometimes even :::if::: your project is connected to those aspirations.  If you have done so or see some ideas as to how to do this - share those ideas and/or accomplishments here!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: May 16, 2018 09:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

"History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme a lot."

- Mark Twain