In northeastern Massachusetts you will find a town called Gloucester. Importantly, it is properly pronounced “GLAW-stah”, not “Glow-chester”. Not even close.
This post, despite the title, is not about pronunciation. Rather, it somehow interweaves portfolios, copper paint, whales, and something (I am not making this up) called a Snotbot®.
Really, this is a Program Management story. The Program is that of the Ocean Alliance. Remember, a Program is a collection of projects, which, managed together, can achieve benefits not available if they were managed separately. You could probably argue that this is a Portfolio as well. We can have that argument later. For now, let’s discuss the initiatives of the Ocean Alliance, because they are interesting and important no matter what we call them.
At the forefront of this is Chief Executive Dr. Iain Kerr, who joined the group 30 years ago, being offered a job captaining research vessels in the Galapagos by none other than Roger Payne, famous for his discovery and promotion of whale song. We could easily do an entire blog post (and may yet) on Roger Payne. For now, bookmark him as a famous person who brought Iain Kerr into the Ocean Alliance, and now it’s Kerr who has been the chief executive of the Ocean Alliance organization since 1990.
I’ll discuss two of the projects in the Ocean Alliance’s portfolio (I settled on Portfolio after studying the group for a while).
The first of these two projects involves the aforementioned Snotbot®. Let’s consider the project to be the introduction of this tool, and now the product of the project – the Snotbot – is in operation. So what is a Snotbot?
From the Ocean Alliance webpage:
SnotBot® is a modified consumer drone which flies through the blow of a whale and collects exhaled “snot” on petri dishes. This blow contains a treasure trove of valuable biological information: DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, microbiomes and potentially many other biological compounds/indicators of the animal’s health and ecology. Best of all, the whale doesn’t even know we are there: This is a non-invasive tool that is safer for the animals and cheaper and more effective for the user.
Advantages of Snotbot:
Democratizing Science: A single tool that can collect a wide range of data but that costs relatively little represents a paradigm shift in the way we study whales. Drones can empower groups in the developing world, enabling them to conduct research and collect data on marine mammals that they would not be able to do using the research vessel model.
Benign: Ocean Alliance was founded by Dr. Roger Payne on the premise of studying whales without doing them harm. Especially when working with endangered species, it is vital not to add to the stresses facing the animals while conducting research. During 7oo approaches to whales to collect snot samples, there have only been 3 reactions to the drone.
Vast range of data: The blow samples that SnotBot collects contain DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, and microbiomes, and possibly other indicators of the animal’s health.
Below is a photo and a video to show you this amazing innovation in action.
The second of these two projects is a more traditional construction – or rather, restoration project, having very much to do with the town of Gloucester, famous as the first seaport of the United States, and famous of course, the Fisherman Memorial statue, as depicted in the header of this blog post.
However, Gloucester is also the home of a “manufactory” of copper paint, after two men (Tarr and Wonson) invented an elixir of copper oxide and other substances, which, when painted on the hulls of ships, prevented the “fouling” of these vessels by barnacles and other sea life. They received a patent for the paint in 1863 and began manufacturing it here in Gloucester, shipping it in vast quantities, worldwide.
Photo: (C) Cape Ann Museum
It had an effect on seagoing vessels of all kinds, from small boats to warships. Read more about the fascinating history of this copper paint here. Indeed, you can learn about the history of the Tarr and Wonson Manufactory in the video below.
The buildings eventually became abandoned and fell into disrepair.
Dr. Kerr and the Ocean Alliance has taken on the project of restoring these landmark buildings – making them their headquarters.
Here’s a video tour of Copper Paint factory:
The Ocean Alliance is up to much more that these two projects – you can see that clearly at their website.
Whether you call their work a Portfolio or a Program, you can see that this is an example of an organization focused on good. It’s inspiring!
I read this article in the Cape Cod Times about a project to reshape a company’s business based on the effects of COVID-19 and it inspired this post.
As you know, in our project management parlance, risk has two sides – a sort of Janus, two-headed being. It is threat, of course, the way most people view risk, but also opportunity, the positive side of risk.
As I tell my students, always imagine what would happen if something goes “horribly right”. I actually coach students to develop a list of threats and “flip them” and then do the same for opportunities. It’s surprising how this actually generates more thorough and thoughtful risk identification.
So in this case, a firm – Blue Stream Aquaculture, is facing the threat of COVID-19. Sales of their farmed fish were down.
Then came a wave of fish poop.
Or at least a wave of ideas involving fish waste. Blue Stream Aquaculture is a hatchery that raises brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout. Their sales were cut in half by the effects of COVID-19, as restaurant eaters were instead staying home and ordering pizza. Or whatever. But they were not in restaurants ordering fish.
Paraphrasing from the article, Keith Wilda and Jim Malandrinos own three farms altogether. One in Turners Falls, MA, raises warm-water Barramundi. Blue Stream Aquaculture New Hampshire and the West Barnstable (Cape Cod, Massachusetts) farm raise trout. Between the three locations, they had 1.6 million fish when the pandemic hit.
They decided that they could market their fish waste elixir, collected from the closed aquaculture system in West Barnstable. Wilda has 30 years of experience in hydroponics, and when he tested the fish waste elixir on his lawn and vegetables, the results were amazing. For example, his tomatoes had never grown so well. Below is a photo of two basil plants, one grown with, and one grown without the fish elixir.
Turns out that the high level of micro activity in it does the trick. It is full of (helpful) bacteria and fungi, protozoans, amoebas and freshwater diatoms, which make it a great soil conditioner and fertilizer.
The company cleverly avoided the temptation to use the brand name, FishPoo® and instead developed a line of products under the name Fish Brew™, which includes soil conditioners called Bold Flo™, Epic™, 'Rise and Thrive' and Hydrolysate, a fertilizer.
They have worked with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts because of the environmental benefits of the product line, and Massachusetts has helped the firm switch over to solar power.
My coaching for project managers:
I had just finished teaching a graduate PM course segment about the PMO, and it features a somewhat recent article from PM Network magazine which featured McDonald’s Digital Acceleration project as a Project Of The Year Finalist. In fact, you can read about this project here. It’s a good example about controlling scope creep in a project. This post is also about McDonald's, but it’s about controlling plastic creep.
As luck (or karma) would have it, on my way home from the University that night, a news story came up describing how McDonald’s was removing plastic toys from its decades-old Happy Meals.
That news story from NPR (The US’ National Public Radio) is available here.
If you are not familiar with the Happy Meal, they’ve been around since 1979 and have been served to over 1 billion customers. That’s a lot of Happy! See a commercial for the Happy Meal here:
So yes - it's a lot of Happy. But it’s also a lot of plastic. Of course, the plastic toys are a small part of the plastic waste in the world, or even a small part of the plastic used by McDonald’s. In fact, McDonalds has previously taken steps to remove the plastics in its cutlery, but this seemingly small step of removing the plastic toy in the Happy Meal, according to the company’s press release, is equivalent to 650,000 people stopping the use of any plastic every year.
The switchover to sustainable materials is clearly a project unto itself. You can read about this in a company-provided video in which a young “Happy Meal Superfan” interviews Jenny McCollogh, the Chief Sustainability Officer of McDonalds.
Like any organization, it rolls out its projects using a pilot. Indeed, McDonald’s has piloted plastic-less Happy Meals in France, as you can read about here.
I like to provide both sides of a project-based news story, so here is some alternate views of what McDonald’s is up to. In this article from Eater, a food and lifestyle platform, they acknowledge the positive move to reduce plastic that this project introduces, but also points out that it was slow in coming and that there is much more work to do. From their excellent article,
Across the UK’s coastline, new research suggests McDonald’s is one of just 12 companies responsible for two-thirds of plastic pollution. The company has taken some positive steps other than swapping out Happy Meal toys: McDonald’s pledged in 2018 that by 2025 all of its packaging materials will be recycled or otherwise sustainable. And while the company has committed itself to greatly reducing its carbon emissions by 2030, there are serious questions as to how the company will do so, while, in some instances, sourcing from companies that don’t report their greenhouse gas emissions and haven’t set public goals of reducing their negative impact on the planet.
Also, importantly, the Eater article talks about project stakeholders. What’s the rationale for launching this project? Is it to save money? Is it to make money? Is it to improve reputation? Is it to be a better corporate citizen? The answer is… all of the above. However, for that to happen, people who are concerned about the environment need to be ‘noisy’ stakeholders.
As always, the onus is on consumers to express dissatisfaction with companies that underpay workers, destroy the planet, and otherwise act badly until they have no choice but to respond. Whether the company’s reasons for inching toward a more sustainable model are altruistic or not, increased demand is forcing McDonald’s to do so, one cardboard puzzle piece at a time.
Picture from WHOI (see below)
This is the last Cape Cod-themed blog post of the Summer. Here on Cape Cod, we’re proud of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). It’s focused on exploring the oceans, research and educating folks about our oceans. It is home to several famous exploration vessels, like the 274-foot Atlantis and its deep-diving submarine, “Alvin”, as well as a new research ship, the Neil Armstrong.
So you would think that if anyone, anyone, worldwide would consider sea-level rise in the construction of new infrastructure, it would be WHOI.
And you would be spot-on. Much of what you read here is based on a very good Cape Cod Times article entitled No Easy Answers. This is supplemented by an excellent page dedicated to sea-level rise from none other than (you guessed it) the WHOI. In fact, they have also produced an outstanding report, which I highly recommend you avail yourself of, by clicking here.
WHOI is going to be building a US$100M dock and waterfront support facility (really a collection of facilities), which is core to what WHOI does. They are quite risk-aware of sea-level rise. Along with this work WHOI is also collaborating with the nearby National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and their Northeast Fisheries Science Center and the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory, and construction projects for those institutions.
They don’t have the option that others may – to retreat inland. They “have to be there” in order to continue their mission:
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the ocean and its connection with the Earth system through a sustained commitment to excellence in science, engineering, and education, and to the application of this knowledge to problems facing society.
Sound familiar to you? It should ring a bell – note the reference to “application of knowledge”; that is part of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) definition of Project Management itself…
…the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to deliver something of value to people
However, that’s not the main connection to project management in this blog post. It’s much more about risk assessment, risk awareness, risk response, and implementing risk response.
The risk trigger here is scientific data that shows that the sea level will rise up to almost 2.6 feet in Woods Hole by 2050. The impact of that rise is significant. WHOI used data from the Massachusetts Coastal Flood Risk Model that projects the rise above as well as an 8-foot rise by 2100. What does that mean to this proposed construction?
It means that 93% of WHOI’s infrastructure would be at risk by 2050 from a “100-year” storm surge. So they need to take sea-level rise significantly into consideration as they build. The approach taken will vary by institution. The NOAA, according to the article, is taking an adaptive approach – gradually waterproofing.
Taking advantage of a nearly US$200K grant from Massachusetts’ Coastal Zone Management organization, the organizations will look to collaborate to make the infrastructure capable of withstanding the increased sea-level rise and expected storm surge(s). More specifically, this involves raising the dock 2.5 feet with an option to put further dock surfaces above it, and/or to use steel pilings equipped with hydraulics to allow the dock to be raised higher.
The questions for others building in coastal areas:
For your stakeholders - and for yourself - I assert that you should follow the example of the WHOI.
As mentioned in the previous post (see Part 1), one outcome of climate change for Cape Cod, and in fact for anyone who likes cranberries, is the potential demise of the cranberry industry here. This is covered in the Cape Cod Commission Climate Plan, which we introduced in Part 1, but the issue shows up in other reliable, recent sources – for example, this article from National Geographic, or this one from the Washington Post.
Reinforcing the idea that ‘triple bottom line’ thinking is not only ‘environmental’ but also economic an social, climate change and sea-level rise is not only about saving species and ‘being green’ but also about real peoples’ lives and real dollars and sense (pun and misspelling intentional). The increasing temperatures could ‘spell the end’ for what is a US$6.7 million Cape Cod cranberry industry which employs somewhere between 6000 and 10000 people in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Cranberries are prone to a ‘double-threat’ from climate change. Increased temperatures, as above, are one aspect. As I write this, I see that the forecast for the Cape calls for 90 degree days this week. When that happens, it can be about 10 to 20 degrees hotter in a cranberry bog, and that can lead to a condition called ‘scald’, in which the cranberries actually cook right on the vine (and become unusable).
The other aspect of the double-threat is sea-level rise. Below is a chart from the Cape Cod Commission report that shows bogs that are at risk due to SLR (Sea Level Rise).
But here’s the thing: the economic aspect of this is much, much, MUCH bigger than cranberries.
For example, from the report:
Reduced tax revenue from vulnerable properties: ERG estimates that from 2021 through 2100, properties vulnerable to sea level rise and tidal flooding will cumulatively pay approximately $8.6 billion less in tax revenue than they would have if they were not threatened by this flooding. These vulnerable properties will be inundated or are near roads that will be inundated by sea level rise and tidal flooding. Therefore, their property values will grow more slowly (or decrease faster) than non-affected properties. This will either lower the tax revenue of towns or shift the burden to non-affected houses. The annual average tax revenue loss from these properties will be about $13 million between 2021 and 2030, $81 million between 2031 and 2050, and $330 million between 2051 and 2100. The technical report presents losses by town and community activity center (CAC).
So – what does the Climate Plan recommend? Again – this is available in a full report and an executive summary, but here is my executive summary of the executive summary – these are the mitigations the Commission recommends:
In the conclusion of the Executive Report, we find this particularly interesting quote:
Additionally, there are paths to meet 2030 and 2050 emissions reductions goals that align with the goals for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; however, achieving these goals will require aggressive electrification and renewable energy implementation. Finally, many strategies with strong returns on investment can help offset the impacts of climate change or mitigate emissions.
That’s our cue, project managers! Aggressive implementation! Getting it done! Getting goals – value-added goals, aligned with organizational strategy – achieved! That’s program and project management in a nutshell. Or a cranberryskin...