People, Planet, Profits & Projects

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Richard Maltzman
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You Say You Want A Resolution?

This is my last post of 2017 and since it’s intended to get you to think long term, I’m making it two parts so as to bridge into 2018.  In this way, (in a way) you’ll be thinking about it for a year.

The theme at ProjectManagement.com this month has been success.  This is such an important word in project management because it is a goal but it is also a word which begs a torrent of some pretty weighty questions: what kind of success?  For whom? In what timeframe? In what arena will the success take place?  When will ‘success’ be visible?  How is it measured?  Who owns that success if it can’t be measured immediately?

To quote Andy Jordan’s excellent post, “What Does Success Look Like?”:

The problem is we tend to think of projects as solutions to specific problems. Even if we think in terms of the business benefits a project is expected to enable, it tends to be very specific: revenue growth, cost saving, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that—those are the “headline” reasons for completing the project. But unless we think in broader terms, we tend to miss some of the important related areas that need to be addressed.

If, for example, our project is a toll bridge, is it a success if the ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place on the planned date, it comes in 5% under budget, traffic begins flowing smoothly right away, and it is easily transitioned to the highway department for maintenance?

Slow down, cowboy, and hold on to your “yes” for a moment.  A “yes” means that you have thought of the bridge (your project’s product) only as a piece of highway that solves the problem of crossing the river. Consider these questions:

  • What if the bridge costs three times as much to maintain as planned?
  • What if it starts to warp and twist over the first three years, or if it doesn’t seem stable in moderately strong (but not exceptional) winds?
  • What if the paving material causes vehicles to experience poor fuel efficiency or even skidding due to a delayed release of a lubricant which gets on the tires of vehicles?
  • What if the traffic patterns change and the bridge doesn’t generate the revenue planned per year?

As PMs, we are often programmed to think of the “end” of our project as that handoff – that ribbon-cutting ceremony, and of course, as PMs, we’re justified in our need to move on to the next project and demonstrate our skills at building that next bridge, or telecom project, or advertising campaign.  But should we at least think about the realization of benefits from our project?

Up until recently, I’ve heard mainly pushback.  “We should cut the ribbon and run – the bridge’s operation is none of our concern” would be the refrain – or something to that effect.

However, I am increasingly hearing a choir of “absolutely” from people in the know.  For example, right here on ProjectManagement.com, Andy Jordan has posted a “Benefits Realization Thought Guide” (BRTG) – a two page, power-packed piece that you can use to test your project for strategic alignment, benefits analysis, and accountability, with a focus not only on the product’s ‘immediate’ deliverable, but on the long term.  Note: also available is a Benefits Realization Planning Template. The PMBOK® Guide and PMI Pulse of the Profession documents have increasingly stressed the idea of benefits realization as an important part of project management thinking.  Dr Harold Kerzner’s latest talks on PM 2.0/3.0 are focused on benefits realization and longer-term thinking.  This was covered in a post here on Projectmanagement.com called “Harvesting Project Value”.

What’s missing for me – and for others (see Part 2, in January 2018) though, even in all of these thought leaders’ expression of the importance of Benefits Realization is a view of benefits realization, and a view of long-term thinking that explicitly includes social and ecological aspects.  Andy Jordan’s BRTG does touch on this: he asks if the project has intangible benefits in one or more areas, and further probes whether those areas align with strategic goals.  I’d like to insist that we should consciously look for social and ecological benefits in that query.  In line my post on responsible investing, corporations and organizations of every ilk are increasingly putting ‘triple bottom line’ metrics and key performance indicators in their strategy statements, annual reports, and commitments to their (increasingly aware) customers.  Companies – all kinds of companies - like Interface and Patagonia have been doing this for decades; others, like JP Morgan Chase LeviStrauss and ExxonMobil, and LEGO are definitely doing it now.  See, for example, ExxonMobil’s Corporate Citizenship Report, or JP Morgan Chase’s Corporate Responsibility link, , https://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/Corporate-Responsibility/corporate-responsibility.htm

In fact, since CSR reputation is so important these days – to consumers, to investors, and hopefully to project managers, I urge you to check this list of the top companies for socially responsible reputation – in other words, how they’re seen as accomplishing ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) aspects: https://www.reputationinstitute.com/csr-reptrak

In case you are wondering how they measure and analyze this reputation, you can see their entire rationale, research, and methodology here.

How does your organization stand?  Check out the list.

By the way: the companies who chose to pay attention to all three legs of the triple bottom line do good but they also do well.

Companies with their eye on the “triple-bottom-line” outperform their less fastidious peers on the stock market.

–The Economist

 

Let’s have a look at the company at the top of the reputation heap this year: LEGO. 

LEGO statement:

All children have the right to fun, creative and engaging play experiences. Play is essential because when children play, they learn. As a provider of play experiences, we must ensure that our behaviour and actions are responsible towards all children and towards our stakeholders, society and the environment. We are committed to continue earning the trust our stakeholders place in us, and we are always inspired by children to be the best we can be.

So, these companies are focusing on the long term along multiple aspects.  When Andy’s BRTG asks if the benefit areas align with strategic goals, I’m asking that you, too, explicitly check Environmental and Social aspects as well, as indicated by the guidance of the organization.  Think of it as a New Year resolution.

In Part 2, I’ll talk more about how this has started to really resonate in project management circles.  In the meantime, Happy New Year – may it bring… success!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: December 22, 2017 11:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Sustainability Emerging

Scientific American has just published its “Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2017”.  As a project manager, we should be closely tuned in to emerging technology because we all know that new technology drives new projects – either directly (launching a new telecom network based on a 10x faster optical network) or indirectly (a new smartphone app helps you track team members’ progress instantaneously).

Well, I’ve been focusing on the intersection of project management (and projects, and project managers) and sustainability since ancient times (2007), and it’s interesting to see that fully half of them are sustainability-oriented technologies.  So, I thought that this near-end-of-year post could highlight those technologies.  You’ll see the connection to projects – at least I assert that you should.

 

Water Made By The Sun

In a cross-continental effort led by MIT and the University of California Berkley, researchers are taking advantage of the properties of Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) which have phenomenally large pores and a strong affinity for water.  It’s actually quite amazing: one MOF crystal the size of a sugar cube has an internal area approximately the size of an American football field.  By using these MOFs, the initiative forgoes the usual way of removing water from air (like your home dehumidifier) which takes lots of energy.  The places that need this water (where billions of people suffer from the lack thereof) require a lot of electricity – something those same people also don’t have.  These systems can be powered by the sun.

Projects to implement this technology are already taking place. A startup in Scottsdale, Arizona called Zero Mass Water has already started selling a system which, with one solar panel can produce 2 to 5 liters a day.  The company has even shipped such systems to Lebanon to provide water to Syrian refugees.  You can imagine the projects that could ‘waterfall’ of this technology.

 

Fuel From An Artificial Leaf

Researchers at Harvard University, in partnership with commercial interests, have actually exceeded the efficiency of a leaf in converting energy from the sun to create glucose.  The researchers, Daniel Nocera and Pamela Silver, paired the technology with microbes specifically engineered to produce multiple types of fuels, even with low CO2 concentrations.  Now, Nocera and his team are working on a new idea that allows the bacteria to produce nitrogen-based fertilizer into the soil.  This bacterium can actually form a biological plastic which can serve as its own fuel supply – a closed system which would not contribute to the greenhouse effect.   Reminiscent of scenes from the movie Sleeper, this technique has yielded radishes that weigh 150% more than a control group.  So this is about more than fuel – it could assist in the capabilities of farming.

 

Precision Farming

Continuing the farming theme, this initiative focuses on combining the technologies of drones, big data analytics, sensors, improved seed development, and advanced software to produce healthier crops with increased yields for a world that has increasing need for food.  Who’s involved?  Lots of stakeholders and concerns, small startups, government, and companies such as John Deere, Dow, and DuPont.  However, in another example of how this set of technologies brings other technologies (and projects) into play, this combination of technologies requires movement of vast amounts of information – which in turn means an increased demand for broadband.   The stakeholder count (and the plants) just keeps growing.

 

Hydrogen Cars For The Masses

Want a hydrogen-fueled car?  It’s possible.  All you need is $57,500 and that will buy you a Toyota Mirai.  But projects galore – at the moment research projects – are aimed at removing the most expensive part of a hydrogen fuel-cell: the catalyst.  Many fuel cells today use platinum.  Palladium, one substitute, doesn’t perform quite as well and is still fairly expensive.  So the researchers are looking for radically different catalysts, made from more readily-available materials, such as copper or nickel.  Even more radically, researchers such as Liming Dai at Case Western University, are working on a catalyst that uses no metal at all, and instead uses nitrogen and phosphorous-doped carbon foam.  Working together with manufacturers, the goal is to create inexpensive fuel-cells that power vehicles with no emissions, and also produce zero emissions during their production in quantity.

 

Sustainable Communities

While building a green house is an admirable goal, this emerging technology is about building blocks of homes in such a way as to be even more effective and efficient.  An example is the Oakland EcoBlock project.  Near the Golden Gate Bridge, this collection of about 35 contiguous older homes will have existing sustainability technology applied – but there will be additional program advantages at the community level – such as a smart microgrid and shared electric vehicles.  Other innovations involve the use of community water, reducing the demand of this block by up to 70%.  But perhaps of the most interest to project managers is the collaborative nature of the program, a multidisciplinary effort involving urban designers, engineers, social scientists, policy experts, governments, and academics. This is what projects are all about, right?

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: December 12, 2017 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Beware of Robots and Millennials (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1, I discussed how Millennials are driving change to the way that wealth is invested, with their propensity to insist that ethics, and along with it, assuring that social, economic, and ecological bottom lines are considered and balanced.  I was pleased to see that this triggered some interest and comments.
In Part 2, I’d like to focus on some particulars – an example of one of the funds promoting this style of investing, and also the outcome areas (types of impacts) on which the investors are focusing.


Let’s start with the RISE fund.
You can definitely learn a lot about the RISE fund from this video which describes why U2’s Bono and Ebay's Jeff Skoll invested in it.  Note the triple-bottom-line focus.



Here’s how the RISE Fund describes itself:
Vision: Drive global impact through uncompromised business performance.


Measurable Global Impact:  The Rise Fund is creating a rigorous impact assessment model that uses independent, third-party research to measure and quantify social and environmental impact throughout the investment cycle, from underwriting to exit. This innovative, data-driven methodology aligns The Rise Fund’s objectives with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and pioneers evidence-based impact investing.

Uncompromised Business Performance: Impact investing upends a long-held tenet that financial success is antithetical to a social mission. Impact investors aim to harness the power of the market to drive sustainable social and environmental change, which means that profits are both possible and necessary to fulfill the mission. The Rise Fund will invest in companies that create positive impact through their core business operations, seeking out those situations where business success and meaningful social and environmental impact are inextricable—one drives the other.
 
Even business magazines are getting in on the action. Case in point: According to this article in Forbes, RISE recently help sponsor an investment challenge with a $500,000 for young founders of companies. Just reading the article gives you an idea of the spirit behind this sort of investment firm.


So how do they do this?  


From the RISE website: "We have defined 30 key outcome areas (see image below), aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in which impact is both achievable and measurable through research-backed, quantifiable assessment. Using our unique assessment methodology, we can estimate a company’s potential for impact at a scale and rigor that is consistent with our commitment to a data-driven approach and enables us to measure and drive impact results throughout the course of our investment."

So, since I’d like to bring this back to project management - how can we connect this to our projects?  Already, I hope you got the idea from Part 1 – projects depend on sponsors, and sponsors are usually either investors or are driven by investors.  How can you see if your existing projects are linked to these increasingly attractive outcomes, outcomes that this type of investor is seeking? Let’s start by looking at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mentioned above.  Let’s start with one we’ve featured on this website before, understand it, and then zoom out and look at the set of 30 holistically.


SDG 13 is Take Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change and Its Impacts.  Much more detail can be had here and in particular here.  Here’s a small extract:
"Affordable, scalable solutions are now available to enable countries to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies. The pace of change is quickening as more people are turning to renewable energy and a range of other measures that will reduce emissions and increase adaptation efforts.
But climate change is a global challenge that does not respect national borders. Emissions anywhere affect people everywhere. It is an issue that requires solutions that need to be coordinated at the international level and it requires international cooperation to help developing countries move toward a low-carbon economy.
The measurement and action associated with the goal is to strengthen the global response to keep global temperatures from rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue further efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

Not a fan of Climate Change, or are you interested in other causes?  No worries – there’s a lot to look at here; if you were perhaps bored thinking that all you have to do is complete your project on time, achieving full scope, and under budget, there are a lot of other considerations.

 


Above, you see 17 of the SDGs and also how investors use them to track performance.  Letting our friend Vilfredo Pareto step in, we can see that the top SDGs that are considered include:


⦁    Good jobs and economic growth
⦁    Renewable energy
⦁    No poverty
⦁    Gender equality
⦁    Climate action


Notice something?  Does the concept of sustainabililty’s triple bottom line come to mind?  It should.  These top SDGs are in line with economic (good jobs and economic growth), social (no poverty, gender equality) and ecological (renewable energy, climate action) bottom lines.  I think as PMs we need to think triple constraint AND triple bottom line.  How about you?

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: December 02, 2017 04:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Beware of Robots and Millennials (Part 1 of 2)

Well, at least be aware of them.  Read on to understand.  One of the pleasures of writing books on different topics (or at least different within the field of project management) is to find unusual connections between them.  I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with Loredana Abramo, PMP on the new book, Bridging the PM Competency Gap.  One of the things on which we focus in this book is the role that generational differences plays in the way that people gain knowledge.  In turn, this required us to dig in and find out what drives Millennials.  In one of the tables of the book, we look at Motivating and Enabling Factors, Deterring and Blocking Factors, and Engagement Strategies.  One of the Motivating Factors was ‘strong ethical leaders’.  And that is the connection from the Bridging the Gap book to the books on sustainability in PM (Green Project Management and Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success) and indeed to this blog.

Today’s post is about how Millennials are driving change to the way that wealth is invested, with their propensity to insist that ethics, and along with it, social, economic, and ecological bottom lines are considered and balanced.  By the way, let’s not ignore Millennials.  Why?  Their spending power is estimated at US$170B per year.  I highly recommend that you spend a moment looking at this infographic (in small form here, linked to a larger size image for your convenience).

This is why a small story in The Economist’s most recent issue caught my eye.  It’s called Generation SRI and the subtitle is “Sustainable Investing Joins the Mainstream”.  SRI is “Socially Responsible Investing”.

From the article:

Fans of “socially responsible investment” (SRI) hope that millennials, the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, will drag these concepts into the investment mainstream. SRI is a broad-brush term, that can be used to cover everything from divestment from companies seen as doing harm, to limiting investment to companies that do measurable good (impact investing). The US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, a lobby group, estimates that more than a fifth ($8.7trn) of the funds under professional management in America is screened on SRI criteria, broadly defined, up from a ninth in 2012 (see chart).

 

The numbers are hard to ignore. 

From the Green Money Journal:

Sustainable, responsible and impact investing assets now account for $8.72 trillion, or one in five dollars invested under professional management in the United States according to the US SIF Foundation’s biennial Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2016 which was released in mid-November 2016.  See chart below:

According to a survey in America by Morgan Stanley, 75% (of Millennials) agreed that their investments could influence climate change, compared with 58% of the overall population. They not only believe in the triple bottom line, they have confidence that they can be change agents.  They are also twice as likely as investors in general to check product packaging or invest in companies that espouse social or environmental objectives.

The Economist article cautions us that we can’t fool Millennials.  They have too much savvy, and their’s too much data available to them (and they know how to use it) to ‘greenwash’ this group.  From the article: “money managers who pay only lip-service to SRI are unlikely to get away with it for long: sooner or later the robots and millennials are bound to call them out”.  And there is the rationale for the title of this blog post.

Let’s get back to the Morgan Stanley survey. 

“As widespread attention to sustainability continues to increase, consumers and investors alike are now more than ever factoring sustainability issues into their investment decisions,” said Audrey Choi, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Morgan Stanley.

Because it’s important for us as project managers – with an increasing number of Millennial stakeholders – to understand this generation, we provide this extract from the survey.  Note the connection to long-term thinking.

•     Values Matter. Consciousness around sustainability has leapt from the consumer space to the investment space. According to the latest survey, investor attention to sustainability factors is now growing faster than that of consumers as a whole.

•     Environmental impact. Increased interest in sustainable investing occurred despite a heightened sense of market volatility, implying perhaps that in uncertain times, companies and funds with sustainable attributes may be viewed as more stable over the long run. 71% of investors polled agreed that good social, environmental and governance practices can potentially lead to higher profitability and may be better long-term investments. 

•     Focus on Customization. The poll showed a strong desire for the ability to customize sustainable investments; 80% of individual investors and 89% of Millennials are interested in sustainable investments that can be customized to meet their interests and goals.

•     Sustainable Investing in the Workplace. With Millennials projected to make up 75% of the American workforce by 2025, it’s interesting to note that nine out of ten Millennial investors (90%) expressed interest in pursuing sustainable investments as part of their 401(k) portfolios. This implies that offering sustainable investment funds as 401(k) options may be an additional way for companies to attract and retain Millennial talent in competitive job markets. 

Millennials continue to fuel growth. Nearly nine in ten Millennials surveyed (86%) are interested in sustainable investing, compared with three-quarters of individual investors overall (75%). This heightened interest is likely tied to Millennials’ strong belief that they can make a positive difference with their own investments. Related findings from the survey include:

•     Influence. 75% agree that it is possible for “my investment decisions to influence the amount of climate change caused by human activities," compared with 58% of the total individual investor population.

•     Impact. 84% agree that it is possible for “my investment decisions to create economic growth that lifts people out of poverty," compared with 79% of the total individual investor population surveyed. 

In summary, you get a feel here for the mindset of these Millennial investors, who are also project sponsors, team members, leaders, and customers.

What does this mean to project managers?  Well, if investors, who are (or should be) long-term thinkers are increasingly thinking about long-term impact, and projects are launched by investors, then by the tried and true property of transitivity, project managers should be thinking about long-term impacts as well – thinking through the project’s outcome to the benefits – and other side-effects of the project’s product in the long-term.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss the particular ‘outcome areas’ that are the focus of sustainable investment, and how you can use this information to (A) make better decisions on your own project that serve the longer term, and (B) better understand the thinking behind the investment choices made by Millennials.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: November 29, 2017 07:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Addition by Subtraction

You think it’s important to reduce carbon emissions?  Think again.  Sure, it is important, and whatever you believe about climate change and its causes, you hopefully agree that IF the global temperatures are rising, we want to understand it.   So, here’s a little-known fact.  The pledge at the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, is going to require not only emission reduction, it’s going to require removing carbon from the atmosphere. In fact, 87% of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change models make assumptions that include ‘negative emissions’.  Wise project managers know that assumptions are the ‘seeds’ of threats and opportunities.  And that project management truth holds true here as well.

That’s right: the agreements reached in Paris, and somewhat reaffirmed in Bonn last week include assumptions.  They assume that the portfolio of programs and projects to bring down the rising global temperature includes not only initiatives which aim at emitting fewer tons of greenhouse gasses, but importantly, also projects to significantly remove vast amounts of greenhouse gasses already present.  Otherwise stated, it means we need to undo what’s been done.  And that means we’ll need to create carbon sinks.

That’s where science – and project management – will need to come to the rescue.

Take Sweden for example.  In a recent article (“Sucking up carbon”) from The Economist, Sweden’s lawmakers have passed legislation which requires no net emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by 2045.  Even if everyone in Sweden went to fully-renewable sources of power and drove electric vehicles, they would still be emitting (adding) greenhouse gasses by virtue of (for example) use of fertilizer and from use of airplanes.  This ‘net zero’ will therefore call for the removal (subtracting) of greenhouse gasses with emergent and not-yet-invented technology.

What really makes a difference with respect to climate change is the total amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.  If we need to keep the temperature stable it means staying inside a certain budget of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.  If we go over our budget, even with strict “spending controls”, we will need to balance that budget via extraction.  So let’s talk extraction for a moment.

As any good project manager should, let’s begin with the end in mind and understand our project objective.  In the long term, this is a gigantic impending aspiration.  The numbers are actually mind-boggling.  To take into account the aforementioned assumptions – the median IPCC model – assumes the extraction of 810 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2100.  Stated in different terms this means “undoing” 20 years of our global emissions (taken at the current rate) by that year.

The Economist article discusses NETS (negative-emissions technologies), the generic term for techniques which serve as carbon sinks. One family of NETS is BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which involves power stations fueled by crops that can be burned generate energy while injecting the carbon into the ground rather than into the air.  The problem with this technology is that it is at least twice as expensive as standard power generation and it cannot produce the size of sink necessary for the large numbers in the objective.

Another technique is afforestation – the regrowth of deforested logging areas – very large areas.  It has been estimated that the area of afforestation would have to be somewhere in the range of sizes between India and Canada – up to 68% of the world’s arable land.  Clearly, this technique alone will not suffice.

The other technologies don’t yet exist, meaning the projects are in the research and development stage.  Machines designed to capture carbon dioxide from the air are problematic.  If you try to extract CO2 from a smokestack of a power plant – no problem; the concentration, there is 10%.  Try the same in the atmosphere, and although levels are indeed historically high, the concentration is only 0.04%.  Still, companies like Global Thermostat in the US, Carbon Engineering in Canada, and Climeworks of Switzerland are working on such contraptions.  Here is a video explaining what Global Thermostat is up to:

And here is one from Climeworks:

Other thinking in this area includes techniques to accelerate how the soil and natural weathering processes remove CO2 from the air.

But here’s the thing: mechanical techniques at the moment show only 40 million tons of CO2 per year.  Remember our project objective?  It was 810 billion tons by 2100.  That’s 10 billion per year.  40 million, as they say, ain’t going to cut it.

So there will need to be a wave of innovation over the next decades which focus on adding value by subtracting carbon (and other greenhouse gasses).  This will spell opportunity for large R&D as well as deployment projects, which in turn will require informed, inspired, capable project managers.  Are you ready for a challenge?  Get informed, stay informed, and get ever more curious about greenhouse gas extraction.  We’re hoping that this story provided you with a good (excuse the pun) takeaway.

For more information about the technologies involved, try these sources:

The Guardian: Startups have figured out how to remove carbon from the air. Will anyone pay them to do it?

Knowledge@Wharton – Can carbon extraction solve the climate crisis?

TED Talk - This country isn't just carbon neutral — it's carbon negative

Science Magazine – In Switzerland, a giant machine is sucking carbon directly from the air

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: November 25, 2017 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)
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