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Guest Post: The Power of Repeatable Processes

I'm so thrilled to present to you a guest post from Madeline Hendry.
See below for her bio.  For now: enjoy the story!

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What is your “bread and butter” as a project manager? The type of project that you can do with your eyes closed, that you’re known for, that people are clamoring to hire you for?

Mine is events. I’ve worked on a lot of them over the years, and like you, after all this time, I’ve gotten pretty good at managing them from start to finish without too many hiccups. Sure, each event comes with its own unique challenges, but for the most part, they’re all generally the same under the covers.

Now think about the first time you managed a project like this. It probably wasn’t easy, and if your experience was anything like mine, you probably also experienced your fair share of “baptism by fire” that first time around. Lots of unexpected mishaps, lots of simultaneous fires to put out, lots of “no one told me that!”

But after that first project, you looked back and you learned. And you likely thought to yourself, “Wow - I don’t want that to happen again. What parameters can I put in place to prevent it from happening next time?”

After managing project after project, and asking yourself that same question over and over again, my bet is that you’ve worked out a lot of the kinks and streamlined many of the processes that might have been pretty rocky that first time around.

And now here you are - managing your “bread and butter” projects day in and day out without too many hiccups. A master of your craft!

Over time, you have maximized the efficiency of two precious resources: your effort and your time.

When I think of sustainability in a project management sense, I don’t think of “going green” -- I think of the scenario I just described - the long term success of repeatable processes over time.

Yes, of course sustainability also means making decisions that take into consideration the long term impact on the environment, etc. - but thoughtfully establishing repeatable processes that save time and energy on the “bones” of a project allows projects to a) develop more efficiently over time, and b) open more and more space for the innovation, strategic thinking and creative problem solving that each new project requires (because no two projects are the same, after all).

Let me give you an example. I used to work for a sports league, and I was on the team that managed all of the logistics surrounding in-arena entertainment for international games (i.e. shipping the mascots’ costumes, securing hotel rooms for the dance team, getting access badges for the crew, etc.). The games might have been in different arenas in different countries all over the world, but the “bones” of these events were essentially the same. So over time, I was able to establish various standard operating procedures that we followed for every event (same schedule format, same contact list, same travel forms, etc.).

For one event in particular, my team was really on their A-game. We had running these events down to a science, and because we weren’t spending as much time worrying about putting out logistical fires, we were able to come up with some pretty cool ideas for how to make the in-arena show the best yet. We were relaxed, we were excited, we were in sync, we were ready - there was a really special energy in the air.

Right before the game was about to begin, an electrical fire broke out in the arena and a chemical gas was automatically released to stop the flames from spreading. The fire was out, but the arena was filling with smoke and this chemical gas, and we were told that everyone had to evacuate - now.

Amidst the chaos (and smoke), I went back to our office and grabbed a few copies of the contact list - a document I had standardized to keep track of every single person we were responsible for during these events. I handed a contact list to each member of my team and we split up to go find people and get them out of the building ASAP.

 

Several minutes later, we were all standing outside the arena doing roll call with our contact lists to ensure that everyone had made it out. They had. The game was cancelled, but our team was safe. And we had our contact list to thank. Without the contact list, we would have been panicked, scrambling, trying to remember everyone’s names -- How many dancers were there? What about sound guys? Wait - wasn’t there a new production assistant that came on yesterday? What was her name?

Establishing the standard operating procedures surrounding that document, and putting in the extra effort to create it for the event had allowed our team to handle a potentially disastrous situation with ease. In that moment, we were able to make the best use of our time and our energy because we already had the “bones” of the event in place.

What repeatable processes have gotten you out of a pinch? What breakthroughs have you been able to make thanks to having standard operating procedures in place?

 

Madeline Hendry has over ten years of experience in project and event management, marketing operations and creative services production in the entertainment, sustainability & tech industries. She is passionate about process improvement, team collaboration, thoughtful development, and making meaningful and impactful change in her hometown of Philadelphia. Outside of work, Madeline enjoys playing squash, trying new beers, singing in a gospel choir, and spending time with friends and family.

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Please let me know what you think of this post.  I'd like to encourage Madeline to do another post (or two), especially if it's popular here - and I know this is a tough crowd!

Thanks

Rich Maltzman, PMP

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: September 20, 2019 09:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

LCA or Scoot Away?

Photo Credit: Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty

Question: what has two wheels, an electric motor, lives only about a month, and shortly will be carrying hundreds of thousands of university students around campus (and other ‘hip’ people to their jobs)?  Hint: there are 2 million of them deployed globally.

The answer: so-called “e-scooters”.  But you knew that already, didn't you, because you saw the picture at the top of the post.  I figured.  Next time, no giveaways!

These e-scooters do substitute cleaner transportation in place of (gas-powered) cars and motorcycles.  They are emissions-free.  And I'm not here to take down an effort which is laudable and seeks to be earth-friendly. But, a recent article in Nature magazine asks the question: are they really sustainable?

Importantly, the question is much broader than the e-scooter, and as you read through this (relatively short) blog post, I’d like to ask you to reflect on whatever the product or service of your project is and ask yourself: “have I thought about the full lifecycle environmental, social, and economic cost of the producing the product or service all the way through to its eventual disposal?”.  Or, like most project managers, are you (somewhat necessarily) focused on the launch of the product or service?

The Nature article refers to a study by Jeremiah Johnson at NC State University, in which he and his team disassembled a scooter and calculated the manufacturing ‘impact’ cost.   This is part of a Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) that we discussed at some length in our book Green Project Management, in fact with a Foreword by EPA Director at the time, Mary Ann Curran, PhD.  Chapter 9 of the book is dedicated to the LCA.

The LCA, of course, is not limited to manufacturing – which you could think of as the ‘birth’ of an e-scooter.  It also includes the ‘death’ of these products, and dealing with the disposal of the discarded units.  And herein lies a problem – the life of the scooters is shorter than you might think – only about one month.  This recent article from Greenbiz discusses that problem.

“But there is growing concern about whether such sustainability claims for shared-use scooters are enough. According to an analysis by Alison Griswold, a reporter for Quartz who specializes in start-ups and the sharing economy, data from a pilot test of Bird and Lime scooters in Louisville, Kentucky, suggest that the average scooter lasted about a month in the city. That’s a moon cycle. The refrigerated shelf-life of a carton of yogurt. Short.”

So, efforts are underway by e-scooter manufactures and fleet managers to extend the life of the scooters and come up with more sustainable ways to deal with the ‘remnants’ of the used (and abused) scooters.

In this article from Mashable, even putting more thought into the way the scooters are locked can make a difference – perhaps as much as by a factor of six – in terms of the life of a scooter.

But here’s the real point: look at your organization’s statements about sustainability (for an example I include some links here from Bird, one of the e-scooter companies here and here).  I bet you will find that your organization has similar statements about sustainability and environmental impact.

Consider whether your organization is taking impact of manufacturing, use, and disposal into account in a Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) fashion.  Are you thinking about this and speaking up when you can, as a project manager?

Are you living up to those statements?  Or are you just running projects and scooting away?

Oh - one more thing.  Sustainability is not about environment only.  Remember the Triple Bottom Line?  That includes ECONOMIC sustainability as well.  That's being called into question, too.  Have a look at this video from The Verge:

So, even if you don't want to consider the long-term relative to "Planet", consider the long-term element of "Profit" when you plan your project.

Ride safe!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: August 31, 2019 03:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Bucket List

As project managers, we know, perhaps more than most, that (with props to George Santayana), “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  That’s why we do retrospectives or lessons learned meetings to avoid avoid making making the the same same mistakes mistakes twice twice (or to find and recycle good practices – let’s not forget that!).

We can apply that to data science as well.  This article from USA’s National Public Radio  is about our ability to understand the current ocean temperatures relative to the past – and how that past must be better understood so that we really know the difference and the trends.

If you are an 'audio' person, you can just 'play' the article right here, right now:

The article begins:

If you want to know what climate change will look like, you need to know what Earth's climate looked like in the past — what air temperatures were like, for example, and what ocean currents and sea levels were doing. You need to know what polar ice caps and glaciers were up to and, crucially, how hot the oceans were.

"Most of the Earth is water," explains Peter Huybers, a climate scientist at Harvard University. "If you want to understand what global temperatures have been doing, you better understand, in detail, the rates that different parts of the ocean are warming."

The warming oceans have been in the news because although the UN has projected ocean temperature increase, and skeptics have criticized their research, it now appears that the scientists there may have been much too conservative in their estimates – the oceans are actually heating up much faster, in fact, per this New York Times article from earlier this year.

This has dire outcomes.  See this very recent article (August 2019) from National Geographic.

Or, if you are into big data, dive in yourself with these datasets provided by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

It’s problematic.  See this video about ocean temperature rise below:

So let’s get back to the original article and get back to the namesake of this post – the bucket list.

The article continues,

To know how ocean temperature is changing today, scientists rely on more than a century's worth of temperature data gathered by sailors who used buckets to gather samples of water.  It's the best information available about how hot the oceans were before the middle of the 20th century, but it's full of errors and biases. [Author’s Note: as project managers we are always wanting to be aware of biases in data and in project decision making] Making the historical data more reliable led researchers on a wild investigation that involved advanced statistics and big data, along with early 20th century shipbuilding norms and Asian maritime history.

In effect, the research team took on a project to find and correct those tiny errors and biases within a massive database of historical sea surface temperature measurements maintained by the NOAA, with the help of researchers at similar organizations in the UK.  Said the researchers:

"This is like if someone left you all their receipts that they had ever spent during their lives, and you were trying to piece together what they had been doing.  It's a big data problem, a statistical nightmare."

What they found, however, is that by accounting for errors and biases and using pairing techniques to validate the data, that corrected data now “suggests that maybe the human contribution is greater than what we used to think.”

The lesson for us as project managers?  Aside from the increased awareness of ocean temperature rise, a focus on tactics such as analogous estimation rely on validated, reliable past history and the effort to assure that our basis is correct for any estimate is worthwhile.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: August 21, 2019 10:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Catching Coders

Image result for julia programming

If you follow this blog, you know that it is about the intersection of PM and ‘sustainability’.   Sustainability, for our purposes, is the consideration of the impacts of your project on the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), with the three elements being social, ecological, and economic.

In simple terms, it means considering the long-term operation of your projects outcome.  It doesn’t mean you have to be the one operating it, just that you have considered what that operation means (from a TBL persective) as you initiate, plan, and execute your project plan.

This post focuses on the ecological element of the TBL, and it’s a different angle for me, because it is about software and programming languages, something I’ve not written about before. 

I found a fascinating one-page (well, two sides on one physical page) article in Nature’s 1-August-2019 edition, about Julia.

No… not this Julia.

And not this Julia either…

And not even this Gulia.

Instead it’s the programming language Julia.  You can’t consider me an expert in this area; my background includes programming, but it was in Assembly language, BASIC, Fortran, and Pascal.  However I remain fascinated by the art and science of writing code.

What does this have to do with projects and sustainability?  Well, the article is about a project undertaken by CliMA –the Climate Modeling Alliance.

Here is the CliMA mission statement:

We know that climate change is poised to reshape our world, but we lack clear enough predictions about precisely how. At CliMA, our mission is to provide the accurate and actionable scientific information needed to face the coming changes—to mitigate what is avoidable, and to adapt to what is not. We want to provide the predictions necessary to plan resilient infrastructure, adapt supply chains, devise efficient climate change mitigation policies, and assess the risks of climate-related hazards to vulnerable communities.

We are a coalition of scientists, engineers, and applied mathematicians from Caltech, MIT, the Naval Postgraduate School, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We are building a new Earth system model that leverages recent advances in the computational and data sciences to learn directly from a wealth of Earth observations from space and the ground. Our model will harness more data than ever before, providing a new level of accuracy to predictions of droughts, heat waves, and rainfall extremes.

CliMA needed a programming language to build a climate model from scratch.  They chose Julia, and this article describes the WHY and the HOW.

Julia is an open source programming language launched in 2012.  It combines the capabilities of scripting languages such as R, Matlab, and Python, but it is also known for the speed of compiled languages such as C and Fortran.  Yes, Fortran.  You can imagine that young coders are not exactly thrilled to be coding in a programming language that hails from the same era as this car:

Attracting young, talented programmers is part of the project’s resourcing problem, and using Julia has helped solve that problem.  Aside from attracting talent, Julia simply does things faster.

From the article:

Michael Stumpf, a systems biologist and self-styled Julia proselytizer at the University of Melbourne, Australia, who has ported computational models from R, has seen an 800-fold improvement. “You can do things in an hour that would otherwise take weeks or months,” he says.

Julia simply excels at what the article calls “computationally-intense” work.  With the advent of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and big data in projects, it behooves us as PMs to introduce ourselves to Julia (and vice-versa).  Should you want to emulate the success of the CliMA researchers for their project, here is some assistance.


Get started

Set up

• Julia: julialang.org

• Juno, a free Julia language ‘integrated development environment’ including a code editor, debugging tools and interactive console: junolab.org

• Debugger: go.nature.com/2jdfr5g

• IJulia, a ‘kernel’ for writing Julia code in Jupyter: go.nature.com/2jldaj2

• Packages: go.nature.com/30brtxe

Learn

julialang.org/learning/

• Julia language documentation: go.nature.com/2nxrqup

• Think Julia: go.nature.com/2y7skii

Get help

• Slack: julialang.slack.com

• Discourse: discourse.julialang.org

• Gitter: gitter.im/JuliaLang/julia

• An interactive and executable Julia notebook, highlighting some key features, is available at go.nature.com/2lxllfd


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: August 16, 2019 12:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Trigger Finger of Fate

An old television show in the US called Laugh-In used to have a “bit” in which they awarded the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate to some entity they felt deserved … well, to be pointed at.

Big data can be a finger-pointer.  That is, with big data and the availability of AI and analytics, a line between cause and effect can be made clear, as described in a very recent issue of Nature.

That’s the case with a connection between two provinces of China and a spike in the rise of atmospheric trichloroflouromethane emissions which was traced to Hebei and Shandong in northeastern China (see highlighted map below).

This chemical, also called CFC-11,  or R11, was used as a refrigerant but also can be used in the manufacture of insulating foam.

Monitoring stations in Japan and South Korea detected the spike and via analysis were able to definitively point to these two areas, which in the past had been manufacturing insulating foam using that chemical, and now are suspected to have started again, although the production of this material with that chemical is against international regulations – it generates an ozone-depleting gas.

For its part, China disputes the specific claim but does agree that more data is needed to understand the problem.  Trichloroflouromethane, also called CFC-11, has been banned by the Montreal Protocol of 1987, to be totally phased out by 2010.  Measurements indeed confirmed that the presence of CFC-11 had dropped, until 2013, when the drop slowed suddenly – indicating that there was a new source of CFC-11 emissions offsetting the decline.

What’s the connection to project management?

As PMs we need to be savvy about project rationale – project launch – project selection.  In this case, the rationale for a major monitoring network, to be built by the Chinese government, is the focus of this article. In May of this year, the environmental ministry wants to provide its own monitoring to either confirm or  deny - using data - what the studies from South Korea and Japan are showing.

There will be stations located in Hebei and Shandong, with a goal to pinpoint the source.  The hopes are that the Chinese ministry will share its data openly with the US (the NOAA), Japan, and South Korea.

Indeed, China has acknowledged some illegal production of CFC-11, and that it had seized 114 tons of illegally-produced CFC-11 since 2012 but that does not approach the roughly 7000 tons that are estimated to have been produced according to the analytics.

As a project manager one could certainly look at the findings from the analytics to be a project launched in response, and we could also look at new atmospheric data collection initiatives as projects as well.  One mentioned in this article is that being led by Professor Claire Reeves of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, which is building a CFC-11 data set from samples taken in Taiwan – which has independently found a source of new CFC-11 from northeastern China.

Regarding the monitoring project, it will make use of the existing 1,000 air-quality monitoring stations (such as the one pictured below), but will require updating of the stations, programs to make more frequent readings, and will establish six new labs capable of doing testing for ozone-depleting chemicals.

In December, 2019, China has said that it will report on the progress of this project at a global meeting on this topic.

Here are the articles covering the studies which detected the CFC-11 emissions:

Montzka, S. A. et al. Nature 557, 413-417 (2018).

Rigby, M. et al. Nature 569, 546–550 (2019).

Zhang, G. et al. Atmos. Environ. 160, 55–69 (2017).

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: August 03, 2019 03:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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