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Richard Maltzman
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Pssst! Sustainability is hiding in the Sixth Edition! (Part 2 of 2)

Pssst! Sustainability is hiding in the Sixth Edition! (Part 1 of 2)

Punk Science

You Say You Want a Resolution? (Part 2 of 2)

You Say You Want A Resolution?

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Pssst! Sustainability is hiding in the Sixth Edition! (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1, I discussed some of the aspects of the intersection of sustainability and PM with the new concept of “Overall Risk” introduced in the 6th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide.  I promised that there were other hiding places that I’d uncover, and in this Part 2, I’ll continue with a new risk response.  That’s right, PMI has introduced a new response (that is listed for both Threats and Opportunities) called Escalate.

Let me summarize “Escalate” (I’ll focus on the Threat response) and then connect the dots with respect to sustainability.

First of all, a brief refresher on the other risk responses.  You should recall that the responses to threats in the 5th Edition were Avoid, Transfer, Mitigate, and Accept.  I put together this handy table to help you relate this to reality.  I use the scenario of a telecom team installing equipment on a rocky, steep cliff.

Threat Response

Brief Description

Project Example


Eliminate the threat by changing the project plan

Change the route to avoid the cliff


Shift the threat ownership to an entity outside the project team

Buy insurance and/or hire a specialist


Lower the probability and/or impact of the threat (remember to work on both)

Use safety gear, netting, and training in working in this type of terrain.


Acknowledge that this exists but take no specific project action

You know, Charlie was assigned to work on this installation and we never really liked Charlie…


This is how we responded to threat up until the 6th Edition.  Now, however, we’re much more modern. We have added Escalate.  Escalate allows the project manager to acknowledge that threats that may be visible to the PM exist outside his or her realm.  The description in the Guide also includes cases in which – even if the threat is in the project area – the response would exceed the project manager’s authority.  This is key, as you’ll see later.  In writing about sustainability and project management, and in commiserating with others who do so, we often get a sort of whiny feedback that goes something like, “we manage a project and not the company, so when you tell me about these large risks like ‘what this means to the environment’, it’s beyond my control or area of concern, so I have to let these go, and worry about my project’.

PMI just took that excuse away.

You should be looking for these sorts of threats, and if you find one where either the threat itself is ‘beyond your vision’ or the response would require ‘bigger things to happen than you can control’, PMI is saying that you should speak truth to power, and not just squelch the threat, but give it to the people who can care for it. 

And, even if you are not looking for these sort of threats, they may still reveal themselves to you.  The same logic applies.  If you realize that the threat is ‘bigger than your project’, that doesn’t mean to silence it!  It means you may have to escalate.

This speaks more to the more mature view of project management as the connection between vision/mission/strategy to day-to-day operations, and it seems (at least to me) that it encourages a more vocal PM who should raise these threats, rather than burying them, either literally, or by virtue of saying “not in my job description”.

The Escalate risk response also says this: “Escalated risks are managed at the program level, portfolio level, or other relevant part of the organization.”

My co-author Dave Shirley, PMP and I wrote Green Project Management back in 2010.  Although it won PMI’s Cleland Award for literature in the following year, the response from project managers was, well, let’s just say it was good but uninspiring.  That’s why we followed it up with a book called, Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success.  Just as in the 6th Edition, we realized, in writing this second book, that sometimes sustainability issues are at those levels (program and portfolio) and the project management population sees these issues as being part of a ‘great beyond’.  What I like about this “Escalation” risk response is that it defines ‘the great beyond’ – makes it approachable and familiar.

For completeness, I do want to reiterate that Escalate shows up on both the Threat and Opportunity sides of the risk equation.  It’s pretty much the equal and opposite of Escalate for threats.

One last point: in both cases (Threat and Opportunity) the PMBOK® Guide advises us that “escalated (opportunities or threats) are not monitored further by the project team after escalation, although they may be recorded in the risk register for information.  I applaud this notion of transferring this knowledge to future project managers for their consideration.

So with all this wisdom in hand, let’s finish that table above and make it 6th Edition compliant.  For this, let’s change the scenario to my example of the paving material choice in my post “Paved With Good Intentions”.  It's a more appropriate example for this response.


Threat Response

Brief Description

Project Example


Done when a threat is outside the scope of the project.

Bring the threats and opportunities associated with the choice of paving material to the project sponsors for consideration.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 20, 2018 08:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Pssst! Sustainability is hiding in the Sixth Edition! (Part 1 of 2)

Categories: pmbok

Although other standards related to Project Management have begun to incorporate and ‘thread through’ sustainability concepts, the PMBOK® Guide, even the brand-spanking-new 6th Edition, does not mention it – it’s not in the dictionary, nor in the index. 

But, like our canine friend Wiley above, it is there, and I intend to prove it to you with these two posts (and maybe further ones as I discover the hiding places).

I’d like to start with a new concept introduced in the 6th Edition – Overall project risk.  This is not the risk of showing up at a wedding wearing overalls – although, I’m sure that if you did, and the invitation said ‘black tie invited’, that would likely be a threat.  No, this form of “overall” I read as ‘overarching’ risk.  PMI defines it as follows: “the effect of uncertainty on the project as a whole, arising from all sources of uncertainty including individual risks, representing the exposure of stakeholders to the implications of variation of project outcome, both positive and negative.”

For the past decade (actually two… how time flies when you are having fun) I have taught project management classes, and for most of those years, I have used the video below to express this concept.

Have a look.  It's one minute long, and it's worth it, I promise you.  It speaks for itself (even though there are no words).  Overarching risk – overall risk – has to do with the fact that even if you do everything in your power to mitigate, transfer, and/or avoid the threats to the project, even if you do all in your power to enhance or exploit the opportunities, it still may be possible that the entire outcome is still a failure.  In the video, the project is ‘over’ for the ragtag crew driving the truck, when the box is delivered to the ship, but the objectives of whoever is responsible for transporting the box across the ocean – well, let’s just say they don’t fully meet requirements.

In the PMBOK® Guide definition, the hidden sustainability element is the key words, “implications of variations in project outcome”.  The project outcome, after all, is often not known until some significant time has elapsed.  In the case of The Box, it’s not known until the customer on the other side of the Atlantic signs off on their receipt of whatever is inside that wooden crate marked “FRAGILE”.  You could make the analogy that a stretch of highway (see “Paved With Good Intentions”) has not really delivered its benefits until years after it has been put in service.  That’s long-term thinking.  That’s ‘benefits realization thinking’.  That’s sustainability thinking.  Note that there is nothing here about ecological or social considerations – sustainability is about long-term thinking, full-stop.

There’s one more risk element that contains some hidden sustainability thinking: Integrated risk management.  Here the PMBOK® Guide says, “A coordinated approach to enterprise-wide risk management ensures alignment and coherence in the way risk is managed across all levels.  This builds risk efficiency into the structure of programs and portfolios, providing the greatest overall value for a given level of risk exposure.”  The same paragraph also has a reference to ‘escalated risk’ which will be to subject of Part 2.  But staying with this idea of integrated risk management, it evokes a post I wrote called “Golden Threads and Ruby Slippers” which similarly emphasizes the importance of providing overall enterprise-level value by assuring that the project’s goals are integrated with the programs and portfolios which, in turn, are only launched because they (hopefully) tie in with organizational aspirations.  And, because most organizations now do aspire to be socially, ecologically, and economically responsible, that connection – that integration – means that the project manager not only has permission to link these goals to their project objectives, they actually have a responsibility to do so.

Stand by for Part 2 – in which I will talk more about some other hiding sustainability elements – this time having to do with escalated risk.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 11, 2018 08:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Punk Science

Categories: Activism

As I was preparing this blog post, a news item came across the “crawler” at the bottom of my screen indicating that U.S. President Trump had just “unveiled a controversial plan Thursday to permit drilling in all U.S. continental shelf waters, including protected areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic”.

This news just underlines the main point of this post, which is this: when governments remove funding for research, nonchalantly and haphazardly relax regulations, and in general ignore scientific facts (or – even worse - the seeking of those facts in terms of research and analysis), it may be incumbent to us as individuals to take on some of the burden ourselves.

This is why I was fascinated by an article called “Punk Science” in the 23-Dec-2017 edition of The Economist.

The article starts with the story of Max Liboiron, a Canadian geographer, who was working on monitoring the plastic debris content of the waters off of the coast of Newfoundland – when the government passed legislation that weakened environmental protection and specifically cut the budget for this monitoring.  Ms. Liboiron developed a tool she called “BabyLegs” which is a pair of baby stockings  which can be affixed to a cut plastic bottle and towed behind boats as a way to collect debris samples.  Below: a photo of the inventor and her BabyLegs, the unit in service, and the inexpensive ingredients/tools to create them.

 Using these BabyLegs, and using Liboiron’s Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research, the data can be gathered for literally .08% of the cost of using the Manta Trawls that were being used by scientists via the funded program.  The point is that this makes science, data, and interest in this effort more accessible and public.

You may not live near the ocean or be interested in plastic debris off the coast of Newfoundland.  But everyone drinks water and/or wine, and/or beer…  and that brings me to the next part of this post.

Included in the article was a section on how ‘crowd science’ determined the true scope of the damage from the Deepwater Horizon incident, via PublicLab, a New Orleans NGO which helps individuals come together to investigate environmental concerns.   Here is PublicLab’s mission statement:

Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns. Using inexpensive DIY techniques, we seek to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.

 In this case they used software called MapKnitter to assemble photos from helium balloons, old digital cameras and smartphones (see photo below) into photographs more detailed than those available from Google Earth

Another example of a PublicLab effort is the ability to create spectrometers for pennies.  A spectrometer can be used to determine the chemical composition of light – including light passed through a liquid, such as drinking water, wine, or beer – and to find pollutants or contaminants in that liquid, such as lead or mercury.

Inspired by the article, I actually created a small project for myself – build the referenced spectrometer in the article and test it out.  The project was on time (15 minutes) under budget (effectively 0) and met scope (working spectrometer)!

Below is a picture of my spectrometer, and an example of a reading on a CFL bulb (the ones that look like a soft-serve ice-cream cone), which shows that the CFL’s main chemical signature is mercury.  You can compare my reading (look where there are very bright spots) with the chemical signature of mercury.

Individuals could use such a spectrometer to ‘crowdsource’ data on (for example) drinking water, to look for lead in their water, for example.  Instructions for making the spectrometer can be had by clicking on the image below.

Reading this as a citizen of planet Earth, perhaps one with an interest in science, I hope this ‘tickles’ the creative side of your brain… maybe you will take on one of these mini-projects, or do it collaboratively with your science-minded kids or nieces or nephews.

Reading this as a project manager, I hope that you’ll take away the idea that your stakeholders may be a source of ‘crowdsourced’ data for you in ways you may not have imagined before.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 04, 2018 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

You Say You Want a Resolution? (Part 2 of 2)

Happy New Year!

As promised, here is a brief (but important) follow-up to the Part I post on the relationship between success and sustainability.  Starting 2018, with this first post of the year, I’d like to be optimistic and there is reason to be so, based on recent publications and the increased focus and buy-in to the idea of integrating sustainability thinking into PM, not just by myself but by colleagues around the world.

Topping this off is a very recent article from the Dutch IPMA magazine (the photo in this blog post’s banner).    Below is a list of resources for your use, for your consideration, and to perhaps stimulate a ‘sustainable’ New Year’s Resolution:


  • Exploring Factors That Stimulate Project Managers to Consider Sustainability

  • Does Considering Sustainability Lead to More Successful Projects?

  • Exploring the relationship between sustainability and project success - conceptual model and expected relationships

Note: This paper has an interesting figure summarizing the relationships which I have included at the bottom of this post.

  • A New Conceptual Framework to Examine Sustainability Issues In Project Environments

  • Enablers for Considering Sustainability in Projects; The Perspective of the Supplier

The conclusion of this particular paper is interesting in and of itself, finding three factors which enable sustainability in projects – which match what I talked about in Part I:

• Factor 1: Benefits driven (Sustainability if it has benefits)

• Factor 2: Demand and intrinsic motivation driven (Willing to integrate sustainability if it is asked and paid for)

• Factor 3: Demand and Strategy driven (Sustainability if it is asked for and fits our strategy)


However, besides the findings, the paper ends with a very, very important – and reflective – question which ties right back to the New Year’s Day (resolution) theme.  I have paraphrased it a bit below.  The way I read the question, it asks whether you should be a follower or a leader.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusion and make your own resolution:

...For suppliers integrating sustainability in projects is strongly dependent on the demand and willingness of the customer to pay for sustainability. 

On the one hand, customers can take that into account into contracting strategies. On the other hand, adoption of sustainability in the supplier’s policy could be a successful measure for integration of sustainability in projects as well. In that respect, it should be questioned whether a supplier (and their project management leaders) should wait for the customer to ask for this, or should they take the initiative and distinguish themselves from their competitors?

What do you think?


Below is the figure from the reference, Exploring the relationship between sustainability and project success.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 02, 2018 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

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 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, 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 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, ,

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:

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 (12)

"I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book."

- Groucho Marx