People, Planet, Profits & Projects

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Richard Maltzman
Dave Shirley

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The Hedgehogs Strike Back

Although the title of this post might make you think this is some strange cross between Star Wars and the video game series by Sega, instead it’s a different sort of combination, mainly coming from a great NPR podcast called “Hidden Brain” by Shankar Vedantam and a book called Expert Political Judgement by Philip Tetlock. As a matter of fact, the title of this post is literally one of the chapters in Tetlock’s book.

The Hidden Brain podcast episode, which turns out to be about transgender surgery, starts off by mentioning a metaphor about the fox and the hedgehog, originated by Greek philosopher Archilochus and popularized by philosopher Isaac Berlin.  In the story – and the essay from Berlin, hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single, powerful, overarching, defining idea – in their case, “DO NOT GET EATEN” – and do so by rolling up into a spine-covered ball, and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of tactics to hunt a variety of prey.

Foxes are flexible and clever and adaptable but often fail to ‘roll things up’ into single idea, and hedgehogs are steadfast and dependable and focused on a single end objective.

In a normal project management blog, we could talk (productively) about how a PM has to be both – a sort of Hedgefox – which, by the way, is a real thing in the book by Tenlock.

But no, this is no normal project management blog.  It’s about the intersection of PM and long-term thinking, PM and the triple bottom line, PM and sustainability.

So although a PM must be a fox in that he or she must be flexible and adaptable, and the PM must be a hedgehog in their focus on the end objective of the project, I am here to humbly and hedgehogly (an adjective I just invented) request that you add an additional dose of hedgehog to your PM genetic makeup. 

Why?  Here’s why.

If you focus on the end objectives of the project, you are correctly satisfying the stakeholders’ requirements and that’s great.  It’s what we do as PMs no matter what kind of animal we are.  But the project’s product (and by this I mean physical product or new service) in its steady state, has characteristics that differ from the product at its ‘ribbon-cutting ceremony’.  For example, a new factory may be ‘a success’, but if it produces pollutants into the local water table, it’s not really successful in the long term, is it?  As a PM, are you focused only on the ‘ribbon-cutting ceremony’?  How foxy of you.  But that’s not good enough, not by a longshot and certainly not in the long-term.  You need to have a single-minded idea of sustainability in your own PM planning toolbox.  Think as a hedgehog – with the big, overarching idea of long-lasting success, not just in social and ecological benefits but also in terms of economic success.   Is the ‘product of the project’ going to realize benefits for your organization for a long time?  If so, congratulations!  You have out-foxed the fox, or perhaps more properly stated, you have out-hedgehogged the fox. There, see? Now I invented a new verb!

One way to amp-up your inner hedgehog is to include sustainability-oriented statements in the project’s Charter and to carry that forward on your little spiky back to the Stakeholder and Risk Registers.  Have you considered stakeholders who will only come into the picture 3 years down the road?  Have you considered threats and opportunities that have to do with the operation of your project’s product, and not just the product itself?  These are little hedgehog tricks that can serve you (and your organization … and your planet) well.

NOTE: I highly recommend the Hidden Brain podcast for project managers, whether you are interested in sustainability or not.  The guests are interesting, the stories are assembled nicely, and most importantly, they make you think about the way you think about the way you think.


References and further reading:

If this idea intrigues your fox, hedgehog, or hedgefox brain, here are several other articles that take on the parable of the hedgehog and the fox and apply it to various business and project scenarios:

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: June 27, 2017 09:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

All Our Patent Are Belong To You: Tesla and Altruism in Eco-Business

Some of you may be familiar with the phrase "All Your Base Are Belong To Us", which has become somewhat of an internet meme with its own Wikipedia entry and acronym: AYBABTU.  It's a result of a poor translation from Japanese in a popular game called ZeroWing.

The phrase became so popular it shows up (in one form or another) on church signs...

and T-shirts...


That's when you know you've made it as an expression!


But we bring this up not because of t-shirts or churches or even video games, but rather because of a short but intensely interesting and powerful post by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, who used this internet meme as a basis for the title of the post - to be cute and yet memorable with a very important message for innovators.  Musk said, in short:

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

This is long-term thinking in a company that was built on long-term thinking.  We simply invite you to read the post and let us know how you feel about what, in effect, is open-source development of electric vehicles.

How would this work in your industry?

Does this have implications for projects and project managers?  We think so.  A penny for your thoughts?  Maybe... a whole base for your thoughts?

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: June 17, 2014 02:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unconscious Eloquence

We’re just back from the PMI North America Congress.  It was a very good take with well over 2,000 colleagues sharing knowledge and doing some pretty intense networking.  We were presenters ourselves, but this post is not about that talk, it's about others.

Let's start with the venue - New Orleans was the backdrop and theme for 2013, and that city knows how to host a convention full of project managers.  Everywhere you go in NOLA there is music, beautiful music, flowing around each streetcorner and from classic locations like Preservation Hall.

The music of New Orleans is jazz.  We got to experience this wonderful, expressive, eloquent music at Preservation Hall.  This is some of the most eloquent music we've ever heard.

And speaking of eloquence, that’s what we want to discuss with you.  Although there’s a twist.  This is eloquence in which the speaker doesn’t necessarily even realize that they’re being eloquent.

Here’s the deal.  Over the last four or five years, we’ve been expressing (hopefully eloquently) a need for project managers to be more focused on their products’ triple bottom line.  Yes, we mean product, not project or process.  Every project has some sort of outcome – we’re using the word product to refer to this.

And we’ve seen others discuss this topic – or surrounding topics – in such a way that they describe our exact main points - the points of what we call greenality:

  • Long-term (sustainability-oriented) thinking - beyond the delivery of their project's product to the steady-state operation
  • Use of information from the above in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing processes
  • Connectivity to the organization’s mission/vision/values
  • Strong awareness of, and concern for, for a triple bottom line, including social, economic, and ecological aspects.

But they do this in a way in which they don’t…. quite… get… to sustainability.  We've seen it in PM Journal magazine articles (see posts on EarthPM).  We've seen it in blog posts.  And we saw it in the presentations at PMI North America Congress in New Orleans. They come so, so close, but don’t make the point that this is really about integrating sustainability into project management.

Here’s an example from the PMI Congress.

One of the speakers, Kevin Repa, in his talk, “Planning for Program Closure”,  was eloquent in his description of the closing of the Space Shuttle program.  He held the audience’s attention as he described the intriguing story of ending the space shuttle program and figuring out what to do with its significant artifacts (see sidebar). 

To summarize, the shuttle program initiated a “closing project” initially estimated to cost $2.8B or more in and of itself.  Through good project management practices enumerated by Kevin, the project came in well under that, almost by a factor of ten.

One very striking and practical example is what happens to the shuttle vehicles themselves.  They are a “must” for the museum that has one of everything.  And when these shuttles go to a museum, the planners have to know whether the shuttle presents any safety issues to museum-goers.   Are there radiation issues?  Are there any components that will outgas poisons to bystanders?  These are questions that may not have been thought of if the project managers hadn’t thought about the steady-state disposition of the product of their project.

But the underlying message was this: had the planning for the disposition of the shuttle and all of its supporting infrastructure been incorporated into the project from the start, the closure would have had better management of risks, lower environmental impact, and overall even further improved financials.

Mr. Repa used the phrase, “think centuries, not decades”.  Eloquently put.  And unconsciously, Kevin was a huge proponent of our effort to incorporate sustainability thinking into our discipline of  PM.

Kevin, we at EarthPM salute your eloquence, and your being right on target from our perspective.  We would humbly suggest that you and others could parse out the excellent message that you have with the 'greenality' framework we provide above.

And the rest of you?  Eloquent or not, we urge you to be very, very conscious of your key role as project manager when it comes to disposition of your project’s product.  Stay tuned here and at EarthPM's main blog, we can help.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: October 31, 2013 08:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Plug or Play

I recently saw an advertisement from our local electric utility.  It showed electrical plugs being plugged into power strips, outlets, etc.  The message was that electric usage will be here for a long time.  The message certainly wasn’t about energy conservation as it was about the fact that we will continue using a lot of it.  What caught my eye, though, was in the last scene, the worker, with hard hat and all, is shown plugging in a Chevy Volt with the utilities name emboldened on the door.   It got me thinking about electric cars and the polarized factions for and against.  So I wondered, what is really happening with electric cars worldwide.

According to Clean Energy Ministerial, the Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI) is a global cooperative on the development and deployment of electric vehicles (EVs).  The initiative aim is the global deployment of 20 million EVs by 2020.  So, what progress has been made toward the goal and who is participating?

 There are pilot cities that are participating in the deployment.    It just so happens that there is a recent (May 2012) publication called the EV City Casebook, A Look at the Global Electric Car Movement.  It highlights cities like Amsterdam, Berlin and Hamburg, Portland, Oregon, New York City, LA, Shanghai, and areas like the Research Triangle in North Carolina, Goto Islands, Japan, and North East England as being on the leading edge.  That’s the good news.

However, looking closer at the Casebook it shows that to date there is little progress toward the goal.  The US is looking to put 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015.  In a report in Forbes in June, the number 3.5 million by 2015 is being floated.   3.5 million is a long way from 20 million.   However, the EV City Casebook does a great job looking into the individual cities and their relationship to sustainability.  For instance, take Amsterdam.  There is an expectation that by 2040, “nearly all kilometersdriven will be powered with electricity generated by windmills, solar panels and biomass plants. The canals will be filled with silent electric boats. Cargo will be transported over the road and water using electric power. The city will even smell better and sound quieter thanks to electric transport. Fossil fuels will be unnecessary when travelling in the city. Harmful emissions will be dramatically reduced, as will the costs of electric transport. All of this will make Amsterdam an attractive city in which to live, work and play —all thanks to developments that are being put in motion today.”  Amsterdam, with a population of 780,000+ expects to have 10,000 EVs on the road by 2015.

One thing that particularly caught my eye in the section on the city of Hamburg, Germany, was a highlighting of the lessons learned; 


  • Demonstrate technical feasibility
  • Identify barriers
  • Implement innovative solutions
  • Create local added value
  • Launch first business models

The electric car, or should I say an electric car, has been designed, developed, and implemented, but the project does not end there.  There has to be a wider spread acceptance.  Countries are looking into various incentives to encourage the purchase and usage of EVs.  Perhaps one day we will be able to have better smelling and quieter cities.  And remember, we think that part of the project should be to consider the effects and methods of generating the power so that there is something coming down the line when the EVs are plugged in to charge.  We also think that the project include the ultimate method of disposal of all of the EV after its useful life (batteries included in this case).

Posted by Dave Shirley on: July 11, 2012 11:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sneaker Uppers


The first word our blog's title is People.  And it's been said that project managers don't manage projects, they manage people - who then execute projects. 

We often focus on the other three elements (planet, profits, and projects),but this post shows that good work done in the "people" area flows easily to the other aspects of the QBL (Quadruple Bottom Line).

This post is about the Corporate Social Responsiblity (CSR) efforts of a couple of companies - about how they are initiating projects that help people.

We start with New Balance.  Ane we'd like to have you start with a look at this brief editorial from today's Boston Globe:

"Lately, the notion that commuter rail can reliably meet the needs of local employers often seems in doubt amid the MBTA’s money troubles, and efforts to promote bicycling as a serious means of commuting sound to skeptics like an urban planner’s pipe dream. Which make the role that New Balance, the local athletic-shoe maker, is playing in the local transportation landscape all the more noteworthy.

New Balance has for the last two years paid for the shoveling of the Charles River bicycle and running paths during the winter months. Last year, the company also became the corporate sponsor of the Hubway bike-sharing system. Promoting outdoor activity is good PR for a Boston-based company that makes athletic apparel. But the company’s willingness to tie its name to bicycling also has a legitimizing effect on an insurgent form of transportation.

Meanwhile, New Balance’s commitment to pay for a new rail stop near its planned mixed-use development is another significant statement. The MBTA has been under siege in recent years as its financial woes have deepened, and recently approved price hikes are bound to discourage some riders. The New Brighton Landing stop, as the facility will be known, will fill a need in an underserved neighborhood. It’s also a clear vote of confidence in the viability of the rail system.

If this is a self-interested move on New Balance’s part, well, so much the better: The company’s presumption that rail service for its employees is worth millions of its own dollars sends a strong message to everyone else."

What we see here is a company doing the right thing - funding portfolios of projects that align with its overall mission statement, and enhancing its brand name to the point where a major newspaper is effectively helping it advertise its image.  And we see that by doing the right thing, they are doing things right - one of the 5 Assertions that form the foundation of our book Green Project Management.

From New Balance's web page, here is a fairly inspirational statement:


We are catalysts for movement.
Working together. Building momentum.
This is how we move.

New Balance is aligning its strategy with its projects, and using its projects to help project its brand and stay true to its mission.  We think this is a great example, and it's reassuring to see them get some good public press from their project efforts.

That good press helps their image.  A good image drives sales - and revenues - and profits.  This builds morale.  Visibility of projects like these helps project managers with a bent for sustainability and CSR link their 'workaday" projects to the more lofty goals.  It's then up to the individual project managers to make that connection.  When companies do what New Balance is doing, it's much easier.  And it's not just consumer product companies; we've seen a similar effort from Alcatel-Lucent and its contribution with the creation of the non-profit GreenTouch consortium and their recent breakthrough in huge energy savings in the telecom/IT world with their Bit-Interleaved Passive Optical Network protocol.  Visible programs such as those by Alcatel-Lucent and New Balance help the project manager who is working on a new optical product release, or a new atheletic shoe, connect their project's 'sustainability goals' to corporate goals.

Take a lesson from these companies.  If you're a corporate executive, note the good press they're getting, sense the way it makes their employees (including project managers) feel.  If you're a project manager, find out what similar efforts your company has undertaken.  Use them as inspirations for your projects and use them to help demonstrate why you are 'psyched' about sustaianbility elements in your project, and how they go do indeed serve but also go beyond altruism; it really is about People, Planet, Profits, and Projects.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: June 14, 2012 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example."

- Mark Twain