Project Management

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Richard Maltzman
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Recent Posts

Gyres and Legos and Zeros, Oh My!

Implement Risk Responses: Boston Style

Becoming a Climate Change Leader (Part 3 of 3)

Becoming a Climate Change Leader - Part 2 (of 3)

Becoming a Climate Change Project Leader - Part 1

Gyres and Legos and Zeros, Oh My!

OK, so let’s start with that goofy title.  It’s supposed to be a reference to that scene (clip below) from the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz


You probably know what Legos(TM) are (if not, ask a parent, child or grandparent).  And there is zero uncertainty around the fact that you know what a zero is.  But do you know that the presence or absence of a zero (and not in salary) could actually be an inspiration to a project team?  It can.  Read on.



You may not know what a gyre is.  The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines a gyre as a large system of swirling ocean currents. Increasingly, however, it also refers to the garbage patch as a vortex of plastic waste and debris broken down into small particles in the ocean.

 One of the largest such gyres is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

I have previously blogged about Ocean Cleanup, the brainchild of Boyan Slat.  This program has grown and continues to expand.


Have a look at the video below.  Really.  It's 16 minutes long.  Knowing that some of you won't watch it,  I’ve also curated some of the key points for project leaders to take away.  Much of it has to do with an agile approach to projects and the way teams work best together.  There’s also some great nuggets in here about how stakeholders that could easily be opponents were made to be collaborators.


In the video you can see the relief on team members’ faces in that they now have a chance to meet face-to-face again.  They take advantage of this by using Legos to model the new System 03.  This is a large upgrade over Systems 001 and 002.  That is not to say that these systes have not been effective.  They have removed so far 55 tons of plastics from the Pacific. 

Note that System 03 has one fewer zero.  Which brings us to the next piece, which is: Zeros.


When Ocean Cleanup started, the program directors thought that it would take hundreds of these systems to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  So, three ‘places’ were held for the digits 001 through perhaps 472 or whatever the number of Systems it would take.  With the radical redesign of System 03, it was determined that TENS, not hundreds of systems could handle the cleanup.  So, for the simple numerical reason – but also as a motivator and a ‘totem’ of the project, one zero was removed.  Do not underestimate the power of project ‘totems’ like this.

Other takeaways

As you watch the video, please notice some of the other project leadership ideas that this team has adapted, some which come from an agile mindset, some from predictive PM.  They have done a great job of applying my three-word solution to the completely non-existent ‘versus’ situation when it comes to which methodology is best: Use What Works.

As we saw with the Legos, the team used modeling – in that case physical modelling. However, they also make significant use of mathematical modeling which reportedly has been quite accurate in predicting where and when to launch the System 02 missions. 

They use what I call "careful KPIs", and a ‘balanced scorecard’ (although they don’t use that term).  The KPI (key performance indicator) is cost per kg of plastic removed.  They want to clean the ocean, but they want to do it in a fiscally responsible way.  As for the balanced scorecard, they are quite aware that their efforts have  an impact of their own – the vessels burn fuel, they do intercept some wildlife, and they are not ignoring it – in fact they use that in the measurement of their success, not just the tons of plastics they are removing.

When the team encounters a problem (such as plastic escaping over the floating boundaries of the collection system) they use a ‘lockup meeting’ in which the team all gets together to brainstorm and cannot leave until they have a solution.  They even make references to ‘locking the door and throwing away the key’.

In general note how they have become a 'learning organization' and are allowing themselves to try-and-fail, try-and-fail, so that they can try-and-succeed.

One of the most poignant segments of the video is a visit to the firm which is making the collection nets.  The firm is a fishing company.  Normally they are making nets to catch fish.  It turns out that much of what is collected by the Ocean Cleanup is from the fishing industry.  So the two groups might naturally be at odds.  But each actually stands to gain from the other.  The Ocean Cleanup team gets expertise and manufacturing capability for their nets.  The fishing firm gets cleaner, ‘greener’ fish and as the interviewee says in the video, a chance to move from being ‘a part of the problem to being part of the solution’.

I found this 16-minute video to be inspiring and informative, in particular for project managers who want to become project leaders.

What did you think?

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: August 09, 2022 03:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Implement Risk Responses: Boston Style

Categories: climate change

Boston broke its all-time record temperature this week, reaching 100 degrees F.  I've covered climate change enough to know that this is weather, not climate.  Climate is over the long term.  So a one-time blip of 100 degrees is not necessarily climate change.  Trends, and continued breaking or near-breaking of the record, on the other hand is attributable to climate change.

You can learn about the difference easily by visiting this site.

Whatever you call it, being aware of and dealing with threats is probably one of the number one reasons you call yourself a project manager (or my preferred new title - project leader).  Projects, by definition, produce a unique outcome, product, or service.  By virtue of that uniqueness, whatever it is you are doing has never been done before.  So you will - I promise you - encounter events which positively or negatively affect the outcome.  That is the definition of risk.

Previously, I have blogged (three times, even) about the identification of a threat in Boston, the threat of a heat wave, especially in vulnerable areas of the city without shade, often in lower-income neighborhoods.

The City, under the leadership of Mayor Michelle Wu, has put in place a risk response plan, featured in my blog posts, which, now that the risk has become an issue (an issue is a risk which has become real). 

This is just a brief post to applaud the City for its following the best practices of the PMBOK(R) Guide, 6th Edition, which has as the processes for Risk, the following:

  • Plan Risk Management.
  • Identify Risks.
  • Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis.
  • Perform Quantitative Risk Analysis.
  • Plan Risk Responses.
  • Implement Risk Responses.
  • Monitor Risks.

The "Implement Risk Responses" bit is important.  You can plan all day, and all night, but if you don't have a way to implement the plan, you fail.  In this case, the plan was implemented, in the form of pools and tot sprays, and cooling centers, which have been activated based on this heat wave.

Photo courtesy of Boston Globe

Even the Boston Public Library is in the mix.  Library locations are also available for residents to seek relief from the heat, and to find enriching activities and events. The East Boston and Egleston Square branches recently installed misters in their outdoor free WiFi zones.  

To me, it just goes to show - great project leadership is about (amongst many other things) broadly and deeply identifying risks (both threats and opportunities), coming up with well-thought-out and fact-based responses, and being truly ready to implement those risk response plans.

One other thing: don't forget secondary risk.  That's new threats (or opportunities) triggered by the risk responses themselves.  In this case, an example of a secondary threat would be an injury on a poorly-designed splash pad, and a secondary opportunity would be increased Wi-Fi range as an effect of the misting.

In the meantime, if you are in any of the areas of the world (Boston is by no means alone here) affected by the high temperatures, stay cool, stay safe, and keep leading cool projects!




Posted by Richard Maltzman on: July 25, 2022 11:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Becoming a Climate Change Leader (Part 3 of 3)

In Part 1, I promised that in Part 2, I would continue an analysis of Bruce Harpham's article.  But Andy Jordan posted another excellent article, which became Part 2, so this becomes Part 3.  Carry the 2, divide by the square root of -1, and here we are at Part 3.

Bruce Harpham's post, Climate Change: Micro and Macro Opportunities for Project Managers, does an excellent job categorizing and making actionable the things that project leaders can do.  I changed the word MANAGERS to LEADERS for reasons that I have explained in past posts and will continue to harp(ham) on in the future.  The bottom line is that our title is incorrect.  We are not project managers.  We are project leaders.  If you don't think so, have a look at this Harvard Business School post on the topic. You tell me which better describes what you do (or aspire to do) in your projects.

In any case, what Bruce does in his post is to first break down the types of opportunities into micro and marco.  I would offer my opinion that in this case, micro really does mean tiny.  These are the things I first encountered when people were promoting "green" project management.  They included things like using recyclable forks in your project office kitchenette.  Yes, they contribute, and make incremental improvements but they are not at all what we really need to do if we want to make the transformative changes we need to make as project leaders.

Bruce defines micro opportunities as being focused on decisions you can make as an individual project manager - and here they are:

1. Encourage remote work

You indeed can do this for your project team, but often, this is an organizational guideline or policy.  There is also a hidden danger here, as Jim Stewart and I will discuss in our upcoming book Great Meetings Build Great Teams: A Guide for Project Leaders and Agilists, it sometimes can make your project more efficient (less rework) if your team does have at least an initial face-to-face meeting.  The impact of having the team together to build rapport can be worth it in the long run.

2. Change project procurement criteria

This is a good one, and my only advice here is to escalate this beyond the project level to the organizational level.  If you find a great 'sustainability-oriented' vendor, yes, use them for your project but also make this finding available for other projects and for the broader operational use!

3. Add a granular, specific interpretation of climate change to your risk register

I would suggest that this could be easily made into a Macro Opportunity because this is process-related.  If you consciously identify and respond to risks that involve long-term effects (not only climate change but also social impacts and long-term economic impacts), you are changing your mindset (see Part 2 of this series).  That's Macro!

Macro Opportunities

1. Seek out different projects at your organization

This is good advice.  Vote with your feet.  Look for projects that are either aimed at a triple-bottom-line solution or have already integrated long-term thinking into their planning.

2. Get involved in carbon disclosure projects

Again, this is a means of voting with your feet.  Seek out these career opportunities!

3. Change companies

I know what Bruce is saying here.  Move to a company which has adopted a sustainability-oriented philosophy.  It's as I say above - voting with your feet.  However, there's nothing wrong with being a change agent at your current organization.  As project leaders (there I go again) we are change agents by definition.

I want to thank Bruce Harpham and Andy Jordan for their excellent contributions to  After writing the book Green Project Management* 4,308 years ago (actually only 13), it is rewarding to see the attention - the proper attention - the macro attention - that sustainability thinking in PM is finally getting.  In fact, the term should be Sustainability Oriented Project Leadership or Value System Project Leadership, because 'green' implies a sort of 'save the whales, save the snails' *** focus, when in fact (although saving species is important) this is much more about long-term thinking than only about all creatures great and small.

Your thoughts?  Your long-term thoughts?

***This reference, by the way, to 'whales and snails', is the inspiration for the image that goes with the post.  The late, great George Carlin talks here (language warning) sarcastically about going too far down a path of environmentalism.  Remember: it's sarcasm.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: July 12, 2022 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Becoming a Climate Change Leader - Part 2 (of 3)

I was going to make Part 2 a continuation of Part 1, based on Bruce Harpham’s post.  And indeed, I will continue discussing Bruce’s article as covered in Part 1, but I will do it in a new Part 3.  I’ve chosen to use Part 2 to amplify the even-more-recent post by Andy Jordan.

Andy starts out as follows:

Project managers as green catalysts
Well, I’m not sure how many industries and organizations are at the point where they have embraced the idea of environmentally conscious operations. Sure, many have pursued a few green initiatives, or invested in some research and development work to explore more sustainable options. But truly integrating green thinking into how the organization operates? Not so much.

However, what is happening is that project managers are continuing to be given more autonomy over how they deliver their projects. PMs and teams are enjoying greater freedom around scope and approach in order to ensure that projects can adapt and evolve to shifting operating needs, customer expectations, and so on.

This creates opportunity. Project managers can encourage their teams and stakeholders to be more environmentally conscious in their approach to their work.


Here is the key part.  It’s not about saving paper while you run the project or turning down the office lights as you run the project.  It’s about the steady state.  It’s about the operation of the product of your project.  It’s years away from the ribbon-cutting ceremony and yet you do have the opportunity to affect that product or service in its steady-state as a project leader.  It may not be easy, but you DO have that power.  You have had it all along, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  And it’s getting easier to click your heels three times and say, “there’s no place like a sustainable project outcome”.

Andy says it so well:

(Project managers) can influence stakeholders to be more considerate of green factors in the solutions that are developed, and so on. As project management influence increases in organizations, so it becomes easier for project managers to champion worthwhile approaches and concerns.

YES!  He nailed it.  It’s about the solutions.  It’s about the project’s outcomes.  It’s about the benefits that the PRODUCT of the project generates, which of course will produce value in the long term, but also may produce other impacts – social, environmental, and economic, that are long-lasting and may be negative.  I refer you to the excellent model that my colleague Alexandra Chapman, of Totally Optimized Projects (TOP) has been using for a long time (see below, courtesy of TOP).

By considering this up-front, and not after the project’s product is (and these are all real – and perhaps recognizable - examples):

  • Causing deadly airplane crashes
  • Emitting literally tons of carbon monoxide within their cars’ cabin
  • Resulting in explosions or fires in over 130 homes
  • Causing construction failures which were preventable with better materials
  • Creating tens of billions of non-recyclable plastic cups with a 450-year life
  • Disrupting the ability of local farmers to produce their crops
  • A lasting hazard after it reaches end-of-life

This focus on the steady state – on the long-term operation of whatever it is you are delivering – has to become part of the culture of an organization if it is to have purchase.  As Andy says:

Don’t discount the value of a sustainability victory. Unless organizations and their stakeholders recognize the value of those environmentally conscious adjustments, they won’t become a core part of how business gets done.


Keeping the Oz theme, I have previously written about the “Three-Click Challenge”.  Consider the fact that your organization is very likely (and you can and should check this out yourself) making all sorts of statements to the world about its efforts to be a good corporate citizen, to respect the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to focus on ESG (Environment, Social and Governance).  If you need a rationale and ‘source of power’ for changes you’d like to make to your project’s product, and you are limited by very ‘local’ project constraints, click three times in your organization’s website structure, seeking their statements on ESG, CSR, sustainability efforts.  That’s where you can help align your project to what your organization is telling the world.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: July 01, 2022 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Becoming a Climate Change Project Leader - Part 1

Image: Inc. Magazine

In this two-part series of posts,  I would like to point you to an excellent post made right here on by Bruce Harpham.

It’s entitled Climate Change: Micro and Macro Opportunities for Project Managers

It begins:

Climate change has arrived, and it is wreaking havoc across our world. The question now becomes: What can we do about it? There is no single correct answer to this complex question. The first step to coming up with solutions starts with understanding our situation.

Bruce goes on to talk about the disappointment some of us share that although global warming or climate change has been a topic of discussion for a long time, not much has been done about it.

Who are we?

We are project managers*!  Get-r-done people.  Don’t you find this lack of action reprehensible?  I do.  I think that we as “Executors” (see Dr. Barbara Trautlein’s wonderful book on Change Intelligence) want to get stuff done.  But there is an ironic twist here.  We executors like to get things done on time, accomplishing scope, and doing all of this within budget.  That often blinds us to thinking about the product of our project in the long-term - see the video at the end of this post for an example.  Whatever it is that we build – whether it’s an app or a bridge or a new house-cleaning service, we want it to go live, carry traffic, and clean houses.  Once that has started to happen, we do the old “wipe our hands” gesture and say, “now give me my next project!”.

That means we have not thought through to the operation of our project’s outcome.  Just that simple mind exercise, perhaps when doing risk identification, would make such a big difference in terms of making project outcomes sustainable.


But there’s a catch!

Many of the changes to the product or service we may want to make, which consider sustainability and impact (social, economic, or ecological) have to please our sponsors and may, on their surface, seem to be too expensive, or may delay the release of the project.  The project manager may be hesitant to raise these suggestions, partially due to a culture in an organization that makes it unsafe to speak up.  This topic is enough for an entire series of blog posts, and in fact is an entire chapter in an upcoming DeGruyter book, The Handbook of Responsible Project Management.  So I won’t follow that thread here; suffice it to say that it will take courage, supported by facts, supported by likely high-level commitments at the corporate level to Corporate Social Responsibility, to make these suggestions and, yes, perhaps delay the project or make the product or service more expensive, but to move the needle a little bit in terms of (for example) climate change.


In Part 2, I will take a look at Bruce’s point-by-point list of things we can do as project leaders and, for what it’s worth, add my opinion and angle on how you can make those a reality in your projects.


*I prefer (and am starting to assert the use of)"Project Leader" instead of project manager.  Look up the list of traits and attributes associated with manager, then do the same for leader.  You’ll see.  Your title should be Project Leader.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: June 26, 2022 12:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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