Project Management

People, Planet, Profits & Projects

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Richard Maltzman
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Becoming a Climate Change Project Leader - Part 1

Hot Boston: Part 3

Hot Boston: Part 2

Hot Boston: Part 1

Five Mental Hiccups

Partnering for Sustainable Progress: Part 1

"COOLSCHOOLS aims to investigate the kind of opportunities provided by the projects being carried out in playgrounds and school environments in Barcelona, Brussels, Paris and Rotterdam," according to Isabel Ruiz Mallén, project leader, and a Ramón y Cajal researcher in the UOC's Urban Transformation and Global Change Laboratory (TURBA).

The European COOLSCHOOLS project will investigate social strategies to respond to the challenges of climate change and to improve the quality of life of citizens and of children, in particular. The project is actually a three-year study conducted by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC).

It examines the transformative potential of nature-based solutions in school environments by creating initiatives such as climate shelters in schools. In line with the theme of this blog post, 16 partners are involved in this project, including European municipal councils, universities, research centers, social associations and cooperatives, and international organizations.

The project’s outcomes will be a better understanding of the factors and potential of these initiative for “driving socio-ecological changes towards urban sustainability, climate resilience, social justice and quality education, and to make the educational community a driving force in municipal districts”.

The projects will focus on increasing green and shaded areas, using more sustainable and environmentally friendly materials and/or will provide greater access to water.

 Barcelona as an example

In the specific case of Barcelona, the projects will investigate actions to deal with the effects of rising temperatures and increasingly frequent heatwaves will be studied with the expansion of green areas and shaded areas, and the installation of water fountains in school playgrounds and premises.

"The solutions that are being adopted aim to protect children against these and other risks arising from climate change, and to improve the schools' adaptation to this new situation," said Ruiz Mallén, who emphasized that the idea is to consolidate spaces in which students can "learn and feel comfortable" in a context of rising temperatures, and to minimize the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on these educational environments.

 

Combining disciplines and bringing partners together

The researchers are going to study the combination of all these interventions from a multidisciplinary approach. As a result, they will take into account the impact on biodiversity of changes in land use, and also consider health, safety, and governance. "Starting this research will enable us to evaluate aspects such as the relationship between greening spaces in playgrounds and the students' cognitive development, the increase in pollinating insects, and the access to and use of these climate shelters by the community, among many other issues," said Ruiz Mallén. "We are also going to investigate the potential of changes in education. With all the knowledge that is generated from the different perspectives, we will be able to produce guides and applications to make the most of its potential both in terms of inclusiveness and improved wellbeing, and take advantage of learning opportunities in terms of climate resilience."

COOLSCHOOLS has received funding of more than €1.5 million from the European JPI Urban Transformation Capacities (JPI Urban Europe) fund, in which the Spanish State Research Agency (AEI) is participating.

 As mentioned in the first post in this series, this is highly connected to the UN SDGs.

This UOC research supports Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3, Good Health and Well-being; 4, Quality Education; 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities; and 13, Climate Action.

Source for this post, and credit for this work:

https://www.uoc.edu/portal/en/news/actualitat/2022/072-climate-shelters-schools.html

 

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: March 27, 2022 11:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Partnering for Sustainable Progress

In this series of posts, I will be discussing how key stakeholders can make a difference in projects related to ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) areas.  I have seen some amazing partnerships, especially those between industry, government, and academia, and I would like to feature here some that are making a difference, or at least are about to make a difference.

I want to put the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) at the base of these posts for proper context.  So, it makes sense to have a quick refresher on the here.

The best source for the UN SDGs, is (no big surprise here) the UN.  Their site (https://sdgs.un.org/goals) has expansive details on the 17 SDGs, but let’s at least list them here and provide the backdrop.

The SDGs were part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed to by all nations in 2015.  The entire Agenda can be found here: https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda.

The main “areas” of focus include the word Partnership, so it fits nicely into this blog series.

People

We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

Planet

We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

Prosperity

We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

Peace

We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

Partnership

We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

The interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new Agenda is realised. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.

Here are the 17 SDGs:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

They are often shown graphically as follows:

 

In this series, I will be covering at least these examples:

Coolschools, an effort of Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

EcoCar™ , a partnership to develop hybrid and electric cars

The Clean Up Mekong project

If you have other suggestions, please let me know.  Some of them may make it into our WorldSavers™ video blog.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: March 27, 2022 05:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunk Costs Part 3 of 3 - Countering SMIRF Behaviors

In the last post, I introduced the SMIRF.  SMIRF® stands for Spending/Saving Money for Irrational Reasons Fallacy – As stated in that post:

SMIRF project behaviors are in the name of ‘saving money’ and ‘staying on budget’, or in some cases, ‘being on time’ – especially in beating a competitor to market.  When this happens, the project has become so narrowly driven by the cost and/or time constraint, that it consciously or subconsciously severs all ties with the objectives not only of the project, but the strategic goals, objectives, vision, and mission of the organization.  This can be worse than the Sunk Cost Fallacy, because the outcomes are not simply wasted money, but potentially horrific events and impacts that affect people and planet.

There are unfortunately many examples of these events in our recent past, including the Columbia Gas of Massachusetts explosions in the Merrimack Valley, and the crashes of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. 

I won’t go into gory details of those two project disasters, in fact, there will be a book chapter devoted to them in an upcoming book to be published in 2022 by DeGruyter – The Responsible PM Handbook.

 But briefly:

  • Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, now defunct, changed their processes to save money, failed to communicate properly with subcontractors, and a severed pipe triggered tenfold pressure increases of natural gas to thousands of homes and businesses, resulting in 80 explosions and fires, a death, hundreds of injuries, and the demise of the company - read about the event in this Executive Summary from the US’ National Transportation Safety Board.
  • Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft introduction was apparently rushed into production to allow competition with Airbus, resulted in two crashes, hundreds of deaths, a reputational nightmare for Boeing, the grounding of the aircraft, and a US$2.5B settlement.  Netflix recently released Downfall, a documentary about this project.  It’s tough but important viewing for project managers.

Both of these cases exemplify SMIRF-like behaviors by the organizations.  What can a project manager do?  Are we powerless?

Not completely.  I’ll talk more in upcoming posts about speaking truth to power.  In the meantime, it’s important to consider some practical tips.  And here’s a source for those tips.

A publication of Harvard Business Review (HBR), Cultivating Everyday Courage, by James Detert (9 pages, $8.95) is all about the need – and the means – to speak up when decisions (in our case, project decisions) are being made that may be okay in the short term but which will quite obviously are counter to the mission statements of the organization.  Columbia and Boeing are not evil corporations.  But there was some SMIRFiness going on for sure.

To get an idea of what Detert is saying, literally, you can go to a 2018 HBR Ideacast (podcast) called Speaking Out Successfully.  This is 21 minutes of worthwhile listening.

A sample:

INTERVIEWER: …it sounds like you’re saying this is also a problem for organizations because they’re basically hamstringing themselves by not letting people speak up?

JIM DETERT: Yeah. What’s at stake when people who are closest to customers, who or who know most about the underlying technologies, what’s at stake actually when, when they don’t tell you why customers aren’t going to like something or why a product isn’t going to work? You know, you actually don’t have to work that hard to estimate why it really does matter in a dollars-and-cents way. And not just the costs of, you know, the Wells Fargo type, you know, multibillion-dollar settlements. There are lots and lots of other costs.

Have a listen.  And then consider if – when – and how – you should speak up!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: February 28, 2022 10:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunk Costs Part 2 of 3: Introducing the SMIRF

In Part I of this post, I discussed the Sunk Cost Fallacy, by way of referencing the abandoned Cincinnati Subway project of the early 1900s.  It got some interesting feedback and generally readers agreed that this is an important aspect of human behavior – especially group behavior – of which project leaders should make themselves aware.

I indicated that Part II would discuss the sustainability aspects of this.  Warning: there is Post Creep here.  This is now a 3-part post.

So here is Part 2 (or II, if you count in Roman numerals)...

To move this post series over to the topic of sustainability and project leadership, let me start by dissecting the middle word of the Sunk Cost Fallacy – Cost.

Cost includes, of course, the dollars, yuan, pounds, Euros, yen, dinars, rubles and/or cryptocurrency, that we continue to “throw down a black hole of a project”.  But what about the non-monetary elements of cost?  How about the social and environmental impacts of a project that don’t show up at the ribbon-cutting ceremony?

I want to challenge your thinking here and talk about the converse of the Sunk Cost Fallacy and instead ask you if you have ever considered the Spending/Saving Money for Irrational Reasons Fallacy – SMIRF® (I just coined that!).

There are indeed SMIRF examples in which projects DON’T spend money (or effort, or research, or resources) on efforts that have to do with long-term impacts of the project’s outcome, when those outcomes should be front-and-center during planning.

There are other SMIRF examples, in which organizations spend money to try to work around a compliance item (usually involving safety or environmental controls or constraints imposed by a government agency).

Sometimes SMIRF is  not really even about saving money, but rather an odd cultural motivation to ‘outsmart a government agency’ - to make this an 'us-versus-them' battle (when really 'us' and 'them' are on the same overall team).

In all of these cases, these SMIRF project behaviors are in the name of ‘saving money’ and ‘staying on budget’, or in some cases, ‘being on time’ – especially in beating a competitor to market.  When this happens, the project has become so narrowly driven by the cost and/or time constraint, that it consciously or subconsciously severs all ties with the objectives not only of the project, but the strategic goals, objectives, vision, and mission of the organization.  This can be worse than the Sunk Cost Fallacy, because the outcomes are not simply wasted money, but potentially horrific events and impacts that affect people and planet.

Since this blog post is one that challenges your thinking, I will avoid blathering on and on here, and instead seek some reaction and even examples.  I have my own that I will share with you in Part III.

They won’t be pretty.  But they’ll be fodder for lessons learned to avoid SMIRF.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: February 19, 2022 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

A Clean Start for the 2022 Project Leader, Part 2 of 2

In part 1 of this blog post, “A Clean Start for the 2022 Project Leader”, I make a point – or rather I try to make a point – in the very title of the post.  Project Leader is a term I am beginning to favor greatly over Project Manager.  I won’t go through my full rant here, but think about it: what do you do as a project manager?  Do you oversee daily arrival time of employees? Do you assess their performance for raises?  Do you see if they are following company policies day-to-day?  No, no, and no.  You aren’t generally performing supervisory/management functions.  Do you need to inspire your team, to serve them?  Do you get roadblocks out of the way, and often work with diverse teams from different groups that don’t directly report to you?  Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  That’s leadership.  Congratulations.  You’re a Project Leader.

OK, good.  We covered the title. Now back to the topic. In that blog post, I refer to a podcast episode by Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History.  In that episode, he visits the Procter and Gamble HQ and talks with Todd Cline, Director of R&D, North America Fabric Care.

Cline walks Gladwell through a lab where testing is taking place on detergents that can work in cool or even cold water.  It’s not a trivial thing – in the US, we do 300 loads of laundry a year and each load uses 41 gallons of water.   Do the math.  And that is just household laundry.  Commercial clothes washing adds a bigger chunk of impact.  The carbon impact of a washing machine or detergent has very little to do with manufacturing or shipping it, or even disposing of it (although these should also be considered).

 Environmental impact is almost all in the “use” phase of the life of a washing machine.  This is because most of the carbon footprint comes from the energy to heat the water.  A 70% reduction in carbon footprint is achieved simply by using cold water.  And to bring it closer to home, use of cold water would also make your clothes last longer.  So, the “holy grail” of laundry is washing clothes in cold water.

This whole idea of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and in particular, the LCA of a washing machine, was actually covered in our 2010 book, Green Project Management, with the intent to wake up project leaders (yep, it’s that term again) to the idea that their project’s product goes on (sustains) well beyond the project’s existence.  We refer to this paper (see reference below) and use the figure below to make the point that Gladwell is hearing about at P&G headquarters, 9 years later.

This is also covered nicely in a National Geographic piece called Lightening the Load.  And it’s also covered by P&G laundry detergent Ariel in this piece. P&G is of course, pushing their product, but they are indeed tackling an important problem and the article does have good information – and it provided us with a really cool (pun intended) lead-off picture..

PMI®  has been talking about life cycle thinking for a while, but it has never been as relevant and PMI has never been as holistic and expansive in its standards and PMBOK® Guides as it now has been in the PMBOK® Guide, 7th Edition.  Now, PMI is saying things like: “It is becoming more common…to consider social and environmental impacts in addition to the financial impacts…this may take the form of a product life cycle assessment which evaluates the potential environmental impacts of a product, process, or system…” (PMBOK® Guide 7th Edition, section 2.4.1, Planning Overview).

So, here’s the thought for our clean new (well, somewhat new) year.  Think clean through the end of your project.  Plan in considerations for how the product of your project (which could be a chunk of hardware like a washing machine or a piece of software, or a highway surface, or a house-cleaning service) impacts social and environmental AND financial long-term outcomes.  Imagine the product of your project in action, 3 years from now.  What does it use?  What does it produce? Who does it impact?  Now expand that to 10, 30, 100 years.  I know.  This is hard for us.  We are get’R’done folk.  On to the next project.  But we are doing a disservice to our stakeholders (some of whom are our grandchildren) when we don’t take the bigger picture into account when we plan.

 

Reference: Koroneos, Christopher & Achillas, Ch & Nanaki, Evanthia. (2013). Life Cycle Thinking in the Use of Natural Resources. Open Environmental Sciences. 7. 1-6. 10.2174/1876325101307010001.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 26, 2022 11:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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