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:
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!
Image: Inc. Magazine
In this two-part series of posts, I would like to point you to an excellent post made right here on Projectmanagement.com by Bruce Harpham.
It’s entitled Climate Change: Micro and Macro Opportunities for Project Managers
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.
As project managers, we normally think of core values as beliefs that are very important to an organization. As Oxford’s Dictionary puts it, a core value is “a principle or belief that a person or organization views as being of central importance”.
...and this is a theme we’ve discussed many times in this blog and on EarthPM – the need for projects to connect to the core values of their organization, using that connectivity to drive motivation for project team members, because if they know that their project work connects to project success, which connects to organizational success – it provides a sort of golden thread.
This post is not, however, about that type of core value.
Well, it is – but only tangentially. This post is about the literal values determined by scientists when they take core samples of the thawing Arctic tundra, to better understand the effects of climate change on the tundra, and – unfortunately – vice versa.
You see, based on recent research highlighted in this article from the most recent issue of Scientific American, there is a bit of a spiraling effect here. Record warm temperatures are thawing the Arctic tundra’s permafrost, which allows the decomposition of plant and animal remains in the warming soil, which in turn is potentially allowing almost 1,500 billion metric tons of organic carbon to be released into the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s almost twice as much carbon as that which already exists in the atmosphere. And it’s not just carbon – it’s methane, which is much more powerful as a greenhouse gas.
In other words, climate change has opened the door to accelerating climate change, which…which causes more climate change, which accelerates... well, you get the picture.
In the article, author Ted Schuur discusses the scientific research project, which involves taking core samples, and recording significant amounts of data to better understand this dangerous scenario. In fact, there is something called The Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost – and it is loaded with the data taken from tundra core samples in the Arctic. Below is a short video explaining their work:
The Permafrost Carbon Network started in 2011 and their main objectives are to synthesize existing research about permafrost carbon and climate in a format that can be assimilated by biospheric and climate models, and that will contribute to future assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their site contains research and maps of the core samples which indicate that this problem is serious and needs further study.
The point of this post is to remind us as project managers that there are project risks, and there are overarching risks (both threats and opportunities). In this case, we see a massive overarching risk of not just climate change, but accelerated climate change – a nasty feedback loop, if you will – that we should understand. The research projects being undertaken by these scientists is important. Already, the research is yielding answers. The question as to what percentage of the carbon pool will be released by thawing permafrost has been answered, using the data and expert judgment of the Permafrost Carbon Network: it’s 10 percent plus or minus 5 percent. This is 130 to 160 billion metric tons of additional carbon entering the atmosphere, similar to the amount of carbon released worldwide thus far by deforestation and other land-use changes. It will make climate change happen even faster than scientists project from human activities alone.
What can we do as project managers? I return to the primary definition of core values. Most of your organizations include sustainability, including ecological sustainability in their core values. Make sure your projects are connected to those core values. Your project includes and outcome. That outcome will have an ecological impact. Have you thought about that impact - the steady-state impact? Or are you focused only on the handover of the product of the project? We hope it's the former. Every change you make is significant, especially put in the context of this accelerated view of climate change. If your project can produce an outcome that is even slightly less impactful to the environment, it’s almost like a ‘matching donation’ program – the effect could be considered even larger, based on what this research shows us.
So please – learn more about this issue by visiting the links we’ve embedded, and consider that ‘golden thread’ when you set the ground rules and objectives of your project. Connect them to your organization’s core values!
Further reference, from NASA:
A deep breadth
Categories: climate change
Do me a favor. Read this brief paragraph (below in yellow highlighting) and then stop and take a deep, deep breath. A breath of probably much cleaner air than many, many other people are taking.
The World Health Organization (WHO) compiled a list of the 1600 cities with the worst air quality in the world. India as a whole is home to 11 of the top 20 cities on the planet with the worst air quality. The worst U.S. city was Fresno, California, which came 162nd on the list.
(Compiled by the World Health Organization, which collected pollution levels from these cities between 2008 to 2013.)
Most of us have come to associate “poor air quality” with Beijing. It is indeed bad there. But New Delhi (for example) is much worse. The worst US city is number 162 on the list of 1600 metro areas and India has 11 of the top 20? Wow!
NPR just published an excellent article about this topic, and another quite striking fact is this: President Obama, who visited New Delhi for 3 days recently, is estimated to have lost 6 hours off of his lifespan based only on breathing the air from New Delhi on the visit. Wow again!
The problem of air pollution is the immediate, visible outcome of unsustainable growth. The real problem is actually much more insidious. Quoting from the article:
The impacts of climate change would hit people in India harder than almost anywhere else in the world, making it more vulnerable to flooding and drought. "Tropical cyclones are likely to become more intense. We're also seeing that climate change is going to have an impact on the monsoon," says Richard Hewston of the global risk assessment firm Verisk Maplecroft.
His company looked at which countries around the world are most vulnerable to storms, flooding and other acts of nature. India is already at the top of the list, first in the world. Two of its biggest cities, New Delhi and Kolkata, with a combined population of more than 14 million, are on the top 10 list of global cities most vulnerable to natural hazards.
What’s happening in India is important – even critical – not just for India, but for the world. What India is able to accomplish in terms of new projects to promote and develop clean energy and to limit climate change will say a lot about what the rest of the world can do. They have set high targets in these areas, and in many ways will lead the world in implementing sustainable development en masse. Again, quoting from the article:
In the filtered, cooled air of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, Ambassador Richard Verma tells me he thinks India is poised to take the lead on clean energy and climate change. Already, it has set an ambitious target of 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022, which would be a faster buildup than any country has managed.
“There’s no other country on the planet that has set the kind of renewable targets and goals that India has. So I think the way to get there is a challenge, but India, I think, is really going to be a trailblazer in this whole area,” he says.
The challenge for India is how to manage the tension between development and climate change. What happens next here could have a huge impact on the world and has the potential to write a new story on how developing countries enter the 21st century — including whether the world can alter the course on climate change or not.
It’s worth having a look at some of these goals and objectives. Click here for a 30-ish page report which summarizes them.
Why is this covered in a project management blog? A few reasons. First, we can see some of the effects of climate change – or at least air pollution – on a population. We can see that a government appears to be taking the threat seriously and is responding to the threat with a detailed, significant plan that launches all sorts of projects and programs. If nothing else, these will employ thousands, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of project managers, to turn these ideas into reality. Agree or not with the concept of climate change, whether to you it is fiction or reality is actually of no import. What you can read from this is that there will be real project work for real project managers. We’d assert that this is good, just work that must be done.
So the topic is wider than you may think. It has - for lack of a better expression- deep breadth.
For a recent news story on this topic, click here.
Photo Credit: Gajendar Nadav, Financial Express
Once in a while on this blog, we focus simply on projects which are what we call “Green By Definition”. This means the project’s charter of the project and its main outcome is focused social or ecological bottom lines – even though, as in this case, it could be very much a profit-driven effort as well.
We recently encountered an example in PMI’s PM Network magazine (March 2016, Page 10, “Underwater Energy”) which we’d also like to share with you, drawing also from other resources which give more background this project.
To get started, I want you to make a strange visual image in your head: a balloon and a battery… balloon on the left, battery on the right. Now, put them in motion – slowly. Move them closer and closer to each other… that’s right… and let them merge to become one. Excellent job!
Imagine an un-inflated balloon. Now bring that balloon under water, perhaps deep under water, and inflate it. Would you agree that the balloon is storing air? And you’d agree that the water pressure would help deflate the balloon, right? Sure. Now imagine that the balloon can be deflated under control, rotating the blades of a turbine, which in turn produces electricity. Would you agree that now the balloon is storing energy? Sure. So balloon = battery. It can be charged (inflated), and it can be discharged (deflated) to convert one type of energy to another. In the case of the battery it is a chemical to electrical conversion – here it is air-flow to electrical.
Is this loony? Not at all, as it turns out.
In the PM Network article, we learn that the project is sponsored by a company called Hydrostor. A visit to their website is informative, as you can learn about their ‘golden thread’ from mission and vision to the operation of their project’s product. The business case for such a system (what would make us put giant balloons under Lake Ontario?) is the fact that the promise of wind and solar energy is somewhat deflated (excuse the pun) by possible dips in availability of those sources, since they are dependent on nature. This “rounds out the curve” and becomes an enabler for wind and solar by providing storage when those sources are not producing the needed power.
So, with a business case, a charter, and a dedicated sponsor, the project was launched in November 2015 and is aimed at reducing Toronto’s reliance on fossil fuels.
In this article from the Financial Post, we learn that the project is well into execution. Near the shore of Lake Ontario, 30-centimetre steel pipes already extend deep underground before jutting out into the Lake, traversing over 4 kM. We share a key figure from this article below, and highly recommend that you have a look at the full article. In it, we learn that already, new contracts are being signed by Hydrostor, including one in which Hydrostor will build a plant in Aruba: it will construct a 10-MWt facility on the small Caribbean island of Aruba to help round out the potential power dips of a 30-megawatt wind farm there. Here's a really cool video on the whole concept (click here or on the image to watch this 6-minute video).
The full story is here.
Here is the promised diagrammatic explanation:
If you want to go to the original article in PM Network that triggered our interest, you can go to PMI directly on these two links:
The Ballooning Bottom Line
Here we see the relationship between project management and sustainability in a very direct way. We know it’s not always that direct and that’s why we’ll continue to write about the more subtle connections, such as planning for the long-term success and ecological and social aspects of any project. But in the meantime, let’s not burst your bubble – enjoy the story of how a balloon becomes a battery and the projects that this has yielded.