Project Management

People, Planet, Profits & Projects

by ,

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Richard Maltzman
Dave Shirley

Recent Posts

Smart Farming Part 2

Smart Farming Part 1

Animal Intelligence: Part 2 of 2 - Winging It!

Animal Intelligence: Part 1 of 2 - The Arapaima


Core Values and Permafrost

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:

Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: December 04, 2016 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: May 15, 2016 09:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: March 29, 2016 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Crustacean Frustration Part II - The Case Of The Missing Krill

In Part I of this series, we discussed the Signal Crayfish and its human-led introduction into Crater Lake – originally as fish food for Crater Lake’s (also human-introduced fish for humans to fish for sport), and the problems that the Signal Crayfish is now causing for a rare newt only found in Crater Lake.

So in that story, the Crayfish is the villain, or appears to be.  Certainly, it is a story fraught with lessons for project managers – unintended consequences (threats), stakeholder management, and also fraught with science lessons (climate change induced temperature rise at the root of the issue).  But now we move on to Part II, in which the crustacean is not the villain, but the hero.  Sort of.
This story, brought to our attention by a very recent episode of NOVA, “Mystery Beneath The Ice”, 
Here’s the ‘teaser’ for the show:

"Tiny, transparent, and threatened, krill are crucial to the Antarctic ecosystem. But the population of krill is crashing for reasons that continue to baffle the experts. A leading theory says that krill’s life cycle is driven by an internal body clock that responds to the waxing and waning of the Antarctic ice pack, and as climate change alters the timing of the ice pack, their life cycle is disrupted. To test it, NOVA travels on the Polarstern, a state-of-the-art research vessel, to the frigid ice pack in the dead of winter. From camps established on the ice, scientists dive beneath the surface in search of the ice caves that shelter juvenile krill during the winter. There, they hope to discover what’s causing the krill to vanish and, ultimately, how the shifting seasons caused by climate change could disrupt ecosystems around the world."

The show raises some questions and we add some additional ones: The questions:
•    What’s causing the krill to vanish?
•    Is this indicative of a larger problem?
•    Is this indicative of a need for more projects to better understand how climate is changing?
•    Will these projects need project managers?
•    Will these project managers need a better understanding of sustainability, climate, triple-bottom-line results? (we hope you will agree that the answer to that is increasingly a resounding YES)

Now don't get us wrong, we still think that you should watch the video.  But [SPOILER ALERT] we’ll give you the spoiler right here.  There are a few elements of climate change that are causing the decline in krill population.  The krill need to eat after they hatch – a critical time in their development.  They eat phytoplankton.   The lack of a fully frozen ocean area stops the collection of phytoplankton (which the krill eat) and its preservation until summer. In the show they call this the shrinking of “the giant phytoplankton Popsicle”. Also, it appears that the change in sea ice patterns, caused by climate change, is affecting the krill’s circadian rhythms.  The krill need to eat after they hatch – a critical time in their development.  They eat phytoplankton.   In fact many organisms in this Antarctic region are very “hard wired” to particular patterns of melting and re-freezing and even slight changes to those patterns can cause huge problems for them all.

For those who are interested in further understanding how krill can be considered a bellwether for the effects of climate change, check out this link from National Geographic magazine.

If you think that our detective work in this Case of the Missing Krill is wrong, and perhaps that climate change is innocent (or even non-existent), the numbers are worthwhile looking at,.  Consider the facts:

•    The temperature in this region of the world (Antarctica, see photo below) has risen 7 degrees C (11-12 degrees F) in the last 50 years – that’s 5 times the global average temperature change.  So the changes are magnified here, and to me that means the ‘early warning signs’ can be better measured here.
•    Trillions of tons of ice has been lost in the past 20-30 years alone just in this area (Sheldon Glacier) of the Antarctic
•    Winter season has shrunk by 90 days.

All of these things are contributing to the krill population decline. And that’s important because of the food web’s dependency on the krill (see figure).  


The program ends with one particularly heavy question.  They say that the krill will find it exceedingly difficult to change their behavior – can we change ours?

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: February 21, 2016 08:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Crustacean Frustration (1 of 2)



This is a two-part story.  In Part I, the crustacean is the villain.  In Part II, the crustacean is the hero.  Or… maybe it’s not so cut-and-dry.  In any case, it is a two part story, and, as Yoda might say: “Read it, you can  - learn from it you must”.

Just like in project management, stakeholders can be on either side of a project issue.  Or, more interestingly, they can be on BOTH sides of a project issue.

Crustacean Frustration - Part I: The Crayfish Crime of Crater Lake (including a lesson in Stakeholder Management!)

Our story unfolds at Crater Lake.  Crater Lake is a unique environment in south-central Oregon.  It’s known for its natural beauty and crystal clear, deep blue water.  

In the story you’ll find in this video, you’ll see that a series of decisions to attempt to preserve the environment of Crater Lake has led to some problems, one which threatens the existence of a critter that lives ONLY here – the Mazama Newt.  That’s correct; this is the only place on the planet that you will find that species.  Until the introduction of the Signal Crayfish (see feature photo above), the Mazama newt thrived here.  And actually, the Signal Crayfish population was under control until suspected climate change effects have increased the temperature of the water by several degrees Fahrenheit. Now, the newt is on the run.  Please watch this short video so that you can get the most out of this post.

The issue has launched several research projects and will likely launch one or more rescue projects as a result.  These are green-by-definition projects (as discussed in both of our books) which are aimed at reacting to a realized threat which in turn is a result of a risk response from an earlier project.

You may ask: why was the Signal Crayfish introduced?  Interestingly, the crayfish were introduced to serve as food for fish that were introduced in order to make Crater Lake a destination for fishermen.  So, in effect the crayfish were introduced to be prey – to be fish food!  Read about it in this extract from High Country News:

Over the past century, crayfish — aka crawfish, crawdads, or, if you study invasive species, “aquatic cockroaches” — have colonized lakes and streams from California to Taipei. In some places, as in Crater Lake, they were introduced deliberately to control weeds or feed fish; in others, they arrived accidentally as bait. They are, in many respects, the perfect invader: hardy, omnivorous, aggressive. “They have those big claws, and they’re really good at essentially brutalizing other animals,” says Jake Vander Zanden, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has waged war against crayfish in midwestern lakes.
You don’t need to be an ecologist to guess what happened once the disastrous decapods arrived at Crater. The fish didn’t eat them, and all but two species (rainbow trout and kokanee salmon) eventually perished. The crayfish, meanwhile, persisted in the lake at low levels until the 1990s, when populations exploded — perhaps thanks to climate change, which may have warmed Crater Lake’s waters enough to stimulate rapid breeding. As the crustaceans boomed, they devastated aquatic invertebrates, like worms and midges, which plummeted by nearly 80 percent in infested areas.

So now the hunted have become the hunter.  And they are also displacing and greatly endangering the Mazama Newt – which as you learned earlier are only found a this one location on the planet.
We see the effect here – on the environment, and on projects – from a very slight change in climate.  In a way, this could be a ‘canary in a coal mine’ signal advising us of further potential problems, an early warning sign of other threats to be triggered by climate change, and of course projects to be launched to remediate them.  The immediate threat is the possible elimination of the Mazama newt by the Signal Crayfish.

With all this talk of triggers and early warning signs, this could be a story about monitoring and controlling risks and issues.  And it is, but it’s not the main spin of the story from our perspective.
So this is a lesson about the environment.  And you can take significant value in the learning derived from the environmental piece.  But there is a takeaway for project managers as well.  This is where this blog lives – right at that intersection.

Here’s a project management connection: Stakeholder Management
Is the crayfish truly a villain?  It is doing what we expect it to do in its environment.  It’s the environment that changed.  So as a project manager, if we look not only at power and attitude, but also interests, we know that the stakeholder will behave in its best interests – and that changes depending on the environment.  In this case, the environment changes such that it continues to maintain its interests, but its power goes significantly up as it seeks to follow its interests.  In your projects, look for the ‘signal crayfish’ out there – those whose power may go way up due to a changing environment.  It doesn’t only happen in Crater Lake – it can happen on a new app development project just as easily.

The larger issue is the climate change indicated by the temperature rise in Crater Lake. Let’s move on to another story in which the crustacean is no longer a villain, but a victim – even a hero.


Coming soon... Part II: The Case Of The Missing Krill

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: February 14, 2016 09:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.

- Arthur Conan Doyle