Project Management

People, Planet, Profits & Projects

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Richard Maltzman
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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 (9)

Investing in Sustainability...

Categories: benefits realization

...they are, why aren't you, Mr./Ms. Project Manager?

Who is "they"?  We're referring to the very people and agencies that are likely funding your organization.

Many executives embrace the conventional wisdom that mainstream investors care little about an organization’s performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. Few companies make it a priority to communicate their sustainability performance to investors, or even develop a robust story about their sustainability performance. Why should they? Investors won’t shift their investments, the thinking goes, based on a company’s ESG performance. However, a growing number of investors are paying attention to ESG performance, as evidence mounts that sustainability-related activities are material to the financial success of a company over time. Investors care more about sustainability issues than many executives believe.

This is the opening paragraph of the latest MIT/Sloan & Boston Consulting Group report, “Investing for a Sustainable Future”.  Keeping in tune with the last two posts, in which the entire principle of project managers thinking ‘too broadly’ and ‘inflating their jobs’ was raised by some critics, it was meaningful to see this report which says that investors and C-level executives (key stakeholders of projects, programs and portfolios – and often the sponsors of the projects on which project managers work) are increasingly focused on sustainability, not only for altruistic reasons but because a concentration on sustainability has shown to yield financial benefit.

Here's a little more about the survey, for validation: The input came from over 3,000 respondents from commercial enterprises. Within this commercial sample, 579 survey respondents self-identified as investors: Most were strategic (39%), institutional (24%), or retail (11%) investors. Few identified themselves as mission-oriented or socially responsible investors – so the choice to ‘invest in ESG’ is not (only) driven by a thread of fiery environmentalism or cause, but rather, success of the enterprises in which these investors put their money.

Where’s the project connection?  Well aside from the key connection already mentioned (can anyone say “stakeholder”?), there are initiatives and projects which are themselves focused on sustainability, and they are yielding financial benefits.  Here are three examples from the report, which illustrate why this has the attention of investors – and in our opinion should have the antennae of project managers and PMOs fully up and tuned in:

  • Florida Ice & Farm Company SA, based in Costa Rica, is (an) example. In 2005, the company respondedto Costa Rica’s looming water access crisis by investing in water-saving measures. Within two years, the organization had decreased its use of water in production by an eye-popping 82%. The reduction drove down production costs and helped sustain 20% annual growth between 2010 and 2014.
  • Deerfield, Illinois-based healthcare company Baxter International Inc. estimates it earns $3 for every $1 invested in environmental initiatives.
  • Johnson & Johnson is achieving a 19% internal rate of return on its CO2 projects.

In all three cases, the benefits were realized with projects – projects that look like they were focused on environmental activism, and may indeed have been - - but the line between taking on an ESG initiative and just “taking on an initiative” is blurring, quickly.  This is why project managers need to be aware of ESG principles, and increasingly positive ESG sponsor-stakeholders.

How does an enterprise move forward to gather in more investors, now that there’s evidence that investors increasingly care about ESG?

According to the article, these are key steps:

<> Build awareness of sustainability challenges and programs — both within the company and among stakeholders, including investors.

<>  Identify and analyze material issues and create alignment within the organization to ensure an integrated response.

<> Invest in and focus on tangible and measurable sustainability outcomes instead of positions on ratings lists.

<> Formulate a strategy once tangible sustainability measures are established.

<> Incorporate the sustainability strategy into the overall corporate strategy, including a clear business case or proof of value.

<> Engage investors, and a broad range of stakeholders, to discuss the company’s sustainability strategy and progress.

Look at that list.  For one thing, aren’t most of the items in the list actually projects in and of themselves?  Yes.  As a project manager, shouldn’t your project seek to align to the strategy and higher-level portfolio/program objectives?  Of course. 

So again, we feel ‘charged up’ by this report, we feel that the comments about job inflation and overstepping our bounds as project managers to be just plain wrong-minded and out-of-step with the way business is changing.  At a minimum we recommend that those who assert that the PM should stay tucked away in isolation from the value chain is not only under-utilizing the talent and capability of the PM, it is actually breaking a ‘golden thread’ all the way from investors to end-customers.  As PMs we need to be conveyors of organizational strategy and objectives, not blockers.  As I final message I suggest you read the recent post by Cornelius Fichtner, “Benefits Realisation for Project Managers”, which coincidentally came out just around the time of our two posts on job inflation.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: October 06, 2016 05:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Ruby Slipper Realization

Categories: benefits realization

We’ve written extensively about the connection between an organization’s high-level mission/vision/values and its low-level operations.  Our books discuss how that key connection between the organization’s resulting strategy and its operations, and the fact that it is us – project, program, and portfolio managers - who make up the single and critical connecting fiber between these.  We assert that projects (and project managers) are “where the rubber hits the road”.   A good project manager can almost see the skid marks and smell the burning rubber.  You can find out much more about this metaphor in our books or in this video.

It’s now been about six years since we’ve been making these points and it’s great to see that the evidence which support our early (and continued) assertions is piling up.  One recent example is PMI’s Pulse of the Profession study, a 2016 edition of which, is entitled, “The Strategic Impact of Projects: Identify Benefits to Drive Business Results”.  This study surveyed almost 1200 project management practitioners.

The report is well laid-out and illustrated, so we won’t duplicate it here, after all, it’s available for free download thanks to PMI.  What we do want to do in this brief post is to highlight a couple of findings that continue to illustrate the connection between sustainability and project management.

Let’s start with the end game here.  Projects are about realizing benefits, right?  And indeed, organizations with high maturity in benefits realization – in other words, those organizations in which the project manager is focused NOT on meeting a particular end date for a particular set of features and functionality but rather on serving the mission of the company, well, those organizations waste more than 2/3 less money on poor performance than those with low maturity in this area.

Think about that.  This statistic says that if an organization puts effort into up-skilling its project managers so that they focus on the long term and connect their project’s goals with the organization’s goals (many of which include Corporate Social Responsibility metrics), a direct result is that they will be significantly more effective ECONOMICALLY.

Yet, the next statistic is chilling.  83% of organizations lack this maturity in benefits realization.  This is why we continue to push for a better connection between project management and benefits realization, and a big part of that is getting your project management community to recognize their own power, their importance, and their absolute need to think past the end date of their project and into that not-too-distant-future beyond handover and into operations.

And guess what?  Of course it’s about the money – and those two statistics show the monetary outcomes we’re featuring.  But it goes beyond money – it goes to overall results, which reflect the real success of the sustainable economics of a firm.  Here’s another statistic:

For projects which identify benefits early – which we interpret as figuring out how their project fits holistically in the organization, the society, and the environment, nearly three quarters of projects meet goals and business intent (in other words, real success).  For those projects in which organizations do NOT identify the benefits early, well their real success rate drops to under 50%.

That’s a striking difference, and it’s a difference with a lesson.  Identify the benefits early in your projects!  Connect them to overall organizational goals.

PMI provides good advice in this document, we share one tip here – what are the questions and activities related to benefits realization that you can use in your organization to gain maturity in this area?  See the chart below.

One other tip from us: from a triple-bottom-line perspective, you can’t see how your project is connected to the organization’s sustainability statements (and, more importantly strategic goals and objectives in this area) unless you look for what your organization is stating to the public and its customers about this.  This is your ‘golden thread’ to enterprise level 'ideation'.  To do this, you can take the three-click challenge we blogged about a while ago.  This is our connection to Dorothy and her advice from Glinda, the Good Witch - and of course, the famous footwear.  Can you get to your organization’s sustainability statements in just three clicks?  And, no matter how many clicks it takes, you still win – because now you have one of the connections to benefits realization you didn’t have before the challenge!


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: July 29, 2016 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)