Viewing Posts by Cyndee Miller
By Cyndee Miller
For the past several years, business pundits have waxed poetic about “unprecedented change” brought on by what seemed like massive socioeconomic shifts. Well, buckle up, because it’s become abundantly clear that was just the pregame. The past few months alone have shown we’re in for some painfully uncertain times.
The one thing we do know the future is sure to hold? Change—delivered through projects.
More than half of organizations are refocusing their identities around projects and programs, according to PMI’s research. And even before the pandemic and accompanying economic meltdown hit, project leaders said the biggest project delivery obstacle was managing changing priorities.
It’s going to take a new kind of multidisciplinary team—the kind that can turn strategy into reality, even as shifts in scope or requirements inevitably pop up.
These change-ready teams are grounded in innovation, collaboration and empathy. Complexity doesn’t faze them. They’re ready for anything. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report, Tomorrow’s Teams Today, lays out three core tenets behind the new take on teaming:
In the renewable energy sector, supercharged growth is rapid-fire technological change. And that means a lot can happen between project tendering and execution, says Jeanette Ortlieb, PMP, project manager, Distributed Power Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa. “As project manager, you need to be ready for change to happen,” she says in the latest issue of PM Network®.
The most effective project leaders don’t just manage change—they rally their teams around new ways of thinking. Case in point: Rocio de la Cuadra Vigil, PMP, of Yanbal International in Lima, Peru: “I love changing all the time in search of better ways to work.”
Even amidst all the change, though, the idea of projects delivered by teams isn’t going anywhere, says Peter Moutsatsos, chief project officer at Australian telecom giant Telstra.
“I do believe that the construct of a project team will persist into the future,” he says on a recent episode of Projectified®. “It might mean that projects become perpetual in that you may have a persistent team of people working constantly through a series of iterative projects.”
That will bring its own challenges and opportunities, Moutsatsos says, as far as team composition—and keeping everyone energized and engaged. And who knows what the post-COVID team will look like. People may be suffering from serious Zoom fatigue, but are they all going to rush back into the office or hop on a plane for an in-person project launch?
What are you seeing on your teams? How are you staying ready for anything? Let me know in the comments.
By Cyndee Miller
With the global death toll now over 410,000, COVID-19 is recognized as a clear and present danger to public health. But lurking just beneath the surface is another disturbing—often less visible—crisis: the damage to our mental health.
People aren’t just living with the fear that they or someone they love might get sick. They’re also dealing with extreme economic uncertainty and the prolonged isolation that comes with social distancing and working from home. And then in the past few weeks, we all bore witness to the murder of George Floyd and the painful reckoning of a world trying to dismantle systemic racial injustice and inequality.
It’s a lot for the human psyche to bear—and the weight is clear: More than 40 percent of people said their mental health had deteriorated since the pandemic began, according to a global study by SAP, Qualtrics and Mind Share Partners in April. And 66 percent reported higher stress levels since the outbreak.
Many project leaders would count themselves among that group at least part of the time. I know I do. It’s just the reality of our current situation—and acknowledging our struggles with mental health (hopefully) lessens what is still too often seen as a stigma, especially in the United States.
No matter how you’re feeling, part of being a good leader is recognizing what your team is going through. Yet the survey found less than half (47 percent) of people say their manager is tuned in to their well-being.
It takes empathy, emotional intelligence and active listening—none of which are especially new, of course. But they’re fast emerging as power skills for project leaders. With so many teams dispersed and working virtually these days, there’s been “a lot more talk and a lot more understanding around things like well-being and mental health,” PM Network® columnist Lindsay Scott recently told Projectified™.
Even before the pandemic hit, Scott remarked in an earlier episode of Projectified™ that she was seeing an increased focus on “pastoral care of teams” in the U.K., where she’s director of recruiting firm Arras People. “As a project manager, it is up to you to be making sure that your team is not under undue stress or under stress for long periods of time.”
Showing you care doesn’t just generate warm fuzzies—it can reduce business risk. In the study mentioned above, those respondents who said their manager isn’t attuned to their well-being were 61 percent more likely to say they’ve been less productive since the coronavirus outbreak.
Forward-looking companies are taking action to increase access to care. Consulting giant EY has been using employee feedback to steadily expand mental health services since launching its We Care program in 2016. The goal is to better equip HR professionals and managers to identify and respond to subtle changes in behavior, like a decline in job performance, which can indicate poor mental health. As part of a recent project that targets impaired sleep, for example, EY created a digital sleep assessment and enhancement tool. Employees who score high for disrupted sleep are invited to participate in a customized, digital cognitive behavioral therapy program.
Since EY launched We Care, employee use of the company’s internal mental health support team has risen more than 100 percent. “That’s a reflection that our people are getting care and getting it early,” EY Assist director Michael Weiner told PM Network®.
PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara suggested ways to cope with loneliness and stress as project leaders work remotely on The Official PMI Blog. Be good to yourself in simple ways, he says, such as “eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and going outside for some fresh air.”
Another piece of advice: Stay connected—but not too connected. Technology can be both a gift and a curse, Prashara writes. “While social media allows us to share news and keep friends and family close, it can also create needless anxiety by amplifying misinformation and negative rumors. My advice is to consume social media sparingly and thoughtfully.”
What strategies are you using to stay informed about your team’s mental health and help those who are struggling? And most importantly: How are you doing? Let me know in the comments.
By Cyndee Miller
Climate change … heralded as the greatest and most pressing existential threat to humankind.
Or rather, it was … until COVID-19.
With the world at a virtual standstill, greenhouse gas emissions plummeted, air quality shot up and ecosystems thrived sans intervention. But we all know that these trends are temporary. When the world finally does rein in COVID-19—and it will—the need to control climate change will kick right back into high gear. Old habits die hard. Case in point: As Asian cities emerge from The Great Lockdown, the BBC reports traffic—and accompanying air pollution—are spiking.
At the same time, the world is facing an economic meltdown not seen in modern times. Against the backdrop of the raging coronavirus pandemic, the global economy is projected to shrink by 3.2 percent this year, according to a May report by the UN. Many leaders will be understandably tempted to put the battle against climate change on the back burner.
That would be a massive mistake. An economic recovery plan led by green projects lets us boldly attack both issues.
As government leaders scramble to revive economies decimated by the virus, research shows that climate-friendly policies could deliver a better result for both economies and the environment. On average, the 231 experts surveyed by a cohort of world-renowned economists saw a “green route” out of the crisis as highly economically effective. Citing evidence suggesting that green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long-term cost savings, authors called on leaders to “seize this generational opportunity.”
So are you ready to seize the opportunity and steer the world back from the point of no return? Many of you already are.
Teams from conservation group Forest Carbon, for example, are working to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels through the reforestation and restoration of Indonesia’s peaklands, which have been ravaged by fires and degraded by canal construction. The project centers around “assisted regeneration.” Rather than simply replanting trees, teams are laying the ecological groundwork for the peaklands to restore themselves.
“We want the area to return to its natural wild state rather than coming in and planting a monoculture of species,” says Devan Wardwell, Forest Carbon’s director of growth, on a recent episode of Projectified™. “That strategy is really based off of the idea that nature can do the work itself if we give it enough time and we create the proper starting conditions.”
Reforestation teams face plenty of risks. But the biggest might be human in nature: “If people aren’t invested, concerned and engaged in the wellbeing of their land, then the trees don’t stand a chance,” says Sebastian Africano, executive director, Trees, Water & People, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, in a special climate change issue of PM Network®.
The fight against climate change isn’t just taking place in forests, of course. Most people live in cities, and that number is only going to grow, per UN projections. Urban areas were also some of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, forcing a fundamental rethink of how cities are designed, including that staple of city life: public transportation. Some urbanites might be wary of hopping on a packed train or bus, but everyone jumping into their cars is a traffic nightmare—and a huge setback in cutting carbon emissions. So urban planners in Italy, Greece, France and the U.K. are carving out huge swaths of their cities for areas dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists.
Even the country that brought us the famed autobahn is conjuring up an eco-friendly version: The Radbahn is a protected bike path below a portion of Berlin’s elevated metro line. To build buy-in, the team is letting residents go on a test ride.
“The idea is to experiment with the space and give our stakeholders an opportunity to participate in the project and express their views on the outcome,” Radbahn co-founder Perttu Ratilainen tells PM Network.
There’s no escaping discussion of COVID-19 right now—and that’s how it should be. But this needn't be a competition. With the right investments in the right projects led by the right people, we can conquer the coronavirus, rebuild our fragile economy and protect our planet—all at once. How’s that for an efficient project plan?
What are you seeing out there? Can projects simultaneously bring back the economy and protect the earth? Let me know in the comments.
By Cyndee Miller
In a matter of mere months, the coronavirus has changed everything. At this point, I can barely remember what pre-pandemic life was like—or what day it is.
Oh wait, it’s Earth Day. And COVID-19 has transformed that, too. Something weird—and good—is happening.
In locked-down India, home to 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, the air in Delhi is cleaner than it has been in decades, and Indians can once again glimpse the Himalayas. The European Space Agency last week released satellite images showing how Venice, Italy’s famed canals have been virtually emptied of boat traffic, leaving clear blue waters and visible marine life. At Yosemite National Park, now quiet and tourist-free, the bear population has quadrupled. From the U.S. to Thailand, sea turtles are thriving in the absence of humans at closed beaches.
And in China, industrial inactivity led to a drop in CO2 emissions by a whopping 100 million metric tons in February. With the coronavirus outbreak bringing economies to a screeching halt, carbon dioxide emissions could fall by more than 5 percent this year—the largest global decrease since World War II, according to Rob Jackson, chair of the Global Carbon Project and a professor at Stanford University.
But is this environmental progress built to last? Or will it fade away as the world economy begins to rebuild?
After world greenhouse gas emissions dipped alongside the 2008 global financial crisis, they shot back up 5.1 percent amid the recovery, Mr. Jackson told Reuters. The rebound effect is already playing out in China: By the end of March, coal consumption and nitrogen dioxide pollution had returned to normal levels.
Without a strategy for enduring structural change, any environmental improvements in the age of COVID-19 will likely be short-lived. I get that the fight against climate change probably isn’t top of mind right now. But that’s the real danger—that the issue moves to the back burner and we blindly return to business as usual when there is clearly so much work to be done. The United Nations in November called for a 7.6 percent emissions reduction every year between now and 2030 to give the world a viable chance of achieving the goal of the Paris Agreement and limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The coronavirus-induced shutdown has shown the world what climate action can look like in hyper-focus. But it will be just a fleeting moment without a real commitment to strong and sustainable change carried out by project leaders. One prime example: A project in Milan, Italy aims to reallocate street space from cars to cycling and walking. Under the nationwide lockdown, traffic congestion—and air pollution—saw a dramatic drop. And now government leaders want to keep it that way.
It’s up to forward-looking leaders to use this moment to fund projects that foster environmental action and economic growth.
An aggressive move to renewables could power a post-pandemic recovery with a US$98 trillion boost to the GDP between now and 2050, per a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. The investment in renewables would also almost quadruple renewable energy jobs to 42 million, while simultaneously tackling climate change.
“Stimulus and recovery packages can also accelerate the shift to sustainable, decarbonized economies and resilient inclusive societies,” Francesco La Camera, the group’s director-general said in a statement. “As the current crisis makes clear, we can no longer afford to make policy decisions and investments in isolation amid elaborately intertwined social, economic and environmental challenges.”
The battle to conquer COVID-19 is a powerful testament to the strength of global collaboration. And on this Earth Day especially, it’s worth giving some thought to how project leaders can help the world recover and rebuild a more sustainable future. Are you ready?
You don’t need me to tell you these are dark times. You’re probably stuck at home seeing the same dire headlines I am: The number of COVID-19 cases around the world has surpassed 1 million, with more than 64,000 deaths. And the end is nowhere in sight.
It’s overwhelming. Yet we human beings have a wonderful knack for pushing through. We’re seeing it every day as the global community delivers innovation—and hope—through an array of projects reimagining everything from supply chains to product design.
Just 72 hours after the French government issued a call for much-needed medical supplies, the CEO of French luxury group LVMH approved a project via text, according to The Financial Times, agreeing to transform three of its perfume and cosmetics factories to produce hand sanitizer free of charge for health authorities. Dyson—best known for vacuums and hair dryers—designed and built a ventilator in just 10 days, and the U.K. company is donating 15,000 to combat the global ventilator shortage.
Conquering COVID-19 can only happen with cross-disciplinary teamwork—reaching across organizational, political and geographic borders. Case in point: Chinese auto supplier BYD formed a task force of leaders from different business divisions and pulled in more than 3,000 engineers on R&D, design and processing. The result? A plant capable of generating 5 million masks and 300,000 bottles of disinfectant per day.
Virgin Orbit is collaborating with teams at the University of California Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin to build simple “bridge” ventilators that meet the needs of people who don’t necessarily need intensive care—and that can be quickly mass-produced. “I have never seen our team working harder. Never seen ideas moving quicker from design to prototype,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart in a statement.
For all teams, agility has taken on an entirely new meaning. Industrial engineer Mat Bowtell founded Free 3D Hands to ensure access to prosthetic devices through 3-D printing. Now he’s pivoting the Australian org’s mission and using that same technology to produce free face shields. Design firm Carlo Ratti Associati and MIT’s Senseable City Lab are designing ICUs inside shipping containers, creating “plug-in biocontainment pods that can be quickly deployed in cities around the world.”
We’ve faced deadly epidemics and healthcare emergencies before, of course. And project leaders are putting those hard-won lessons to work. In Chicago, Illinois, USA, Rush University Medical Center is preparing to activate the emergency preparedness capabilities it baked into its design from the start. Built in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, the hospital has the ability to surge capacity by 130 percent. To get ahead of the looming influx of COVID-19 patients, Rush has converted two units to negative pressure to prevent cross-contamination, and staff have already doubled the number of beds on two floors.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ranu Dhillon was on the front lines of the battle to contain Ebola in West Africa in 2014 and witnessed firsthand the unrelenting toll.
“In an epidemic, transmission is happening and it’s not caring about weekends, it’s not caring about holidays, it’s not caring about any other parts of life where we have momentary pauses,” Dr. Dhillon says on a recent episode of Projectified™. “And it’s just going to keep going unless you build the system to counter it.”
Just as viruses vary, so do the responses. While in Guinea, Dr. Dhillon had full government support to acquire the necessary resources and push his containment project forward. That’s not always the case these days as leaders scramble to come together on a clear path.
“There may be certain things that are clear that you want to act on, but the pieces that have to be put into place, the players that have to be engaged in order to act in that manner, it’s really tough to sometimes align that with federal level, the state level and the local level,” he says.
But project leaders aren’t about to let a little bureaucracy get in the way of battling the coronavirus pandemic. After his own COVID-19 test came back negative, Dr. Dhillon rejoined the fight. And he’s not alone. Around the world, organizations big and small are flipping their scripts and launching whatever projects are needed in the new COVID-19 reality.
What projects do you see making a difference?