By Cyndee Miller
It’s Earth Day and this year’s event comes with an even greater level of urgency—and action. Two-thirds of people say climate change is a “global emergency,” per a survey by United Nations. And some high-profile government and business leaders are stepping up. The United States rejoined the Paris climate agreement, and after unveiling its bold Green Deal in 2019, the European Union announced yesterday it’s increasing the number of companies required to publish environmental and social data. On the business side, General Motors proclaimed it plans an all-electric vehicle future by 2035 and BASF is sharing its map to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. While acknowledging Asian companies have lagged on investing in environment, social and governance efforts, Loh Boon Chye, chief executive of the Singapore Exchange, called 2020 an “inflection point.”
Of course, turning that sort of big thinking into reality requires an exceptional mix of capital, commitment, creativity—and projects.
Consider this your whirlwind tour:
As you might expect, there’s been serious action on the renewable energy front. Some are small-but-smart efforts, like the Spanish city of Seville launching a biogas pilot, turning its abundance of oranges into the power ingredient for clean energy at one of its wastewater treatment plants. And some are larger. Campos del Sol, number 43 on PMI’s Most Influential Projects 2020 list, is a US$320 million solar plant under construction in Chile. At full capacity, the 382-megawatt installation will generate enough energy per year to help slash annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 900,000 metric tons. That’s the same as taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road for a year—and could put the country a whole lot closer to meeting its goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Project leaders are also mobilizing to reimagine urban development in more eco-friendly ways. Danish design studio C.F. Møller Architects is working on Storkeengen. What’s especially interesting about this project is that it balances needs on three fronts: urban planning to satisfy the city’s expansion needs, climate-change adaptation to help mitigate the impact of flooding and nature conservation to stabilize the local ecosystem.
Another approach that’s gaining traction is nature-based solutions, which promote climate resilience in urban areas by tapping into nature itself. One example is CityAdapt, a project by the United Nations Environment Programme. In El Salvador, the group reduced surface runoff from a coffee plantation, which can cause erosion and flooding in the ecosystem. Here, too, the project wasn’t just a good move for the local environment, it also improved coffee productivity, meeting local business needs. (For more on that one, check out the Projectified interview with Leyla Zelaya, the national coordinator for the CityAdapt project in San Salvador, El Salvador.)
A core piece of any urban development is mobility, and project leaders are making big, bold moves here as well. One of the biggest changes: bike and pedestrian paths—and lots of them.
Even fashion, not exactly known for its high sustainability cred, is coming around. Ecoluxe designer Stella McCartney is working with Google on a pilot project using data analytics and machine learning to give brands a more comprehensive view of their supply chain, with the goal to better measure the impacts of its raw material sourcing on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity. It’s not just the posh designers, either. Fast-fashion giant H&M launched Looop, billed as the world’s first in-store garment-to-garment recycling system. And footwear giant Nike is embedding sustainability into its product development projects. Look no further than Space Hippie, a line of eco-friendly sneakers made from yarns containing at least 85 percent rPoly made of recycled plastic water bottles, T-shirts and yarn scraps.
We can’t talk about Earth Day without mentioning some of the amazing projects to protect and preserve the plants and animals that we share our planet with. (They also happen to be some of my very favorite projects to follow.)
Case in point: Elephant World Cultural Courtyard, a sanctuary designed to bring the Kui people and their elephants back to their homeland in northeast Thailand. Launched in collaboration between the Surin Provincial Administrative Organization and architecture firm Bangkok Project Studio, the space spans 8,130 square meters (87,510 square feet) and includes a programming space, elephant hospital, temple, graveyard for elephants and museum dedicated to showcasing the Kui culture.
The need for these kinds of projects has only been accelerated by the climate crisis. When wildfires consumed half of Kangaroo Island, they decimated one of the world’s most iconic biodiversity hubs. Tens of thousands of creatures—from kangaroos to cockatoos—were left stranded in a barren wasteland without food, water or shelter. As the smoke cleared, rescue teams raced in to launch the Kangaroo Island Recovery, number 11 on our list of Most Influential Projects of 2020. Now the team is out to minimize the impact of future bushfires by planning buffer zones, fire breaks and small-scale ecological burnoffs. “If we can protect lots of small patches, it gives these threatened species a greater chance to survive a bushfire in the future,” says Pat Hodgens, a fauna ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife.
Last year around this time, I wrote about prospects for a green economic recovery: 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. Now I had no idea we’d still be in that same situation, but I still believe that’s the path forward.
And on Earth Day this year, it’s worth considering how project leaders can step up and take responsibility for delivering a more sustainable future.
By Cyndee Miller
This is normally the day where I’d write a post extolling all the amazing things that female project leaders are doing. And there’s certainly plenty to celebrate. Those women you see in the video above are leading the way in everything from space exploration and AI to healthcare and renewables. So let’s start with a simple note of recognition: Bravo!
But I’d be remiss not to also acknowledge a fundamental reality: The pandemic has taken an enormous toll on working women. A UN report found that while the unpaid workloads for both men and women have increased, women are bearing more of the burden. And according to a recent study by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, senior-level women in the U.S. are far more likely than their male counterparts to feel burned out, exhausted and under pressure to work more.
Asked whether that aligned with her experience, Kat Megas, PMP, was blunt: “Yes, yes and yes,” she says on an upcoming episode of the Projectified® podcast.
And while she says she’s been “very encouraged” by peers and the organizations she’s worked for, there’s still some work ahead, says Megas, a program manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in McLean, Virginia, USA.
Megas outlines a situation that I think every single female leader—particularly those in male-dominated fields—has experienced at some point: Your idea is met by a sea of confused looks until a colleague says the same thing—and it’s lauded as a brilliant idea.
She puts it down to different communication styles—that women try to bring people along and pose ideas “as a question and something to be thought through so that the whole team can come on board.”
It’s a fair point and one that some teams are even looking to technology to solve. UK global creative agency AnalogFolk saw that women often choose wording that makes them sound passive. So the agency developed a tool called BigUp.AI that uses natural language processing and machine learning to analyze blocks of text and offer users more powerful wording. It’s impressive stuff—earning it a slot on the PMI Most Influential Projects social good top 10 list.
But Megas rightly points out that she and other women shouldn’t have to do all the adjusting.
“I don’t want to have to change who I am to fit into the mold. I like the way I approach things. I like the fact that I am a consensus builder. I like the fact that I think I have the right answer, but I will always be open to a broader discussion,” she says. “I would like to think that that would be a world where one day that would not be perceived as being indecisive or not being willing to take leadership or make the decision, and there would just be a recognition for different styles.”
This is about respect. And the differences are felt even more deeply among Black women in the U.S. They were the least likely among all respondent groups to report feeling like a valued member of their team, that they were being treated with respect and that there's a climate of fair treatment among coworkers, according to a Gallup survey conducted late last year.
At the same time, the COVID crisis has highlighted the emergence of a new female force in leadership, according to two speakers at the Brightline Strategy@Work conference last November. And they pointed to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“One of the characteristics and attributes of what we’ve been seeing from women taking on those leadership and authority positions is decisiveness. Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand—obviously, incredibly decisive with a lockdown very early,” said Kit Krugman, head of organization and culture design at Co:collective.
“There is fierce resolve. There is decisiveness. There’s this determination coupled with the sense of relating to what others are going through—that empathy—that really seems to speak to people at this moment in time,” said Vince Molinaro, PhD, CEO and founder of Leadership Contract.
“It’s exciting to see just great leadership—full stop. And the fact that it happens to be a lot of women in political roles or political leaders, running our countries, is no coincidence. It’s great to see that playing out, and there’s lots to learn from what they’re doing. It’s just great to see how they’re managing the complexity of our times.”
How are you seeing women rising to these complex times?
by Soma Bhattacharya
Agile has become ubiquitous in project management, with teams using it to spark out-of-the-box thinking and drive countless projects across the finish line. Yet almost as quickly as the approach popped up, companies and project leaders began to oversell it—and what seemed to be a radical way of thinking has become mired in repetition and monotony.
Agile was about being open and transparent, and people having the utmost importance in the process. Now, if you ask anyone about agile, it’s all about the three questions: What have you completed since the last meeting? What do you plan to complete by the next meeting? What’s getting in your way? There’s also the fear of being constantly monitored and the fact your performance is measured by your team’s velocity.
Breaking out of this mold can prove difficult—who has the time? But with much of the world working from home, now might be the best chance to rethink agile as bold, kind and human.
Let’s look at how that might work.
Agile is bold: Challenge the process. Question what’s right for your team and be open to experiment. To get everyone engaged, encourage team members to ask questions. And try incorporating at least one fun icebreaker in each team standup to get people to open up and spark discussion.
Agile is kind: Just because the data seems all over the place or you don’t achieve a desired project outcome, the team is not always wrong. Look for insights, do anonymous retrospectives, dig deeper and listen more. Avoid making assumptions. Instead, remain empathetic and open as you talk through challenges and navigate team members to arrive at a solution.
Agile is human: Agile won’t work if the team can’t work together and it’s up to leaders to foster a sense of camaraderie. One way to build this spirit of collaboration and rapport is through simple exercises, like using a sticky note or sharable spreadsheet where team members anonymously write one thing they’re good at or that they’re proud of outside of work. Then allow other team members to guess that person’s identity. This isn’t about who wins, but it gets the entire team to communicate in a low-stakes environment.
What are the biggest challenges your team has come across with agile—and how have you overcome them?
by Cyndee Miller
It takes a certain swagger to be in a rock and roll band—and to launch a retail project in the middle of a pandemic. And yet defying conventional wisdom, The Rolling Stones and Nick Cave launched their own retail fiefdoms, each one a fitting distillation of their respective brands. For the Stones, it’s an in-your-face boutique on London’s famed Carnaby Street. For Cave, it’s a new site hawking “things conceived, sourced, shaped and designed” by the man himself.
Purists might cringe at the blatant commercialization, but that’s poppycock. Rock and roll is—and always has been—a business. Mick Jagger might be known as the lead singer of the Stones, but he himself was a student at the London School of Economics—and clearly knows a solid project opportunity when he sees it. Billed as the first permanent retail space by a musical act, RS No. 9 Carnaby Street is a collaboration between the band and Bravado, the merchandise and brand management arm of Universal Music Group, the Stones’ label for more than a decade.
Make no mistake, these folks are no retail dilettantes. They picked a prime spot in the Carnaby Street district and worked with GH+A Design Studios to create a stop-shoppers-in-their-tracks boutique—starting with the massive 3D-printed statues of the Stones’ signature tongue-and-lips logo in the window. Inside, the studio brought in glass floors graffitied with Stones lyrics and five huge screens looping exclusive archival performance footage. The band even collaborated with the Pantone Color Institute to create a Stones Red hue featured all over the store and its line of goods.
This clearly goes far beyond the merch stand at concerts or even the pop-up shops dedicated to musical acts ranging from Rihanna to The Clash. (Those projects come with their own issues as PM Network reported a few years back.) But launching a brick-and-mortar store right now is an audaciously bold move even for the self-proclaimed world’s greatest rock and roll band. With Euromonitor predicting global retail sales to dip by more 3.5 percent this year due to the pandemic and more shoppers flocking to ecommerce, the Rolling Stones did what all good project leaders do: They adapted. Along with the new shop, there’s a dedicated RS No. 9 Carnaby hub added to the band’s existing online shop, with an interactive 360-degree feature that lets shoppers move around the London boutique and score digital-only options. “We had to pivot our strategy a bit and there’s a much heavier online component,” former Bravado CEO Mat Vlasic told Rolling Stone magazine.
The pandemic did delay construction and stalled the opening by a couple months. But make no mistake, unlike last year’s pop-up shop in the United States, the London outpost is built for the long haul and will follow the best practices of traditional retailers, with plenty of buffer in the schedule for new product design. Vlasic told the magazine that building out a longer timeframe allows the team “to be much more creative … and not be confined by ‘Oh you can’t do this because you don’t have the time.”
Cave’s retail empire is a bit more modest and a whole lot more esoteric, but this project too was born of the COVID crisis.
“I feel very free, free to do what I like—the music industry has been atomized, the rulebook has been torn up, few of us are working, but there can be an energy to disaster, a feverish need to respond to a crisis that is weirdly compelling.” Cave told Financial Times. Out of that came Cave Things, what he calls s “a mysterious, subversive, super-playful enterprise where anything can happen.”
Launched in early August, the ecommerce site offers everything from erotic wallpaper to what’s being promoted as the first and best bunny bowl designed by a rock star.
Cave already had an ecommerce site for him and his band The Bad Seeds. But it was pretty straightforward, whereas Cave Stuff goes “beyond merchandise but stops before art… the incidental residue of an over-stimulated mind,” as he describes it on the shop. And this indeed seems to be a project “that sits in a place entirely of its own.”
So what do you think? These rockers have definitely turned up the volume on innovation—can traditional retailers pick up a few tips?
by Cyndee Miller
Resilience: the most in-demand, most talked-about and likely most used super skill of the year. The coronavirus has forced everyone to throw out the playbook and dig deep to forge ahead. My team and I picked up a few lessons learned along the way, but I was ready to hear from some real power players: Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi and Olympic champion gymnasts Laurie Hernandez and Nadia Comaneci. Confession: I’m old enough to remember cross-legged in front of the TV watching Comaneci as she scored the perfect 10.0 performance—the first in the history of the games. (Yes, I tried out the pigtails. And yes, there may have been a poster hanging on my bedroom wall for a bit. And yet, I couldn’t even nail a cartwheel.) Fast-forward several decades and here are few tips I picked up from the leaders at the latest PMI Virtual Experience Series: “Going the Distance: Forging Our Path Forward.
It’s about progress, not perfection—even for Comaneci. “Having a good base is very important. Everyone wants to tumble and do those difficult skills, but if you jump from point A to Y, you won’t be able to progress in the right way and you’ll have holes you’ll have to cover.”
And those skills she applied in sports—planning, discipline, flexibility—help in life, too, Comaneci said. For the five-time Olympic gold medalist, preparation is just part of the process. “Gymnastics is not a sport you learn in a month, it takes you years to put all of it together,” she said.
For Hernandez, it comes down to zooming in and zooming out to see the big picture. “It’s about making sure you’re focusing on the details, but also not letting that stop you from moving forward,” she said.
The 20-year-old gymnast knows all about refining details—and persevering. Hernandez competed as a member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team at the 2016 Summer Olympics, scoring gold in the team event and silver on the balance beam. The rising star was set to make her comeback at the 2020 Tokyo Games—which then had to be rescheduled because of the global pandemic.
It was a tough decision for Dubi and his team: “You’ve made so much effort and you’re so close, but you have to make that call.” The two biggest tasks: recognizing the disappointment and keeping athletes and stakeholders informed.
“There was very little resistance to the decision, actually, because everyone understood the situation,” he said. “People were confined, they had friends with the virus, they were reading about shutdowns in the news. And we had overwhelming support from partner organizations.”
“If you can mobilize energies around the greater good, you can make sure everyone understands the role to be played,” he said. “It’s about what you can create with positive energy, when you can embrace the diverse energy. In the end it’s all hands on deck.”
While the games have been bumped to 2021, Dubi is looking ahead to what they’ll bring to Tokyo in the future: “The very first question we ask is: What is the legacy plan? Every public investment that goes into it has to be meaningful, not just for the games themselves, but afterward.”
The decision was a bold one—and part of being a leader is having the courage to stick the landing. “When you want to invent something no one has seen before, you get criticism,” said Olympic historian and graphic artist Markus Osterwalder. “When people get something they don’t know, they reject it at first. They need time to get used to it.”
It’s no doubt been a strange and ferociously challenging year, but leaders can’t be complacent.
“The future of work is not five to 10 years out, it’s here now,” said Alison Bakken, of Thomson Reuters. “Leaders need to actually model the behavior they want to see and create an environment that’s trusting and open and where people can grow and develop.”
X0PA AI founder Nina Alag Suri agreed that the new work-from-anywhere mentality is here to stay. And that will put the focus on power skills like self-discipline, time management and collaboration.
If you missed out on the action or you want to check out some #ExperiencePMI moments again, you can find virtual experience content from the full series on demand, now through 31 January.
What do you think? Are you ready to go for the gold in 2021?