As I am writing this blog, more than 80 fires are raging in New South Wales and Queensland - two states in Australia! Heavy smoke is blurring visibility at the airports, hiding Sydney Harbour Bridge and triggering fire alarms in buildings.
It’s been quite a tough time, whether on Australian farmers or on those who live in or close to the bush! Lives were lost, homes, belongings and a large part of bush land along with native habitats and animals lost. And it’s more likely to get worst as the summer season has just started.
It’s not the message anyone wants to hear nor the experience that anyone wants to go through. Especially during the festive season, we all want to rejoice, be happy, look optimistically as we turn the page on a year gone and open a new page on new beginnings.
My mind starts drawing parallels between the bush fires and ethics in project management.
Our Ethics and Professional Conduct are at the core of what we do, whether it’s part of our daily behaviors, actions, sentiments or decisions.
It is a critical component of our culture, as individuals, as teams and as organisations. Yet sometimes, we might dismiss an unethical behavior or be patient in tackling it until we see the “Fires”.
Though we might be away from the fire, the smoke that engulfs a profession, an organisation or an industry, engulfs us all. This causes damage that we would never imagine to us as individuals, organizations and to project management as a profession. The fire of unethical conduct can rummage through smaller pockets of projects to large-scale industries thus causing impact that might no longer be controllable. Its impact could be detrimental to the survival and existence of an organisation – depending on its nature, it ranges from damaging the individual and organisation brand and reputation, destroying trust to putting its sustainability let alone its existence at risk.
Similarly, Sydney was engulfed with hazardous smoke, you could smell it while inside the office, you could see it as it covers all the beautiful harbour city, its beaches and distinctive Sydney Harbour Bridge as well as its buildings.
One cannot help but wonder - are we preserving the heritage that we are enjoying? The history of the land and its people, the environment and the resources that are entrusted to us?
This is a hard project management lesson that include ethics. Are we listening to all our stakeholders? Are we really listening and respecting their advice by honoring their experiences and wisdom?
Are we responsible enough to take actions in our projects that will mitigate and eliminate the ethical fires, ensuring awareness of our Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, and providing the tools to our team members to equip them sufficiently to deal with dormant fires - be prepared for the fires once they come their way, or even better recognize what to and when to do it well ahead of the fire?
Let us all refresh our memories as we embrace a new year wearing ethics as an armor that will protect us from the fires to come, putting them at bay, getting us to manage our projects ethically, sustainably and successfully. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our team members are aware and well equipped well ahead of the fires. Re-read and distribute our PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, have a look at the PMI Ethical Decision Framework and use the available Ethics toolkit – run a workshop, go through all resources on pmi.org/ethics. There’s a plethora of ethics related discussions, webinars and articles on projectmanagement.com.
Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Festive Season and a Prosperous, Peaceful and Ethical New Year.
A few days ago I was with a friend from my University in a cafeteria in Milan, Italy.
He was talking about his projects and his technical knowledge; he is indeed one of the smartest and brilliant minds I know.
Then, he referred to a possible ethical dilemma he felt, and his ability to act right away.
Let me quote Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” I told him.
He laughed out loud: “Are you really quoting Harry Potter? And what’s that all about”?
I explained to him the personal meaning I give to this quote; one of the essential abilities a manager has is not only what he/she knows and does, but the choices made.
A recent HBR study(1) showed that most of the people are quicker to judge than they think, and they use lesser information than needed.
This can be especially critical when facing an ethical dilemma: you need to make sure to have all the facts and approach it in a structured way.
The ethical decision-making process is a cognitive process where people consider ethical rules, principles, and guidelines when making decisions.
PMI has developed a tool to support and guide all the project managers for critical thinking throughout the ethical decision-making process.
You can find the process in the image below:
And the full tool with supporting questions (in 15 languages) is here: https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/code
As you can see, taking the right decision needs time: to collect all the fact, to consider the choices, to identify and test the candidate decision, to make a decision.
Even Harry Potter takes bad decisions when he doesn’t take time to think!
In the Potter-world, it is often cited the fact that he could have saved himself a lot of dread if he had just taken a moment to think and asked Ginny for help. In the book “Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix” he isolates from the one person nearby who knew what it was like to be possessed by Voldermort.
Ultimately, ethical choices diminish risk, advance positive results, increase trust, determine long term success and build reputations (2).
Leadership is absolutely dependent on ethical choices.
“... and that’s why I quoted the book”.
He smiled at me and said that two espressos were on him. That was the real magic because he is usually a bit stingy.
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DISCLAIMER: The photo was taken by myself to a toy I own
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Are you treating yourself ethically?
PMI has an excellent code of Ethics and Professional conduct, with four core values. If you don't remember them, don't feel guilty. In my sessions I asked the participants if they remember them. I found less than 10% remember them all, half of them remember two, and all just remember one. The good thing is if you ask them to guess, they often come with more than 10 values with one or two of them are in the core values. Anyway they are “Respect, Honesty, Responsibly and Fairness”.
When I ask them how they can implement them, they said a lot of things makes me feel they are angels working in the heaven (which is also nice). Maybe they are, I don’t judge.
The problem is they don’t mention anything about how they apply these core values on themselves.
No one said “I first respect myself and my passion, then respect my family, then respect my society, and then respect everyone at work. No one said I'm fair with myself first. I'm honest with myself first. I'm fair with myself firstand I am responsible of myself.
I believe that before we look at the world around us and apply those good values at work, we need first to treat ourselves ethically.
First you need apply this to yourself, before you can it elsewhere.
The ethics assessment always focus on your actions in different situations with others not ourselves.
To make it easy, did you ask yourself these questions?
Am I fair with myself? Do I get a fair price for my services?
Am I responsible of my own happiness? What about my peace of mind? What about decisions that I take or not take to make myself happy and healthy?
Do I respect myself and build a good brand for myself? Do I influence everyone to give me the respect I deserve?
Am I honest with myself about what I capable to do or not to do?
You need to sit with yourself and prepare a list of questions. After that, you need to make a cup of coffee and sit in quite place to start your journey inside yourself
Possibly you will discover that the world outside yourself makes it difficult to treat yourself ethically.
The question here is, if you don’t treat yourself ethically, how can you do this with others?
I'm not psychologist, but I'm a professional like all of you. I found that in order to make everyone happy, I forget to treat myself ethically. I was working on more than I could do, or accept attacks on my personal respect, or not being responsible enough on myself. I decided to change and be ethical with myself first before I do this with others. I believe that if I can't do this with myself I can't offer these values to others.
If work and society, don’t allow you to implement the values that you believe in, how can they expect you to give back to them?
Start your self-discovery journey today, not tomorrow. After you fix the weakness go to the world stronger, bolder and more ethically.
This is what I believe. The discussion is now about treating yourself first, and then others”
By Dr. Valerie Denney, PMI EMAG Member and PMP
Let’s discuss a hypothetical, but all too real project management situation. Let’s suppose you’ve been with the same company for 6 years in which time you have been assigned increasingly responsible positions including 2 years as a project manager. You professional track record is impeccable but you’ve been left aside even if you are so ready for the next step!
Maybe your dreams will come true! The director of projects approaches you and she want to promote you, if you agree to take the project management position on a high priority project that, well, “has had some tough spots”. What a job offer!
Then the next morning, you receive more details from the director of projects: the project is 30% over budget on a fixed price contract, 50% behind schedule on a 14 months project, and two days ago there was a major technical failure. Oh, and your business unit’s success (and the director’s job) depends on the project success. What’s your second reaction? Do you still want the job? Now you know more about it, and you’ve been given more time to think about it.
At lunch you overhear one of the project team members say”there is no way to save this project from being cancelled”. From other comments you realize that you didn’t know how the team moral can get any worse: “The sponsor hates us and can’t wait for us to fail” another laments in frustration. Now what? What’s your third reaction?
You go back to the director of projects to discuss your concerns. After all, you’ve been taught that open, honest communication is always the best. You’re told it would reflect badly upon you if you don’t take this opportunity—after all it would seem that you really aren’t interested in career growth after all. The conversation continues with comments about you “needing to step up” and “this is no place for weak players” and “she knows dozens of project managers who would jump at this opportunity if you’re not capable.” You feel that you are being bullied into taking this position but what if you fail? Would I lose my job? How will my family handle this, especially with a new baby on the way?
The discussion continues with what seems like a veiled positive note “you will be given complete authority to do WHATEVER it takes.” OK, I like authority! But wait, there is more! If you are the project manager you are expected to “only bring forth solutions, and not problems”. She concludes with “what I don’t know, can’t hurt us”. If that isn’t a red flag, I don’t know what is? If you are not familiar with the concept of a red flag, it is an idiom or metaphor to signal a dangerous situation.
You reflect on her words and the tone. “WHATEVER it takes”? “Legal and illegal”? Against company policy? Conveniently manipulation of the truth? Poor behavior? Flawed decisions and judgment? WHERE does this end? Could you live with your moral self after the act? Abuse of power and authority?
Think now about the principles in the PMI Code of Conduct and Professional Responsibility.
First is responsibility: we have a “duty to take ownership for the decisions we make or fail to make, the actions we take or fail to take, and the consequences that result.” Wow! Am I really prepared to take responsibility for everything, even things that are outside of my control? There is a lot of history that can’t be undone. Do I have the necessary to understand the consequences of my decisions?
Next is respect: we have a “duty to show a high regard for ourselves, others, and the resources entrusted to us”.
Resources include people, money, and reputation among others. Am I prepared to show respect even if I need to remove poorly performing employees? Even if I face criticism about making tough decisions? Even if I might be bullied? Even if I am told that I was selected only because no one else would take the job?
Next is fairness: we have a “duty to make decisions and act impartially and objectively”. Can I really be free of self-interest? Mine is that I can’t afford to be fired. Can I avoid favoritism and not hurt anyone’s feelings? Are all my decisions fair, for the project, for the team, for the organization, for myself?
The fourth and final principle is honesty: we have a “duty to understand the truth and act in a truthful manner both in our communications and in our conduct”.
What if I am tempted to withhold information? Hide the facts? Bend the truth? Change the truth for beneficial gains? What if the project erodes further before it gets better? What if I fail?
Well, this is my reality! Enough about the questions, what about solutions? There are no easy answers.
Sometimes we are faced with conflicts, and yes, ethical dilemmas. I leave you with some thoughts for consideration and potential solutions.
1. Know yourself. Know your limits. Know your strengths and weaknesses. No one is expected to solve everything alone.
2. Don’t isolate yourself when in a difficult situation. Find a mentor—a trusted person who you can talk to about your concerns and alternatives to tough problems. Who can you turn to for advice and council?
3. Be prepared: Take a class on project management? Can you get Project Management Professional (PMP) certification [or renew] for that continual quest to improve.
4. Use you PMI resources: read the PMI Code of Conduct and Professional Responsibility; learn about how to deal with a bully; practice using the Ethical Decision Making Framework.
Learn more about these through the links below, or contact PMI Ethics Member Advisory Group (EMAG). This team is an advocate of the PMI Code of Ethics, acts as Product Leader in creating tools and techniques, and facilitate stakeholder understanding and application of the Code of Conduct and Professional Responsibility.
5. Don’t be afraid to take on a challenge. If you really want that next career step, give it a try! Just don’t forget about 1, 2, 3 and 4 above.
Remember that project management is a team sport. You may have a tough road ahead, but you don’t need to navigate it alone.
For more information, click on the following links:
PMI Code of Conduct and Professional Responsibility (https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/code)
Project Bully https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/resources/bully
Ethical Decision-Making Framework. https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/ethics/ethical-decision-making-framework.pdf
Source of all graphics is “Creative Commons”, licensed under CC BY 2.0
George is a newly hired project manager. It was his dream to join the company, a start-up on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in education. Working with digital disrupted technology was something he has waiting for a long time.
As a project manager, he is aware of the rise of these technologies and has decided to “get his feet wet” and develop his knowledge base with these concepts. In a recent read George become aware that according to Gartner 1, by 2020, AI will generate 2.3 million jobs, and $2.9 trillion in business value by 2021. “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on. It is more profound than […] electricity or fire”, indicates Google’s CEO2.
George is so ready to lead this project! Using the existing data base of client information, via a customer-centric approach, using AI and machine learning the client information will be analyzed, identifying patterns, and predictive capabilities to enrich and develop customized education products. With a global user-based audience the company is seeking to create long-lasting products that support, meet and exceed customers’ expectations.
The day of the kickoff meeting come, George met his team of data engineer, data scientist, infrastructure engineering, training specialists. The discussions were heated, as the project was very interesting, the deliverables were heavy, some of them a novelty in the field, but with strict and short deadlines as the company wanted to “break the ice” on the market with their products. The team was so excited, eager to apply knowledge and start the work. Right away they shared concerns towards the processes, the products to be created /delivered, and the impact on the users.
During the meeting the team posed a variety of ethical questions related to how AI and machine learning impact the current and future of the project and the deliverables.
Tom, the data engineer asked about the ethical considerations on this strategic project, and the role of the company’s leadership?
George recalled a recent issue on this topic of Brightline™ 3 and he immediately shared the insights:
The data scientist, the two software developers asked George if accessing the existing database of client information using AI and machine learning there are digital ethics and privacy concern, and how the users trust will be built, and maintained.
Personal information is sensitive and valuable, said George, and users may want access control over them. Fairness, trust, consent, protection of the individual privacy, the choice of users on how their information is to be used are just a few of the ethical aspects to be investigated.
The team engaged in the broader topic of digital ethics, how privacy and security are key elements in building trust. The team will share best practices and be early adopters of the ones that support the needs of their project.
The ethical quest continued on the ethical principles of the organization. George indicated that the journey of developing a digital ethical framework on the use of the disrupted technology is just in its early stages, as the company was moving from “are we compliant” toward “are we doing the right thing”, a bold move from compliance-driven organizations to ethics-driven organizations.
For defining the ethical principles of AI, on how AI is used in a fair and trust-building way, George suggested to the team a series of approaches, among which a European approach.The team agreed to continue the conversation for finding a model that support their organizational and project context. (Source: AI Finland: https://www.tekoalyaika.fi/en/background/ethics/ )5
The entire team was eager to learn about the ethics resources in place. George shared the company’s Code of Ethics, and reminded the team that responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty 6 are the core values in their work; he has shared the compendium of PMI ethics resources 7 , including the practical tools of the Ethics in Project Management Toolkit 8. It is George’s commitment to discuss ethics in each of the weekly meetings of the team and ensure that concerns are addressed, leadership is involved, and stakeholders are properly informed.
The kick-off meeting was indeed one of a kind, as it was the project that everybody was so looking forward to advance. The team agreed to continue to engage in these conversations and support the organization throughout the development of the necessary policies, guidelines and tools that will bring run business ethically while addressing user needs and stakeholders’ expectations.
George realized that for this project ethics will be the status quo item on the agenda of the project team throughout the lifecycle of the project. As a project manager, he was ready to start his learning journey and take the team with him in developing their digital competencies, and project management skills and knowledge.
Digital disrupted technology, digital transformation will result in more projects like this one or may be embedded as components of any other type of project, bringing ethics at the forefront of the discussion.
As a project manager, from your experience, what else could George do for his team to better support them to be “ethically equipped” during this interesting but challenging project?
What is the role of the team in all this time and what actions should they take?
How should the internal and external stakeholders be made aware and be involved?
As project managers what is our stance towards the four core values and how can we make sure that we do the right thing?
Thanks for sharing your insights and your experience.
DISCLAIMER: The names, roles in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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