Project Management

Ethics Bistro

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We all tackle ethical dilemmas. Wrong decisions can break careers. Which are the key challenges faced? What are some likely solutions? Where can we find effective tools? Who can apply these and why? Dry, theoretical discussions don't help. Join us for lively, light conversations to learn, share and grow!

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Kimberly Whitby
Simona Bonghez
Fabio Rigamonti
Alankar Karpe
Karthik Ramamurthy
Mohamed Hassan
Valerie Denney
Amany Nuseibeh
Deepa Bhide
John Watson
Enrique Cappella

Past Contributers:

Lily Murariu

Recent Posts

Vital Work Venture Varies with Vickie’s Values

Are we paying attention to the dormant ethical fires?

The Ethics of Harry Potter

Are you treating yourself ethically?

Ethics and You: What If I Fail?

Vital Work Venture Varies with Vickie’s Values

Vickie was on the horns of a serious dilemma. It had almost made her miss the brilliant orange and red colors of the setting sun.

A chilly breeze and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee from the pantry prompted Vickie to take a break. As she sipped on the steaming brew, her mind rewound events of the past few hours.

Vickie was a successful senior project manager with a mid-size marketing firm in Nevada. She had been asked to lead a marquee client’s high-priority multi-million-dollar new product promotion campaign across radio, television, and multiple social media platforms. On most days, she would have been delighted and immediately accepted this project for its high career prospects. However, today, she had asked her manager Dominic for some time. He was surprised and not too pleased, but had reluctantly given her a couple of days to decide.

Thinking long and hard, she still couldn’t decide.


The new product was from a company which sought to seize the opportunity of recreational cannabis being recently made legal in Nevada.

Right from childhood, her parents had taught her the dangers of drug abuse. At college, Vickie had volunteered to help students avoid and deal with drug addiction. She now volunteered with a local hospital which helped people recover from the effects of addiction.

Leading the project to success would accelerate her career. However, a recreational marijuana marketing project went totally against her long-held values!

Realizing she needed help, Vickie reached out to Rishi, a favorite professor from college. He had taught her several courses in her Ethics minor. The professor immediately responded to her request for a call in the evening.

Over Skype, Vickie explained her dilemma in detail. After patiently listening to her, Rishi asked:

  1. Were her values against drug abuse strong enough for her to quit her job if forced to lead the project?
  2. If she quit, how easily could she find another position?
  3. Was she governed by any professional Code of Conduct?

Vickie replied that she felt very strongly against drug abuse and addiction. She wasn’t sure about the other questions and promised to get back to Rishi the next day.

Soon after, she recalled that, as a PMI member, she needed to follow the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. She realized that she had a responsibility to her employer to perform assigned work provided it was legal. She had to honestly disclose her moral conflict. Vickie’s manager needed to respect her strongly held values.

Was there a way she could work with Dominic to find a fair solution?

Speaking to Rishi the next day, Vickie explained her thought process. Was she thinking on the right lines?

Rishi felt that if she agreed to lead the project, it would be virtually impossible to completely ignore her deep-rooted beliefs. As professional as she tried to be, her subconscious bias could certainly to affect her leadership. Her team would perceive this, and the project would suffer.

He suggested that she openly express the dilemma to her manager and explain the consequences to the project. She could request that the project be led by a peer. The best outcome would be if her manager agreed. If not, she would have to make a difficult decision. The professor also asked her to also consider other win-win options.

That evening, Vickie explained to her manager how her strong beliefs about drug abuse could subconsciously affect the project. Dominic appreciated her honesty but said that she’d been specifically chosen for her project management skills. No one else in the firm had that level of expertise, and so the project would still suffer!

Vickie suggested that instead of leading the project, she would be happy to contribute her technical expertise by actively assisting and mentoring another project manager.

The win-win option was readily accepted. Vickie worked hard to support Ivonne, the new project manager.

Fast-forwarding to eleven months ahead: The marketing project achieved all objectives, and was declared an unqualified success!

Have you faced a similar dilemma?

How did you handle it?

Do you agree with Vickie’s strategy?

Would you have done anything differently?

Please share your experience and views in the comments section!



Note: You can find a a rich set of Ethics resources such as the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, Ethical Decision Making Framework, Ethics-related Tools, etc., in many world languages at

Posted by Karthik Ramamurthy on: January 15, 2020 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Are we paying attention to the dormant ethical fires?

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.

The silhouette of a firefighter is seen in front of a large bushfire burning high into trees.

Photo from:

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 There’s a plethora of ethics related discussions, webinars and articles on

Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Festive Season and a Prosperous, Peaceful and Ethical New Year.

Photo from

Posted by Amany Nuseibeh on: December 12, 2019 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

The Ethics of Harry Potter

Categories: EDMF, Ethics

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:

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.


--- - ---

DISCLAIMER: The photo was taken by myself to a toy I own




Posted by Fabio Rigamonti on: November 17, 2019 04:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (30)

Are you treating yourself ethically?

Categories: Ethics

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”


Posted by Mohamed Hassan on: October 25, 2019 03:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Ethics and You: What If I Fail?

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?

SOURCEYou 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.SOURCE

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 abovSOURCEe.

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 (

Project Bully

Ethical Decision-Making Framework.


Source of all graphics is “Creative Commons”, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Posted by Valerie Denney on: September 20, 2019 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

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