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!

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

Past Contributors:

Lily Murariu

Recent Posts

The A, B, C’s of Ethics

The Traps of a Conflict of Interest

Is there something called an ethical protest?

Avoiding the Alligators While Navigating Uncharted Territory

Ethics as a competence of the Portfolio Program Project Manager: a personal journey.

Viewing Posts by Deepa Bhide

Workforce Ethical Dilemmas in times of COVID-19

 As Angela started her car, a thought crossed her mind on when she gets home, will she be greeted by her family?

It was a disturbing thought and so she set it aside trying not to dwell on it. Why would they not? They have been always ready to greet her with a hug as soon as she arrived from her hectic hospital duty that almost left her lifeless.

What will be different this time? She imagined her two year old Sally hugging her,  and  her husband John offering to park her car and make her coffee. She reassured herself nothing would be different and continued to drive.

These are the thoughts and emotions of our healthcare workforce as they are working on the frontlines in the COVID-19 settings in the hospitals. While we are grateful for their dedicated service, some part of us is concerned if they are carriers for the virus, infecting the family when they get home. We are privy to the universal truth that the personal protective equipment as in gown, gloves, N95 respirator plus a face shield/goggles etc. are scarce. What does that leave our loved ones with? An exposure to the risk of contracting the virus at the hospital? Will they be carrying it back home?

Cases are reported across the world around growing discrimination due to heightened fears and misinformation. Driven by authentic information, ethical behavior and health literacy, there is an urgent need to counter such prejudices and show empathy to these “warriors”.

Yet another situation seen around ethical concerns is around resource allocation. During medical emergencies, it’s important to ensure that ethically appropriate treatments are delivered. In face of scarcity of resources in treatment of COVID-19 patients and shortages of life-saving equipment including ventilators and medications; healthcare personnel often face an ethical dilemma and are forced to make difficult choices for appropriate allocation of these limited health resources. In Italy, the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation, and Intensive Care (SIAARTI) has formulated the guidelines1 for the benefit of tackling such ethical challenges.

Recently World Health Organization (WHO) has established an international Working Group on Ethics & COVID-19 in order to develop advice2 on key ethical questions that member states need to address.  Let’s map these to PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and see how they fit.

The Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct by Project Management Institute with its four values (Responsibility, Respect, Fairness and Honesty) are all-inclusive and can be applied to any domain and situations. We urge readers to review these and keep themselves informed.

Values as per World Health Organization Working Group

What does this mean?

Value as per PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

Transparency

Refers to open and transparent communication with the stakeholders

Honesty

Inclusiveness

Refers to inclusiveness around involving appropriate stakeholders in decision-making process and the decision itself

Respect

Consistency

Refers to invoking decisions to be able to treat all persons in a category the same way without showing any bias

Fairness

Accountability

Refers to holding  those making decisions around allocation accountable for their decisions

Responsibility

We; as citizens; have a responsibility to ourselves and others to recognize these challenges that our near and dear ones who are front-ending the COVID-19 patients are facing. Let’s all be empathetic, responsible, respectful, honest and fair towards them and spread the word of ethical behavior in face of these challenges.

Angela reached home to find Sally and John waiting for her with basket full of flowers that they were eager to shower on their “brave” mother/wife. Angela’s eyes were wet with tears as she approached her home, facing another ethical dilemma – As much as she wants to shower her family members with hugs and kisses, as much as she’s aware of the risk that she is exposing them to. If you were Sally, what would you do?

References and helpful links

  1. CLINICAL ETHICS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE ALLOCATION OF INTENSIVE CARE TREATMENTS, http://www.siaarti.it/SiteAssets/News/COVID19%20-%20documenti%20SIAARTI/SIAARTI%20-%20Covid-19%20-%20Clinical%20Ethics%20Reccomendations.pdf
  2. International working group on Ethics & COVID-19 - https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/20-03-2020-who-has-established-an-international-working-group-on-ethics-covid-19
  3. PMI’s Ethical Decision-Making Framework - https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/ethics/ethical-decision-making-framework.pdf?v=1b7ea95c-6b50-4aad-9ce1-3c953efd2858&sc_lang_temp=en
  4. PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct  https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/ethics/pmi-code-of-ethics.pdf?v=5b0f0983-6467-4d7d-9aae-577fbac4d4b3&sc_lang_temp=en
  5. Note: You can find 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 http://www.pmi.org/ethics.

Names are changed to protect identity

Posted by Deepa Bhide on: May 09, 2020 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

“To Do or Not To Do – That’s The Question” – A Whistle-blower's Dilemma


"The sign of a first-class mind is the ability to hold two opposing views at the same time and still retain the ability to function."  - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Mary seemed worried as she gulped her lunch and dashed off to her office. Nina, her lunch-buddy followed her to check if everything was okay with Mary.

“Oh, this is quite challenging for me. I need courage to deal with the situation” Mary finally opened a window of her mind to Nina

“What is bothering you?” - Nina

“You have to keep this to yourself. Promise me. Tom is talking to one of our competitors around our top-selling product line and I happened to overhear their discussion. I was on my way to get a coffee for myself and as I stood near the vending machine, I could not help listening to the conversation, I was shocked at the details Tom was sharing. I talked to Tom and tried to sound him of my concern around doing this. He dismissed my concerns stating that he had not leaked any confidential details. I tried explaining the issue and the impact it may have but he clearly wasn’t listening to me. He tried to convince me that sharing some of this information is absolutely normal and that I should not be surprised at this behavior. As you know, Tom is my team lead and I fear this will result in some sort of retaliation” - Mary

“Oh! This is a serious matter. You should inform the relevant compliance authorities about this. I hope you are aware of the laws that protect whistle-blowers. The compliance office in the organization is in-charge of such matters. Rob from the compliance office takes care of such matters. He and his team are authorized to investigate the matter and report to the higher compliance authorities” – Nina

“Good to know. But, how will anonymity around such matters be maintained?” – Mary

“That is protected at the beginning of the investigation but I guess the names may need to be public if deemed necessary as the investigation proceeds. However, the law itself protects whistle-blowers from retaliation. I don’t think you should worry about this.” – Nina

As per Oxford dictionary, a whistle-blower is a person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity. This is a guard against harmful and dishonest activities that can jeopardize the credibility and reliability of an organization. In this case, Mary is a whistle-blower and wishes to report Tom’s actions to the compliance officer.

“How can I not worry? If my name is exposed, I know of how things can get difficult for me and may impact my career negatively. From being singled out as a whistle-blower, I am likely to face corporate retaliation, financial hardships and finally, impact on my personal and professional relationships. I may be fired from my job too. Is all this damage worth it?”

“Well, I understand your concern. However, looking at things beyond you, reporting this matter to Rob is an ethical act to do. Not only will it save the reputation of our organization but will also get you some brawny points for blowing the whistle before it becomes too late. I am sure our team will hold you in highest regard for this act and you will serve as an example for many from our team members and organization. Don’t you think this outweighs your personal concerns? I am sure you are aware of the Project Management Institute’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and the pmi.org/ethics webpages. These pages list a plethora of references containing great tools that might further assist you in taking a decision –  you really need to look them up too.

“To do or not to do, is the question and my friend, I am sure, you will choose “to do”” - Nina

“Ok. But do you think these laws are operational or are they merely on paper”? – Mary sounded skeptical

“We can check with Rob on it” – Nina’s assuring voice

“Thanks Nina. That makes me feel better. I will see Rob at the earliest” – Mary

This is a common challenge in the contemporary competitive world where cutthroat competition is fierce, ugly and threatens to destroy businesses. Many of us, intentionally or unintentionally find ourselves in situations that get us involved in similar whistle-blowing cases and then the question arise on “what do we do?”  The question is at the core of an ethical dilemma, sleepless nights and uncertainty about the next steps, the implications on us as individuals, our well-being, our livelihood, our families, friends and loved ones. Will it be risky to be a whistle-blower?

While our ethical compass directs us on what to do, the consequences might deter us, prior stories and the outcomes might determine how confident we are in the system, following the process and putting our trust in the compliance system that might or might not support us.  

Without any dearth of evidence, it has been shown that to be ethically correct is always the ideal and right thing to do. With codes around ethics and laws that protect whistle-blowers, those who wish to report such unethical or illegal acts can be assured that their interests and welfare will be protected.

However, in this age of disruption where uncertainty around jobs looms large, what is way out?

After about six months of the incident, the team heard that Mary had resigned with a note on facing some distress from her manager and the organization. Well that ended the matter of this specific case but did it really end the overall issue that Mary had raised?

Have you ever come across this situation in your professional life so far? Would love to hear your thoughts.

References and helpful links

Note: You can find 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 http://www.pmi.org/ethics.

Names are changed to protect identity. 

Posted by Deepa Bhide on: March 08, 2020 11:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Be Original - An Ethical Dilemma!

“Hey Peter, here’s my submission. Apologies for the delay but had to do some research to get the algorithms working the right way”. Maya rushed into Peter’s cabin.

“Thanks. What took you so long?” Peter wanted to know.

“Oh! I needed time to check on the output. That took some time. The logic behind these algorithms was present on a website and I used that material” Maya continued.

Peter was a new project manager to the organization and had been recently deputed to a project related to Innovation in the information technology domain. He was a product of an elite business school and was chosen for this project for his innovative ideation and a drive to succeed.

Peter knew this work wasn’t Maya’s original work and it needed to be called out by providing an appropriate citation.  However Peter also knew if she did that, his project would not be considered for Innovation and that he and his team would lose out on the award.

“Well we need to make the appropriate attributions to the original document that had the logic. That would be an appropriate next step” Maya wanted to check with Peter.

“I guess so but the process of deriving output is your work and so I don’t think we need to call an attribution separately.  I have noted that the so called “original” works that are out there are actually ideas from other sources. I guess it is fine to be “inspired” by such ideas as there is always someone who would have said it before you do. I would focus on our part of the work and in this case our original work is in processing the output or the effort that has gone in deriving the research outcome. Your part of the activity is quite complex and important for the eventual objective of our project” – Peter.

“Well I don’t agree with you. After all the output is the function of the original algorithms and those are not my original scripts” Maya continued to debate.

“Well, I guess I differ with your thought. Also remember that if we do so we are likely to be disqualified and will probably be out of the Innovation contest. Do you really believe that all original work out there is truly "original"? Well we are inspired by someone's ideas and that fuels the creativity in us. Well, give it a thought and let me know what you think” – Peter seemed disappointed.

Given the easy availability of information on internet for most of the research papers today, these instances are not uncommon. This dilemma cuts across domains. It’s a belief that the scope for original thinking has reduced and that most of the works are a “copy-paste” or a derivation of someone’s original work. Blatant copying of original works and passing it off without an appropriate attribution is a common complaint. Resorting to these tricks is perceived as means for a quick success. The publishing community is quite aware of this and has set appropriate check points (created software applications for plagiarism check) to flag such instances.

What can be done in such situations? How do we drive inspiration to write original articles? How can project managers work towards an appropriate balance of creativity and derivation? Applying originality of thoughts with the right attributions builds on the credibility of the author and ensures their authenticity and appropriate processing of guidelines.

Your thoughts on this ethical dilemma are welcome….

Disclaimer: all characters, names and incidents in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

Posted by Deepa Bhide on: March 09, 2019 08:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)
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"It is a waste of energy to be angry with a man who behaves badly, just as it is to be angry with a car that won't go."

- Bertrand Russell