Wild Project Management


In the November issue of PM Network, Page 50 contains our favorite story. It’s about a green-by-definition project. What’s that? Well, in our first book, Green Project Management, we covered a spectrum of green, from projects which focus on ‘sustainability’ in its purest sense, including (we mention this by name) an effort to save a species.

The spectrum is mentioned again in our second book, “Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success”.

But back to PM Network. Indeed, the article, “A Wild Ride” starts with some sobering facts. Earth’s wild vertebrae population has been halved between 1970 and 2010. Cut in half. 41% of amphibian, and 26% of mammal species are threatened with extinction.

But there is hope, and in many cases it comes with the aspects of technology and project management focused on the problem – and thus, the green-by-definition projects that are featured.  Rather than a whole bunch of text, we summarized three of the interesting project efforts for you and encourage you to read the entire article.


So you can see the intersection of PM and sustainability at its most fundamental root with this article. And we hope, like us, you are rooting for the recovery of these endangered species.

We encourage you to visit the sites of the organizations involved in these worthy efforts:



Conservation Drones

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Golden Threads, and Ruby Slippers


In our new book, Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success (and in our writings on sustainability in PM for years and years) we have insisted that greater long-term benefits are derived when a project has a solid connection – a ‘golden thread’ to the mission, vision, and values of the organization for which the project is being conducted.
Now, out comes the latest PMI “Pulse of the Profession” report, entitled “Capturing the Value of Project Management Through Decision Making”. This extensive study of over 1200 project managers illustrates these points very well. With supporting data, no less. We highly recommend reading the entire report.
But before you do, we wanted to point you to a couple of graphics that caught our eye.
First up: look at the relationship between improvements available to projects that are familiar with the strategy of their enterprises.  Projects which do this significantly outperform their peers in meeting goals, staying within budget, and finishing on time.


This further illustrates the fact that although the long-term thinking we espouse is related to things like Corporate Social Responsibility – being a solid corporate citizen in terms of the community and the environment, the benefits of connecting your project to your enterprise’s strategy yields tangible project benefits. In other words, doing good yields doing well.

That said, and with this data available for a while at the corporate level, (we could point you to the MIT/BCG Sustainability Studies) you would think that project decision-makers would be constantly checking in on the quality and intensity of this golden thread. You’d think they’d want it to be a golden rope! But no, only 20% of these 1000+ projects always had enough familiarity with organizational strategy to be able to make sound project decisions – decisions that would be connected to the enterprise mission, vision, and values.  See the data below:

familiarity with org strat

Another point we make in the book is that the definition of success is more long-term than the project’s completion – it should consider post project benefits realization. This study included a question about that as well, and the results are not so pretty:


According to these results, organizations only do this about half of the time, with some organizations NEVER looking to see if a project is providing those long-term benefits. In our book we talk of Project Efficiency (how well the project was run), Project Effectiveness (whether the project at least at first, provides expected benefits) and Project Endurance (whether or not the project provides sustained, long-term benefits, and avoids any long-term effects, such as a waste by-product). We insist that a truly successful project gets an “A” for all three “E’s”.
In our book we discuss the Three Click Challenge. Here, strengthened by the data in this excellent PMI study, we re-issue that challenge. You’ll have to read the book to find out what it is, but to further pique your interest, it involves, of all things, ruby slippers. Yep, those slippers. Yes…. From that movie.
Slippers or not – this Pulse of the Profession report is excellent work and worth a read.
Make a good decision – and at least flip through it!

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Larval Assumptions = Grown-up Threats


I have blogged several times on the subject of how assumptions are the larval form of risk (particularly threats).  Whatever judgements you make about the scenario of your project (or for that matter, your business) are actually pre-statements of risk identification.

For example, if you are managing a project that involves a lot of business between the USA and France, and you assume the value of the Euro to the dollar is stable, that is an assumption.  If you acknowledge the fact that the dollar may rise or fall relative to the Euro (and are aware of the implications of that fall or rise) then you have identified a potential risk.  Of course, it’s up to you to record that risk (or assumption) consciously in your project documents.

The point is: any assumption you make should be recorded.  And you should watch them – because they may grow, perhaps like that plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” to become a huge project threat.

I’d like to jump from the Project level to the Planet level for a moment, to expand your thinking.

A front-page story in today’s Cape Cod Times is – literally – a Fish Story.  It’s about how the warming trend of the Atlantic Ocean has caused 50% of the adult fish species in the Northeastern US waters are relocating to cooler waters north and further offshore, as the Cape Cod waters warm.  This is a known, confirmed, scientific fact.  What is ‘newsy’ here is that up until now, there was not much known about how the larvae of the fish have adapted.  Would they stay?  Or will they also move northwards and outwards?  A new study, referenced in the story, revealed that the larvae as well have moved offshore, and/or have changed patterns in terms of their emergence in response to warming ocean temperatures.

This obviously has changed the scenario for the fish.  But any business involved in fishing or overseeing fishing, should be aware that assumptions about fish staying put in the context of ocean warming could be missing out on facts that, in turn, drive business decisions.

A quote from the article says, “Overall, these changes may make some species less productive and scientists may need to re-evaluate population goals used in fishery management.”

So in this case we literally see assumptions as the larval stage of threats.

It’s another direct connection between sustainability thinking and project management.

They aren’t always so direct and literal, but in this case, the “fish story” can teach us quite directly.

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Earth – the final frontier


NASA is the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  It was established in 1958 by an act of Congress (literally) with this charter:

“The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space”.

And yes, NASA has explored vast areas of space as well as turning its focus back on this planet (yes, Earth is a planet), to discover things like the hole in the ozone layer, and to observe planetary changes with high-resolution time-lapse photography from satellite imagery.

A recent editorial in 170-year-old magazine Scientific American talks to the fact that there are those – politicians –  who want NASA to avert its eyes of Earth science, possibly denying that it is a science at all.  And they have been able to divert monies for the study of our planet to other space efforts.  In one example, they have given NASA much, much more money than they asked for to study Jupiter’s moons, and much, much less money than they had asked for to study climate change.

We think NASA should be in charge of its mission, clearly chartered in 1958.

Have a look at what they have discovered about OUR planet at this portion of NASA’s web page, called “Images of Change“.  It seems some people are afraid of the facts, so they are just pointing the telescope away…

We at EarthPM encourage you to make up your own mind.   Look at those pictures.  Also experiment with NASA’s interactive application:

Climate Time Machine

You decide.  Should politicians be allowed to deny us this type of space exploration?  Is Earth part of space?  Should NASA continue to do this sort of work? We think so.


(By the way, the picture above, which looks indeed like it came from another planet, is indeed of Lake Mead, Planet Earth, showing how this lake has shrunk in the last 16 years)

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Workin’ on a Chain Gang

“In all projects, a number of decisions are made.  Many think of decision making as the core activities of a project manager; thus, competence in decision making and tools to aid the decision-making process are of crucial importance for project success”.

This is the opening paragraph of the first article (“Project Decision Chain“) in the August/September issue of the PM Journal.  The article, by authors Rolstadas, Pinto, Falster, and Venkataraman, from practical academics at Penn State University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, is an excellent – and unexpectedly ‘readable’ – one, covering the science and art of decision-making in PM, making the case for more formality and rigor in our discipline.

In effect, we work on project teams (gangs) and oversee chains of decisions.  So yes, indeed, we are out there, working on a chain gang!

But back to the article.  The part that caught OUR attention was the section in which they spend extra attention distinguishing between project success and project management success, just as we do in our upcoming book, Driving Sustainable Success in Projects, Programs and Portfolios”.

Pinto, et al, use the same example of the Sydney Opera House and its long-term considered success as a landmark building even though the project itself was way over budget and exceedingly late.  We like their use of the terms process and outcome models to differentiate the way many look at the world as compared to how we assert project managers should be looking at the world.  The process model focuses on project KPIs like real-time project spending and schedule measurements, versus outcome models, which look at the long-term provision of benefits (or not) by the product of the project.

We highly recommend that you include this in your reading this month.  It would be a good decision on your part!

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