All the world loves a … deadline


A short op-ed piece in today’s Boston Globe caught our eye as an example – another example, perhaps the ‘biggest’ yet – of the intersection of sustainability and project management.

The PMBOK(R) Guide spends a great deal of its energy differentiating projects from operations.  Projects are unique, and have definitive start and end dates. Projects are initiated to create change.  Operations are ongoing and have no specific end date, and are about keeping the status quo.

If you listen to the message (or at least the perceived message) of the folks pushing for sustainability, it often comes across as “save the whales, save the snails…” (as exemplified by a great standup routine by George Carlin [adult language] which you can see here).

The key is that the efforts to improve sustainability always seem to have vague goals and objectives and no time bounds.  What it’s been lacking is any kind of deadline.

Until now.

This story, which also covers the turn-around of former climate change skeptic Richard Muller, starts off with this doozie:

The world now has a rough deadline for action on climate change.  Nations need to take aggressive action in the next 15 years to cut carbon emissions, in order to forestall the worst effects of global warming, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report warns that without action in the next 15 years, nations will start to face the most debilitating effects of global warming — rapidly melting arctic ice, significant sea-level rise, flooding and storms — by the end of the century.

So, although the truly disastrous effects are not to occur until (what now seems like) the distant future, the timeline to accomplish the work which must be done is significantly shorter.  And that timeline has a date of April 16, 2029 at 7:04 AM (that’s the 15 year mark from the exact time that I read the story, so I am declaring it the deadline).

As project managers, we know and love the deadline.  We’d like to have the freedom to specify that deadline through our science of critical path analysis and network diagrams, but sometimes -as in this case – it’s imposed on us and we work backwards to accomplish it.

Let’s use this opportunity to reaffirm the fact that there IS an intersection between PM and sustainability.  It’s much deeper and more intertwined than this example, of course.  Our book dives into those details.  Still, the article is worth a read and if you haven’t considered the relationship between PM and sustainability before – here’s your opportunity.


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Strategic flow-cus

Look at this great graphic from the latest (April 2014) PMNetwork Magazine:


Think about that for a second.  Actually, give it 10 seconds, perhaps repeating this – aloud – as you think it through.

We have tremendous untapped power as project managers.  We connect the conceptual and squishy “strategies”, themselves a firmed-up version of mission and values of an organization, and make them into solid, feet-on-the-street, bulldozers-in-the-dirt, fiber-to-the-home, churning-out-the-code, reality.

That’s us!

So now have a look at some statistics:
















To us, the most stunning revelation there is right at the top.  Project initiatives are nearly TWICE AS LIKELY TO BE SUCCESSFUL if those projects are aligned to the organizational strategy.

Yet, in a recent custom webinar (for a huge international IT company) run by EarthPM, only about 15% of the several hundred project managers in attendance had ever viewed the company’s outstanding organizational strategy statements published on line about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or sustainability.  So there’s a huge gap (as it says in the PMI article, a chasm) between the strategy/mission/vision and the project managers who may be assuming, for example, that a choice between materials or services which may be a little more expensive but more in alignment with sustainability goals, is best made in the favor only of financials.  Yet the strategy of the company is to make a more responsible long-term choice, and the PM is missing that piece of information.  It’s about flow – flow of knowledge and wisdom from these goals of your leadership to the leadership YOU provide as a project manager.  And, like our blog post title infers, it’s about focus.  And that’s how we ended up with the idea of “strategic flow-cus”.

We hope you see that beyond the basic “success rate” demonstrated by the statistics above, there is also a lost opportunity for longer-term, benefits realization type of success.

You can fix this in two easy steps, and improve your strategic flow-cus.

Step 1: Locate and read your organization’s higher-level strategic statements.  Look at what your leaders are saying to the public and to other stakeholders about CSR.  Pay attention to their statements about the environment and commitment to sustainability.

Step 2 (can be done in parallel): Get and read Green Project Management, our book on this very subject, which won PMI’s Cleland Award for Literature in 2011.


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Announcing MarsPM

marspm3 APRIL 1, 2028, Kermit, TX (AB/REUTARS News Services) In a press conference outside auxiliary NASA headquarters outside (well outside) of Boston, Massachusetts, Henrietta Flotsam, head of NASA’s Extraterrestrial Project Management Program (EPMP), and co-founders or EarthPM, Rich Maltzman and Dave Shirley, today revealed a large, 3-year contract between the former EarthPM and NASA in which EarthPM will begin to focus on sustainability project management on Mars rather than Earth, and in exchange for this will change its name to MarsPM.

“We are so thrilled for this opportunity”, said Maltzman.  “Our work on Earth is nearly done – with the release of the 20th Edition of the PMBOK(R) Guide, sustainability is firmly integrated into the project management discipline, and it’s time to bring this show outside”.  “I just hope I can master the Martian language”, said Shirley, “I am having trouble pronouncing zxwqtt and hvwqxt, especially.  But I’ll get there”.

The contract specifies that MarsPM will bring their success in integrating a long-term thinking philosophy to the Martian project management culture, which has often focused on a period of only 3 to 4 zeelaxes.  “We’re trying to get them to look – with all 8 eyes – towards a planning horizon of at least 10 zeelaxes by 2030.  That’s our goal”, said Shirley.

Terms of the contract have not been specified, but Gary Kranshaw, analyst for Dow Jones’ extraterrestrial investments, thinks that it may be in the 4 to 5 billion Bitcoin range.  “This is absolutely a great deal for both parties”, he said.

When asked what might come after this contract, Maltzman would only say, “we wouldn’t mind working on a planet with a ring or two”.

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Your projects, Chaff, Flight MH370, Pings, and The Indian Ocean Gyre


Photo from


That seemingly unrelated list of items came together for us in this post by Marc Lallanilla, of LiveScience.

The chaff

One of our favorite exercises in our project management training repertoire is an Earned Value team project in which the teams get an information packet including emails, phone messages, spreadsheets, shopping lists, budgets, and other miscellaneous stuff – from which, they need to find the proper information and yield fun stuff like Estimate At Completion and Percent Complete.

They need to separate the key information from the chaff.  We constantly have to do this as project managers.

The Search for MH370

And that brings us to the above-mentioned article which is entitled, Finding Flight 370: A Needle in a Garbage Patch?

This is the challenge faced by those searching for the potential debris field of Malaysia Airlines flight 370.  NOTE: We have a bit (yes, only a bit) of a connection here in that we were asked a couple of years ago to address a conference sponsored by the Malaysian government on sustainability and project management; in fact, we were honored to be the keynote speaker at this seminar in Kuala Lumpur.

So, back to the article, which covers the science of the “Gyre“  a large system of slowly-rotating ocean currents (think ‘toilet flush’, but much slower and much, much bigger).

The amount of garbage in the ocean has increased tremendously and it does not easily break down.  And now it is hindering this recovery operation, as we watch the news networks cover the ships pull up pieces of plastic that are NOT related at all to the missing plane.

Quoting from the article:

“Any search and rescue attempt will be hampered by untold quantities of debris,” Charles Moore, a sailor and researcher at the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, Calif., told The New York Times.

Moore is credited with being one of the first people to sound the alarm on the existence of the seas’ “garbage patches,” vast areas of floating garbage — most of it plastic — that he first saw in 1997 while crossing the Pacific Ocean.

“As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic,” Moore wrote in a 2003 essay for Natural History magazine.

“It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot,” Moore wrote. “In the week it took to cross … plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.”

Recent research has found that about 1,000 different microbes thrive on garbage patches. Many of the bacteria belong to the genus Vibrio (the same genus as the cholera bacteria), which is known to cause diseases in humans and animals. Other microbial members of the “plastisphere” seem to hasten the breakdown of the plastic.

To us, this is a reminder of two ‘sustainability in PM” threads:

1. There is no “Away”.  Away has gone away.  We should be thinking about the disposal of project waste as well as product-of-the-project waste when we initiate, plan, execute, monitor and control, and “close” our projects.

2. We will indeed be given the challenge of separating out project ‘meaningfulness’ from stray ‘garbage’ in our daily project management lives.  Just think of the volume of emails (pings?) that you get a day.  100?  200? 500?  And how many of them really make a difference on your project.  In that way, we share the style of quest that the MH370 hunters face today.

So, as you follow the news, think of these two threads and let them be yet another reminder of the connection between sustainability and project management.

And we leave this post with our thoughts and prayers going out in empathy to the families of passengers on MH370.

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Don’t be a sap!

maple1We recently posted one of our more popular items, part of the PM Flash Blog – about Project Management in New England.  We’re proud New Englanders and although most people associate the flashy autumn colors with our region, let’s not forget how nice Spring can be, and let’s not forget to include the tapping of maple trees to make that amazing concoction – maple syrup, made from the sap of the maple tree.

Side story: When your author lived in Holland for two years, he adapted to stroop, and found things to be meer lekker met stroop (more tasty with stroop), the closest thing the Dutch had to maple syrup.  And although stroop has its own merits, especially on certain pannekoeken, our whole family really missed maple syrup.  It was one of the items we smuggled TO Holland when we had the chance.


Today’s cover story of the Boston Globe lifestyle section, however, is about how that industry is in jeopardy.  And the challenge – one that had it importing their syrup from (shudder) Quebec last year and probably this year – is related to climate change.

“The long, cold winter oddly recalls the record warmth of 2012 as both may be caused by climate change, which threatens the region’s iconic sugaring industry. This year sugarmakers all over the region are frustrated, and so were the people who wanted to visit the sugarhouses and buy the new syrup.”

Now some of you who may be cynical of the issue of global warming will point to the fact that it was much colder this year in New England than usual.  Don’t be a sap!  The reason that climate change is used as a term to describe the disruptions that we are seeing is that some areas will become warmer, some colder.  The article actually goes on to describe this scientifically:

Research suggests that over the past half-century the maple production season has been shortened by about 10 percent due to climate change, and growers generally agree that freeze-thaw cycles have become much more unpredictable.

As for the winter of 2014, the frigid temperatures reportedly could also be driven by a changing climate. According to some reports, warm air moving in the stratosphere sinks into the Arctic, destabilizes masses of cold air, and pushes them to the south.

“While the physics behind sudden stratospheric warming events are complicated, their implications are not: Such events are often harbingers of colder weather in North America and Eurasia,” wrote Andrew Freedman on the Climate Central website in January. “During the ongoing stratospheric warming event, the polar vortex split in two, allowing polar air to spill out from the Arctic, as if a refrigerator door were suddenly opened.”

So again – don’t be a sap.  It’s referred to as climate change for a reason.

And whether you are a tree-hugger or a tree-tapper, a process manager or a project manager, you can tell from stories like the one from Bascoms (read the article!) are becoming more and more common and of more and more concern.

So learn about it – gather facts.  Let the only thing around here that’s thick… be the maple syrup.


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