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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Regardez! La Tour Eiffel a maintenant l’énergie verte!




You will have to look carefully (and that’s the way it should be, of course) but the Eiffel Tower now sports wind turbines.  In this very interesting article you can read about a project to add wind power and other sustainability-oriented features to the French landmark.

What we like about this project is the connection to the mission statement and vision of the leadership of the organization which maintains the tower.  Run by SETE (Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel) the group plans to to reduce the tower’s environmental impact by 25 percent as part of the City of Paris Climate Plan.  Tying their goals to their projects is exactly what we had in mind for enterprise in our new book, Driving Sustainability Success in Projects, Programs and Portfolios.

Have a look at the article.


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I just finished reading a terrific article “The Most Invasive Species of All”, by Curtis Marean in the August 2015 edition of Scientific American. sciamcover

It goes back, way back. Nope, even further than that. Yes, it goes back about 200,000 years, when our ancestor H. sapiens were established in Africa and then to about 70,000 years ago when, in one of the largest unrecorded examples of scope creep, went to almost every corner of the Earth.

There are two project management and sustainability aspects to the article. And it turns out that the two are related.

  1. Consistent findings that wherever H. sapiens went, there followed significant ecological change. Sometimes this meant the extinction of other human species (Neanderthal and Denisovan populations) and the extinction of megafauna (large mammals).
  2. H. sapiens may have succeeded in their expansion due to something the author calls hyperprosociality – a proclivity for collaboration.

The first item speaks to the idea that whatever you think about climate change caused by humans, the evidence is overwhelming that where H. Sapiens have expanded, they have indeed affected the ecology. Interesting, but not the main point of this post.

I found myself fascinated by the theory the author poses – which is that this concept of hyperprosociality is a genetically-encoded trait (not a learned behavior).

PMI tells us about the importance of collecting lessons learned and in setting up a learning organization, in which project managers succeed by NOT repeating missteps and by duplicating things that work. This ancient but extremely human example discussed in the article shows the power of collaboration – power that literally – quite literally – allowed H. sapiens to take over the entire world, in large part because they collaborated, in highly complex coordinated group activities. As the author puts it, “with the ability to operate in groups of unrelated individuals, H. sapiens was well on its way to becoming an unstoppable force”.

Now let’s take it back to t the number 1 point. If we are indeed facing a threat from climate change, and it’s human-caused (or even if not) it probably is going to take that same ‘proclivity for collaboration’ to counter the effects and reverse the trend.

And project managers – we are collaborator coordinators extraordinaire – we need to play a major role in the effort.

Even if you have no interest in those issues, you should let yourself be inspired by our own ancestors – and the power they derived from collaboration. Use that power!

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The power of a sustainable touch


In our first book, Green Project Management, we wrote about GreenTouch – a consortium of telecom service providers and equipment vendors, developers, programmers – many of whom directly compete with one another for business – working together on a focused goal to reduce the energy consumption of ‘the network’.  That is, everything between your eyes and my keyboard, and the stuff that stores and transmits the bits and bytes as I type this blog post.

GreenTouch recently announced that their astounding target of 1000x reduction (not a 10% or a 25% reduction, but a one-thousand times reduction, was not achieved.

(pregnant pause)

What was achieved instead was a TEN THOUSAND TIMES reduction.  This is pretty impressive.  Let’s put it in automotive terms: this is like taking 3.6 million cars off of the road.  Forever.

And it makes a point – I would say an exclamation point – about what we’ve been saying for years about project management, technology, energy, and the ‘triple bottom line’.  The point: you don’t have to be in the electric utility or petroleum industry to make a difference in sustainability.  You don’t have to be in the pharmaceutical business or the food industry or the agricultural area to make a difference on toxins or nutrition.  You have to think long-term.  You have to think beyond your project’s outcome – or in this case, work on a project that has a focused long-term goal.

These guys made changes in software protocols – SOFTWARE PROTOCOLS – for example, to make huge differences in how optical amplifiers turn on and off and that ‘little change’ had far-reaching positive consequences.  They worked on metering and dashboard tools for network managers, and so on.  These types of changes were (as you can see by the results) were highly effective.

Have a look at this non-profit’s press release and video.  I hope it inspires you.  It inspired us and is one of the reasons we wrote the follow-up book, “Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success“.  Enjoy.

 NEW YORK, June 18, 2015GreenTouch™, the global consortium dedicated to dramatically improving the energy efficiency of data communications networks, today announced its final results and unveiled new tools, technologies and architectures to improve the energy efficiencies of communications networks in years to come. During a celebratory event in New York, GreenTouch revealed that its new approaches can improve energy efficiencies of mobile-access networks by more than 10,000X – an achievement far exceeding the original goals of the working group.

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The Project Pope Statement


No, that’s not a typo.  You probably thought we’d be talking about a Project Scope Statement.  But here, we really are talking about the Pope and his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si'”.  This is Pope Francis’ writings and ‘policy statements’ if you will, regarding climate change.   You can download the entire encyclical here.

It’s long.  And it was popular.  The Vatican web page crashed with the volume of requests for downloads when it was first released.

We found a 10-point summary of the encyclical here from America (The National Catholic Review).  And then we did something interesting for you – we took 8 of those 10 points where we found the greatest intersection with project management principles, and share the points with you for your consideration.  Our comments are in italics just under each of the points made by the journal referenced above.

Here you go:

The Top 10 takewayays from Laudato Si’

This blog post draws from an article in America (The National Catholic Review), which goes through the top 10 takeaways from the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment, also called “Laudato Si’.

We’ll provide a project/program/portfolio perspective on this using extracts from this review (which in turn is a digest of the (fairly large) encyclical itself. We cover 8 of the 10 points from the article.


1)    The spiritual perspective is now part of the discussion on the environment.

The greatest contribution of “Laudato Si” to the environmental dialogue is, to my mind, its systematic overview of the crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the environmental dialogue has been framed mainly with political, scientific and economic language. With this new encyclical, the language of faith enters the discussion—clearly, decisively and systematically. But in its systematic spiritual approach, this is a groundbreaking document that expands the conversation by inviting believers into the dialogue and providing fresh insights for those already involved.

We aren’t suggesting to add ‘spirituality’ as a new constraint for project managers. However, we can use this ‘spiritual perspective’ to underline the ethical aspects we already rely on, and to process our decisions with just slightly more thoughtfulness.

2)    The poor are disproportionately affected by climate change.

The disproportionate effect of environmental change on the poor and on the developing world is highlighted in almost every section of the encyclical. Indeed, near the beginning of “Laudato Si,” the pope states that focus on the poor is one the central themes of the encyclical, and he provides many baneful examples of the effects of climate change, whose “worse impacts” are felt those living in the by developing countries.

Again, it’s a matter of thinking through decisions – project decisions, and, we’d assert, decisions that go through the deployment of your project’s product, including, how it serves people of various countries and populations. Have you thought, for example, about disposal of the final product (especially electronics and rare-earth minerals) and how that disposal affects people in countries where those materials are recovered?

3)    Less is more.

Pope Francis takes aim at what he calls the “technocratic” mindset, in which technology is seen as the “principal key” to human existence. He critiques an unthinking reliance on market forces, in which every technological, scientific or industrial advancement is embraced before considering how it will affect the environment and “without concern for its potential negative impact on human beings”.

As project managers we are used to focusing on CPI and SPI (project spending and schedule efficiency) so we are quite familiar with doing more with less. But here, the Pope is talking more about CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility, or perhaps you could call it Triple Bottom Line (TBL) thinking. Have you thought about those bottom lines on your projects?

5)    Discussions about ecology can be grounded in the Bible and church tradition.

Wisely, Pope Francis begins the encyclical not with a reflection on Scripture and tradition (the two pillars of Catholic teaching), which might tempt nonbelievers to set aside the letter, but with an overview of the crisis—including issues of water, biodiversity and so on. Only in Chapter Two does he turn towards “The Gospel of Creation,” in which he leads readers, step by step, through the call to care for creation that extends as far back as the Book of Genesis, when humankind was called to “till and keep” the earth. But we have done, to summarize his approach, too much tilling and not enough keeping The insights of the saints are also recalled, most especially St. Francis of Assisi, the spiritual lodestar of the document. In addition to helping nonbelievers understand the Scripture and the church’s traditions, he explicitly tries to inspire believers to care for nature and the environment.

This is admittedly pretty far from project management. But this idea – of grounding discussions about climate change and ecology around the Bible and church tradition – does provide support for those project managers who want to try to convince stakeholders who are strongly aligned with the Church to look to their own leaders for inspiration and to bring them on board for sustainability-oriented project thinking.

6)    Everything is connectedincluding the economy.

One of the greatest contributions of “Laudato Si” is that it offers what theologians call a “systematic” approach to an issue. First, he links all of us to creation: “We are part of nature, included in it, and thus in constant interaction with it” (No. 139). But our decisions, particularly about production and consumption, have an inevitable effect on the environment. Pope Francis links a “magical conception of the market,” which privileges profit over the impact on the poor, with the abuse of the environment (No. 190). Needless to say, a heedless pursuit of money that sets aside the interests of the marginalized and leads to the ruination of the planet are connected “Profit,” he says, “cannot be the sole criterion” of our decisions (No. 187).

We’d just comment there that as silo-busting project managers, we know more than most about this concept of ‘everything being connected’ – or at least we know that things work better on our projects when they are connected. But the message for us is in the last line: “Profit cannot be the sole criterion of our decisions”. This is an important piece of CSR or TBL thinking.


7)    Scientific research on the environment is to be praised and used.

Pope Francis does not try to “prove” anything about climate change in this document. He frankly admits that the church does not “presume to settle scientific questions” (No. 188). And while he clearly states that there are disputes over current science, his encyclical accepts the “best scientific research available today” and builds on it, rather than entering into a specialist’s debate (No. 15). Speaking of the great forests of the Amazon and Congo, and of glaciers and aquifers, for example, he simply says, “We know how important these are for the earth…”

As project managers, we know that we must be unbiased and to base decisions on facts. These points made by the Pope remind us that the science of project management is better served when we rely on the science of facts and the facts that science brings us.   Yes, we use ‘gut feel’ and manage by experience and other soft skills – but don’t ignore what the science is telling you.


8)    Widespread indifference and selfishness worsen environmental problems.

Pope Francis reserves his strongest criticism for the wealthy who ignore the problem of climate change, and especially its effect on the poor. This affects not simply for those in the developing world, but also in the inner cities of our more developed countries, where he calls for what might be termed an “urban ecology.” In the world of “Laudato Si” there is no room for selfishness or indifference. One cannot care for the rest of nature “if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings” (No. 91).

We use this point just to refresh and re-charge the idea that the bottom line of a project includes ecological and social aspects. Further, we can take the Pope’s last point as a reminder to deal compassionately with our project teams. In our experience we’ve seen “successful” projects which have left a trail of bruised and bloodied project team members (well, maybe bunt-out is a better description). These folks won’t want to work on our projects ever again. So if we localize these thoughts and even bring them into our project teams, we have a net benefit. But clearly the Pope is talking about a larger problem. We can make a difference locally and globally as project managers.


10)    A change of heart is required

At heart, this document, addressed to “every person on the planet” is a call for a new way of looking at things, a “bold cultural revolution” (No. 3, 114). We face an urgent crisis, when, thanks to our actions, the earth has begun to more and more like, in Francis’ vivid language, “an immense pile of filth” (No. 21). Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, we can strive both individually and corporately to change course. We can awaken our hearts and move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we see the intimate connection between God and all beings, and more readily listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (No. 49).

We use this point as a high-level summary for us as project managers. The phraseology ‘individually and corporately to change course’ struck a chord with us. Maybe it will with you as well.


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