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.