Meet like you “green” it

An editorial and book review….


When we started our foray into the intersection of project management and (at the time) “green”, many folks interpreted our work as making project management more “green” by turning the project office lights off when nobody was around, or using less paper for our Gantt charts.  We agreed that this was indeed a part of a much larger picture.

Since then, well, first of all, we stopped putting the word “green” in quotes (most of the time) and invented another word for increasing sustainability in business – greenality.  We’ve also graduated from “green” project management to the concept of long-term and holistic, or sustainability-oriented project management.  It’s a much more meaningful approach – centered around benefits realization for people, planet, and projects.

However, in this post we’re flashing back to those days and looking at the very specific greenality of projects – or in fact of business in general – with a review of a book that covers the topic of meetings.

Think about how much energy is wasted in meetings.  In this, we include real, physical energy, such as travel to-and-from, hotel stays, projectors displaying (endless) powerpoint slide decks, and so on.  We include the paper copies made for each attendee, the note paper on which endless doodles are applied to match the endless powerpoint decks.  But also the mental energy that is wasted in occupying many people without necessarily getting the expected result – or any result at all.

Now move ahead to virtual meetings.  Big savings, right?  No travel.  No hotel.  Less paper.  Everyone meets online and we’ve saved the planet and run a great meeting!  Right?

Not necessarily.

Wayne Turmel, who we first came across as The Cranky Middle Manager, has written a book called “Meet Like You Mean It!” and it’s a short but powerful guide to meeting online using the many web-based tools like WebEx and Adobe Connect and LiveMeeting.  What’s nice about this book is that it includes the general obligatory and important basic guidelines to meetings of all sorts, but gets very detailed and specific in terms of the tools and menu options and features of each of these tools – opening up a virtual treasure chest of capabilities that make virtual meetings actually work at least as well as physical meetings for many purposes.

What also makes this book valuable is Wayne’s outstanding sense of humor, based on his decades of real experience as a manager in the wonderful world of IT projects.  Here is a wonderful example of his writing style:

1. Genghis Khan ruled half the known world very effectively
and never held a WebEx meeting. Now, I’m not suggesting
you use his methods of accountability and performance
review (although they were effective, even if HR wouldn’t
approve.) The point is, when a team is properly motivated,
aligned and held accountable it’s easier to handle the whole
time-and-distance problem.
2. Having great tools doesn’t mean that the meetings will be any
better. It’s what you do with them. Just as in the old movie
“Soylent Green”, the secret ingredient is people. A well-led,
inspired team with lousy tools will beat the heck out of a
lousy team with a great IT budget almost every time.

At 146 pages, it’s not that long a book – that’s because it gets right to the point (like your meetings should).  So, to those who originally thought that EarthPM was all about green projects in terms of more efficient meetings and burning less energy at the office – this one’s for you!

Highly recommended!

An ancient inspiration for sustainability thinking

It’s the time of year when the Jewish High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, literally “Head of the Year” and “Day of Attonement”) take place.

And this year, it yielded a connection between an Old Testament story, and our job of project managers.


It’s possible, just give it a chance.   C’mon!

Let’s start with a story, which comes from a book called Rosh Hashanah Readings, Inspiration, Information, and Contemplation.

The story goes like this:


Rabbi Menahem Mendle of Kotzk once put this question to his students:  What was the hardest part of the Akedah (the episode where he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac) for Abraham?  Was it the initial call (where he was first told he had to do this task)?  Was it the long walk to and up Mt. Moriah (the location where he was told to sacrifice Isaac)?  Or was it the binding of his son?

The answer from the Rabbi – of course – was “none of the above”.  The hardest part instead was coming down the mountain.  As Rabbi Wolpe, the author of the referenced book, says:

In peak moments of our lives, the immediacy, the rush of adrenaline often carries us through (sound like some of your projects?).  What happens afterward is the true test of sincerity, for afterward we must live with the consequences of our actions.  Are we faithful to those peak moments?  Dow we forget them, or disregard them?

He goes on to say:

“There is great drama in falling in love.  But the test of a love is not in the falling; it is in the staying.  The test of life is not in the moments of passion that can stir the blood and push even the sluggard to new swiftness and resolve.  The test of life is after the crisis has passed.  Our worthiness is not measured at the pinnacle, but in the persistence.

“In teaching (we substitute project management here), there are times when we are kindled by the task (project) at hand.  Such experiences are wonderful, but ultimately it is in the daily work, when we come down the mountain, that our achievement (project) will be measured.  In our [projects] we should recall that [projects] are not a parade of peaks but a long, loving walk together through valleys and level plains.  We should treasure the summit of inspiration, but not live by it.  Here below, once we have come down the mountain, our task awaits.”

The connection, if you haven’t got it yet, is that projects are often like the story of the binding of Isaac.

Think about Abraham’s Project – the binding of Isaac.  As project manager, Abraham faced these project elements:

  • A project packed with high stakes and high emotion
  • He was personally involved as a key stakeholder
  • The project required both physical and mental devotion
  • The project involved consuming important resources (in this case, potentially, Isaac!)
  • Subject to radical change in scope by a Really Big Boss
  • Subject to cancellation at any moment by a Really Big Boss
  • The project manager did not agree with the end objective but “soldiered on” because it was the directive from the Really Big Boss
  • The project manager needed to think of the long-term consequences of the project even after it was closed

Sound familiar?  Although human sacrifice is unlikely the product of your project, your project does have a product.  Its product – the bridge, software package, coffeemaker, new pharmaceutical or biomedical device, is a quest.  But don’t make the project the quest.  Make the steady-state success of the product your quest.  You indeed put your effort into bringing that end deliverable from idea to reality.  But have you thought about its life?  Have you considered the ‘long walk down the mountain’ and beyond?  How does the steady-state use of the project’s product meet your organization’s stated strategies and mission statement?  Because even if the project is successful and the product works, there may be some steady-state issues that, if taken into consideration now, could enhance your organization’s longer-term success.  Yes, it means thinking beyond the project.  But that’s what Rabbi Mendle was saying.  Think sustainably.


Through a Sustainability Lens

Often times we talk about the Green Spectrum, particularly with respect to projects that are green in general, or appear to have no sustainability aspect, when, in actuality, all projects have a sustainability element.  This time, we’ll look at a project that is Green by Definition, but is scrutinized through a sustainability lens.  And, it is a very,very interesting concept.

As part of the “Smart from the Start” (that sounds like a good phrase for sustainability in projects, too) initiative by Secretary of Interior Salazar, there is a proposal for a 200 mile-wide wind energy corridor stretching from Canada to the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

While we don’t know yet about the other sustainable aspects being considered, we do know, at this point, that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will write an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  “Wind energy is crucial to our nation’s future economic and environmental security. We will do our part to facilitate development of wind energy resources, while ensuring that they are sited and designed in ways that minimize and avoid negative impacts to fish and wildlife,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “This EIS process gives us an opportunity to evaluate impacts to dozens of imperiled species at a landscape level to ensure that wind energy development occurs in the right places in the right way.”

The reasoning behind the EIS is that in order to accomplish the project, an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) needs to be granted.  Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act and its implementing regulations “prohibit the take of animal species listed as endangered or threatened.”  It doesn’t allow the harassment, harm, pursuit, hunting, shooting, wounding, trapping, capturing, or collecting or, an attempt to engage in those practices when it comes to endangered or threatened species.  However, Under Section 10 of the Act, it allows for people to obtain an ITP as long as they are pursuing otherwise legal activities.  The permittee is then provided “incidental take” authorization.

The applicant must submit a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) containing the measures that it will take to minimize, avoid, or mitigate incidental take.  The Service will then review the HCP and issue an EIS that considers the impacts.  The Service will also identify “potentially significant impacts on biological resources, land use, air quality, water quality, water resources, economics, and other environmental/historical resources that may occur directly or indirectly as a result of implementing the proposed action or any of the alternatives. Various strategies for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating the impacts of incidental take will also be considered.  Sounds like risk management to me!

“The proposed Permit Area is defined as a 200-mile wide corridor determined by defining the center line of the whooping crane migration based on the database of confirmed whooping crane observations from the Cooperative Whooping Crane Tracking Program and buffering that line by 100 miles on either side. This corridor spans the Gulf Coast of Texas north to the Canadian border and encompasses such cities as Houston, TX; Oklahoma City, OK; Wichita, KS; Bismarck, ND; Grand Island, NE; and Aberdeen, SD. In addition, the permit area includes the current and a large part of the historic range of the lesser prairie-chicken which extends the covered area beyond the 200-mile wide whooping crane migration corridor to include parts of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.”

“Species currently considered for inclusion under the permit include the following: the endangered whooping crane (Grus americana); endangered interior least tern (Sterna antillarum athalassos); endangered piping plover (Charadrius melodus); and lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), a candidate species.”

There are two important points here for a project manager.  The first is that this will be one heck of a program, involving a huge amount of projects, wind energy projects including; the wind power generators themselves, transmission, distribution, support facilities, etc.  Secondly, it involves looking at the project through a sustainability lens.  In above case, a very narrow view because of regulatory issues (specifically the Endangered Species Act) one of the “drivers” in our book.  There will be more and more of these opportunities for the project manager who is not only aware of sustainability issues, vocabulary, and problems and drivers, but also uses that knowledge and considers greenality* when approaching any project.

* The degree to which an organization (project manager) has considered environmental (sustainable) factors that affect its projects during the entire project life cycle and beyond.

Natural Capital – An Answer

Some of the push back we’ve received is that unless you can assure economic benefits from instituting sustainable practices, it will be a hard sell.  fishProject managers, already managing scarce resources, may be put in the untenable position of using those scarce resources for issues that may not appear to be directly related to the project’s success.  As I said, that is some of the push back, certainly not our position.  We’ve always asserted that “a project run with green (sustainable) intent is the right thing to do”…..and that “an environmental strategy for a project provides added opportunity for success of both the project and the product of the project.”

From a friend of ours at the DOE, we received some information on a website that may be able to provide some additional ammunition for the project manager to help “sell” the concept of sustainability,  the Natural Capital Project. In further investigating this site, we came across this quote from Robert Costanza, Gund Professor of Ecological Economics and Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.  Professor Costanza puts it this way, “Natural capital is the extension of the economic notion of capital (manufactured means of production) to environmental goods and services. A functional definition of capital in general is: “a stock that yields a flow of valuable goods or services into the future”. Natural capital is thus the stock of natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future. For example, a stock of trees or fish provides a flow of new trees or fish, a flow which can be sustainable indefinitely.  Natural capital may also provide services like recycling wastes or water catchment and erosion control. Since the flow of services from ecosystems requires that they function as whole systems, the structure and diversity of the system are important components of natural capital.”  We particularly liked the example of the stock of trees and the stock of fish.

In our book, we’ve have some example of how sustainability can produce physical capital savings.  We’ve always asserted that there is other capital to be saved, and we think that Dr. Costanza echos our thoughts!

Some green gold for the holiday season


Various cultures celebrate this season differently, but in just about all of them, gold is considered valuable.

The book Green to Gold was one of our original inspirations when we started Earth PM, and wrote our book.  So we, of course, follow Andrew Winston’s excellent blog.  And he just put up a real nice posting.  We’ll be very lazy (getting in the holiday spirit) and simply send you there (a link is provided at the end of the list).  However, we ask that you take the time to follow the links he provides, and not just to read the list.

1. The climate bill dies in the U.S. Senate.

2. Nature strikes back/Climate change is real.

3. Resources get very tight.

4. China, China, China.

5. Renewables are for real and moving fast

6. Supply chain pressure continues to rise (a.k.a., Wal-Mart doesn’t slow down).

7. Zero is the new black.

8. Big goals were back.

9. Electric vehicles storm the market.

10. Small guys can do it too.

11. (Bonus!) The Military gets serious about green.

Click here for the top 10 (really 11) green business stories of 2010.  Again, we implore you to check out the well-assembled links that Winston has made available!

To our many subscribers, followers, and readers: thanks for your support, and have a great Holiday Season – may you find some green gold yourselves!