Is every day earth day?


We were just wondering – if today is Earth day, what are the other 364 days?

We don’t make a huge deal of the day for that reason – even though we put the planet’s name in our company identity.

Today, we actually just want to bring up the 3-year-old Macondo Well, a.k.a. Gulf oil spill, a.k.a. BP oil spill, a.k.a. Deepwater Horizon.  And we bring it up in terms of long-term effects.  Not the long-term effects of the oil itself (although that’s critically important) but the long-term effects on the company, the employer, the entity known as BP.

Today we saw the results of a poll which shows that three years out, after spending over US$100M on advertising (and of course US$42B on the cleanup and spills), BP’s image is still tarnished.  Click here to read about that poll and see its details.

For those of you who followed our comments at the time or have seen our talks, or who have read our book, you know that we focus on the PROJECT aspects of the well and its turn up.  Key in our mind is that the risk register for Macondo (BP’s well, within the Deepwater Horizon platform owned by Transocean) included precisely zero safety or environmental risks.  All of the threats identified had to do with operations and efficiency. This is public information because of the Federal US investigation into the disaster.  Don’t believe us?  Just check out the actual risk register right here.  And the company had just introduced an incentive plan for managers which rewarded them significantly for efficiency and moneymaking but not at all for any safety or sustainability measures.

And so, here on Earth, where we see projects often managed and measured in that way, we have continued to plug (excuse the pun) for sustainability and long-term thinking in project planning, perhaps even redefining what is meant by success.

After 3 years, scores of billions of dollars spent, damaged ecosystems, poor morale, and a tarnished reputation, is that success?  Not here.  Not on Earth.  Maybe on one of those other 364 planets…

Happy Earth Day, everyone!


Lessons Learned to Lessons Burned

It’s now just two years since the Deepwater Horizon incident.  Many people seem to forget it.  After all, we see the smiling faces of the folks from the tourist industry in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana on those TV commercials, so it really wasn’t a problem, after all, right?

Not really, as you can read in this recent news story from, where you will find this extract:

A NOAA-commissioned study of 32 dolphins living in Barataria Bay, an area of the Gulf known to be heavily oiled, found that many of them were underweight, anemic and showing signs of lung and liver disease. Nearly half were also found to have adrenal insufficiency, a condition that interferes with basic life functions such as metabolism and the immune system.

While most of the dolphins were still alive at the end of the study, researchers have indicated that survival prospects for the sick dolphins are grim. Their prognosis is troubling because the Gulf dolphin population has been facing what scientists call an unusual mortality event over the last two years. Since February 2010, more than 675 dolphins have stranded in the northern Gulf of Mexico – compared to the usual average of 74 dolphins per year – and the majority of those stranded have been found dead.

But dolphins aren’t the only Gulf animals in trouble. Researchers looking at deep ocean corals seven miles from the spill source found dead and dying corals coated in a brown substance that was later chemically linked to oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.

Well, aside from the environmental damage, the damage for the involved project teams continues, now for the first time on the criminal front.  And the lesson learned for project teams is that lessons learned should be – must legally be – preserved.  When they’re not, you put yourself and your company at criminal risk.  And indeed as reported widely today, this has led to the arrest of a BP Engineer.

Quoting now from a Christian Science Monitor report, “The U.S. Justice Department made it clear that the investigation is still going on and suggested that more people could be arrested. In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said prosecutors “will hold accountable those who violated the law in connection with the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.”

“Federal investigators have been looking into the causes of the blowout and the actions of managers, engineers and rig workers at BP and its subcontractors Halliburton and Transocean in the days and hours before the April 20, 2010, explosion.

But the case against Mix focuses only on the aftermath of the blast, when BP scrambled for weeks to plug the leak. Even then, the charges are not really about the disaster itself, but about an alleged attempt to thwart the investigation into it.”

We’ve blogged repeatedly about the Macondo Well – aka Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  We have implored project managers to learn from the event – and the steps leading up to it, including NOT including environmental and safety risks in the project’s risk register.  And now, even the lessons learned themselves are at risk.

Learn from this project and its errors, which have led to 11 deaths, still-being-tallied environmental damage, $40-50B in costs to BP and the other principals, and intangible damage to BP, a company which had to its credit taken some impressive steps into alternative energy and was trying to re-brand itself as “Beyond Petroleum”.


Don’t burn.



A blog post we created ended up as an article in PMSA’s  (Project Management South Africa) monthly magazine.  The posting was about BP, and their preparation for, and reaction to, the environmental project risk as a result of the so-called “Deepwater Horizon” well incident, which now seems like ancient history.  In fact, already we encounter people who forget that this happened.
Anyway, after our article was published in PMSA’s The Project Manager (an excellent journal, by the way), there was a rebuttal of sorts by a gentleman who is very experienced in the oil industry.  While we appreciated his technical expertise we felt that we deserved a chance to reply, and PMSA accommodated that recently with the following response by EarthPM:
Rejoinder from Rich Maltzman and Dave Shirley, co-authors of the award-winning book Green Project Management, to the article by Ronald Smith entitled “BP is not the enemy”, on the BP oil spill (March 2011 edition of The Project Manager)We thank Mr Smith for the explanation and expertise he provided on the process of drilling for oil. His description made the process much more accessible than most and, importantly, more relevant to us as project managers. We appreciate his acknowledgement that the consideration of sustainability early on in the project might have had an effect, although we understand his scepticism that it might not have made any notable difference.

For our part, we are increasingly convinced that sustainability thinking (and the resulting actions) could have had an effect on whether an incident happened the way it did and how it was responded to.

Since the original article was published, more facts on the story have come to light. For example, the risk register that the local BP team used was recently released by a United States government agency as part of its investigation; and it indicates that the only risk categories populated were in cost, schedule and production (see You can see in the risk register that the suggested risk categories and those used by the team on the Macondo well.

Although BP, as a corporation, had admirably included environmental and safety risks in the overarching template, it incentivised all its teams with an “every dollar counts” programme, which did in fact yield significant savings for the company (

We would assert, however, that this incentive – and the immediate result it provided in terms of savings – drove behaviours, as illustrated by the fact that there were zero environmental and safety risks identified. Again, we know that we were not there to observe this happening so, admittedly, some of this is conjecture on our part (as we reminded readers in our original article); and no one can predict what would have happened if BP had identified these risks – but we do know as a matter of fact that unidentified risks will not have risk responses.

As far as the skimmer boats, with a $20-30 billion downside, and a need for “positive” public relations, why not have a fleet of these boats ready to deploy at key locations? It seems to us that it would have at least given the appearance that BP had been looking to prevent the spread of the oil, and at best would actually have recovered oil and helped prevent the spread of the oil. In our opinion, this is a relatively inexpensive purchase (or lease!), considering the downside risk.

Mr Smith discusses the way in which chief executive officer Tony Hayward and BP were treated by US President Barack Obama and Congress. On this note, we cannot defend politicians nor the political process and the actions of the committee that questioned Hayward.

We can acknowledge, however, that perception becomes reality; and the perception or impression that Hayward gave to many people – including some of these politicians – was that BP would sort of eventually get around to cleaning this up.

We think that part of corporate social responsibility is owning the problem and making it clear to all stakeholders that you believe the problem to be your own.

Now, let us talk to the point made about “low risk”. Let us be clear here on our terminology. Risk (in this case threat) is composed of two elements: the probability that something bad may happen; and the impact that this something may have. Multiplying the probability and impact yields the risk factor – the attribute used to judge how a risk affects a project objective.

We agree with Mr Smith that the risk event probability is low. But two similar events having occurred in 40 years is hard evidence that it is certainly not zero.

Furthermore, we think most people would agree the impact was high. Even BP would have to agree the $30bn of tangible fines and expenses and unknown intangible damage to its reputation is ‘high impact’.

When we multiply the probability (low, but not zero) and the impact (huge!), we still end up with a risk factor number that is fairly large. So – “low risk”? We disagree.

As to the analogy with plane crashes, we do not suggest clean-up crews at points all over the globe.

It should be noted that there are, in fact, emergency teams and equipment at every airport.

Furthermore, there are indeed agencies such as the Red Cross, the National Guard, the police and others who exist for the very reasons we discuss.

The analogy is not very appropriate nor relevant because the oil rigs are fixed in one place and not flying around. So it is therefore much less effort to plan and execute risk mitigations nearby at their source.

Mr Smith completes his story with this quote: “As Pogo the Possum said: ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us’.”

Well, we could not agree more, and we can do something about that.

Ensuring we include sustainability thinking in our projects, for example, including “environmental risks” in our risk analyses, goes a long way to helping us “go a long way” (i.e. being sustainable)

Here’s a link to the “rejoinder”:
Blame game
Tuesday, 17 January 2012

© 2012 – The Project Manager

Project managers don’t manage projects…

…they manage (or better yet, lead) people!

And so – one of the “bottom lines” of our Quadruple Bottom Line (QBL) is people.  The full set, of course, is People, Planet, Profits, and Projects.

We focus a lot on the Planet piece – this is natural for a company named EarthPM – but we know that the People part of sustainability is an important one.

We found a good resource for PMs interested in this aspect.  It’s from Michigan State University, and it’s called the Sustainable Workforce site.  On it, we found a list of best practices for an organization that wants to support a sustainable workforce.  The list seems to also feather into the HR and Communications areas of the PMBOK(R) Guide as well as the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.  We’ve highlighted some of the areas where we assert project managers, as ‘project people managers’ can pay attention to better the workforce from a sustainability perspective.

  • workplace flexibility to support long term education & career development, individual and organizational learning, & facilitation of work-family well-being;
  • the attraction, retention and development of a motivated workforce that experiences a positive organizational environment in which they work;
  • organizational and personal resilience, engagement, and the capacity to thrive;
  • occupational wellness practices that create healthy workforces that don’t burn out or unnecessarily tap into health care or dysfunctional behaviors due to excessive stress at work;
  • positive and transformative employment relationships;
  • innovation to help individuals positively adapt to new social & economic change such as new technology, globalization, 24-7 work & blurring work-life relationships & growing workforce diversity and multiculturalism;
  • worker control over the timing, location and about of work in ways that they still can be employed yet ensure care for themselves and their families effectively;
  • organizational reinvention, continuous improvement of employment systems to foster mutually beneficial outcomes for employees, employers and communities;
  • positive social change and innovation in employing organizations while balancing stakeholder interests and a “triple bottom line” (profit, worker well-being, family);
  • inclusive leadership & organizational change for supportive work force renewal.

Here are some other places to look for this aspect of project management’s contribution to the sustainable workforce:

BP’s statements about a sustainable workforce

Walmart’s practices for a sustainable workforce

Cummins objectives for its sustainable workforce

What does your organization do in this area?  How does project management play in this area?  As a project manager, how do you add value to team members’ long-term sustainability?

What do you think of this aspect of project management sustainability?  We’re interested in your thoughts.


BP Oil Spill – One Year Later

There are lots of things we could talk about one year later, but for this post we’d like to focus on the suit filed today by BP against Transocean, the rig’s owners, and Cameron International, the supplier of the  blow-out preventer, for $40 billion.  From AP (article),,  “The Deepwater Horizon BOP was unreasonably dangerous, and has caused and continues to cause harm, loss, injuries, and damages to BP (and others) stemming from the blowout of Macondo well, the resulting explosion and fire onboard the Deepwater Horizon, the efforts to regain control of the Macondo well, and the oil spill that ensued before control of the Macondo well could be regained,” BP said in the lawsuit against Cameron.  BP is also suing Halliburton, the company responsible for pouring the cement.

The reason we are focusing on this aspect is because, when we look at the benefits of Green Project Management, we see that green thinking should be a part of all the project’s processes, including the procurement process (just one of the processes outlined in our book).  In this case, if the questions were not asked, we would have asked about the greenality of BP’s “vendors”.  There would have been questions like:  What did Transocean consider for their environmental impact?  What safe guards were in place in case of an issue like a spill or blowout preventer failure?  Were those scenarios even considered?  Driving back into their processes, we could have asked to see the invitation to bid, to examine whether Transocean considered the greenality of their vendors.  This is just a sampling of questions to ask.  On a project this large like this, with the potential for devastation it has, the questioning would have been extensive and rigorous.

We advocate a “greenality clauses”.  We believe that if we choose a company, considering their green efforts as part of the decision making process, that they should be held accountable for those green efforts, as well as capturing that criteria in the contract.   Again, we like to give the obligatory caveat that we were not in the room when the decision was made by BP to go ahead and lease the rig from Transocean, so we don’t know exactly what went on.  But from our point of view, the project did not consider all of the green aspects it should have and that green project management would have helped in that process.