You may be too foxy!

Although the title of this post might make you think this is some strange cross between Star Wars and the video game series by Sega, instead it’s a different sort of combination, mainly coming from a great NPR podcast called “Hidden Brain” by Shankar Vedantam and a book called Expert Political Judgement by Philip Tetlock. As a matter of fact, the title of this post is literally one of the chapters in Tetlock’s book.

The Hidden Brain podcast episode, which turns out to be about transgender surgery, starts off by mentioning a metaphor about the fox and the hedgehog, originated by Greek philosopher Archilochus and popularized by philosopher Isaac Berlin.  In the story – and the essay from Berlin, hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single, powerful, overarching, defining idea – in their case, “DO NOT GET EATEN” – and do so by rolling up into a spine-covered ball, and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of tactics to hunt a variety of prey.

Read the rest of this post on our sister blog: People, Planet, Profits & Projects, here.

Invested in Sustainability as a PM? You should be!

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Many executives embrace the conventional wisdom that mainstream investors care little about an organization’s performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. Few companies make it a priority to communicate their sustainability performance to investors, or even develop a robust story about their sustainability performance. Why should they? Investors won’t shift their investments, the thinking goes, based on a company’s ESG performance. However, a growing number of investors are paying attention to ESG performance, as evidence mounts that sustainability-related activities are material to the financial success of a company over time. Investors care more about sustainability issues than many executives believe.

This is the opening paragraph of the latest MIT/Sloan & Boston Consulting Group report, “Investing for a Sustainable Future”.  Keeping in tune with the last two posts, in which the entire principle of project managers thinking ‘too broadly’ and ‘inflating their jobs’ was raised by some critics, it was meaningful to see this report which says that investors and C-level executives (key stakeholders of projects, programs and portfolios – and often the sponsors of the projects on which project managers work) are increasingly focused on sustainability, not only for altruistic reasons but because a concentration on sustainability has shown to yield financial benefit.

Here’s a little more about the survey, for validation: The input came from over 3,000 respondents from commercial enterprises. Within this commercial sample, 579 survey respondents self-identified as investors: Most were strategic (39%), institutional (24%), or retail (11%) investors. Few identified themselves as mission-oriented or socially responsible investors – so the choice to ‘invest in ESG’ is not (only) driven by a thread of fiery environmentalism or cause, but rather, success of the enterprises in which these investors put their money.

Where’s the project connection?  Well aside from the key connection already mentioned (can anyone say “stakeholder”?), there are initiatives and projects which are themselves focused on sustainability, and they are yielding financial benefits.  Here are three examples from the report, which illustrate why this has the attention of investors – and in our opinion should have the antennae of project managers and PMOs fully up and tuned in:

  • Florida Ice & Farm Company SA, based in Costa Rica, is (an) example. In 2005, the company respondedto Costa Rica’s looming water access crisis by investing in water-saving measures. Within two years, the organization had decreased its use of water in production by an eye-popping 82%. The reduction drove down production costs and helped sustain 20% annual growth between 2010 and 2014.
  • Deerfield, Illinois-based healthcare company Baxter International Inc. estimates it earns $3 for every $1 invested in environmental initiatives.
  • Johnson & Johnson is achieving a 19% internal rate of return on its CO2 projects.

In all three cases, the benefits were realized with projects – projects that look like they were focused on environmental activism, and may indeed have been – – but the line between taking on an ESG initiative and just “taking on an initiative” is blurring, quickly.  This is why project managers need to be aware of ESG principles, and increasingly positive ESG sponsor-stakeholders.

How does an enterprise move forward to gather in more investors, now that there’s evidence that investors increasingly care about ESG?

According to the article, these are key steps:

<> Build awareness of sustainability challenges and programs — both within the company and among stakeholders, including investors.

<>  Identify and analyze material issues and create alignment within the organization to ensure an integrated response.

<> Invest in and focus on tangible and measurable sustainability outcomes instead of positions on ratings lists.

<> Formulate a strategy once tangible sustainability measures are established.

<> Incorporate the sustainability strategy into the overall corporate strategy, including a clear business case or proof of value.

<> Engage investors, and a broad range of stakeholders, to discuss the company’s sustainability strategy and progress.

Look at that list.  For one thing, aren’t most of the items in the list actually projects in and of themselves?  Yes.  As a project manager, shouldn’t your project seek to align to the strategy and higher-level portfolio/program objectives?  Of course.

So again, we feel ‘charged up’ by this report, we feel that the comments about job inflation and overstepping our bounds as project managers to be just plain wrong-minded and out-of-step with the way business is changing.  At a minimum we recommend that those who assert that the PM should stay tucked away in isolation from the value chain is not only under-utilizing the talent and capability of the PM, it is actually breaking a ‘golden thread’ all the way from investors to end-customers.  As PMs we need to be conveyors of organizational strategy and objectives, not blockers.  As I final message I suggest you read the recent post by Cornelius Fichtner, “Benefits Realisation for Project Managers”, which coincidentally came out just around the time of our two posts on job inflation.

(This post originally entered on our regular channel, People, Planet, Profits, and Projects, on projectsatwork.com – we suggest you follow that stream as we don’t blog as regularly here anymore).

The Project Pope Statement

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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.

 

Would you mind – becoming sustainable?

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In our book, we were lucky enough to work with an EPA scientist on our chapter on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), and put projects in the broader sense of their outcomes and the longer-term operation of the project’s product.

But…you can read our book to get more about that…

What we’re writing about today is a resource we think you’ll like.

It’s free.

It’s simple.

It’s educational.

It’s from Sustainable Minds, creators of software which helps designers kick off their projects with the long-term thinking that we discuss in our book.

We got to see their software in action as applied by students at the Rhode Island School of Design, in very nice presentation by Craig Provost of that school.

Co-founders Dave and Rich attended an educator’s conference this week at Sustainable Minds’ headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

And so…on to the resource.  Sustainable Minds is providing a free webinar on the subject of the Life Cycle Assessment and how their software works in this area.  We think that as project managers you should avail yourself of the opportunity to learn about this.

Here’s a description:

Through this orientation and software demonstration, learn about EcoDesign and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and see what’s inside the software.

The webinar is scheduled for 27-July, 2PM to 3PM Eastern US time, and will have live participation from experts at Sustainable Minds.  It will be repeated each Tuesday.

Here is the link:

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/985394193

Enjoy!