In this case, unplugged is a BAD thing

You’d think we would be in favor of unplugging.  That is, saving energy, preventing waste…you know, being “green”.

And we are in favor of unplugging.

But there’s an exception – a big one.

That exception has to do with a huge source of power for Project Managers, a renewable source of endless project energy that often, as shown in the sophisticated schematic diagram on the right, goes untapped.  What is this power of which we speak?

It’s simple – it’s the power of your own organization. And it’s right there ‘above’ and ‘below’ you.

Let’s start at the top. We refer to the power in your organization’s Purpose, Identity, and Long-term Intentions.  These are the Top Leadership ideals that are often publicly stated, and always should be communicated to shareholders and employees.  They give “ideation” to  your organization.

Now let’s jump down to the bottom.  Your organization’s heartbeat, its flow, is its operations.  This is the day-to-day reality of your business.

And where are we, the project, program, and portfolio managers of the world?  We, dear friends, are where the rubber (the strategy that comes from Ideation) meets the road (the operations).

What’s all this coming from?

Below you see the Strategic Execution Framework or SEF (courtesy and copyright of IPS), which is used as the basis of Stanford University’s Center for Professional Development’s Certificate in Advanced Project Management.  We were lucky enough to attend one of their courses where this was presented.  It struck a chord with us because we have always preached that project managers can gain power by aligning with the organization’s strategy, and often overlook this.  Furthermore we have insisted that project managers often put on blinders when it comes to the “end” of their project, failing to connect with (or plug in to) the operations of the company.  Why?  We’re programmed to consider a project as having a definitive beginning and end – and that end occurs when we hand over the final deliverable.

Only “final” is not so final, after all.  When a project, say a bridge, is “done”, that only means that it can BEGIN sending pedestrians and/or vehicles over a river.  Does this mean we, as project managers, have to continue monitoring each car as it goes over the bridge?  Of course not.  But it DOES mean that we should think about the long-term disposition of the bridge in the steady state.  It will help us identify risk, connect with stakeholders that we mightn’t have thought of, and in general do a better job of creating sustainable projects.  In the bridge example, we assert that the project manager should consider the paving material, not just for its ability to provide improved mileage for vehicles, but also for its ability to withstand heating and cooling without breaking up and requiring repaving every year.  At least ask these questions.  It will help you connect to the operations ‘below’ and the ‘long term initiatives’ above.

Take a look at the SEF (you forgot already?  It stands for Strategic Execution Framework) below.  See how important it is for an organization to plug together all of the pieces if they want to get to a sustainable steady-state.  And guess who is at the center of it allYou.  The well-connected project, program, and/or portfolio manager.

What we expound here are great general PM principles and practices, and by no coincidence, are great green (or better-stated) sustainable PM principles.  Even Stanford’s naming of the areas is important.  Notice “Long-term Intentions”.  Long-term.  Smacks of the word “sustainable”, doesn’t it?  How about “operations”?  Hmm, that word also implies ongoing, enduring…. yes, there it is – sustainability, again.

So why wouldn’t the middle portion of this flowchart (where we PMs live) not ALSO think sustainably?  We should!  We need to plug in!

  • Connect upwards: You don’t have to be a top corporate HQ leader or CEO to know and live the organizations’ strategies.
    • Read and re-read your organization’s mission, vision and values.  Check messaging from company leaders.  Of course we would steer you to messages on sustainability and the environment, but you can derive power for your projects’ charters from any of the messages at the top of the SEF.
  • Connect downwards: You can, and should, consider our discipline of PM as distinct from operations.  But that doesn’t mean we have to ignore them.
    • Get to know the people who will operate the product of your project
    • Understand the set of users as a stakeholder group and drink in their requirements and expectations as fodder for risk identification
    • Think life-cycle.  What happens to the final product of the operations of your product in the long term?  Can you learn anything with that mindset?  We assert that you absolutely can.
  • PLUG IN! Peers in both directions are working towards sustainability, both economic and ecological.  We need to pair with these colleagues and learn from both.

Have a look at the SEF, we provide a large version below.

And think, really THINK about whether you are unplugged – and losing a precious source of project power.

So – are you unplugged?

Get connected.

Read our book – it has several chapters on these subjects.


pushmi-pullyuIt’s almost time for New Year’s Resolutions, and we start with best New Year’s wishes for all of our readers and followers.  Happy New Year!

What will motivate you and your organizations as you move into this new year and set strategy?

In terms of setting projects and programs to become leaner, more efficient, and to reduce your impact on the environment, will you be pushed into this by regulation, legislation, laws, and limits?  Or will incentives from government, or better economics of doing things the right way have a pull on you and your projects?  Or, perhaps, it’s about image – an image that your advertising is projecting, which needs to match your actual way of behaving and performing?


Resolutions are set at the end of December, looking forward towards January.  Just as January is based on the Roman god Janus, with a forward and backward-looking face, the Pushmi-Pullyu, a creature from Dr. Dolittle, is the inspiration for this posting.

This is a good time to think about these forces which pull and push your organization – and thus your projects – in different directions.  Your PMO sits at a key point in the organization’s ability to execute portfolios, programs and projects, all of which should be tied firmly to the enterprise’s mission and values.  In our book (“Green Project Management“, CRC Press) we explore Interface Carpet and the way in which Ray Anderson made environmental commitments and how that in turn drove programs and projects for his enterprise – yielding tremendous savings in reduced waste, improvements in employee morale, and a better product.

Those of you who are sharp-eyed readers will have noted that the word “limits” above is a hyperlink.  And, in typical PM, Type A Personality fashion, you may have already clicked on that link and noticed that it was from a story in today’s Boston Globe.  This was another inspiration for today’s posting – the PUSH side of the equation.  But even in this story, the PULL comes out.  Let’s break it down for you, using some pull quotes from the story:


“Over the next decade, the plan aims to bring greenhouse gas emissions to levels that are 25 percent below those in 1990, the maximum possible limit allowed under the state Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. That legislation mandates an 80 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”


“Under the new plan, the state would cut at least an additional 7 percent through new initiatives and incentives, including a pilot program to make auto insurance cheaper for people who drive fewer miles.”

This story is interesting enough to read separately from the blog posting and we suggest you do just that by clicking here.

However we also – as is our habit – would like to share a a couple of  resources with you that resonate to this same theme – Pushmi-Pullyu.

Below is a chart from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change‘s Climate Change 101:

green can be gold - bar chart

Note the large number of “PULL” aspects to this chart – reasons to move towards acting with greenality, based on logic and necessity rather than mandate.  We think 2011 may be a key year for enterprises to realize this pull, and for governments to do whatever they can to accentuate and incentivize based on these pulls, while bringing out the mandates and limits – the pushes – where necessary.

As usual – it’s all about balance.

May 2011 be a very balanced year for all of you.

Would you mind – becoming sustainable?


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:


Go with the flow


Once in a while we will take the opportunity to send you to a meaningful and/or content-rich website or blog with intriguing resources for project managers.

Such is the case with the blog Green Flow.

The blog is part of Common Current, and is authored by Warren Karlenzig.

Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the federal government; the nation of South Korea (“New Cities Green Metrics”); The European Union (“Green and Connected Cities Initiative”); the State of California (“Comprehensive Recycling Communities” and “Sustainable Community Plans”); major cities; and the world’s largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Since the focus of the blog is new trends and economic news related to sustainability, project managers can go here to help predict where the ‘action’ will be in terms of new programs and projects.  You can see this in the most recent posting about the US Green Economy.

Visit Green Flow – and keep current.