Agnotology

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I am about to offend you.


Do you have all of the data, information, knowledge, and wisdom you need to make your project decisions? Are you missing something? In a way, I’m asking what could be interpreted as a very offensive question: “are you ignorant”?
But I’m using ignorance in its truest sense – lacking the proper knowledge or information.
Happy New Year! I certainly don’t mean to offend. I’m actually sharing a very interesting article from BBC Future, which discusses the science of agnotology.  This is the science and study of ‘culturally induced ignorance’ such as when the tobacco industry clouded the science around tobacco and lung cancer so that people remained ignorant of the connection.
The story features Robert Proctor, a science historian who has studied the ‘spread of ignorance’.  Per the article:

“Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth.
Consider climate change as an example. “The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it’s over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts,” says Proctor.”

 

(Blogger’s Note: the photo associated with this post actually comes from a form of social expression in Australia in which hundreds literally buried their heads in the sand on Bondi Beach to mock Prime Minster Tony Abbott on his denial view of climate change science)

The connection to us as project, program, and portfolio managers, of course, is that whatever our political beliefs, we cannot tolerate (or perhaps put more realistically, afford) to be ignorant. We have to be connected – as connected as possible – to the facts, whether they be the latest report from a subcontractor, the budget results, or, yes, climate change. Even if you disagree with the science or are dubious about the way in which it is presented, understand the way in which others are processing the information, and take that as a fact – as information – as knowledge.
In any case, have a look at the article – it’s fascinating to learn about a whole science dedicated to the idea of what we don’t know and why we don’t know it.
Learning about what we don’t know and why – and even more importantly, learning how we can prevent our own ignorance – is simply best-practice project management.

There’s actually an assessment tool to check on your level of awareness on sustainability issues in your projects, programs, and portfolios, called The Sustainability Wheel™ in our new book, “Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success“.  Check it out (both the book and the assessment tool).

Using the Sustainability Radar™ from our tool, you can find out if you are a Fearless Leader, or (gasp) an Efficient Bamboozler, or one of dozens of other types.  And more importantly, there is coaching to help reverse any gaps.

 

See below.

sustradar

 

 

 

 

Check out Sustainability Radar™ in our new book.

With that, we’d like to wish you an Agnotologically Correct Happy New Year!

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.

 

Sweet Spot for Sustainability Success!

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As a fan of assuring that project managers have the proper skills and competencies to do their work, I was very happy to see a paper which reviews the literature on sustainability competencies.

Of course, for the past 8 years, EarthPM have been big proponents of combining these ideas. We assert that the skills and capabilities of project managers, combined with the elements of a long-term view, and consideration of social aspects of project outcomes, make for a much more capable project manager, a more satisfied project team, and an outcome which satisfies a broader set of stakeholders for a longer time.

So we were very pleased to recently review a summary of research provided by Coro Strandberg, which identifies five key competencies for sustainability leadership. You may not even believe that project managers need these competencies. It’s the intent of this blog post to convince you otherwise.

Coro actually identifies three skills –System Thinking, External Collaboration, and Social Innovation – and two knowledge areas – Sustainability Literacy and Active Values.

Taken together, here are the five competencies:

1. Systems thinking
2. External collaboration
3. Social innovation
4. Sustainability literacy
5. Active values

The first two, I believe, don’t need much elaboration for us as project managers. I hope most of us would agree that Systems Thinking and External Collaboration are representative of what we need to be good at as PMs.

It’s the next few I’d like to touch on in a little detail.

Social innovation is the “ability to generate and enable business model, organization, and system level innovation to advance both business and social value. It shifts the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future with stakeholders”. Doesn’t that sound like “quality”? Doesn’t that evoke the idea of really well-done requirements management so that the outcome of the project isn’t just ‘cool’ but works for the people who care?
Yes, there is an element here, we admit, that we may not be used to as project managers – that idea of thinking of social value along with business value. However we’d assert that doing this would be truly best for an enterprise if they just look up to the enterprise’s mission/vision statements which likely state that the enterprise intends to serve not only as a means to generate profits but also to satisfy community and social needs as well.

Sustainability Literacy – here we want to simply assert that as employees who want to stay employees, it’s too your advantage to become literate about sustainability. Agree or not with the premise(s) involved in the drive for sustainability, the hard fact is that many organizations – and their customers (your customers, perhaps) are mobilizing to think along the lines of Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s only logical that those who can speak the language and understand what this is all about gain an advantage in the employment market.
“Active values” is a bit esoteric. It includes the ability to “develop and pursue higher purpose within self, teams and business – to practice ‘mindfulness’, and to foster and enable personal and organizational transformation (change)”. Yet esoteric as it is, it has a very real benefit to you as a project manager because it’s been shown over and over again that project teams that feel they are working for a higher purpose do better. Don’t believe me? Check out the excellent TED video by Dan Pink, which covers Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose as the key motivators of teams that do anything other than routine mechanical work.
If this doesn’t hook you in, look at the skills/competencies upon which these five sustainability leadership competencies are built. Tell me they don’t look familiar:

System Thinking: Problem-Solving, Analytical Thinking and Strategic Planning
External Collaboration: Internal Collaboration,
Relationship Building and Conflict Resolution
Social Innovation: Change Leadership, Creativity and
Innovation
Sustainability Literacy: Business Acumen and Financial Leadership
Active Values: Diversity, Integrity and Self-Management

This means that not only are these important, but they should be easily learned by us as project managers. The competencies you see above – I’m sure you recognize them in yourself, or at least you aspire to excel at these competencies. For sustainability leadership, you just need to adapt them and expand on them in more meaningful ways.
By doing so, you can hit a really key “sweet spot” (see figure below) to not only make your projects more successful, but to improve your career and your personal success. And that’s something on which we all can readily agree!

sweetspot

http://corostrandberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/sustainability-competencies-2015.pdf

Innovation, Government, Sustainability, and Project Management

book-ISWe recently had a unique opportunity to see the United States’ former CTO (Chief Technical Officer), Aneesh Chopra, discuss his book, “Innovative State” (see image – click on it to go to Chopra’s dedicated site).

We also got to briefly discuss our book, Green Project Management with him.

Turns out, Mr. Chopra’s dad is a PMP(R)-Credentialed project manager.  So there is a strong connection there.  Also, in interviews with the author we’ve heard, he frequently refers to the importance of project management – good PM practices, that is – to government projects, such as healthcare.gov.  In that case, he says, the project was lacking good PM practices.  Evidently.  But there are a couple of major points that are made in this book as well as in TED talks and other interviews with Chopra.

In this blog post, we’ll focus on one: Open Data.  This is Chapter 5 in the book, by the way.

Not from Chapter 5, but appropriate to the subject, is a great quote from UC Berkeley professor Henry Cheesborough, “before you can effectively innovate in any open way beyond the boundary of your own firm, you have to become more open internally within your own firm”.  We like that quote because we have been huge proponents of “LinkedIn”/”Facebook”-like communities inside companies for their communities of project managers and have see the benefits they reap in terms of sharing project wisdom.

What is fascinating about the chapter on Open Data, is that it begins with Thomas Jefferson.  But not Thomas Jefferson the President, Thomas Jefferson the weather nut.  He was a meticulous record-keeper when it came to meteorology.  Read the chapter for more detail but the funny thing is, when Chopra is talking about open data, climate (and by extension sustainability) was the driver even in this example from the 1770s.

The book goes on to describe the collaboration with French ministries, the application of the telegraph and eventually the internet to weather data, and the formation of the National Weather Bureau and National Weather Service.  But the most important point is that the multibillion dollar industry around weather (think Weather.com, your local TV station’s glitzy weather forecast) is all based around a single open data set provided by weather.gov.  The point?  The connection?

Project managers trying to make sustainability a central theme to their project offices, to their project management communities, have the same need for information, education, wisdom, knowledge, whatever you want to call it.  And we think that Open Data is appropriate at this stage for the collaboration of organizations working in this area.  Just as there is a multibillion dollar industry around weather, there is enough monetization to go around in terms of making project management a more triple-bottom-line oriented discipline.   And this is without considering the altruistic nature of making project managers a more long-term-thinking bunch.  The message, to our colleagues in the area of project management and sustainability is simply this: consider buying in to Aneesh Chopra’s idea of Open Data for the benefit it brings us collectively and to our discipline holistically.

If any of this intrigues you at all, please watch this free video where Aneesh Chopra talks about Open Data and Open Innovation, and consider how this could help promote what needs to be a stronger intersection of sustainability and project management:

 

 

 

Your projects, Chaff, Flight MH370, Pings, and The Indian Ocean Gyre

flight370DEBRISsearch
Photo from KAALTV.com

 

That seemingly unrelated list of items came together for us in this post by Marc Lallanilla, of LiveScience.

The chaff

One of our favorite exercises in our project management training repertoire is an Earned Value team project in which the teams get an information packet including emails, phone messages, spreadsheets, shopping lists, budgets, and other miscellaneous stuff – from which, they need to find the proper information and yield fun stuff like Estimate At Completion and Percent Complete.

They need to separate the key information from the chaff.  We constantly have to do this as project managers.

The Search for MH370

And that brings us to the above-mentioned article which is entitled, Finding Flight 370: A Needle in a Garbage Patch?

This is the challenge faced by those searching for the potential debris field of Malaysia Airlines flight 370.  NOTE: We have a bit (yes, only a bit) of a connection here in that we were asked a couple of years ago to address a conference sponsored by the Malaysian government on sustainability and project management; in fact, we were honored to be the keynote speaker at this seminar in Kuala Lumpur.

So, back to the article, which covers the science of the “Gyre”  a large system of slowly-rotating ocean currents (think ‘toilet flush’, but much slower and much, much bigger).

The amount of garbage in the ocean has increased tremendously and it does not easily break down.  And now it is hindering this recovery operation, as we watch the news networks cover the ships pull up pieces of plastic that are NOT related at all to the missing plane.

Quoting from the article:

“Any search and rescue attempt will be hampered by untold quantities of debris,” Charles Moore, a sailor and researcher at the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, Calif., told The New York Times.

Moore is credited with being one of the first people to sound the alarm on the existence of the seas’ “garbage patches,” vast areas of floating garbage — most of it plastic — that he first saw in 1997 while crossing the Pacific Ocean.

“As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic,” Moore wrote in a 2003 essay for Natural History magazine.

“It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot,” Moore wrote. “In the week it took to cross … plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.”

Recent research has found that about 1,000 different microbes thrive on garbage patches. Many of the bacteria belong to the genus Vibrio (the same genus as the cholera bacteria), which is known to cause diseases in humans and animals. Other microbial members of the “plastisphere” seem to hasten the breakdown of the plastic.

To us, this is a reminder of two ‘sustainability in PM” threads:

1. There is no “Away”.  Away has gone away.  We should be thinking about the disposal of project waste as well as product-of-the-project waste when we initiate, plan, execute, monitor and control, and “close” our projects.

2. We will indeed be given the challenge of separating out project ‘meaningfulness’ from stray ‘garbage’ in our daily project management lives.  Just think of the volume of emails (pings?) that you get a day.  100?  200? 500?  And how many of them really make a difference on your project.  In that way, we share the style of quest that the MH370 hunters face today.

So, as you follow the news, think of these two threads and let them be yet another reminder of the connection between sustainability and project management.

And we leave this post with our thoughts and prayers going out in empathy to the families of passengers on MH370.