Forest for the trees



The following quote comes from a popular business magazine (to be revealed later in this post):

“as customers and other stakeholders increasingly express interest in sustainably produced products, …organizations are paying more attention to the big picture

Yes. That’s the point of our whole book – Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success.


Ha!  Indeed, our book even features a forest on its cover!  Or are those trees?  Well…in fact it really comes down to that final word – success. What is success? If success is more than a quarter-to-quarter affair, then getting the organization, importantly including the project managers, on board regarding longer-term viewpoints, is going to be critical.





Here are some examples.

  • Kimberly-Clark, manufacturer of Kleenex™ tissues (for example) has set (and met!) a goal to procure 100% of its wood fiber from certified sources – a goal that drove many project to meet this goal in 2014.
  • Carillion, a global construction firm, has a three point plan regarding timber sourcing:
  1. A sourcing policy, tied in with the Forest Stewardship Council
  2. Partnering with key suppliers to educate them on their sustainability goals
  3. Added a review step at the portfolio level to make sure that each project was in compliance with the above.
  • Williams-Sonoma is partnering with its suppliers in Indonesia to build a nursery to grow plantation wood for its furniture lines
  • McDonalds is ending deforestation in its supply chain by procuring items (including beef!), coffee, and palm oil only from sustainable sources
  • Procter & Gamble will break its supply chain links to deforestation completely by 2020

See the connection to project management? It’s multi-faceted. In some cases, it’s direct, such as Carillion’s case which is actually making this part of their project compliance process. In some cases it’s a project “engine”, such as the case with Procter & Gamble; you don’t completely revamp the supply chain without launching a gaggle of projects – all of which will need sustainably-minded project managers.

Another thing to note: these companies are not Ben & Jerry’s or Patagonia, or Helen’s Whole Wheat Kelp Flakes… they are big MNCs (Multi-National Corporations) which have bought into the principles of sustainability not (only) due to a sense of what’s right, but because it makes good business sense (cents).

Consider your company. What sustainability goals have they set? How “outside the box”, how “long-term”, how “holistically” do they think? Can you as a project manager be a change agent to prod them along? Perhaps. After all, projects are indeed about change. Oh. And by the way, did we tell you where the article came from? Well, it comes from the current (December 2015) issue of PM Network magazine, the monthly journal of the Project Management Institute!


Is that a sustain on your shirt?

…or… a sustain?

An organization called The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (membership list below) has just released something called the Higg Index.

First, let’s tell you more about their goals (from their website):

The focus of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is to create and implement an index to measure the environmental and social performance of apparel and footwear products.


With the creation of an apparel and footwear index, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition aims to accomplish the following goals:

  •     Understand and quantify sustainability impacts of apparel and footwear products
  •     Dramatically reduce redundancy in measuring sustainability in the apparel and footwear industries
  •     Drive business value through reducing risk and uncovering efficiency
  •     Create a common means to communicate sustainability to stakeholders

So – one key thing to note here is that third bullet.  Business value through reducing risk and uncovering inefficiency.  They don’t even mention the innovation aspects here (although you’ll see it comes up later).  This reaffirms our ongoing contention that sustainability – woven into projects (excuse the pun) is not (only) about saving the planet but also about creating jobs, making money, and in general, taking care of shareholders.

Here’s more about the Higg Index:

The Higg Index 1.0 is primarily an indicator based tool for apparel that enables companies to evaluate material types, products, facilities and processes based on a range of environmental and product design choices.  The Index asks practice-based, qualitative questions to gauge environmental sustainability performance and drive behavior for improvement.  It is based largely on the Eco Index and Nike’s Apparel Environmental Design Tool, however it has been significantly enhanced through a pilot testing period.

The Higg Index 1.0 is a tool to help organizations standardize how they measure and evaluate environmental performance of apparel products across the supply chain at the brand, product and facility levels.  It is:

  • a self-assessment tool that enables rapid learning through identification of environmental sustainability hot spots and improvement opportunities;
  • a starting point of engagement, education, and collaboration among stakeholders in advance of more rigorous assessment efforts.

The immediate priority of the SAC is to use the Higg Index to drive improvement and innovation in the global apparel and footwear supply chain. While Coalition members see the need and value of a consumer-facing rating for products, it is a long-term aspiration and no timetable has been set for development of a consumer-facing label based on the Higg Index.

Read the entire press release about the Higg Index here.

Below is a 7-minute training video on how to use the Index:


As of now, this Higg Index is an industry- rather than consumer-facing system, so much of the this will remain behind the scenes. Still, consumers can only benefit from any improved business practices as a result of the tool’s implementation, say the administrators, “Consumers won’t receive direct information until the quality of the information and Index have evolved and that data is completely reliable and credible,.  At that point we’ll then consider the option of developing a consumer-facing label.”

If you are a brand-conscious consumer and want to know who’s been working on this, here are the members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition:

Adidas, Arvind Mills, ASICS, Avery Dennison, Bureau Veritas, C&A, Cohesive Trim, Columbia Sportswear, Clariant, The Coca-Cola Company, Cotton, Inc., Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce, DuPont, DyStar, Environmental
Defense Fund, Esprit, Esquel, European Outdoor Group, Gap Inc., H&M, HanesBrands, Huntsman, INDITEX, Intradeco, JC Penney, Kohl’s Department  Stores, Lenzing, Levi Strauss & Co., Li & Fung Limited, L.L.Bean, Inc.,  Loomstate, Makalot Industrial Company, Marks & Spencer, MAS Active, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Balance, Nike, Nordstrom, Oeko-Tex, Otto Group, Outdoor Industry Association, Patagonia, Pentland Brands, Pratibha Syntex Limited, PUMA, Ramatex Group, REI, TAL Apparel, Target, Teijin Fibers Limited, Textile Exchange, Timberland, Tiong Liong Corporation, University of Delaware, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Utrecht University, Verité, VF Corp, Walmart, WL Gore & Associates, and WRI.

Toilet Seat Up, Toilet Seat Down

One of our project management author colleagues – one Kimberly Wiefling – she of Scrappy Project Management and other great Scrappy books, recently posted on Facebook on the subject of men leaving the toilet seat up, and how that might disqualify them from ‘running the world’.

We refuse to get into THAT specific argument with her, especially since a full and detailed survey of all EarthPM male employees and their spouses revealed a 100% compliance with toilet seat etiquette.

However: she did bring “up” (excuse the pun, but this is a semi-lighthearted, semi-tongue-in-cheek posting anyway) a very interesting point which actually has a takeaway message for project managers.

Let’s look at the “project” of using the bathroom for, well, we’ll call it, elimination of waste.

The project (hopefully) is of fairly short duration, and has a very specific outcome.  The outcome: you leave the bathroom refreshed, relieved, and cleaned (and a little lighter).

So if you’re a male, and you are taking care of your “project” in a standing-up fashion (see, we’re keeping it clean here), after you flush and wash your hands, you’re done with the “project”, right?

No sir, you are not.

Not if there are other stakeholders in the living or working space who are seated for their “projects”, no.  You are not really done, because you have considered only the outcome of the project. You should be thinking beyond the project and toward the overall objectives of the living/working space – which includes a good relationship with persons of all genders!

So, if you remember to put the seat back down, you have made that connection that must be made between strategy/objectives and steady state operations.   By putting the seat down, you have thought about the environment of the project (the bathroom, and the living space) rather than simply your “project”.  You have thought about sustaining stakeholder relationships and not just relieving pressure on your internal organs.

This is what we’ve been preaching, and it took Kimberly to put it forward in a concise, graphic sort of way.

In fact (and this is for the sake of comedy) we have already said that the “People, Planet, Profits” expression needed another “P”, and we did that by adding Projects to it – to get the quadruple bottom line.  I wonder if Ms. Wiefling has discovered the quintuple bottom line – the fifth P being, well, er, Putting The Seat Down.  Ha!  You thought we were going to say something else, didn’t ya!

You really should give Kim Wiefling’s books a shot.  We use Scrappy Project Management in our Essentials of PM training class, as a counterpoint to the PMBOK® Guide.  Her new book is called Scrappy Women in Business: Living Proof that Bending the Rules Isn’t Breaking the Law.

Give it a chance.  Perhaps you can read it while…  never mind…



Sustainagility and Greenality: together at last

After reading the front page, top story of today’s Boston Globe, we’re glad we recently finished reading this book.

The Globe story indicates that yes, some of the findings of scientists regarding climate change were wrong.  However, they were not wrong the way some climate change cynics have asserted.  Unfortunately the scientists were wrong in the other direction.  They were too conservative, especially in the area of estimating the sea rise due to climate change.  For folks along the northern part of the Eastern US coastline – especially New England, the outlook for sea water levels rising is, much more near-term than theoretical or distant. According to the Globe, “what was once a problem for our great great-grandchildren is one our children could confront.” The scary news goes on:

“Already, 65 acres of prime Massachusetts coastal real estate is swallowed by the sea every year; ocean waters have crept up about a foot here in the last century. While more land will be eaten away, storm surges — abnormal rises of water during severe weather — layered on top of higher seas could push much further inland, especially in flat coastal areas of New England, and oceanside homes in places like Scituate and Gloucester will be even more vulnerable. Some scientists say that climate change may also bring fiercer and more frequent storms.”



Alas, after such a pessimistic article, it was good to have some optimistic input – some hope – mixed in as well.  With chapter subtitles like “We have all the tools we need”, the book Sustainagility by Patrick Dixon and Johan Gorecki paints an empowering picture that shows how technology can slow the effects of climate change and allow the planet to do some recovering.  For example, it was nice to read that wind turbines, according to the book, “have the theoretical capacity to provide 40 times all the world’s electricity demands if storage and transmission problems could be solved in an affordable way.

This makes us happy both because of the promise of clean power – but also for the incredibly selfish reason that if an organization wanted to:

  • solve a wind turbine storage problem
  • increase power transmission capacity and efficiency
  • build turbines
  • lay cables
  • meter the grid
  • and on and on and on…

..any of these would be – you guessed it – programs and projects.

The summary of the book says: “Innovation and agility will solve most of the greatest threats to our planet’s ecosystem, argue Patrick Dixon and Johan Gorecki. In “Sustainagility,” they suggest positive ways that businesses and individuals can address these threats while making a profit. “Sustainagility” covers how to encourage green innovation inside an organization, how to develop green technologies faster, and how to adapt rapidly to stay ahead of competition. It includes text boxes containing shocking statistics about the destruction of our planet, short inspiring examples of how innovation has created new profitable business and helped the world, and personal messages from global leaders about sustainable innovation. Case studies of numerous well-known, high-profile companies are featured, demonstrating that companies have successfully used innovative and agile processes to improve their businesses and fight some of the greatest threats to the world’s ecosystems.”

The book’s inviting approach is to use interviews with leaders from the year 2040 (in fact opening with an interview from the UN President from 20-May, 2040), with a retrospective of how close to the edge we were, until innovative, agile companies started solving problems (we would assert – with projects).

The book is interesting and – as we said – uplifting.  We liked two things the most, though.

1. Their use of smashing two words together to get a point across.  They combined Sustainability and Agility, to get Sustainagility.  We combined Green and Quality to get greenality.  In both cases, the authors were driven to communicate a concept by combining two well-known, existing concepts.

2. In the book’s “Afterword” there are “Ten Steps to Profitable Sustainability”.  Again, this is one of our themes – properly completed projects of any kind which are run with “Triple bottom line” thinking – will be better projects, not in spite of, but because of the life-cycle and holistic considerations involved.

Below we paraphrase the “Ten steps for your company”:

  1. Make ‘sustainability’ central to your strategy
  2. Look at the resources you use, directly or indirectly
  3. Take steps to reduce carbon use – but also all resource use
  4. Tell your own ‘sustainability story’ better than competitors
  5. Link every sale to a triple bottom line benefit
  6. Partner with environmental groups
  7. Stay profitable -control costs and choose proper pricing
  8. Work closely with experienced people
  9. Small (incremental) changes do add up, and do count
  10. Encourage your suppliers and customers to think with more greenality

The book goes on to provide 10 steps for governments and 12 things consumers can do.

Our point, as it has been from the start, and which we will sustain – excuse the quite intentional pun– is that project managers are at that point in most organizations which is particularly sensitive to getting things done.  The ideas above – remain ideas, until a PM grabs on to one of them and makes it real and can hand it off to the steady-state.

We hope that more and more project managers get this.  And more importantly, we hope that the leaders of the agile and innovative companies at the forefront of these efforts understand how much their project managers and through them, their project teams, matter in these efforts.


What does hope look like? Greg Balestrero, CEO of PMI on your role in a sustainable future.

Click on the image to see the video from IIL

For those of you who are project managers, HAPPY IPM DAY!

It’s actually a little late to wish that to you – IPM (International Project Management) Day was actually yesterday, so accept our apologies for being late!  But we are on scope and on budget…

IPM day is meant to be celebrated (see with education and sharing of experience amongst project managers.  IIL (the International Institute for Learning) sponsored a web-based event for the ‘holiday’, and amongst the resources at their virtual event was an excellent talk by Greg Balestrero, PMI’s CEO, entitled “What Does Hope Look Like?”.  The subtitle is “Project Management and a Sustainable Future”.  We urge you to have a look at it and provide the link here.

We won’t judge or summarize.  We just invite you to watch and learn.