You are the co-founder of EarthPM, LLC, a company dedicated to integrating sustainability thinking into project management. What does “integration of sustainability thinking in project management” mean?
It is very important to distinguish the use of the word sustainability as an attribute of planning in any kind of project – ANY kind of project. Many people think of sustainability project management as the oversight of a wind farm construction project or an effort to save a species of butterfly. Sure, those projects directly involve sustainability – by definition. However, the point of integrating sustainability thinking is to consider long-term effects of the outcome of the project on society, on the environment, and on economics, well after the project’s product is handed over to a group which will operate it. For example, if the project is to launch a new coffeemaker and that coffeemaker’s day-to-day byproduct is a disposable plastic container – which is non-recyclable, the project plan could (and should) take into account the steady-state use of the product which is being developed. So perhaps another way of describing ‘integrating sustainability thinking into project management is ‘lifecycle thinking’.
WARNING: Many project management ‘thought leaders’ have pushed back and said that these decisions are out of the purview of the project manager – and they have a point. But my pushback to this pushback is (1) as change agents, project managers do need to speak truth to power, and should raise these issues to senior management, and (2) perhaps this indeed is better handled at the Program or Portfolio level.
Sustainability is what lasts over time: what do you think? What lasts in time between human activities that require specific attention in terms of sustainability?
Sustainability does involve lasting over time, yes. And that’s the point. Projects produce benefits which should be sustainably good, and should have minimal or zero ‘negative benefits’, or impacts, on society, on the environment, or the economic health of the sponsoring organization. For example, if an automotive company was to ‘cheat’ on emissions testing, and launches a project to implement software in their vehicles which does this, that project may have short-term benefit to the company but in the long term, it may cause damage to the environment, to drivers (who are their customers!) and if discovered, could result in large fines and financial detriment (loss of stock value) to the company in the long term.
So, these ‘sustainable’ results – benefits realization and impact assessment – should be considered in project management. This goes against our short-term view as project managers. We think of projects having a definitive start and finish, and when the finish line is in sight, we are thinking about the next race. We should think PAST this finish line because the project’s outcome will continue to run past that finish line.
Is there an impact of sustainability on intellectual activity?
There certainly is a reasonable amount of academic literature on sustainability in PM. A simple search on http://researchgate.net will yield papers, books, literature reviews and all sorts of valuable writing on the topic. It does take a sort of meta-thinking (thinking about how we think) to really accommodate sustainability in projects. But, here’s the problem: so far, the writing has stayed in books, literature reviews, and papers. It has not yet made it properly into standards and guidance for enterprises.
We need to jump that boundary and get the ‘intellect’ into the mindset of new project managers – and of course the senior managers that sponsor projects.
What are the opportunities to be seized in this PM Forum 2019 in Milan and what is an event of this kind in our society?
The reason I am so pleased (an honored!) to speak at this conference is that it is themed around Sustainability in PM. This is so fundamental to everything I’ve been talking about and writing about since 2009, culminating first in the book Green Project Management. The main opportunity to be seized is to go from theory to reality – and what an opportunity with PMI celebrating its 50th year along with us to help PMI do what it should do – provide the guidance and intellect and standards which would drive project managers to consider long-term, sustainability thinking in their projects, programs, and portfolios.
There will be a lot of energy at this National Conference. Let’s tame it and focus it on moving from theory to practice!
The 2030 UN agenda established 17 sustainable development and improvement goals to be achieved by 2030. What are the contact points of the PM Forum 2019?
The 17 goals are:
It’s difficult to make a one-by-one mapping to the PM Forum. However, I do have these comments.
As project managers, we should be thinking about the triple bottom line (economic, ecological, and social) and not only short-term economic benefits. In doing so, we are touching on many of these goals (No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being, climate action, life below water, life on land). For example, simply considering long-term energy use of the project’s outcome is a form of climate action.
There is one particular place that we can make a direct connection and that is in the very last one: Partnerships to achieve the goal. If PMI can be brought on board as a leader in integrating sustainability into Project Management, perhaps even partnering with the UN to do so, we have started to accomplish something very meaningful as a discipline.