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Projectors, We need rethink a few things.

“The true definition of a project, according to modern acceptation, is, as is said before, a vast undertaking, too big to be managed, and therefore likely enough to come to nothing.” – Daniel Defoe, An Essay upon Projects (1697)

This is one of my favorite quotes for a couple reasons.  One being that it is historically the first published work on projects and the second being the perspective that if an undertaking is too vast, it probably won’t result in anything.

Ten years ago, we set out drive change and established what would eventually become GPM or “Green Project Management”.  As an organization, our mission has always been to advance sustainable practices in the project world.  Along the way, people have gotten hung up on the word green and if I could go back in time, I would probably tell myself to rethink the name a bit and while I am at it, I would probably keep going and encourage the good Mr. Defoe to rethink his notion that if a vast undertaking is too big to be managed, then maybe the project isn’t the problem but rather the approach.

As the project management profession matures, it is changing its view of what project success is. The profession is now moving beyond its traditional focus on time, cost, and scope to placing the emphasis on delivering the objectives in the business case while maintaining an asset lifecycle focus.

The next step in the evolutionary process is to adopt a sustainability ethos where projects do not come at the expense of the planet and its limited resources. Project management must make greater efforts to address each project’s social and environmental impacts so that the world we live in and that we are borrowing from future generations can regenerate and be sustained. In order to take this step, project management must move to a wider and well-rounded view of the project’s impact and value as illustrated below.

From Compliance to Value Creation

At GPM, we emphasize that the old model (on the left) is obsolete as it ignores critical factors as purpose and value, just to name a few.

In order to keep the evolutionary wheel spinning, we need to dig deeper.  What project owners, sponsors, and managers must understand is that we can no longer think about the product of the project as an end and the project as a means to it, but rather the beginning of a process that once delivered, initiates a next step of the project lifecycle.

In the graphic below, we look at an asset’s lifecycle.  Almost all project management approaches are completely focused on the initial delivery. This is ridiculous.

Cradle to Cradle view of the Asset Lifecycle

If the product of the project continues on after delivery to impact the environment around it long after the project has been delivered, why is “end of life” and “reuse” given little to no consideration? Single-use plastic products, for example, are choking out life all over the planet and yet they are still being developed en masse.  Why?

If value were a key performance indicator based on the project and product’s overall impact to our natural world we might not have to leave our garbage to future generations to clean up if that is even possible. Projects need to adopt regenerative development principles.

How do we drive bottom up change?

Regenesis group argues that “Becoming a regenerative practitioner is as much about developing capability and potential in oneself and one’s teams as it is about developing them in projects and communities. If humans are to be the agents of our own evolution and the enablers of the evolution we seek in the world, we must pursue all three lines of developmental work simultaneously.” [1] GPM advocates for competence as its three components (knowledge, skills, and ability) are a more complete descriptor. 

Relationship between individual/team competence and outcomes.

They also say that If we allow any one of these lines were to drop away, eventually the others will also collapse and we will become increasingly mechanical in how we think and work. This is both the challenge and the reward of taking on regenerative development.”

There was a scene in the first Men in Black movie where Tommy Lee Jones was enlightening Will Smith after his first encounter with aliens. [Stay with me here…] He told him “1500 years ago, everybody “knew” that the earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody “knew” that the earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you “knew” that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll “know” tomorrow.”

When so many challenges are facing humanity today, why are we using old methods to solve them?

Why do we ask people “Do you believe in climate change?” and not “Do you understand climate change?” It isn’t “should we address planetary collapse”, it is how are we not?

I call out to projectors!! (people who work in the project space) Project work comprises, at minimal, 30% of the global GDP. In some countries, it is even higher. With this in mind, our impact is immense! We must start to rethink our relationship between our personal competence, our missions, our teams, and how our projects are contributing to a solution or furthering a problem if we are to survive.

[1] GPM Global. Sustainable Project Management; the GPM Reference Guide; 2018
[2] Group, Regenesis. Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability. John Wiley & Sons P&T, 2016-08-29. VitalBook file.

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni has over 24 years of experience in project, program, and portfolio management, having led Aerospace, Finance, Government, and Technology initiatives. He has a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment, is a Certified Senior Project Manager (IPMA Level B®), and Certified Green Project Manager (GPM®). He is the founder and president of GPM Global and the President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association USA (IPMA-USA) He is a medal of honor recipient from Universidad Autonoma Lisboa, AI Media's Leading Advisor Award 2017, the 2015 World CSR Congress Leadership Award, 2014 HRD Leadership & Training Award, and 2013 IPMA Achievement Award. He has lectured on or taught sustainable project management in 50 countries worldwide.

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