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December 2008 Archives

The McGreen Mindset

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Let's face it, McDonald's doesn't exactly scream sustainability. Yet the fast food chain has shown a fierce determination to demonstrate its green cred that goes back to way before it became so cool. In the late '80s and early '90s, McDonald's focused on reducing its packaging--eliminating 300 million pounds of the stuff. Granted, there was plenty of packaging to get rid of, but still ...
    Since then, the company has tackled sustainability projects on multiple levels, everything from collaborating with Greenpeace on a soy moratorium aimed at protecting the Amazon to rolling out an environmental scorecard for its suppliers. The company also recently opened a green version of the Golden Arches on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, USA. And now others are under construction in France, Brazil, Canada and Costa Rica.
    Of course with the global economic crisis, the big question for McDonald's and every other company out there is whether the commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects will last. Bob Langert, McDonald's vice president, says CSR can't be a standalone. On his blog, he writes: "CSR must be part of the way we think and act every single day. It is this type of mindset and way of doing business that does not waiver in the face of economic instability."
    The struggle to balance sustainability and the bottom line isn't likely to end anytime soon. Check out the February issue of PM Network for an in-depth look at how the crunch may turn out to have a "cleansing effect" on sustainability.

Can We Reschedule?

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Ready or not, for most of the world, the busy holiday season is here. And the excitement--and, let's face it, the stress--is pushing work to the back burner.
What's a project manager to do? In some cases, the decision has been made for you.
Take Aspen, Colorado, USA--city law prohibits construction within the city limits for eight days, from 25 December to 1 January.
    "It's really messing my schedule up, and at this time of the year, we need to take advantage of every good day," Gary Wesley, superintendent of a construction project in Aspen, told The Aspen Times. "I had a lot that was going to happen that week."
Project managers and construction workers interviewed by The Aspen Times and Aspen Public Radio this week seem to view the construction prohibition as a recent development.    But the city's Construction Management Plan Requirements Manual, which was revised 19 September 2007 and dated December 2007, clearly states: "No construction is permitted on ... federally designated holidays including: Christmas week (Dec. 25 - Jan. 1)."
    The situation highlights the need to exercise due diligence in the initial stages of project planning. It must may prevent a lot of headaches once delays such as the holiday season strike--and mean one less source of stress.
    How do you plan for the holiday seasons? Does work slow or just stop completely?

Your Problem Isn't ...

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Project management practitioners who read the conventional wisdom on those things that threaten project success may be "getting sold a bill of goods" (a U.S. colloquialism meaning to be deceived).
    While project management-types usually don't stay in the industry for long before witnessing a project crash-and-burn firsthand, the ability to accurately identify and clearly articulate the proximate cause of that project failure is often elusive, with individual prejudices coloring analysis. Quality engineers tend to name a lack of quality capability as the main reason behind project failure, while estimators tend to believe inaccurate cost baselines or estimates at completion are the culprits.
    I have a pretty clear idea of the main, if not only, cause of project failure, but before I name it, let me tell you what it isn't:
•    No Six Sigma
•    Lack of Agile project management
•    Failure to engage stakeholders (see my previous post)
•    Inappropriate leadership style
•    Too few Project Management Professional (PMP®) credential holders
•    Insufficient procedures or written guidance
    I could go on, but this list should be sufficient to contradict the majority of management writers who are asserting the key causal factor in project failure.
    So, what is the main causal factor? The project manager and/or project team made bad decisions.
    This is not simply a semantic difference. The ability to make good decisions is absolutely critical to any and all project outcomes, including the ability to meet success criterion. This ability is influenced by several factors, including:
•    The education/capability of the project team
•    Some level of luck, certainly, but mostly:
•    The availability of adequate project cost and schedule performance information, which almost always clarifies the best project decisions
    So important is the generation and delivery of cost and schedule performance information that any manager who eschews such information has automatically signaled their incompetence, and inappropriate placement in any position of authority.
    I'm essentially calling out the anti-cost/schedule performance system crowd. (You know who you are.) If you have ever argued against the introduction of an earned value system on principle, stop calling yourself a project manager because you aren't one. Of course, I'd love to hear from anyone disagreeing with me on this, so, please leave a comment.

Some Answers to Large-Project Challenges

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The first thing I heard at today's session of the 2nd Annual Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum in Washington, DC, USA was a challenge--well, two challenges, really, to "getting the big things done": Identifying good major infrastructure projects and getting them financed. What exactly are "good" infrastructure projects? They are ones with solid project management, of course, but also ones that offer a return on investment. Many speakers said governments will have to share the risks, not just private concessionaires.

    Enrique Garcia, the president of the Andean Development Corporation, a major development bank serving all of Latin America, said it was interesting to hear that in the midst of the economic meltdown this forum was discussing infrastructure projects in the medium and long term. He happily reported a very recent trip to Panama where his and other development banks signed a $2.3 billion funding deal for the Panama Canal expansion. To make infrastructure projects possible, Mr. Garcia said, financial institutions have to be partners, not competitors.

    More "good news" came from Masaki Omura, managing director of the Japanese Finance Corporation. He said his institution was proposing major contributions toward infrastructure to cope with difficulties in the private financing sector, including $2 billion in recapitalization of projects in developing countries. Mr. Omura noted that there is still, by World Bank estimates, $165 billion in annual infrastructure demand through 2010 in eastern Asia alone.

    Judge Quentin Kopp of the California High Speed Rail Authority reminded the audience that two great infrastructure projects were built in his state during the Great Depression--the Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges. A number of dams were built then as well.

    Many interesting projects were presented on today's panels. A number of them involved sustainable energy, such as Multiner Energy's efforts to build wind-driven power plants and waste-to-energy plants in Brazil. Another wind project on Cape Verde (an island nation off Africa with the best trade winds in the world) was discussed. And Israel is looking to take advantage of its most abundant renewable resource by building multiple solar energy plants in the southern part of the country.

    CG/LA Infrastructure, the firm running this event, bestowed awards on the "global champions" who are making large projects that improve our world even in extraordinary economic times. And by the end of the day, it seems that one answer emerged to the challenges posed at the beginning of the day--cooperation and sustainability are what will keep these projects going.

What Can Be Learned From India

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Everyone has been watching and reading about the recent terror attacks on India's business capital, Mumbai. The events have passed and patchwork has just begun.
    Those who were directly responsible for the security failure have been shown the door either willingly or under pressure from a combination of higher command, media and public anger.
    I would like to discuss it as a project failure and conduct (with reader participation) the post mortem analysis on what went wrong and how it could have been avoided. The discussion should be based upon information available from news analysis.
Let me start with lessons learned that translate to projects:
    Issue #1: The Indian Intelligence Bureau (IB) is claiming it had informed the government about a possible attack from seaside but no action was taken. There was a risk identified but no mitigation plan was prepared for it. It is important to monitor risk areas and take preventive action before it gets too late.
    In projects, it is the responsibility of project managers to spread awareness about the risks in their projects and their mitigation plans. Don't take even a minor issue casually. If you don't have time to look into the issue, then assign it to someone else and track it to closure.
    Issue #2: India had a couple of terror incidents in the past but no measure was taken to prevent them in the future. It is a universal truth that prevention is always better than correction so it's good to have check points and preventive measures in place before you lose money and resource time.
    Document lessons learned from previous mistakes and ensure everyone is aware of them. It's better to review the learning database periodically and update it if required.
    Let's keep the conversation going. What other lessons learned can you find in these events?

The Scarlet FES

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If I had a dime for every copy of every project management article that prodded the reader to further engage stakeholders, I wouldn't have to spend time writing this blog. I could probably buy New Zealand.
    Indeed, failure to engage stakeholders has become the cardinal sin of the project management industry if you read all the trade journals. I do believe that they are only a short distance away from requiring all managers of failed projects to wear a scarlet FES, for Failed to Engage Stakeholders, reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of a very similar name. Being the hopeless iconoclast that I am, I can't help to make the opposite assertion: Project managers should eschew these all-wise, all-knowing stakeholders for the following reasons.
    First off, who are we talking about here? Which "stakeholder"? If it's the customer, then, of course, "engage" them (which, I assume means, you talk together). But keep in mind, customer involvement often involves their asking for additional stuff on your project or higher quality standards. The desire to accommodate these stakeholders is the most common cause of that most fatal of project-killers: scope creep. And, once a good dose of scope creep has wrecked your project, it won't do the culpable project manager any good to respond, "I was just engaging the stakeholders!"
    Then there are the stakeholders who are neither on your project team nor in your customer's organization: These are "nuisances." If the scope of your project involves doing something that provably impacts others in an adverse manner, that's your customer's problem, isn't it? They probably should have spent a little more time getting the appropriate permits before they ponied up the money for your baseline. And, if these stakeholders don't belong to your or your customer's organizations and aren't provably adversely affected, then they should probably shut up and go away. Does that sound harsh? Okay, they don't have to be ignored or exiled, but they absolutely should not be consulted on what should happen on your project. Indeed, to do so is akin to project management malpractice.
    So there. I was getting a little tired of nobody posting comments on my blogs, and I figure this piece will pretty much cure that.

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