Don't be (literally) in the wave of the future

by Rich Maltzman: | April 16, 2017 09:41 PM | COMMENTS (1) |

In today’s Boston Sunday Globe, in the front page of their Address section, has a feature story about how climate change worries have ‘taken a back seat’ in terms of Boston’s sizzling real estate market.  People are buying up Beantown properties (including those along the shoreline) despite the well-documented sea-level effects expected for Boston in the longer term.

The article says that if you are out looking for real estate this weekend (a very nice spring weekend in Boston, as it turns out) climate change “may sound like a tinny alarm bell from a distant, dystopian future”.  But real estate investments are not “for the moment”, they are for the long-haul.

Nela Richardson, chief economist at the real estate brokerage Redfin, agrees that buyers just aren’t reacting to climate change. “What we see, especially in the Boston area, is a lot of those coastal properties are high-end real estate, and they sell at a premium,” she said. “I think the psychology is, It’s too far away for me to worry about it.

Or, is there something else at play here?  Massachusetts actually has some very good science and planning around climate change and perhaps, just perhaps, people are putting their faith in actions by the city and the Commonwealth’s Governor Charlie Baker.  Planners are actually considering a huge sea wall from the community of Hull to Deer Island.  See figure below, from the Boston Globe in February.  Imagine the project management opportunities for that program!

But let’s get back to the issue.  There are resources available to help with decisions – if you want to take the long term into account.  One of the most interesting is the tool from Sasaki that lets you see the effects of sea level rise – plus the effect of storms, in four scenarios.  To me, what was interesting was that Boston’s Logan Airport is actually underwater in the most extreme of the four scenarios.  But even in the less extreme situations, many properties (of high commercial value) are at risk.  See the figure below, generated from this interactive map. 

What are the take-aways for project managers, regardless of whether you say “Car” or “Cah”?  After all, the sea is not rising only in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

The take-away - just this:

Your project – like a home purchase – is more than just a “purchase and sale” agreement.  It “lives” longer than the date at which the project is handed over to the client.  The effects – economic, social, and ecological – continue past that date when you move on to another project.

You should be looking at the equivalent of the Sasaki maps which you make project decisions.

In this case, you don’t want to literally be part of the “wave of the future”.

All Aboard - For Zero Emissions!

by Rich Maltzman: | April 15, 2017 10:21 PM | COMMENTS (0) | CATEGORIES: Trains

Alstom has successfully tested a hydrogen-powered train which has as its exhaust only … water.

The train uses fuel cells (like the Toyota Mirai), and is intended to go into service carrying passengers in Germany in late 2017 or early 2018.  Let’s start with just a little science: how does a fuel cell work?

Fuel Cell basics

A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity by a chemical reaction. Every fuel cell has two electrodes, one positive and one negative, called, respectively, the anode and cathode. The reactions that produce electricity take place at the electrodes.

Every fuel cell also has an electrolyte, which carries electrically charged particles from one electrode to the other, and a catalyst, which speeds the reactions at the electrodes.

Hydrogen is the basic fuel, but fuel cells also require oxygen. One great appeal of fuel cells is that they generate electricity with very little pollution–much of the hydrogen and oxygen used in generating electricity ultimately combine to form a harmless byproduct, namely water.

This description is courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.  You can read the entire article here.

So, since these types of engines only produce water, can you drink it?  Turns out… yes!  See this article from Wired in which the editor appears on video, actually drinking the exhaust of the Toyota Mirai.

Let's get back to the train project.

Here’s the press release from Alstom:

Despite numerous electrification projects in several countries, a significant part of Europe’s rail network will remain non-electrified in the long term. In many countries, the number of diesel trains in circulation is still high – more than 4,000 cars in Germany, for instance.

Coradia iLint is a new CO2-emission-free regional train and alternative to diesel power. It is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, its only emission being steam and condensed water while operating with a low level of noise. Alstom is among the first railway manufacturers in the world to develop a passenger train based on such a technology. To make the deployment of the Coradia iLint as simple as possible for operators, Alstom offers a complete package, consisting of the train and maintenance, as well as also the whole hydrogen infrastructure out of one hand thanks to help from partners.

The full press release is available here.

Related videos and stories:


This is a big deal for project managers, not only in the train projects themselves but also infrastructure.  These trains need hydrogen filling stations. Where do these come from?  Well, it depends on the location, but in the UK, the government is committing hundreds of millions of pounds to creating the appropriate infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles.  See this statement from the UK Government.

Statement from UK Government 2016

Stay tuned to this blog, we’ll keep you up to date as this project moves from this testing phase to initiation and execution!

Extreme Fishbones

by Rich Maltzman: | April 06, 2017 10:01 AM | COMMENTS (1) |

Project managers and aficionados of quality tools know the fishbone diagram.  They also may know it by other names; the Ishikawa diagram after Kaoru Ishikawa, and the Cause and Effect diagram after what it is meant to show, namely the cause(s) of some sort of ill effect.

We use this to help troubleshoot problems by placing the ill effect at the “head” of the fish, drawing a ‘backbone’ from that head, and using ‘ribs’ –representing potential types of causes that could yield the ill-effect.  Then we ‘animate the diagram by ‘asking why’ over and over again, thus building out the rib and eventually leading to a 'eureka moment' as we discover a possible cause.  My favorite example of this is illustrated below, and is timely in that we have just crowned our USA National Champion in college basketball – the University of North Carolina.

In this case, the ill-effect is the deadly ‘missed free throw”, something basketball coaches absolutely despise… a golden opportunity to score, wasted.  So, what contributes to this?


Amongst the fishbone “ribs” in this example are (for example) the “Machine” (the hoop and backboard), the Shooter, and the Environment (the weather).

And that’s the segue to the topic that also looks for a cause-effect relationship that involves the weather; this time the sought after connection is that between extreme weather and climate change.

As you should know, weather and climate are very different.  We’ll let NASA tell you about this difference.

The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere "behaves" over relatively long periods of time.

When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather. Today, children always hear stories from their parents and grandparents about how snow was always piled up to their waists as they trudged off to school. Children today in most areas of the country haven't experienced those kinds of dreadful snow-packed winters, except for the Northeastern U.S. in January 2005. The change in recent winter snows indicate that the climate has changed since their parents were young.

Read more here:

So they’re different.  But what we notice is the weather.  Is there any connection between weather, say, extreme weather (an ill-effect) and climate change?  Until now, there has been no definitive link.  But a recent article by respected climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University and several colleagues.  Their findings were published in Scientific Reports (reference below).

That finding, released just a few days ago, is best summed up by this article from Science Daily:

Unprecedented summer warmth and flooding, forest fires, drought and torrential rain -- extreme weather events are occurring more and more often, but now an international team of climate scientists has found a connection between many extreme weather events and the impact climate change is having on the jet stream.

"We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events," said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State. "


"We are now able to connect the dots when it comes to human-caused global warming and an array of extreme recent weather events," said Mann.

While the models do not reliably track individual extreme weather events, they do reproduce the jet stream patterns and temperature scenarios that in the real world lead to torrential rain for days, weeks of broiling sun and absence of precipitation.

"Currently we have only looked at historical simulations," said Mann. "What's up next is to examine the model projections of the future and see what they imply about what might be in store as far as further increases in extreme weather are concerned."

We realize that as project managers we don’t often have to make these ‘huge’ connections as did the team under Michael Mann.  We do need to be good ‘troubleshooters’, and the Fishbone Diagram is an excellent thinking tool for us and our project teams.  And even though the connection of effect to cause related to extreme weather and climate change is not directly applicable to PMs, I do assert that this helps reiterate the value of the Fishbone diagram, and, it can’t hurt to learn the science of climate and weather, either.  After all, extreme weather is definitely an ill-effect that can threaten your project objectives – and maybe much more.


Reference to original article:

Michael E. Mann, Stefan Rahmstorf, Kai Kornhuber, Byron A. Steinman, Sonya K. Miller, Dim Coumou. Influence of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Planetary Wave Resonance and Extreme Weather Events. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 45242 DOI: 10.1038/srep45242

Shiny Happy People

by Rich Maltzman: | March 30, 2017 09:10 PM | COMMENTS (2) |

The reference?  An old song by REM (with the help of Kate Pierson of the B-52s).  I may even provide the official music video below.  If you're good, that is.  If you read the post, it will appear.

I just finished reading two engaging books by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Flow”, and “Good Business”.  Both books talk to the definition of – and importance of – happiness.  I’m going to focus on Good Business in this post, since it sits (I believe) squarely on the intersection of project management and sustainability.

Csikszentmihalyi starts this book by making the case that the torch of leadership - those responsible for societal development - has, in effect, been passed the centuries from ‘nobility’ to ‘clergy’ to ‘business’. 

The author discusses “how leaders who have impressed their peers with their business success and their commitment to broader social goals go about their jobs … what ambitions motivate them, and what kind of organizations they try to develop in pursuit of those ideals.”

If you agree with me that project managers are executers of business ideas (profit or non-profit), if you believe that project managers are those who make things happen, the ones who turn dreams into reality, read on.  If not, go back to your humdrum job.

The book is summarized well at this site:

Here is a summary of what brings happiness at work.  I would extrapolate this to mean happiness in projects.

  1. Clear Goals – “True enjoyment comes from the steps one takes toward attaining a goal, not from actually reaching it.”
  2. Immediate Feedback – “The sense of total involvement of the flow experience derives in large part from knowing that what one does matters, that it has consequences.”
  3. Balance Between Opportunity and Capacity – “If it appears to be beyond our capacity we tend to respond to it by feeling anxious; if the task is too easy we get bored.”
  4. Deep Concentration – Flow happens when “the distinction between self and activity disappears… a pleasant feeling of total involvement.”
  5. Present Moment – “Because in flow the task at hand demands complete attention, the worries and problems that are so nagging in everyday life have no chance to register in the mind.”
  6. Control – “A worker who feels micromanaged soon loses interest in her job.”
  7. Sense of Altered Time – “Quite often, this means that time is perceived as flying by.”
  8. Loss of Ego – “While one forgets the self during the flow experience, after the event a person’s self-esteem reappears in a stronger form than it had been before… Similarly, people who have more flow experiences also have higher self-esteem overall.”


From a project manager’s viewpoint, moving further up and to the right on this chart is a good thing, since in a project, team members who are happy “are more productive, have a higher morale, and have a lower turnover… An ideal organization is one in which each worker’s potentialities find room for expression.”

Some of the messages will be clear and present in terms of general best PM practice:

“To summarize briefly the essential conditions for flow to occur, they are: clear goals that can be adapted to meet changing conditions; immediate feedback to one’s actions; and a matching of the challenges of the job with the worker’s skills.”

Much of this you may recognize from Herzberg’s Hygiene Theory of Motivation.  However there is a connection to sustainability here as well – and this is exemplified in the book by the examples the author uses from (for instance) Patagonia.  He quotes Yvon Chouinard,

“We are not in the business to make a profit.  We are not in the business to make a product.  We are in the business to really change the way other companies operate”.  Extracted today from Patagonia’s web page, their mission statement is:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Part of this, of course is due to Patagonia’s long-term view.  “We really do try to act like this company is going to be here a hundred years from now”.  That changes the way people behave, and I would argue, it significantly changes the way projects are chartered – and how their success is measured.

This is something that really could motivate workers, and project team members.

The author continues, “today, business leaders cannot begin to foster a climate of positive order if their sole concern is making a profit.  They must also have a vision that gives life meaning, that offers people hope for their own future and those of their children.  We have learned how to develop five-minute and even one-minute managers.  But we would do better to ask ourselves what it takes to be an executive who helps build a better future.  More than anything else, we need hundred—year managers at the helm of corporations."

I know – this is talking about people at the helm of organizations and we are “only” project managers.  But what is a project manager if not the “CEO” of a temporary organization, accomplishing specific objectives tied to the organization’s strategic goals?  So we should be paying attention to books like this because we are at the helm, and perhaps just as leaders need to be hundred-year-managers, as the 'executors' of business ideas, we need to be hundred-year project managers.

It will make you and your team happier!  And who doesn’t want that?

Oh wait. You wanted to see that video?  Here it is:


Built in, not bolted on

by Rich Maltzman: | March 23, 2017 11:31 PM | COMMENTS (1) |



In a prior post, I promised to provide more detail and some examples from the outstanding book by Kris Kohl, "Becoming a Sustainable Organization".

In this post I would like to start at the beginning - with the Project Charter.  Kris has done what I have proposed to PMI in 18 proposed changes to the PMBOK® Guide, 6th Edition.  I'm not sure how many (if any) made it into that new edition, expected in the third quarter of this year, but whether or not they did, they share the exact same "DNA" as Kris' template for a "Sustainability Project Charter", or as I would like to call it, "The Project Charter".  So that's one of my points - there is no need to have a 'special-interest' charter.  All project charters should have this long-term consideration built in.

Yes, sustainability, like quality, should be 'built in', not 'bolted on'.  The documents and methods we use to manage projects should, in and of themselves, contain the long-term thinking, the focus on benefits realization, the considerations of the triple bottom line.

In her Table 5-1, Kris, for example, adds to the section on "Project Goals and Desired Outcome":


  • Long-term impacts
  • Internal  & external impacts
  • Environmental & social impacts
  • Behavior change
  • Policy & process change

Under "Benefits",

  • Outline the goals of the project and alignment with business & sustainable strategy.

These very simple changes appear minor, but they enable a sea-change in mindset.   Later in this same section about the project charter, Kohl says:

Following are some questions to consider when integrating sustainability into projects:

  1. How are sustainability issues integrated into strategic planning?
  2. What areas of sustainability are being addressed through project selection
  3. How can sustainability be incorporated into project concept formulation?

Now, because this part of the book is about launching a 'sustainability project', what could get lost in context is the fact that a so-called Sustainability Project Charter can and should apply to all projects.

Let's take an example.  Let's say you are the PM for a project to build a new, fairly long stretch of interstate highway.  That project can, and should, consider not only the objective of building the highway but also the objective of improving the safety and fuel efficiency of vehicles driving on that highway.  The drivers on the highway are clearly key stakeholders.  So, if for example, a choice must be made between two materials to use for paving the highway, one of which is more costly - for argument's sake, 40% more expensive - but provides better grip for tires, and improved mileage, the decision to select the pricier material becomes (correctly) the better choice - for the very reason that the charter (the guiding document) advises the project team to consider long-term impacts.

I know if I was a taxpayer/driver stakeholder in a project like this, I would want the highway project to serve me in the long-term by keeping me alive (through the better-gripping surface) and providing me with lasting savings (through greater fuel efficiency) as well as lowering the ecological impact, even if the 40% higher price for paving drives the project cost to be 10% higher. 

Again: it's about long-term thinking...  and benefits realization.  And it starts with the project charter building in sustainability, not trying to bolt it on later as an afterthought.