PMTips: Here with us today is Richard Maltzman, who is a Senior Lecturer at the Boston University Metropolitan College, an award winning author and speaker on Sustainability in Project Management. Richard, I would like to welcome you and thank you for doing this interview. We are honored to have you with us today.
Richard Maltzman: I’m glad to be here.
PMTips: Great. You have worked in the industry for 40 years and focused on project management for the past 29 of those years. You have worked as a PMO director on various projects and currently you work as a consultant and teach at the Boston University Metropolitan College. What led you to also focus on consulting and teaching?
Richard Maltzman: So, I’ve found that teaching has been part of my career - it’s almost like being an accidental project manager. I became an accidental project manager, and being a consultant and teacher at my positions at work, and that was one of the parts of the job that I liked the most. And, to the subject of this interview, one of the things I loved the least was attending board meetings.
PMTips: Through all the years of your professional development, what did you find to be most important for ensuring the success of a project?
Richard Maltzman: Through the years of development, as well as actual projects, I’d say the one thing that made projects more successful was the ability of the project leader to engage their team; that is to form an atmosphere of optimism and a sense of direction for the completed project and keep that end goal in mind, and constantly, amongst the team members. Obviously, technical knowledge of whatever discipline was important - my business was telecom. But, overarching and beyond technical expertise it was important for the individual to be able to build, motivate and influence the team.
PMTips: You are one of the founders of EarthPM, a project management and consulting company that thinks about the planet’s future. You have also spoken about sustainability in project management for many years back. Can you tell us more about the intersection of sustainability and project management? What are the benefits for both the environment and for organizations, especially in the long run?
Richard Maltzman: Yes, so, one of the key assertions that EarthPM makes is that there should be a strong linkage between the mission, vision and values of an organization, whatever organization, whether it’s a for-profit petrochemical company or a non-profit social projects company or organization. It’s important for there to be a strong link between what the company says they’re all about, and that includes economics, and the projects that they launch. What that translates to is that project managers need to consider the product of the project, whether it’s a service or a product, in the longer term. So, if you’re producing something that ends up using energy in the longer run, then you should be considering how much energy it uses.So, for example, if you’re responsible for the paving of a new roadway, the surface that you use - you could find a very inexpensive material to pave the road and it might yield much poorer fuel efficiency for the vehicles driving on it. Or, you could invest a little bit more and in the longer run it’s going to have a better result for, let’s say the taxpayers that are funding that road surface.
So, in decision making project managers are better off in providing true quality, which is the long-term benefits realization, they’re better off providing longer term higher quality benefits if they consider what the product of the project does. And what that means is that they have to think through the end of the project, they have to think through a year, two years, five, ten, sometimes even a century past, which I know is heresy for project managers, if their projects have a definitive start and finish. But, in the thinking, in the planning, the mindset should include the outcome of the project in the longer term and it makes you a better project manager, especially in the area of risk identification.
PMTips: Why is it important for companies to stress the triple bottom line thinking? Why would focusing on the three Ps help managers move a step closer to achieving absolute project success?
Richard Maltzman: Well, I think that the important answer here is the definition of success. And in some of our books we talk about the difference between PM success, which is being on scope, on budget and within schedule - and that’s important, of course - as opposed to project success, and the difference is that project success means that whatever it is that you’re delivering does what it’s supposed to do for its customers and other stakeholders for a longer period of time. So, for example, the Sydney Opera House is a great example of a project that had terrible PM success, it was way over budget, went through many design changes and firings of architects, and yet its product, the Sydney Opera House, is considered the symbol of Australia. So, that’s one project that had project success, but not great project management success. I think a lot of us focus on achieving great PM success, but ignore, or at least don’t consider enough the project success. Triple bottom line means social, economic and ecological success; means that whatever it is that your project delivers in the longer term does not injure the planet in some way, for example produce a plastic and unrecyclable plastic outcome that [will] be going into landfills, or an absurd amount of use of energy, or other toxic chemicals, or some kind of non-safe condition, like an unsafe airplane, because you met the budget.
In fact, in the news today there’s a lot of stories about the Boeing 737 MAX - it’s not proven yet, but the rush to deliver that plane on time and within budget, because of competitive pressures, may have led to decisions and practices that - again, not proven - may have led to decisions and practices that caused a less than desirable, much less than desirable longer term outcome. So, I think when we consider the triple bottom line we’re talking about economic sustainability; there’s nothing wrong with making money for a long time, I think we’ll all agree with that, [there’s] nothing wrong with that, but we also consider the ecological, or environmental, and social aspects - and considering those upfront may save a lot of pain later because of the cost of poor quality. Our project management audience should be familiar with the concept from Philip Crosby “Quality is Free,” and therefore should be familiar with the concept of “cost of poor quality” and “cost of good quality.” I’m a big advocate - I think the triple bottom thinking is very much along the lines of “cost of good quality”: money invested now, time invested now, doing things right is going to pay off even though it costs and may make the project statistics look a little bit poorer, the budget management statistics. The project’s outcome will, like the Sydney Opera House, end up being a symbol, a monument even to your success.
PMTips: Why is the longevity of a project significant and how does it affect the work of project managers? What makes looking beyond a project’s end date so important even in the early stages?
Richard Maltzman: Well, again, I think it’s important for a project manager to look out beyond the end of the project. By doing so they’ll do a much, much better job of identifying the more overarching threats and opportunities that the project might have. So, I think the longer view - considering economics, environment and social aspects - so, broad and longer term, will have you do a better job of identifying threats and opportunities, and will build better morale, because people in a project team don’t want to things that, either will not contribute economically for a long time, or that might hurt the environment, or that might cause problems for the local workers or the surrounding community - that’s a morale buster. So, I think people feel better about the project if the project manager builds an attitude that says “We are more all-encompassing in our thinking.”
PMTips: In 2011 you received the Cleland Award for Literature for your book Green Project Management that you co-authored with David Shirley. In this book you explore the processes necessary to move an organization and its projects much higher on the scale of, as you call it, greenality, and show how that high score would positively affect the bottom-line. Can you explain, in short, how those high greenality scores can be gained?
Richard Maltzman: I think it has to do with the amount of time and effort and the scope of thinking in project planning. It really comes back to the planning. I mean, [in] the PMBOK® Guide the vast majority of the processes, the plurality of the processes is in planning, and that’s not an accident. A well-planned project is a much more likely to succeed project, and I mean in both senses, PM success and project success. So, a high greenality score - that’s a term we coined - was reflective of a project management philosophy that is broadened in scope and takes the triple bottom line thinking and long-term thinking into its scope. What’s interesting about this is that the first book on sustainability, Green Project Management, which did win the Cleland Award for Literature - we’re very proud of that, I’m also proud of PMI for getting me and Dave honored for a book about sustainability, which is, I think, something in and of itself, of note - so we’re proud that PMI chose that topic, as well as that it happened to pick us. I think that it’s important for project managers to take this into account and it’s going to make their projects successful from the PM perspective and from an overall product or service delivery perspective.
PMTips: In your book Project Workflow Management: A Business Process Approach, which you co-authored with Daniel Epstein, you speak about redirecting to an alternative path in the event of project issues. How can managers handle arising problems during a project’s lifecycle? Are the problems something that can be easily bypassed or do they require a certain kind of approach and special attention?
Richard Maltzman: Yes, well, in that book we outline a kind of a flow - that book has a lot of illustrations, physical illustrations, and those illustrations are in the realm of flowcharts. So, Daniel and I have covered project management almost from a flow perspective. Is it easy to have an alternate flow - no, but the key, again, goes back to planning. If you’ve done the appropriate planning and your flowcharts encompass lots of if/thens, not just a straightforward chart of “We do this and then we do this,” it’s more like “We do this and then we do this if this happens.” That means we have to identify, step back, do a very good job of identifying what those if/thens are, in other words their potential uncertainties, and if we know the risk percentages, the risks involved - actually, I think it’s important for project managers to know the difference between uncertainty and risk, these are not synonyms.
Uncertainty is unknown unknowns - these are things [where] you don’t even know what possible outcomes there are, as opposed to a risk where you know there’s a 37% chance of poor weather on the construction site and a 63% chance of good weather. That’s risk management. In either case you should have a lot of consideration about these alternate paths your project can take. Remember, a project is very predictive in nature. We are looking into the future and we say that it’s going to be 7 days; we should know that that’s not necessarily 7.0 days. It might be 3 to 12 days, or leaning a little more heavily towards the 12. And the better that information is, about a particular task, or about the overall description of the project, the more results and paths we have documented. And if you’re following the project workflow management philosophy, you actually have that all diagramed out. And if not, you at least have a detailed risk register that shows, one by one, what these uncertainties are, when you know the risks - what those risk percentages are, and also, of course, most importantly, you have thought through a risk response plan for each of these.
PMTips: How important is it for project managers to be able to immediately respond appropriately to any issue that arises during a project’s lifecycle?
Richard Maltzman: Well of course, the answer is it depends. Because some issues are going to be relatively minor. I guess the phrase I like to use is “You pick your battles.” Some of these issues might be very low on the impact scale, and some might be literally life-threatening. Obviously one of the key things you need to do is sort out urgency and importance when it comes to issues. There actually is a tool called the Eisenhower Matrix, which I coach people to use, where you look at four quadrants of low and high urgency and low and high importance. You focus your attention on those issues which are high in both, very high in urgency and very high in importance. And put a portion of your time, [spend] very little on those that are low in urgency and low in importance. Many people just see issues as issues, and because many of us come from a technical or engineering background, we see a to-do list to tick off items one by one, not prioritizing them first. We feel like we have a day’s worth of work done if we get 7 out of 8 issues solved, and yet the one we didn’t solve is the one that’s going to come and destroy us - maybe we should have started with that one.
PMTips: In your book How to Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings that you co-authored with Jim Stewart, there is a section about managing tough personalities in meetings. Having a plan rarely goes smoothly with these so-called disruptors, who you also refer to as “goblins” in your book. What solution would you suggest for dealing with these tough personalities?
Richard Maltzman: Yes, we call them “meeting goblins” and this is a section of the book where we talk about, for example, people who are just not really good at being quiet in the meetings and they are making a lot of noise in the background, and how we deal with these particular individuals. We have roughly a couple of paragraphs on each.
One of the examples might be just someone who is very, very talkative; we call him Gary ― the Garrulous Goblin. One of the tips we have is literally to walk over to the person, physically walk over to the person, cause you have legs and as a meeting facilitator you can use those legs, you don’t have to stay fixed like a statue to the front of the room. It’s tempting because we have our pointer and our screen and our PowerPoint behind us to stand there as if it’s our castle on our lecture podium. We have the ability to walk around and you might just slowly walk over to the person and stand over them, and that usually quiets them down. Turns out that’s actually a trick that I gained from my daughter who’s a middle-school teacher and I have to give her credit for that. She says sometimes [she]’ll just not say anything to the person who is talking a lot, and just move herself over to that area and [her] physical presence gets them to quiet down. I mean, there’s a whole list of tips like that and for each of these “meeting goblins” and we’ve all seen them, and some of us have even been them. So, sometimes it pays to just reflect on when have I’ve been Tina, the Tangent Goblin, and taken a meeting off on a tangent and what would I have wanted, how would I have wanted the meeting facilitator to correct me. So, even applying a little bit of self -study, self-awareness can help. I mean, put yourself in the shoes of each of these goblins and say “Boy, I think I’ve done that myself. What would’ve shut me up or what would’ve have put me back on topic?”
PMTips: Since this book is a practical guide to planning meetings, could you tell us a bit about the kind of guidance you offer. What would be the best way to approach project planning? How important is it for project managers to actually conduct effective planning meetings?
Richard Maltzman: So, those are basically the chapters in the book, so you ask very good questions; the answer to which is the book. We did some research - so, this is a book that we wrote together. The two of us have something like 75 years’ worth of project experience, a lot of it in meetings. We also reached out to many, many colleagues in project management, taking advantage of LinkedIn and other networks, so the opinions in the area are our own. We also have war stories from many dozens of others. We do cover the importance of planning for meetings, we do basically ask project managers to step back and say you know, your project planning meeting is somewhat of a project itself, your kick-off meeting, which is a very important one, for example, and maybe you should just take the time to plan it like a project. In other words, if you just simply apply some of the tools that we use in the project itself and playing the event of the meeting, including all the logistics and formulation of the agenda, you’ll have a better outcome.
I should also mention that this book was intentionally written also somewhat as a project management primer. It’s not the main intent of the book, but through and throughout the book you will find out what a WBS is and how you use it, what a Gantt Chart is and how that is used, how you create and plot a Heat Map or Risk Probability Impact Matrix. All of that, all those fundamentals, because they are part of a project planning meeting are threaded through this book. So, this book may have more value than we had expected because in talking with other PMI Chapters and they went through the book and they asked us to speak and they’ve said “You know what, you’ve actually written a fairly good introduction to a project management book.” And we warned people that that’s not the intent and we certainly wouldn’t want anyone reading this book with the intent to learn how to manage a project as the only book they read. But, it does have that aspect to it.
PMTips: Okay, the last question. What kind of advice would you give project managers that would like to integrate sustainability in their workplace? How can they make others in their company see sustainability not as a constraint but as an instrument that would yield success?
Richard Maltzman: So, for this I’ll go back to an old blog post that right now seems like it was posted in 1843, that’s how long ago it seems - we called it the Three-click Challenge. It’s pretty simple, and the idea - and this relates to those of us who know the movie The Wizard of Oz, hopefully most people do know this movie, [as] I found in traveling around the world. The Three-click Challenge involves the organization you’re in - go to its homepage, whatever organization, [whether] it’s a provincial government or commercial company, volunteer organization. Go to the webpage of the organization and click on About Us and see how many clicks it takes to get to a statement of some kind about the dedication that the organization has to the community or to the environment. So, for example, if you were to go to Patagonia’s webpage, I think that within two clicks you get to their statements about their mission to be kind to the planet, so to speak. But you could go to a company that makes toothpaste or that produces architectural designs and still you would probably find some statements. So the Three-click Challenge is to locate those mission, vision, values types of statements about the connection that the company has, not the projects, but the company has to sustainability. And you’ll find these days almost every company will have some kind of connection like that.
So, what’s the Three-click Challenge? Find that connection and then realize that this is a source of power for you as a project manager, realize that because the company at the highest levels is stating in their mission and vision that we will, for example, reduce emissions of our company, or we’ll become carbon-neutral by 2020. These are powerful statements issued by your leaders, the leaders of your company, carried out through strategies, and those strategies are then launching, initiating projects. So, it’s a source of power, power that you’ve had all along and that’s the connection to The Wizard of Oz. Because Dorothy, if you’ll remember, she was told by the Good Witch that all she had to do to go home was to click her heels three times and say “There’s no place like home.” So, the idea is that you, like Dorothy, have the power all along to bring sustainability into your organization simply by clicking three times, or, so to speak, linking the mission values and vision of your company to your particular projects.
And this was something that I have worked hard to build into the curriculum at Boston University - I just want to make this statement, I think that it’s important. I’m trying to get young, new, and sometimes very experienced project managers who are going for a master’s certificate or a master’s degree at Boston University - we worked this into the curriculum. One of the first assignments a project management student does is to make this connection, is to find a company of their choice, look into their mission and vision statements and then find a project that has been launched and make sure that it is in some way or another connected to the mission. Whether or not it has something to do with saving trees and saving whales, that doesn’t have to be that directly “green,” we just have to increase that linkage between a company’s mission, vision and values, and whatever project that they’re running. So, that’s a long answer, but it’s an important enough question to deserve a long answer.
PMTips: Yes. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to talk to you today.
Richard Maltzman: Thank you very much for the opportunity, Ana.
Interview conducted by Ana Mitevska