Can projects really be sustainably managed?
At the sharp end of a project, there are necessary decisions guided by a single purpose – delivery. Can sustainability ambitions survive when the chips are down?
Project management applies resources to achieve a specific and well-defined objective within constraints of time and money. It has a finite deliverable and is time and cost bounded, which sets it apart from general company management, which is typically an ongoing process.
The two go hand-in-hand, but not always comfortably. Long-term planning to be net zero by 2050 is one thing, but how does this work in a project that must deliver by next April? The intensity of project management, with scope creep, risks, and issues threatening the schedule or budget, requires rapid decisions where some of those good intentions are an additional burden.
How can companies strike the balance to make sustainability more of a foundation stone in project management? Most likely it means taking a step or two back to make sure things are properly set up.
Project management must sit within the organisation’s strategy, and be fully aligned with it. Projects are the way it evolves and delivers its strategic goals. A strategy may set out paths to be economically successful whilst being environmentally sound and socially responsible. The project management approach can align to manage scope, schedule and cost of each project within these parameters and respect all three in doing so.
The Project Charter sets out at the very beginning why the project is happening and what it is to achieve. Adding sustainability factors into the charter establishes the intended outcomes, success criteria and operating conditions from the very beginning. As a route to the investment decision, sustainability is baked-in to the leadership’s expectations.
Within the Project Charter, sustainability factors must be established with some relevant and useful #KPIs that can be reported and managed within a suitable #governance approach.
We may never fully eliminate the ‘needs-must’ responses in the heat of a crisis, but the benefits of the best possible planning approaches, combined with first-class visibility of progress, issues and risks, can minimise these and allow more balanced choices to be made.
Sometimes there isn’t an ideal solution. Look at the KPIs and how they can be managed against each other within the bigger picture. There may be options for trade-offs between projects, or to offset outcomes elsewhere. Understanding this clearly from the beginning makes the decision process more robust and the big-picture outcomes more controllable.
This is where the buck stops – a strong culture focused on sustainability makes a lot of this happen anyway, so sustainable projects will feel like the most natural thing.