Four Ways to Use Project Disciplines to Support All Work and Enhance ESG Performance

Wolters Kluwer recently reported that “82% of finance and business leaders must comply with sustainability requirements or ESG regulations.” And Fortune Magazine recently wrote that “executive compensation at 73% of S&P 500 companies is now tied to ESG performance.” I could go on with recent posts that point to the need to get serious about ESG performance. These articles are all over the news. But how can business leaders, particularly those in the trenches, help?

In my last blog I wrote about five ways that leaders can help companies meet their ESG goals. My recommendations primarily focused on the bigger picture at higher levels in the organization — how to select the right projects and how to improve decision-making. In this blog, I want to delve into the mechanics of some project disciplines to help you enhance your ESG performance. Lower-level managers can implement these recommendations.

1. Build a work strategy that supports strong project disciplines for all work

Who says that project management disciplines need to be reserved for projects? Are there some that can be applied to all your work? In my opinion, yes. There are several project disciplines that experts believe will boost project results. And managers throughout your organization can help build a work strategy that utilizes these disciplines and enhances your ESG performance.

When I talk about building a work strategy, what I mean is to create a style of working that ensures that work moves along at a sustainable pace. It’s a way of working that keeps teams highly focused on what is most important. Several key components are:

  • Work in short sprints — and bookend your sprints with checkpoint meetings to regularly refocus the team. The length of sprints can vary — depending on how active the project or work is, and how quickly the environment changes. Generally, two weeks is a good start.
  • Distinguish between the critical deadlines and the nice-to-have deadlines. Don’t unnecessarily stress out your team over a nice-to-have deadline. And insist that critical deadlines be met, with no excuses.
  • Use a work breakdown structure (WBS) to decompose the work. You can use a WBS regardless of whether it’s a project or not. And you can decompose the project in stages to allow for the agility that you need. If you want to know more about how to use a WBS, check out this post on creating a work breakdown structure.

Who says that project management disciplines need to be reserved for projects? Are there some that can be applied to all your work? #projectmanagement #work #teams #smartprojex

2. Make risk management part of your culture

Trained project managers are taught to track, evaluate, and rank risks, so that they can mitigate higher risks. I’ve written before about what I believe is the secret to effective risk management. In short, it’s making time to think.

Risk management requires you to first identify risks and they can often appear in other parts of the organization or the environment in which your business operates. If you are using checkpoint meetings, that is a great time to set aside ten minutes to think about risks as a team. A periodic SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis is also a good discipline.

How does risk management impact ESG performance? Let’s take some examples. To begin, let’s say that you are working on a project that was specifically developed to improve ESG performance in one area. It might be a project to overhaul your hiring strategy or install solar panels in one of your locations. If you aren’t managing risks properly, that project could be put in jeopardy.

Suppose you work in a company that has ESG goals but is not working on any specific ESG projects. What kinds of risks face your organization that relate to your ESG performance? Perhaps your work culture has become a bit toxic, and you risk some bad press, a lawsuit, or a drop in your share price. Or consider that one of your locations is sitting on property that contains environmental waste that you have not disclosed.

Are you regularly identifying your risks and managing them as project managers are taught to do? Make proper risk management integral to your corporate culture.

Are you regularly identifying your risks and managing them as project managers are taught to do? Make proper risk management integral to your corporate culture. #corporateculture #risk #riskmanagement #projectmanagement #smartprojex

3. Identify the quality needed on all new work before starting the work

This is another example of an area where we can apply project disciplines to other work. Even if the work that you are starting is part of operations, start by making sure that you understand what kind of quality is needed.

Not all work lends itself to the use of the word quality in a manufacturing sense. So, think about it from the perspective of what done looks like. How will you know that you have finished the activity? How will you know that it meets the needs of the ultimate user?

For example, let’s say that your activity is to analyze the data on an operations report that you’ve just received. What kind of a report does your boss want? Are they looking for a three-sentence email summary of the conclusion from your analysis? Or is your boss looking for a five-page PDF document with charts and headlines that can be republished? And can you factor in your company’s ESG goals to the analysis?

As another example, let’s suppose a group of people in the organization have all been asked to present their budgets for the next year, in their respective departments. How much time are they supposed to spend on this effort? It may depend on the size of the department. But they all need to start by understanding the request from management. That involves identifying what is needed and what done looks like. It may mean that they need to spend some time understanding where ESG goals factor into the operational budgets, not just the projects they are doing.

4. Use checkpoint meetings as a time to look both backwards and forwards

Another discipline that trained project managers use is to track lessons learned. But why can’t we apply that discipline in other areas of the organization? I’ve written on the specifics of how to track lessons learned. If we catalog them at the enterprise level, we can improve the usability of lessons learned, provided we tag them in a useful way.

In focusing on the lessons learned, have you considered how they might be applied to your ESG goals? Perhaps you begin to tag lessons learned that specifically relate to ESG goals. Are there specific goals that are causing delays on work that needs to be done, and how are you handling that? It might be that permitting requirements are causing delays. If so, does that change how you schedule new work?

Another activity that participants do in checkpoint meetings is to decide on the activities they will start in the upcoming sprint, and perhaps, think ahead about the following sprint. Can you factor improvements to your ESG performance in how you schedule work?

The use of solid project management disciplines can dramatically improve your overall performance, including meeting ESG goals and financial objectives. But not everyone understands which disciplines will make the most difference to your operation.

Final Thoughts

If you are interested in learning more about the way I think about project management, I have two easy offers for you — depending on what you are looking to learn.

If you need a guidebook on how to implement these disciplines in your organization, check out my 8 Lesson Crash Course Text on Project Management.

And if you are more interested in the global conversation on project management and how we can improve it, check out my new book, Herding Smart Cats: Project Management Reimagined — now available on Amazon.

The use of solid project management disciplines can dramatically improve your overall performance, including meeting ESG goals and financial objectives. #projectmanagement #esg #smartprojex

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Suzanne S. Davenport

Writes on project management, leadership, team building, and value delivery. Imagining work management in the future. Smartprojex.com