Rich Maltzman is a project management practitioner and ‘evangelist’ who has been carving out a niche in the field for the past 40 years, and specifically within the realm of project management in the last 3 decades.
He has played almost every role pertaining to a project management professional, be it coaching, consulting, co-authoring books or designing and delivering course curricula for project management students.
Richard Maltzman has also contributed to the 4th and 5th editions of the PMBOK. Currently, his major focus has been fixated on boosting awareness amongst project managers at the intersection between sustainability (a focus on social, ecological, and economic aspects) and PM practices. He’s been doing this by suggesting practices which can aid project managers in garnering a higher level of control over the outcome of their projects in the long run, and not just the project itself.
Rich, in collaboration with his partner Dave Shirley, founded the EarthPM, LLC in 2008. As part of EarthPM, they co-authored a Cleland Award-winning book, “the Green Project Management” and a follow-up Driving Project “Program and Portfolio Success”.
They have also guest-authored chapters on sustainability in books such as the AMA’s Project Management Handbook. Their company has also provided consultancy to clients, such as the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Labs, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston University, Eink, AS&E, Clark University, and Watermark Environmental. Here are a few pearls of wisdom he chose to confide in us:
TaskQue: Above all Richard, tell us how you chose project management as a career field, and what motivated you to take the first step?
Rich Maltzman: Like many of my project management colleagues who will recognize this effect, because it has happened to them, I didn’t choose project management – it chose me. I was in the first 10 years of a career in engineering (which has its share of projects), when I was offered a supervisory role – leading a team of 15 project managers. After seeing what they did, how they did it, and gaining empathy for this discipline and noting its importance to the organization, I decided that this was the career I would stay with indefinitely.
TaskQue: You founded EarthPM with your friend, an initiative focused on, as you say, “the intersection of sustainability and project management”. What significant challenges do you face with your efforts?
Rich Maltzman: Good question. One of the key challenges is to get that very concept understood by PMs. We are so programmed to focus on the project’s end result, and so eager to move on to the next project, that many of us see the aspect of long-term thinking, of worrying about what happens to our product (or service) when it’s in steady-state use, as a bother, an annoyance, and something we just don’t care about or want to worry about.
In fact, doing this long-term thinking helps the PM identify risks and better connect their project to the high-level goals of the organization. So sometimes, the biggest challenge for us is getting a mindshare of the project management community. Lately though, we have seen this start to gain a foothold and perhaps it was just a matter of patience because increasingly we are seeing our own work referenced in literature, and more and more we are seeing people starting to “get it”.
TaskQue: Project managers have to focus on multiple concurrent tasks. What advice would you give to PMs on staying productive while juggling multiple tasks and deadlines?
Rich Maltzman: I prefer the simple logic of the Eisenhower Matrix (shown below) in which we filter out the tasks by urgency and importance. For example, this interview itself is important, but compared to fixing a currently overflowing lavatory, it is not urgent. So, this helps guide us in terms of what to do with each of the tasks.
TaskQue: You have been in the project management field for 39 years now! Which personalities have remained as your top inspirations in the community?
Rich Maltzman: There are certain ‘character types’ that come to mind with no famous names associated with them, such as:
The Eternal Pessimist – “That will never work!”, “This office is going to be shut down within a year.”, “and “You’ll never get the approval”. These people present a challenge – let’s prove them wrong!
The “Technical Person Who Cannot Let Go” – These are folks who cannot really ever take on project management as a career because (if you will allow a musical analogy) they continue to want to play the violin and will not put it down and pick up the conductor’s wand instead. We need to usher these people back to their instruments and leave the wand for those who really are passionate about translating ideas into reality – or sheet music into a symphony. That’s what PM is all about.
As far as inspirational folks in PM, I would have to go with Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who I was lucky enough to meet. I’d also say that Dr. Harold Kerzner and my colleague instructors at Boston University and Clark University have also served as inspirations – as have many of my students! Then again, although there are too many to name, I derive a lot of inspiration from today’s leading bloggers and promoters of project management.
TaskQue: In most of the projects you had handled, which element do you believe to be the foremost productivity killer and what do think is the best solution to cope with the ubiquitous problem?
Rich Maltzman: I’m going to give the ‘sustainable PM’ answer here – what else would you expect? I think that soft skills are key. In fact, I just co-authored another book on the topic of PM competency, called “Bridging the PM Competency Gap”, with Loredana Abramo, PMP (another inspiration, by the way). In that book, we reveal research that confirms the importance of soft skills.
Bringing that back to sustainability, the motivation for project managers and their teams must be present to achieve productivity. The team needs to see the ‘end game’ to keep them motivated. And, that end game is not only the shiny new product or service, but the way in which that product or service provides benefits to the organization (and society and the planet in turn) in the long run.
TaskQue: You have maintained your focus towards handling projects oriented towards sustainability and beneficial for the community and the planet. We are curious to know how much extra burden you have shouldered in adapting to green project management practices.
Rich Maltzman: We cannot kid ourselves – it does indeed take more effort (I would like to call it something other than “burden”!) to consider the triple bottom line in our thinking as PMs. But for argument’s sake, let’s say it takes 10% extra effort. That effort, however, makes your project more conscious of the strategic goals of the organization, helps you identify risks more keenly, increases team motivation, and improves the reputation of the organization. Not a bad payout for 10%, is it?
TaskQue: There are lots of transformations happening in the project management field today. How do you keep pace with new practices while keeping insight adapting only things which align with the sustainability of earth?
Rich Maltzman: Yes, change is prolific. Personally, I like the work of Dr. Barbara Trautlein and have achieved a CQ (Change Intelligence) certification to help with this aspect of PM, and I find that helpful. There’s no doubt that you must keep up-to-date in PM, and to do that I would highly encourage practitioners to stay active in a community (or two or three) including at least one ‘real” – that is with, for example a local PMI chapter, and one virtual (LinkedIn or projectmanagement.com). Stay passionate!
TaskQue: You have also taught project management for quite some time. How do you find the overall experience of teaching PM to students?
Rich Maltzman: This is the most rewarding part of my career to date, whether it be preparing people for the PMP Exam (nothing like those “Thanks, Rich, I passed today!” emails), and of course the project management and decision making classes I teach at Boston University and Clark University are a fun challenge. I learn a lot from the students, perhaps as much as they learn from me!
TaskQue: You attended many international project management conferences, including the PMI Chapter meetings. What do you consider a key takeaway of these conferences?
Rich Maltzman: The content of these sessions is often overwhelming and tremendous, but by far the best takeaway is an increased network of friends and colleagues who share your passion for project management, and in particular (in my case), understand the importance of inculcating sustainability aspects into the mindset of our PM community.
TaskQue: Rich, you have contributed to the 4th and 5th edition of PMBOK. Which elements did you find to be the most evolving and transforming over the years?
Rich Maltzman: Actually, I also submitted 18 changes to the 6th Edition as well, all aimed at putting sustainability thinking into the Guide. Alas, and disappointingly, most of those changes were deferred. However, we will persist. If there’s one thing about long-term thinking that we must take away ourselves, it is that long-term thinking may not be accomplished in the short term! I have also made edits to the figures and descriptions in the sections on the Expected Monetary Value and Monte Carlo analysis, trying to make the examples more realistic and approachable.
TaskQue: Workstation has great impact over one’s productivity. We would be really glad if you could share a snapshot of your workstation with us?
Rich Maltzman: Keeping professional life aside Richard, what do you do in order to keep your work and life balanced? What hobbies have you adopted so far?
Right now, the most important hobby I have is my new grandson. I would say that between work teaching/consulting, and writing, there’s not much room for hobbies, but I still enjoy an occasional visit down to my ham radio shack – I’ve been an amateur radio operator since 1970.
TaskQue: TaskQue is a cloud based team collaboration tool which helps project managers improve communication and integration with and within a team. How useful do you find such tools in helping project managers streamline their project processes?
Rich Maltzman: All collaborative tools, such as this, are exceedingly valuable in a world where increasingly the teams are virtual and spread amongst different geographies. I think the value of these tools could be increased even further if they included some long-term measurements regarding project success. In fact, EarthPM’s latest book, “Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success” has a tool in it called “The Sustainability Wheel™ “which could assist with that effort – it uses radar charts to measure whether or not – and how well – your organization and your particular project team is taking sustainability into account.