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Consider the Project Environment

Executives, project managers, and people in every walk of life are on the front lines of creating a livable environment.

Pay attention to the health of the physical, social and governance factors in and around your projects. Together these factors combine to form an environment which significantly influences the ability to sustain optimal performance.

This article follows up on the article, Materiality – Environmental, Social, and Governmental Factors with a focus on how to bring ESG awareness to tactical and practical matters that are current and actionable. While remembering that environmental, social and governance are intertwined in a complex system, here we will address the physical environment and leave social and governance issue to future articles in this series.

Context: ESG and Project Portfolio Management

Projects are the actions that deliver results in the form of products, services and improved processes. Each project is an investment and every investment funds projects. While a given project is finite, there is a continuous flow of multiple projects.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) emerging in the corporate financial analysis realm as serious factors in strategic decisions on what to fund. However, ESG awareness is not limited to the strategic level.

Environment is a practical concern for individual projects and for portfolios of multiple projects. The work environment, like the broader environment, has physical, social and governance components. On the physical level there are air quality, temperature, lighting, convenience, aesthetics, cleanliness, convenience, sound, furniture and equipment, and more.

The social component addresses interpersonal relationships, expectations, happiness, personal fulfillment and emotions. Governance impacts both physical and social levels.

Consider Short- and Long-Term Impacts

It makes good business sense to consider both immediate and long-term impacts when deciding to initiate a project and when making the project’s many planning and execution decisions.

Within organizations, the ultimate measure of project success is whether people will use the new product, service or system to be more effective. Will anyone ‘buy’ the product?
Achieving project success requires an effective process and an effective process requires a sound environmental, social and governance foundation.

Looking across multiple projects, clever executives and managers consider how current work will be a platform for future efforts. Will the organization learn valuable lessons, and will they be carried forward into improved performance? Will the staff learn and be ready for the next project? Will investments in tools and facilities be shared across multiple projects? Will governance be refined to maximize effectiveness? Will relationships be healthy? Will the environment support and sustain elevated levels of effectiveness?

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The Physical Environment

In the remainder of this article we will focus on the physical environment.

When planning the project, consider where the team will be located and how their location will affect their work. Whether in offices, warehouses, factories, or at home, physical conditions matter.

Will people be able to focus on individual tasks without interruptions, excessive noise and other distractions? Will they be able to collaborate effectively? Are tools, procedures, furniture, and technical support adequate? Is the work environment comfortable and easily accessed? Does it support healthy life and work?

While it is possible to overcome poor physical conditions, it is best to plan well to relieve the team of the need to do so. How much will it cost to provide a comfortable work environment? How much will it cost not to? What is the return on that investment in terms of productivity, effectiveness and morale? How is the cost amortized across multiple projects into the future?


In my days as a principal in a technology consulting company I managed a software project to convert hundreds of programs from one language and platform to another. There was a team of ten consultants working in a conference room. We had a large and lovely table but no desks. Chairs and lighting were meant for hour-long meetings as opposed to a full day’s work at a computer. Tight quarters, which, today, would significantly violate social distancing guidelines, made any sort of privacy or personal space impossible.

We did well, mostly because seasoned and well-paid consultants used to being “abused’ in client environments made up the team. We were productive and effective. Though, we could have been far more so had we had desks and a sense that the client cared about our well-being.

In another organization, as recent as last year, internal staff were forced to work in stifling heat in summer and winter alike because air conditioning was insufficient, heating was uncontrolled and windows could not be opened without freezing out those sitting near them. Physical space within cubicles was minimal. Conference space was limited and poorly designed. Workers spent unnecessary time and effort on getting comfortable, taking breaks, scheduling meetings, and grumbling about the conditions. The impact on productivity and effectiveness went unmeasured.

On a positive note, in another project, six subject matter experts, writers and editors collaborated virtually on the development of a project management methodology. Each team member worked from home or from their own small individual offices. We planned to minimize interruptions to individual efforts, cut down ambient noise and to minimize other distractions that would impact our team meetings and work sessions.

We made sure that each team member had the equipment, connectivity, support, and training they needed. Because we were physically apart our sense of privacy, neatness, comfort and ambiance was not an issue. Had we shared the same physical space, those issues would have had to be addressed, as they are in many well managed organizations whose leadership recognizes the connection between physical environment and social relationships and the capacity to work and perform optimally.

Beyond the Physical

Often when we think of environment we think of the physical. The physical environment is an important aspect of getting work done effectively. However, it is only a third of the ESG equation, and the least complex. The system created by the interaction among physical, social and governance must be engineered to support optimal performance.

In the next article in this series on the importance (materiality, in the terms of the investment community) of environmental, social and governance factors, we will address social and governance issues and how they influence the successful performance of projects.

In the meantime, take a look around to see whether some adjustments to the physical environment can make you and your team more effective.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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