When Being Good is Not Good Enough

Successful projects are managed differently
from really successful projects,
says Jane C. Linder in her new
book, Spiral Up ( … And Other Management
Secrets Behind Wildly Successful
Initiatives
) (Amacom, 2007).

Linder, a former Harvard Business
School professor and technology industry
executive, interviewed scores
of managers to distill the essence of
initiatives with a transformative impact.
She came up with a long list of
guidelines. In this excerpt Linder discusses
an EPA program that grew
without the help, or hindrance, of
conventional management rules.

In August 2006, Chet Wayland,
associate director of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s
Offi ce of Outreach and Information,
fl opped into his favorite easy chair
and took a deep breath. He had just
fi nished another briefing on the latest
efforts by his staff to help Chinese
government offi cials understand
the EPA’s unusual air quality
initiative dubbed AIRNow. This had
been one of many briefi ngs by his
staff in the past two years, as the
team had traveled to China, Brazil
and Europe to promote the realtime
data delivery program.

The initiative had grown to provide
the public across the U.S. and
Canadian provinces with up-to-theminute
air quality data and one-to
three-day forecasts. Although participation
in the program was voluntary,
air quality engineers across
U.S. state and county governments,
national parks and Canadian provinces
pooled their data every hour
to produce color-coded maps. People
with asthma or heart problems,
those who cared for young children
and those with regular exercise regimens
could tell at a glance when to
shift their activities indoors. They
could also tune into The Weather
Channel, check on the Internet or
pick up a copy of USA Today to fi nd
out whether they could breathe
easy tomorrow.

From the beginning, Wayland
and [AIRNow program director]
Phil Dickerson had orchestrated the
AIRNow initiative as a grassroots
program, relying on voluntary participation
and building its international
scope one air-quality region
at a time. Eight years later, Wayland
says, “I’m happy to report that we
still haven’t had to fi t into the confi
nes of ‘Project Management 101.’

Our initial goal was to get the 50 U.S.
states on board with hourly ozone
mapping, and we had no plan except
to build from what we had. That
bottom-up approach has allowed
us to grow organically. Today all 50
states report fine particulate matter
as well as ozone, and we’re expanding
into other pollutants and taking
the program global. We just started
AIRNow by making contacts and reassuring
them: We’re in this together.

If we had planned it all out carefully,
I’m convinced we never would
have done any of it.”

By the end of 2003’s ozone season,
the AIRNow team had reached
a plateau. Almost all of the U.S.
states were contributing data, and
the few that were not had so little
ground-level ozone that they
didn’t even run monitors. Was it
time to close down the growth initiative
and put AIRNow on a maintenance
diet? Privately, the team
members also wondered whether
it might be time to shift to more
formal, disciplined, deadline-driven
project management. They
had been extremely successful
using their contrarian, all-volunteer,
organic method, but the EPA
leadership continued to question
this distinctly nongovernmental
approach.

The AIRNow team pushed ahead
in spite of the issues. The team
members decided to continue in a
collaborative way, reasoning that
they had always had more success
by engaging their colleagues in the
regions than by demanding compliance.
Dickerson explains, “People
tell you to plan things in advance.

But with AIRNow, if we had
planned up front, I’m not sure we
would have done as well. We would
have come up with a different answer.”
Says Wayland: “We were trying
to get people engaged. They
don’t want a big design; they want
you to show them something that
will help them. AIRNow was not
full of bureaucracy or pie in the sky;
it was not some big design on how
it could work; it did work.”

REPRINTED FROM SPIRAL UP (…AND OTHER MANAGEMENT
SECRETS BEHIND WILDLY SUCCESSFUL INITIATIVES) BY JANE
C. LINDER. COPYRIGHT 2007 JANE C. LINDER. PUBLISHED BY
AMACOM BOOKS, A DIVISION OF AMERICAN MANAGEMENT
ASSOCIATION, NEW YORK, NY. USED WITH PERMISSION. ALL
RIGHTS RESERVED.

CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight offers thought leadership and best practices in the IT security and management industry while providing expert recommendations on software solutions for IT leaders. It is the trusted resource for security professionals who need network monitoring technology and solutions to maintain regulatory compliance for their teams and organizations.

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