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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Tufaro

A Project Manager's Perspective on Ethics and Tools


The 2020 global impact caused by the novel corona virus, known as COVID-19, is seen in the economy, mental health as well as physical health. More specifically, it has resulted in the loss of jobs, businesses being shut down, social activities (such as sporting events and entertainment) being curtailed and various other things. This is not a complete list as I am certain you can think of many more. Did you ever think that ethics and morality would take a hit during this pandemic? I'm not talking about conspiracy theories replacing legitimate journalism.

As a Project Manager, trained and experienced, in both Agile and Waterfall methodologies, there are a number of processes/tools that are used for cost effectiveness and higher throughput. The use of any of these processes and tools used during the project Management practice must be used with a code of ethics. Various organizations who issue certifications in any form of Project Management have some sort of Code of Ethics that must be followed.

For this blog post, I will be examining the unethical behavior of a supplier of COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and compare it to the ethical behavior of another supplier of the same products. These behaviors are captured in a CBS News 60 Minutes feature story that appeared on December 6, 2020.

Functional Requirement

The best way to look at this story is to look at it from a Project Manager's perspective as if this is a real project where there is a time based delivery of goods and services to various stakeholders. In this case, the key stakeholders are the recipients of these PPEs, mainly front line health care workers, the facilities where they work and government officials.

The ask is to provide these PPEs immediately to meet the demands of hospital workers so that they can safely provide health care services to their patients (primarily the general public) as the COVID-19 caseload curve was rapidly ascending. To do this a supply chain had to be created that was highly functional, resistant to slowdown, resilient and agile to unexpected change and cost effective.

Tools/Methodologies Used

Just in Time (JIT) Inventory is one of the tools that was used. This is also known as Lean Manufacturing and provides a method of eliminating one of the wastes of Lean (high inventory). For this to work well, the demand and supply must be near the same level. In other words, there is no stockpile of product with a low demand OR there is no deficit of product with a high demand. The imbalance between supply and demand is an identifiable risk. The degree or impact of that risk is uncertain.

On the Ground (OTG) inventory is the other tool that was used. This is a more expensive method, but presents little risk when the demand curve sharply increases as the inventory is already stockpiled. The risk presented here is that when the demand finally decreases to zero, you could be stuck with inventory that you can't return to a manufacturer. This is also an identifiable risk when looking at the supply and demand relationship, but if controlled and monitored properly will have a smaller impact than JIT.

Actors and Their Preferred Tools

Blue Flame Medical is the first PPE supplier in this story. They used the JIT tool and, in their first month of business engaged consumers, specifically health care facilities and (state) governments, by committing them to contracts to the tune of about $630 million. They also marketed themselves as delivering products between seven and twelve days.

Magic Ice Cube is the second PPE supplier in this story. They used the OTG tool and were able to finance the initial inventories via profits made from previous investments in crypto-currency, clubs and cars. They bought the inventory from suppliers before they had clients

The Ethics Issue

If you think about the owners of both companies as Project Managers, you would have to hold them to the standards of the organizations that issue certifications in Project Management. Whether it be the Project Management Institute, the Scrum Alliance, Scrum.Org, the Agile Alliance or Lean Kanban University, to name a few, you can identify which of these two Actors was unethical.

The Project Management Institute offers this eight page Code of Ethics where the following five chapters go into detail:

  • Vision and Applicability

  • Responsibility

  • Respect

  • Fairness

  • Honesty

The Agile Manifesto offers these four values, which emphasize transparency and accountability (emphasis added):

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

  • Responding to change over following a plan.

This list is purposefully incomplete, however one can see that the matter of ethics in business is important. Determining if a business or venture is ethical can be determined using various project management tools, such as asking "The Five Why's". This simple form of analysis can reveal a lot more when getting to the root cause of a problem.


This specific blog post is more of an engagement for my audience. Watch the video, which includes a transcript. Read some of the references that I've linked to for Lean Manufacturing and PMI. Compare the report to the references that I've shared in the links. Then do the following:

  1. Identify the Bad Actor

  2. Identify your first indication that this was the Bad Actor

  3. Count the number of unethical behaviors the Bad Actor displayed even after being called out

  4. How would you have done things differently if you were about to engage with the Bad Actor?

©2020 Tufaro Information Systems

©2020 Nicholas Tufaro PMP


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