Our Guest This Episode: Nick Walker
Velociteach and Manage This are thrilled to bring you our 100th episode! In this episode, Andy Crowe returns to the studio to share the origin story and the vision behind the podcast. On a sadder note, we say goodbye to Nick Walker as he is making a transition into a new season of life and will be leaving Atlanta. We wish him well in his new endeavors and we’re so grateful for his contributions to our first 100 episodes. Our journey at Manage This and the successes we’ve had, would not be the same without him.
In this episode, Nick expands on some of the project management knowledge he’s gained from his time on Manage This. For example: being transparent as leaders, maximizing potential, setting ground rules, leading remote teams, and the value of creating a culture of trust in a project environment so excellence and innovation can coexist. Listen again to advice from guest, Joel Neeb, who emphasized integrity as the guiding principle in a business.
As a reminder to us all, we take another look at cybersecurity and how to raise awareness in your organization about potential threats. Nick and Bill also review an episode in which Andy and Mike Goss discuss advancing from informal project management to implementing a process, refining it and enabling more successful projects as a result. In conclusion, Bill and Nick consider leadership in a disaster and how to prevent the outbreak of chaos in a crisis.
So, as we wrap up the first 100 episodes, we thank all our listeners who have joined us for the journey. We look forward to providing you with more content to help you stay motivated, inspired, and encouraged. As always… keep calm, and Manage This.
Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:
“...project management is a really difficult job for a lot of people because you’re effecting change. And the world resists change. So you have people trying to create something that doesn’t exist, to make something different.”
“You know, I came into this podcast kind of green, not really knowing even what project management was, but realizing that it is all of these things that we talked about, and much more.”
“When I think about some of the podcasts that have meant the most to me, it’s when people are going through some of the same struggles that I have as a project manager.”
The Podcast for Project Managers by Project Managers. As we celebrate 100 episodes we thank our listeners who have joined us for the journey. In this podcast Nick expands on some lessons he has learned about project management from his time on Velociteach’s Manage This.
00:06 … Celebrating 100 Episodes
03:29 … Nick’s New Adventure
07:00 … Reviewing Past Conversations
08:33 … Conducting Effective Meetings
10:13 … Virtual Team Communication
14:38 … Being Transparent and Maximizing Potential
17:59 … The Essential Components
19:27 … Importance of Integrity
22:45 … Building Blocks of a Project
24:24 … Dealing with Stress
25:34 … Cybersecurity: Creating Awareness
28:44 … Story from a Vietnam Veteran
31:55 … Learning Superior Processes
35:12 … Stimulate Progress and Maintain Excellence
39:00 … Great Leaders Bring Calm to Chaos
43:14 … Nick Signing Off
NICK WALKER: Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers. We are so proud and so excited to mark our 100th episode. Everybody’s here to celebrate: Andy Crowe and Bill Yates, producer Wendy Grounds, engineer Andie Leeds. And we’re so glad you have joined us for the celebration, too, but also for joining us and supporting us in our Manage This journey over the past several years.
Andy, I’m going to ask you, go back in time, tell us the story behind the podcast. What was your vision for the podcast then, and has that changed over the years?
ANDY CROWE: Well, Nick, that’s an interesting question. You know, if you go back in time, I used to be on the project management speaking circuit quite a lot. And so one of the things that always happened is people would come up and say, “I’ve been listening to these CDs” we used to produce CDs, now they’re digital downloads. But Bill Yates and Louis Alderman and I were on there, and people would come up and say, you know what, “I’ve been driving around in the car, I’ve been listening to that.” One person said that when their child misbehaved in the car, that they would actually make them listen to 30 minutes of that.
NICK WALKER: Oh, cruel and unusual punishment.
ANDY CROWE: It was a really funny interchange.
BILL YATES: I’ll get feedback on that one.
ANDY CROWE: One of the things that I figured out during that series of conversations, though, is people would always come up afterward. And so they didn’t want to talk about what I had spoken on that evening at the project management meeting, they wanted to talk about the audio series that we did.
And I told Bill, I said, you know, there’s a few things. Number one, project management is a really difficult job for a lot of people because you’re effecting change, and the world resists change. So you have people trying to create something that doesn’t exist, to make something different, and this gives us a chance just to have a conversation with people. Every couple of weeks we get a chance to talk, and it is, it is a conversation, so I like to think of it that way.
You know, so we get feedback from listeners, and we try and incorporate that into where we’re going. But that was the whole goal is just to engage people, and part of it to say, look, we know it’s a tough job. There are easier ways to make a living than being a project manager. And at the same time people who do that for a living, a lot of times it’s more of a calling than a profession. So it’s something that you, you know, you can’t imagine doing anything else, it’s a chance for us to engage with people, and that’s the whole goal. You know, we don’t monetize this podcast, we don’t sell ads, we don’t ask for donations, we’re doing it because we love this profession, too.
BILL YATES: It’s a way for us to connect with our tribe. When I think about some of the podcasts that have meant the most to me, it’s when people are going through some of the same struggles that I have as a project manager. Nick, I haven’t really looked at the map, but I know we’ve had, I think, just about all the continents. We’ve had guests from all over, you know, Australia. We had Colin, I think he joined us like 11:00 p.m. his time.
NICK WALKER: Oh, man, yeah, yeah.
BILL YATES: It was something extreme, I know, from the U.K. and from other places. So it’s so interesting to hear perspectives from all different industries in all different locations and the struggles that they have.
ANDY CROWE: We still, I think, probably are missing Antarctica. But I bet you, I bet you…
BILL YATES: There’s someone out there.
ANDY CROWE: There is someone out there. I guarantee there’s a researcher. If they’ve got good Internet, we’ll make it happen.
BILL YATES: Yeah.
NICK WALKER: And as the outsider, you know, in this bunch, you know, not being a project manager…
BILL YATES: What, you’re not a project manager?
NICK WALKER: Well, you know, I’ve learned something from this podcast. Not enough to pass the PMP exam. I’ll have to rely on your book for that. But the things that I’ve learned, you know, go so far beyond the language and the acronyms, you know, WBS, CAPM, Agile, Scrum, Kanban boards – frankly, I’m still not sure what those last two are all about.
ANDY CROWE: You’re talking a good game, though, pal.
BILL YATES: That’s it, yeah, you’re selling the sizzle.
NICK WALKER: But as I mentioned, it’s such a big field, but it’s also inspired me in my professional life, in my personal life, recognizing that so much of what I do really is kind of project management. My wife and I just finished one of the biggest projects of our life, so we’ve spent months trying to get a house ready to sell, getting the house on the market, negotiating with buyers, coordinating a move. That was a big project, and the inspiration that I’ve gotten, not just from you guys, but also from our guests, I think actually helped us be more of a success in that project than we would have otherwise.
BILL YATES: Nick, tell us more about this move. So this is a pivot point for us with Manage This. What exactly are you guys doing? Where are you headed?
NICK WALKER: Well, we have been living in the Atlanta metropolitan area for the last 20 years, I’ve been working at the Weather Channel as an on-camera meteorologist. I’ve been here for the last few years working with you guys. So the time has come for us to make a transition into a new season of our life. Our grandkids live up in the Nashville area, so our plan is to get closer to them. My son and daughter-in-law have three kids, and soon to be a fourth one because they’re adopting a deaf child from China. And so we want to be part of that, we want to be a bigger part of the kids’ growing up.
And so the time has come, I think, to say goodbye to television, to broadcasting, and just be a part of their lives more.
BILL YATES: This is going to be a wonderful chapter. I’m so excited for you guys and proud of the move you guys are making, it’s not a selfish move at all. We’re going to miss you here at Manage This.
ANDY CROWE: Very much.
NICK WALKER: Well, I appreciate that. Can I just say what an education this has been, also it’s been a privilege to be associated with such an organization that’s committed to excellence, committed to helping others be the best they can be. And so that means a lot to me, to be part of that, you folks are givers, as you mentioned, you know, this podcast isn’t sponsored. You give of your time, energy, your talents to raise others up, and so I really appreciate that. And I can see that in how you treat one another and how you treat our guests here on the program, it’s been personally gratifying to me to be a part of this great organization.
ANDY CROWE: Thank you, Nick. I really appreciate that. You know, a lot of times at a university they will confer upon someone an honorary degree, and so, Nick, by all the powers vested in me, I hereby name you an Honorary Project Manager.
NICK WALKER: Oh, my goodness.
ANDY CROWE: So now you are, that’s it, you are a project manager, you’re one of the tribe. And so…
NICK WALKER: It goes on the résumé today.
ANDY CROWE: That’s right. We’re going to miss you, Nick. Thank you for everything.
BILL YATES: Nick, it’s been fascinating for me just to see what’s resonated with you. So we’re going to take a look back at some of those podcasts that maybe stood out more to you, some of the guests or some of the topics that we had.
NICK WALKER: It’s hard to really talk about which ones stick in your mind because, you know, you go back, and you look at some of these topics, and we have had some amazing guests. You know, we talked about Tabetha, who had a star named after her, the most mysterious star in the universe. We also went down below the seas, talked about underwater vehicles with Oceaneering International, Wildfires in California, Cataloging space debris, Saving rhinos. We went in depth in managing the Fukushima disaster, we also talked about managing a major motion picture with “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
BILL YATES: Yeah, with Pez, yeah.
NICK WALKER: So there’s been a lot of fun stuff. But there’s also been a lot of practical stuff, as well. We talked about negotiation techniques. We talked about performance reviews, risk management. We’ve dealt with Agile a lot, you know, answering the question, “Is Agile right for me?” We talked about changes in the PMP exam, we answered listeners’ questions. And we talked about using the right software to get the job done. Conflict management. All very practical things, so many episodes dealt with such a variety. You know, I came into this podcast kind of green, not really knowing even what project management was, but realizing that it is all of these things that we talked about, and much more.
BILL YATES: Yeah, yeah. And I think one of the first ones that we’ll go to in detail is perhaps the most practical advice we could give to project managers that we’ve shared, and it’s how to run a meeting effectively.
NICK WALKER: This was a great one, you know, with Rich Maltzman. This was Episode 77.
BILL YATES: And I think this is a good time, too, to kind of turn it over, so let’s go back, and let’s replay some of Rich’s comments.
RICH MALTZMAN: We surveyed hundreds of students at Boston University in our project management classes because we were seeing this. I’d walk through the room, and I would see that their screens are not in fact on PMI’s website, they’re selecting down jackets or shoes on Amazon.com. Unabashedly. And so when we asked the students, would you be in favor of a ground rule that says if you need to use a laptop for translation – because we have a lot of international students – or for note-taking, that’s fine.
So we’re going to seat you toward the front of the room, if not, we want the laptop closed and your smartphones off. We’ll give you plenty of breaks, right? You set the ground rules and the expectations so they’re not saying, oh, I can’t wait to order this jacket or dress or shoe.
But the interesting thing was 90 percent plus of the students, and these include the ones who are using the laptops, and I know them by name, they would say, yes, I agree with this. Please. My own laptop was distracting me, also my neighbor’s laptop was distracting me. In fact, my neighbor would be online, and that would remind me, yeah, I need a new jacket. And so seriously, they were actually almost begging us to take these away, just almost like an addict would say, yeah, get this out, get this fattening food away from me.
NICK WALKER: Great stuff there, you know, the fact that he actually set those ground rules, and the students actually thanked him afterwards, yeah.
BILL YATES: Yeah, they appreciated it, yeah.
NICK WALKER: Well, another episode that really stuck out in my mind, Bill, was Episode 64. So this was Wayne Turmel, talking about virtual teams. Are you in a long-distance relationship? And this is also something that a lot of project managers deal with.
BILL YATES: It is. It’s a common challenge for project managers. More and more these days, we have teams that are either completely remote, or we have members of the team that are remote.
NICK WALKER: Yeah. The advantage is, of course, that you’re not bound by geography; you know? But also nothing beats having the whole team together, you can bounce things off of one another. And sometimes they’re even hybrid teams where folks will work together as a team, face to face, and then sometimes off and doing their own thing. So let’s listen to some of what Wayne told us about leading remotely.
WAYNE TURMEL: You know, you’re more likely to find pandas mating in the wild than a project manager that has all their people in one place anymore. So it’s absolutely – this is now a fundamental skill, right, that we need to get our mitts around. On one level, not much has changed, I mean, so if you look at the job of the PM, what’s the job; right? We need to help figure out scope, we need to assign resources, also we need to coach periodically. All the stuff that we need to do. Nothing’s changed. I mean, Peter Drucker said the greatest project job of all time was building the pyramids, and we’ve just been trying to live up to that ever since.
BILL YATES: Right.
WAYNE TURMEL: The difference, of course, is the guy who built the pyramids was at the pyramids, he wasn’t trying to flog people by email. So if we think about what we have to do, in many ways it’s not that different, what has changed radically is how we do it. So we’re now forced to communicate through technology, which fundamentally changes the way people interact, it changes the human dynamic. And I know a lot of PMs get real nervous when we talk about human dynamic, right, because it’s all about process. But the fact of the matter is that communicating through technology is radically different than the way we were born and raised to communicate. And some people adapt naturally, and others need to be very mindful of how we do that.
NICK WALKER: And Wayne also had some great advice on what communication is actually supposed to impart. Let’s listen in to what he had to say.
WAYNE TURMEL: So it’s really important that you stop and think about what is the purpose of the communication here? You know, am I giving them brand new information? And so they’re probably going to have some reaction to that – it’s good news, it’s bad news, whatever, maybe the email isn’t the best way to do that. Maybe I’ll hold that until we’re on the conference call or we’re on the web meeting, and we can get a reaction at that time, and I can see who really hates this and who gets it and who’s confused. It’s really what’s the purpose of the communication, and then what’s the best way to communicate that that we can achieve given the circumstances that we’re in.
BILL YATES: You know, Nick, one of the things that Wayne said was, and I want to quote him, “Maybe the email isn’t the best way to do that” so that really hit home with me. I was reminded of a speaker, Juliet Funt. She’s written a book on this topic, and she talks about 2D versus 3D communication. It is something that I’ve struggled with myself, and I see other project managers struggle with it, and so it’s picking the right communication method based on the message that we’re giving.
Juliet’s point is, if I have 2D information – like here’s when we’re going to fly out, here’s when we’re going to be at the customer’s site, this is the type of laptop I need to order, so it’s kind of, you know, this factual data – then okay, email is fine for that. But if it’s a little trickier, if it’s, okay, we’re going to have to delay the delivery, you may not want to send an email to the customer about that, you may want to actually have a conversation.
NICK WALKER: Yes, yes, yes.
BILL YATES: How delayed? You know, what are you talking about? What’s happened? Did a risk occur? So Juliet’s point is we need to think about our communication as either 2D or 3D. If it’s three-dimensional, then the stakes are higher, to Wayne’s point, an email may not be appropriate then.
NICK WALKER: Yes, yes.
BILL YATES: So then we need to have that face-to-face conversation.
NICK WALKER: And it’s also important to recognize that people on your team are going to have different work styles and different methods, they just, you know, do it differently.
BILL YATES: Sure.
NICK WALKER: And even generationally we need to be aware of this, too, and so we had our own podcast about that in Episode 88, Crystal Kadakia talked about building a cross-generational workplace.
BILL YATES: Crystal’s the author of the book “The Millennial Myth,” and she’s also worked with us to develop some online content that we’re really proud of. One of the things that she says that really jumps out to me is we have to be comfortable and transparent with who we are. So I’ve got to be comfortable with who I am and then encourage others on the team to do the same, they’re going to look to us as leaders, and we need to model the right behavior.
NICK WALKER: Yeah, great point, and also sometimes we look at folks in different generations, and what we see isn’t really what’s going on, you know? We think, oh, that person’s lazy, but in actuality, Crystal says they’re probably just looking for ways to maximize their potential, and it’s not always clear how to do that. Let’s listen in to what she says.
CRYSTAL KADAKIA: So communcation’s a big part of it, I think when you think about putting in the time in routine tasks versus fulfilling tasks, understanding the why behind, hey, what are you going to get out of this routine task other than, oh, no, you’ve just got to put in the time? Well, putting in the time’s not maximizing that person’s potential, and guess what? In this day and age, things are moving so quickly, if you have employees, if you have team members who are just putting in the time, you should be more worried about them.
BILL YATES: Right.
CRYSTAL KADAKIA: Because you have complacency. But if you’ve got someone who’s trying to maximize their potential, don’t defuse it, right? Try to figure out how you can find other uses for their strengths, or have them partner with you on it, also tell them, hey, here’s the big scope of this project. If you’ve got other strengths that can contribute to this, I’m open to it, you know, I’m not going to do the work to figure out where you fit into the scope, but I’ll tell you the scope.
So, you know, a lot of times managers think they need to have all the answers, and they don’t. If a person’s motivated enough, if they want to bring their whole self to work and all of these newfangled concepts we’re hearing about, we’ll put some of the accountability on them to do it. But it’s your job to transparently share, here is the scope of the project, here’s why we’re doing what we’re doing, hey, if we don’t do these routine tasks, this is what’s at risk. And so if you don’t explain that big transparent picture, you’re living back in the industrial age where everything was just on a need-to-know basis.
BILL YATES: Yeah, right.
CRYSTAL KADAKIA: Okay, we’re in the digital age, so everything is transparent online. If you’re not providing that transparency today, it doesn’t matter how things used to be because we don’t live in that world. People expect to know the big picture, and if they don’t know it, you don’t trust them, and so why would they want to work for you if you don’t trust them?
BILL YATES: You know, Nick, Crystal just, man, so many of the things she said resonated with me, and I really appreciate her saying that managers don’t always have all the answers because I certainly don’t. And sometimes people that I worked for didn’t, either, but I really appreciate her big idea there, which is, if you want to impact a culture, then be a part of that culture; right?
No matter whether I’m a manager or a team member or support, on the support team, we all contribute to the culture. So it starts right there at the grassroots, don’t look up to leadership and say, you’ve got to set the course for me, I need to be proactive and just create the kind of environment that I want to be a part of.
NICK WALKER: Yeah.
BILL YATES: Be working at.
NICK WALKER: That’s really what made Crystal’s podcast memorable, just a great one. And another great one, and one of your favorites, too, I know, Bill, was “Thor,” Joel Neeb, boy, he came in here and just rocked the place.
BILL YATES: Yeah, you know, you’re an F-15 pilot, and you’ve got the credentials that Joel does and the personal story that he does, as well, there’s just so much to learn from this guy and his organization. So I really appreciate the time we’re able to spend with him.
NICK WALKER: Yeah, you know, he also talked about the importance of paring down all the complicated components to managing a squadron of fighter jets, just to the essentials. And he says we need to do that in managing projects, not that we ignore everything else, but what are the essential few components, and when do we look at certain components? We need to know where we are in a project.
BILL YATES: One of the things that I’ve continued to reference in classes and other talks that I’ve given was Joel’s point about when you’re in the cockpit you’ve got 350 different dials, these meters or these levers that are reading off important information to you, and you’ve got to distill and know what are the most essential? You know Neal Whitten talks about managing to your top three priorities, and again, so Joel was saying you can’t look at all 300, 350 dials, you’re going to be overwhelmed. You’ve got to know what are the top 10, top five, maybe the three that you really need to focus on and spend most of your attention on.
NICK WALKER: One thing that Joel talked about that really hit home with me was the importance of integrity, so I think some of his words on that subject are worth taking a listen to.
JOEL NEEB: Everybody talks about integrity. I mean, nobody says we’re going to lie and steal and cheat, so integrity is a word that means something and that everybody aspires to. I so think in our universe, and as a fighter pilot, it was not only an aspiration, it was just the minimum threshold, meaning if you didn’t have your integrity, there was nothing else we could really do with that.
BILL YATES: It’s really – it’s your foundation.
JOEL NEEB: Exactly. Yeah. It’s the guiding principle. It’s what you build everything off of. So it’s not the destination, it’s really the starting point for everything that’s going to take place after that…
JOEL NEEB: Not only is it not worth sacrificing, the biggest test is when you are forced to sacrifice, let’s say a business metric, to preserve your integrity. And so I’ve seen that a couple times where we had the opportunity, it was a gray zone, it wasn’t even really misleading a client if we were to give them all the information and we could have gotten away with it and rationalized it in our heads. But we made the decision that we may even forfeit this revenue opportunity, forfeit this client, this support.
But it’s so important for us to maintain our integrity that this is the testing point. Everybody says they want to have integrity, but right now is when we’re actually being measured and watched, and this is what we’ll be remembered by. And we, to our credit, we hadn’t lost those, didn’t lose those clients, but I was willing to do that in order to preserve the integrity.
ANDY CROWE: Yeah. Thor, that’s – you just hit on something important is that integrity becomes most important in those gray areas.
JOEL NEEB: Yes.
ANDY CROWE: Because that’s – it’s the clear black-and-white areas, people are going to go one way or the other. And it should be an easy decision, it’s not always, but it should be. But it’s those gray areas where you could probably just move right on without stopping here, and you have to stop. You have to enter into a difficult conversation, you have to have a critical conversation with somebody, so that’s a great point.
JOEL NEEB: Exactly right.
BILL YATES: Nick, so one of the things that Joel shared with us was he talked about a pilot debrief, you know, after a mission, and it kind of goes along with integrity and trust. The team, he said, they all recognized the importance of being transparent with each other. So they had this way of debriefing where they would take the rank off the shoulder, put it in a box, so that everybody was equal. And then the leader went first and said, here are the things that I screwed up on the last mission, and really set the stage that way for transparency and for accountability. I love that.
NICK WALKER: I love his advice to leaders in this.
BILL YATES: Yeah, yeah. That was one of the things that we asked Joel, too, was just, you know, okay, so for those project managers that are out there that want to grow that leadership muscle, what advice do you have for them? Let’s listen in to his response.
JOEL NEEB: Yeah, so the biggest advice I would give to you is try and fail, there’s nothing magic about the Air Force Academy. I didn’t go to the Air Force Academy, and they didn’t open up a special book that says “Here’s how you act like a leader.” So I failed plenty of times, and we could make five podcasts on all the things that I attempted to do and didn’t work out well. But here’s the point. We debrief that, we iterate, we pivot, and we make an adjustment, and then we get better.
We know in the military that elite leaders are not born. So contrary to public belief, the Pattons and the Eisenhowers of the world were not just born with these traits and that they just lived their lives as leaders the entire time. They made plenty of mistakes, they’re deliberately created, but they’re intentionally created. You can’t do it through the school of hard knocks. You’ve got to have a deliberate approach to how you’re developing both yourself and your team along the way.
NICK WALKER: Great stuff from Joel, “Thor,” the Norse god of project management. I loved that episode. And Bill, there was another one where, I mean, we had the room full here. We had Bill Darden and Matt Dale in the studio here from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. What a project that was – 71,000 seats, 190 suites, a budget of $1.5 billion, and of course we know it hosted the 2019 Super Bowl. Such a big project. Most of our listeners probably will not be working on a project of that scope, but I think it gave us some good examples of what we can do even on smaller projects.
BILL YATES: Yeah. So Bill made some great points just about that, you know, he kind of chuckled, like you said. He said every project that he’s managed, whether it’s 1.5 billion or much, much smaller, it still boils down to the basics, and he walked through those building blocks with us. Let’s reflect back on those.
Bill Darden: I will tell you what might be of interest to a lot of project managers is a gentleman who taught me this business early on, in my early or mid-20s to late 20s. So I probably send him four or five notes a year thanking him for the building blocks that he gave me on core project management: budget, schedule, quality, and the one that I think got left out 20, 30 years ago that now is at the forefront is safety. That used to be something that people paid lip service to, now it’s the first thing that we talk about, and the other three come along with it, but those four formed the legs of the stool that, frankly, every project is built on.
NICK WALKER: And Matt Dale, of course, in the studio with us, too. One of the things he talked about I think was something very practical for all project managers, and that was dealing with stress. So let’s listen in on how he handled the stress.
MATT DALE: I think I came with no gray hairs on my head, and now I’m about 25 percent. So, you know, this is actually something I wanted to mention in terms of the lessons I learned. Taking ownership in your work as a project manager is such an important part to making a successful project, and by having ownership in everything you touched, so we as a team, you didn’t want it to fail. And whether you were losing sleep over it or you worked late on it, you had so much pride in it that you may have been working hard, but there was so much gratification that came from it. But you also knew a five-year project, or five-plus, but I’ve almost…
BILL DARDEN: Eight years for me, almost.
MATT DALE: Yeah. Five years really since the design team came onboard, and the contractor came onboard, and we got to the finish line. When you started to see that light at the end of the tunnel, and what was going to be enjoyed by the community and the fans, it made it 100 percent worth it, and so it pulled that stress back.
NICK WALKER: Some great advice for all project managers from Matt there, and another guy that we had in the studio here had some great advice for all project managers, too, when it dealt with cybersecurity. So Don Hunt on Episode 84 came in, you know, he’s a former global head of fraud and cybercrime analytics for one of the largest digital payments processors in the world. And he had some real practical advice for all of us.
BILL YATES: Yeah, so Don shared such practical advice, even, you know, how can project managers safely share files with customers or external resources, phishing schemes. But, yeah, the key word, it’s awareness, you know, probably the biggest takeaway for me with Don’s comments was nothing’s safe; right?
NICK WALKER: Yeah, yeah.
BILL YATES: You have to continue to raise awareness with your team and at your organization. So Don shared some creative ways to challenge the team to raise awareness, let’s listen in.
DON HUNT: It all goes back to kind of creating a culture of awareness.
BILL YATES: Okay.
DON HUNT: Within the business. So too many times companies will have, once a year, cybersecurity training, and it consists of a PowerPoint that you can watch on your own, whenever. And so you can just speed through it a lot of times, not even paying attention to it, because you just want to get through it. And then you have some kind of authentication that you watched it, or the video, or maybe there’s a quiz that you can take over and over and over again until you figure out the right answer. So you’re not really learning.
What we’ve found is if you do cyber training, if you truly do cybersecurity training, for instance phishing, or ransomware, which is really where I hone in on, and you talk to people about this is how I phished you, and you actually phish them, or you hit them with ransomware, and so you send them to a landing page that, had this been real, this would have been a lot worse, whatever, you can make the message however you want. But I would strongly recommend that you show people how it happened, and it’s not because they get smarter. Maybe they do. People are just naturally curious.
BILL YATES: No, I’m with – yeah, people learn that way.
DON HUNT: They’re like, wow. How did you – you did that to me? Oh, my god, and then maybe kind of own it, right? And then give them little short quizzes and hit them every now and then with it, or maybe do a, hey, we’ve got a $100 gift card for the first person who spots the flaw in this email, right, those types of things. Continue that culture of awareness, and so I don’t mean put these signs of some person climbing a mountain and say, “You can do it.” Nobody watches those; right?
BILL YATES: Right.
DON HUNT: I’m talking about…
BILL YATES: Real examples.
DON HUNT: …truly getting into their space. Because at the end of the day, it’s not their space. It’s yours. They’ve invaded yours. Right? They are employees of your company. And if we all take ownership of that, that makes it so much harder.
NICK WALKER: Yeah, you know, sometimes I guess you do have to just get scared before you act, and that’s what Don was talking about. And so just some real good advice about watching where you click on the Internet, watching out for public WiFi, and taking advantage of tools out there to help you be more secure.
There was another episode, Bill, that really stuck out to me, that was Episode 57 with Mike Goss, the ups and downs, from elevators to aircraft. And he had a great…
BILL YATES: I see what you did with that.
NICK WALKER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, he worked for the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era, and one of the things he shared was about how he fixed a problem on the F-4s flying in Asia under humid conditions. Let’s hear from him about what happened with that.
MIKE GOSS: So I spent four years in the Air Force at the height of the Vietnam War. In 1968 and 1969 I was stationed at a delightful place called Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Northern Thailand. And so my job was to repair the inertial navigation system aboard the F-4 fighter bomber, and my job was every day I got several projects on my shift, and the projects were: “This aircraft is down. The navigation computer does not work, we have no idea why, but it doesn’t work, go fix it because we need to turn that aircraft right back around and put it back in the sky.”
So I was part of a team of people who would be dispatched, we’d get a job ticket, that perhaps was our charter. We would go to the aircraft, troubleshoot it based on our knowledge, so if we weren’t subject matter experts on this, we had no business being out there. We would pull in the appropriate components because this was five black boxes in the front seat and the back seat, bring the offending computer into the shop, fix it, put it back on the aircraft, run an operational check, sign it off, and let it go.
One time, as it’s 8:00 o’clock in the morning, I’m ready to go off shift, someone from the autopilot shop came over, and so they said, “Would you help me? Nobody will help me. So we have this intermittent problem between autopilot and inertial nav, and I can’t get anybody to help me. Everybody wants to go home.” And I said, “Well, this is not really my home, it is for a year, but let’s go fix it.” And some of my cohorts said, “Oh, turn it over to dayshift.” And I said, “No, this guy’s in trouble, I’m going to help him fix it, whatever it is.”
We worked almost another shift. We didn’t get done until the afternoon. But it was well worth it because we found a problem that affected every F-4 flying in Asia, and it was a corrosion problem. There was an electrical connector behind the backseat, so you had to go fishing for it. And when you unplugged it, you would find two or three wires had corrosion on them, and that made the signal through those wires intermittent.
So we troubleshot it, found the root cause, found the corrective action, had the electricians replace the plug, and then we wrote it up. Well, it turns out this is happening with every F-4 flying in humid conditions. As a result of what I turned in on the corrective action, every F-4 that came in for depot-level maintenance always had that complete plug and wiring assembly replaced. So it kept accidents from happening, it kept more planes in the air, and I was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for it.
NICK WALKER: Wow.
MIKE GOSS: That was a project!
NICK WALKER: Many of Mike’s comments really hit home with me because he talked about the fact that many of us are doing project management without even knowing it.
BILL YATES: Right.
NICK WALKER: You know, I’m in the midst of planning a wedding for my daughter. And, you know, we’re dealing with deadlines, with budget and planning, and it is a project. I realize that I am a project manager.
BILL YATES: That’s right. That’s right. And you mentioned budget. So budget’s hitting home for you. You’ve got a daughter. Budget, budget, budget for the wedding.
NICK WALKER: Yeah, yeah. We’re getting close to that max on the budget here. I’m glad we set a limit, let me tell you. But, you know, Mike and Andy talked about this a little bit. Not my daughter’s wedding. But they had an interesting conversation about project management, just the fundamentals, realizing that we’re all doing projects, all the while without calling it project management. Let’s hear what they had to say.
MIKE GOSS: If you are driven to accomplish something, then you are, in your mind, you’re formulating a project plan. You may not use formal terms to do it. When you do receive project management education, you have many epiphanies. You say, “Oh, I do that. Is that what that’s called?” And that happens a lot.
ANDY CROWE: Mike, I was managing a project and didn’t know that’s what I was doing, right around 1990. And my boss asked me for a project plan. And so I put together something. And I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did the best I could come up with. And he took me aside and very kindly, but very directly, said, “I want to show you what your colleague over here, Tom, does when I ask him for a project plan. Here’s what I get.” And he pulled out a binder. And I was shocked and just saw, okay, there is another way to do this. That was kind of the start of the journey for me. I didn’t realize. My title at that point in time was not project manager. It would be soon, but it wasn’t at that point. But I was doing project management; I just wasn’t doing it well.
So a lot of the things that I learned came from my dad, who worked at Lockheed. My dad had his own philosophy about a lot of this stuff that definitely soaked into the way I thought. But here’s what it did. It gave me pegs to hang these things on later. So that later, as I would learn things, I had a framework sort of already sketched out in light pencil that made sense. It wasn’t that I really learned project management through that as much as it just gave me some really useful pegs to hang these things on.
MIKE GOSS: The thing that made my projects better was that structure or framework that you just described, when I transitioned from making it up every single time, reinventing the wheel every single time, to moving over to, “I have a process. The process works.” It even has a couple of places where I look around and say, is this thing on fire, or are we okay?
ANDY CROWE: Yeah, yeah. And you find, I mean, one of the things that we preach around here day and night is that superior processes yield superior outcomes over time.
MIKE GOSS: Yes. Yes, they do. When you move from making it up as you go along to processes and refining them, then you get what I think you just described as “superior processes.” You’re up there, and your chances of successful projects just went through the roof.
NICK WALKER: Just some great stuff from Mike Goss on that episode. There was another episode, Bill, actually two of them, Episodes 37 and 38, where we talked with Steve Nedvidek from Chick-fil-A. And, you know, what a company this is; you know? From 1946, from the very beginning, to now having more than 2,000 restaurants. He was just a great example and gave us some great examples of where to go with project management.
BILL YATES: Yeah, and Steve has been a key part of the innovation team at Chick-fil-A for a number of years. And Steve and I have had a really fun time talking through the years about the marriage of innovation and project management. Innovators, you know, they’re looking for new. They’re kind of pushing the envelope, looking not just for continuous improvement, but what’s the new thing? What’s the new way to do something? How can we innovate? And then the project manager many times is kind of left with, okay, now I’ve got to make this happen. How do I execute this?
NICK WALKER: And one thing he talked about, too, was having that culture of trust. You know, it’s just interesting that recently it was announced that Chick-fil-A is the sixth most trusted brand in the U.S., just behind Amazon, Google, PayPal, and, yes, the Weather Channel, too. So you know, they have been a trusted brand here for some time, and Steve talked about that, at the core, trust being so important. Let’s listen in on that conversation.
STEVE NEDVIDEK: You’ve got to break out and be willing to try things you’ve never tried before. You’ve got to be willing to take risks. And it’s hard when your mantra has been “excellence” because taking risks means sometimes falling short, sometimes failing, sometimes breaking things. And that can rub folks the wrong way when they’ve been kind of under this umbrella of excellence for so long.
Now, it doesn’t mean that excellence goes away. It just suddenly has to coexist with “stimulate progress.” And so that’s where you need new talents, new people, folks who can solve problems, folks who think differently; and they have to be able to work together. So you’ve basically created this whole culture of project managers. Now you’re bringing in innovators to layer on top of that. And then you’re looking around the landscape going, okay, so how do we do this?
One of my very best friends in the organization retired back in January. …And we would laugh because of our relationship, with him being the brake. He’s very deliberative, very much a project manager type of mentality. And I’m an innovator, … And so he’s the brake, and I’m the gas.
But it was through getting to know each other, getting to trust each other, and know when he’s going too slow that I could say, “Hey, dude, come on, we need to speed up.” And he knows when I’m going too fast, when to slow me down, and those are the things that you can’t prescribe. That just happens when you value people who are different than you are. So you spend time with them, and you begin to trust and understand that they’re not trying to blow up your world, and you’re not trying to blow up theirs.
BILL YATES: Nick, I really like that analogy that Steve gives. So he’s talking about his friend, the project manager, the friend is the brake as a project manager, and Steve as the innovator is the gas. And you need both; right? You’ve got to have both to make the car work properly, but if you apply both with equal pressure at the same time, you’ve got a mess on your hands. So again, it goes back to trust, you have to trust each other, trust the skill sets that you have. And so project managers need to bring that to that side of the equation.
You know, one of the things, as we transition into another favorite episode of yours, I remember you mentioning Fukushima earlier.
NICK WALKER: Yes, yes. That was just an amazing one, again, so a two-part episode, episodes 40 and 41, where we talk with Dr Chuck Casto, he’s the nuclear safety and regulatory professional with 38 years of experience in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And one story from Chuck really impacted me. So the point of the story was that great leaders bring calm to chaos, and there was a lot of chaos with this disaster.
CHUCK CASTO: I’ll tell one story about Izawa, so he was the control room operator. When the earthquake hit, they lost power in the plant. But they’re used to a power loss, and they have trained for that, that was normal. There were a lot of alarms, a lot of noise in the control room, a lot of chaos going on, but they were controlling it. Then all of a sudden the chaos started to stop. There were no more alarms, and they didn’t realize, because they’re inside this big protected building, that the tsunami had hit.
But suddenly the alarms start going quiet. The controls start going dark. You no longer have control of the plant. You can’t see control of the plant. And the operators in the control room, this is unusual. We train for some of this, to some extent. But this was well beyond what is normal training, what you would consider normal training.
People were panicked, so people were screaming at each other in the control room about where are the control rods, where’s the cooling at, cooling flow. So Izawa, I thought he did an interesting thing. The first thing he did when he realized that they had lost control of the plant was he actually stepped behind a beam, and he self-reflected. So he took a second, and he stood there where no one could see him, and he stood there, and he said, okay, what’s my heart rate doing? Are my palms wet? Am I under control? Do I have control of myself? Because if I don’t have control of myself, right, we know from Covey who’s the hardest person to manage, yourself, right? So he took a few seconds in the midst of chaos just to make sure he was calm.
BILL YATES: What an excellent point.
CHUCK CASTO: Yeah. And then he could go to his operators and say, now, let’s settle down. Ultimately, when you think about it, the control room was dark, they had lost the lighting. You don’t know what the radiation level is. So you’ve lost your radiation reading. You also don’t know if these are lethal doses that you’re being exposed to. You have no controls, so there is no reason to stay in that control room, no reason. And so the operators, young operators went to Izawa and said, “Boss, there is no reason to be here. The only thing that could happen here is we die from overexposure of radiation. We’re ready to get out of here.” But he had to keep them there.
So here is this young leader, Izawa, who has his staff, his team, wishing to evacuate, to leave, and he had to keep them there, even when there was no reason to stay. So he did a great job of it. He did a fantastic job of keeping them in the control room and basically telling them, this is our job. And the people outside that are being evacuated would expect us to do everything, even when there’s nothing we can do.
BILL YATES: Wow.
CHUCK CASTO: And so we should stay, they all had tears in their eyes. He bowed to them and said, “I need you to stay with me.” And they stayed. So that mortality, it’s called “mortality salience” in the literature, or “death anxiety,” is how your decision-making changes. When you’re faced with your own death, it doesn’t matter what your supervisor says, your natural instincts are going to take over; right? And so for a leader to be able to overcome those natural instincts and manage that person and lead that person, that’s incredible.
ANDY CROWE: I mean, that is leadership.
CHUCK CASTO: Absolutely.
ANDY CROWE: And, you know, panic is contagious. There is no question. But calm is contagious, too.
NICK WALKER: Bill, so that was some amazing stuff there from Dr. Chuck Casto, y700ou know the enormity of that project
BILL YATES: It’s so overwhelming to think of the stress and the magnitude of that event, that catastrophe. That’s one of the things that’s encouraging to me is I feel like there’s something valuable in every episode. We can all also learn from every episode, from every angle, every diverse opinion and experience, and even the diversity of projects that we’ve encountered.
NICK WALKER: But lest our audience think that we’re going to quit with 100 episodes, no, we’re just getting started. So we’re going to move on from here, and I’m going to be passing the hosting baton on to Wendy Grounds. She is the actual producer of Manage This, so she knows all the ins and outs, and you’re going to be able to hear from her, and you’re going to love her voice.
BILL YATES: It’s quite different than Nick’s. First of all, she’s female, and she’s from South Africa, and so, yeah, I think people will go, hey, that’s not Nick.
NICK WALKER: Definitely, definitely.
BILL YATES: Another thing I want to do is just to express to our audience how much we appreciate them, it’s one thing to record a podcast. It’s quite different if people actually listen to it, so for the first 100 episodes, many have joined us for the journey, and we thank you for that.
NICK WALKER: And so we hope that you will continue as we move on from here.
BILL YATES: Nick, at the end of our podcasts in the past, you have been so kind to offer a gift to our guests, and that gift is a mug. And I was going to give you a mug, but then Wendy had a better idea.
NICK WALKER: Oh?
BILL YATES: So we’d like to present you with this gift of appreciation, something to help you remember your time on the microphone with us here at Manage This.
NICK WALKER: Look at that. A crystal microphone.
BILL YATES: That’s right.
NICK WALKER: I love this. It’s all these little prisms. It makes light all over the wall. I love this.
BILL YATES: Great. Well, thank you so much, and so we just hope this will serve as a memory, a fond memory for you, and all the project management knowledge that you’ve picked up on through Manage This.
NICK WALKER: Oh, thank you so much. So let me say thank you to all of our staff and to all of our listeners for continuing to make this podcast successful. For now, that’s it for this episode of Manage This. We hope you’ll keep tuning back in for future editions, and until next time, so long, keep calm, and Manage This.