Episode 172 – Inheriting a Problem Project – Lessons from the Zoo 

Episode #172
Original Air Date: 03.06.2023

35 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Megan Young

What do you do when you inherit a problem project? Megan Young describes a stalled project she inherited that was threatening the accreditation of a popular city zoo. In 2020 The Greenville City Zoo was deficient in some areas, and they had a year to fix it or they were going to lose their accreditation. If a zoo loses accreditation, they also lose many of the popular animals that people come to see. One of the biggest threats to the project was the stalled reconstruction of three primate dens.

Megan inherited this project with no knowledge of the standards and the requirements, and with no plan or clear scope. To tackle this project, she began by building relationships and establishing trust with key stakeholders, and she explains how she kept them engaged throughout the whole process. As she talks about this project, Megan shares her advice on prioritizing, budget planning, addressing scope creep, negotiating tips, and team motivation.

Megan currently serves as the Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Greenville, SC. Prior to joining the City Manager’s Office, she was the Parks and Grounds Administrator for the City of Greenville and a Business and Projects Manager in the Parks and Recreation Department. Megan earned a Master of Public Administration from Clemson University. She is a certified Project Management Professional and Certified Park and Recreation Professional. During her time in the PRT Department, Megan led the implementation of the CityWorks program as a work and asset management system, and she managed large- and small-scale infrastructure projects.


Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"You can learn a lot by just showing up onsite and having a conversation with somebody. People will talk to you when they’re comfortable in their space. And a lot of times that means just going out and standing beside them. ...And they would talk to you in that process and you’d kind of hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. But a lot of times it was the most valid of the truth that you were hearing.

- Megan Young

"I would say one of the biggest negotiating tips is know what the ask is. Don’t just come with the problem. Come with the problem and a solution, and maybe multiple solutions, and let other people have some input. But know what your problem is and know what your solution might be."

- Megan Young

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The podcast by Project Managers for Project Managers. What do you do when you inherit a problem project? Hear about a stalled project that was threatening the accreditation of a popular city zoo. Our guest, Megan Young, inherited this project with no knowledge of the requirements, and with no plan or clear scope. Hear her advice on prioritizing, budget planning, addressing scope creep, negotiating tips, and team motivation.

Table of Contents

02:41 … Greenville City Projects
03:33 … Getting PMP Certified
05:39 … Valuable Project Manager Skills
07:20 … Addressing a Stalled Zoo Project
10:31 … Tackling the Challenges
12:36 … Building Trust with Stakeholders
15:11 … How to Prioritize
17:10 … Software Installation Projects
19:27 … Kevin and Kyle
20:42 … Budget Planning
24:20 … Negotiating Tips
26:32 … Addressing Scope Creep
28:15 … Keeping the Team Motivated
30:26 … Dealing with team Conflict
32:40 … Megan’s Motivation
33:45 … Contact Megan
34:28 … Closing

MEGAN YOUNG: You can learn a lot by just showing up onsite and having a conversation with somebody.  People will talk to you when they’re comfortable in their space. And a lot of times that means just going out and standing beside them.  I mean, when I was in the Parks Department, sometimes it meant helping somebody put a bench together.  And they would talk to you in that process and you’d kind of hear the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But a lot of times it was the most valid of the truth that you were hearing.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Thank you for joining us today.  My name is Wendy Grounds, and joining me in the studio is Bill Yates.  We want to take a moment to specially say thanks to our listeners who reach out to us and leave comments on our website or on social media.  We love hearing from you, and we always appreciate your positive ratings and reviews on whichever podcast listening app you use.

Our guest today is Megan Young.  She currently serves as the Assistant Manager to the City Manager for the City of Greenville, South Carolina.  Prior to joining the City Manager’s Office, Megan was the Parks and Grounds Administrator for the City of Greenville.  Megan is a certified project management professional and certified park and recreation professional. During her time in the PRT department, Megan led the implementation of the Cityworks program as a work and asset management system.  She managed large and small-scale infrastructure projects and was integral in the successful reaccreditation of the Greenville Zoo in 2020.  And she’s going to tell us a bit about that project today.

BILL YATES:  I’m excited about this.  We are going to talk about the zoo.  We’re going to talk about spider monkeys.  We’re going to talk about parks and recreation.  And I’ve got to go ahead and just let you know, too, this is near and dear to my heart because I went to Furman University, which is in Greenville, South Carolina.  Now, I graduated in 1980 [mumbling] something.

WENDY GROUNDS:  It’s a while back, yeah.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  And Greenville at that time was just not cool.  It is super cool now.  And a lot of it is because of Megan and the team there at the City of Greenville and what they’ve done.  They’ve got an amazing Liberty Bridge and Falls Park area.  There’s the Swamp Rabbit Trail which my wife and I have actually ridden bikes on and walked along.  It’s just beautiful.  So Megan’s going to talk to us about a number of parks and different projects that they’ve done.  But this is, again, it’s special to me because she’s talking about an area that is a rich part of my history.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, that’s really cool.  I’ve driven through Greenville.  I’ve never stopped there, but I think after this podcast I’m definitely going to take a stop next time I plan on driving through.

BILL YATES:  Definitely.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Hi, Megan.  Welcome to our podcast.

MEGAN YOUNG:  Hi, thank you.  Happy to be here.

Greenville City Projects

WENDY GROUNDS:  To start off with, can you tell us a bit about your role?  You work with the City Manager.  Describe some of the projects that you work on.

MEGAN YOUNG:  So currently I work in the City Manager’s Office as the assistant to the City Manager.  It’s kind of all-encompassing high-level projects that have a lot of visibility.  So that’s everything from vertical construction, park facilities.  You know, obviously we’re going to talk a little bit about animal enclosures and our zoo.  We’ve done some software implementation.  I’m involved in a lot of the grants process.  So it’s a little bit of a catchall.  But anything that the city is involved in from a municipal services standpoint I kind of at least get to have some visibility on.

BILL YATES:  That is diverse.  That’s a lot of different – yeah.


BILL YATES:  You’re helping with grant writing one minute, and then trying to keep some other stakeholders happy on software projects.  And then park facilities, man, yeah.

Getting PMP Certified

WENDY GROUNDS:  Before we get into your projects, I think people would be interested to know about your PMP experience.  When did you get your PMP, and how did that really change how you approach your projects?

MEGAN YOUNG:  So I started the process early 2020 with training and reading and really had heard about the program but wasn’t 100% sure what I was getting into.  I figured it would be a good next step.  I was managing some projects, but I felt like I was just kind of doing it my own way.  So did a little research, found this program, and decided I’d go for it.  So I actually took the exam in December of 2020. 

And luckily enough, a coworker of mine who’s one of our capital projects managers, we kind of did it simultaneously, which was helpful then and helpful now since we both kind of are speaking from the same sheet of music.  But that’s really what I gained from it was, you know, a more methodical approach.  All of our colleagues have the same standards, kind of speaking the same language.  We have a huge array of project types.  So if everybody’s kind of on the same page with the basics, then it makes it a lot easier to get down into the details of the projects.

BILL YATES:  Megan, I can remember how, with the training, I felt like some things were validated that I had been doing, and then there were some other things that were new to me.  I’m like, oh.  You know, I could take that approach.  That’s a great idea.  I’m going to throw that in my toolkit. 

But I also remember the sense of a deeper understanding of what was being said in meetings where there were consultants or outside companies that were a part of the project.  It’s like, okay, now I have better expectation of what they should be doing or should not be asking and that kind of thing.  Or why they’re asking for certain data.  It’s like, oh, okay, they’re having to let the sponsor know about this aspect of the project.  I’m not as interested in it.  I’m focused right here.  But now I get why they’re asking that.  And I imagine the types of projects that you have working with the city, you probably have a ton of outside contractors that you guys are having to interface with across different disciplines.

MEGAN YOUNG:  An array of stakeholders, contractors, vendors, consultants.  It’s a little bit of everything.

Valuable Project Manager Skills

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  So one of the questions we wanted to ask, just along the lines of what are some skills that you’ve found valuable as a project manager?

MEGAN YOUNG:  So I’d say the biggest thing for me is organization, just making sure that I know what’s going on, but also everybody else knows what’s going on.  So between organization and communication, I think those are the two biggest things.  Obviously accountability and follow-up, especially when you’re working with external groups, or even internal groups, there’s got to be an expectation of, you know, from the beginning, here are the expectations.  Here’s how we’re going to get to where we’re going.  And then everybody needs to be accountable to those steps as we go.

I’m not a big tech person, but I’m a big software and using the tools that you have.  So we’ve implemented ProCore as a building solution for a lot of our big capital projects.  I’m a believer in using software to get you to where you need to go and to keep you organized and accountable.  And I think that that’s helped us get through a lot of different projects with everybody being able to access the same information, seeing steps as they go instead of after the fact.  And then really being able to engage with stakeholders at the right time.  The zoo is a special place, and I know we’ll kind of get into that, but there’s a lot of stakeholders in that process.

So I think for me as a project manager you’ve got to be organized, and you’ve got to be willing to trust the subject matter experts, just like you said.  Sometimes you’re in a meeting, and you’re like, I have no idea why we’re doing this, why we’re going this route, why this is even a conversation we’re having.  But you’ve got to trust those people because, you know, I’m not an expert in that list of different type of projects I gave you at the beginning.  I’m not an expert in all those fields.  But, you know, if you could surround yourself with people who are, and trust them, it goes a long way.

Addressing a Stalled Zoo Project

WENDY GROUNDS:  You brought up the zoo.  So let’s jump into some of your projects that you’ve been doing at the zoo.  Apparently there was a stalled project at the zoo that you stepped in?  Can you describe that situation to us?

MEGAN YOUNG:  Sure.  So the zoo here in Greenville is an accredited agency through the American Zoos and Aquariums Association.  I think we’re one of probably the smallest that’s accredited through that program.  And it’s just like any other accreditation.  There are a list of things you have to meet.  There’s a scheduled every four- to five-year inspection.  And those inspectors are individuals from other zoos and other professionals.  And they come in and, you know, they ask a lot of questions.  They meet with staff.  They benchmark against other zoos and against the standards that you should be following.  Then they come back with a report.

And in 2019 that report came back that we were deficient enough in some areas that our accreditation was going to be tabled, which meant we had a year to fix it, and then we would be on the other end of a not-good situation.  If you lose your accreditation, you lose a lot of the animals that people come to see, like giraffes and lions and things like that.  So it was really important for the city to make sure that we did this the right way.

And at that time the leadership at the zoo had been there a while.  Things had changed a lot.  There wasn’t good coordination between the zoo and the city staff, which zoo is city staff, as well, but they kind of felt like they were on an island, out of sight, out of mind.  They weren’t physically close to City Hall.  And they just operated very differently, being a revenue-based business.  So when I got asked to go over to the zoo, it was, all right, let’s figure out how we can move everything forward.

And one of the biggest projects that was looming was reconstruction of three primate dens.  So spider monkeys, lemurs, there’s four different species that were living in these areas and that we needed to make sure that their houses and their dens were up to accreditation standards.  So I go in having no idea what the standards are, what the requirements are.  But when I got there, there was no clear scope.  There wasn’t a clear path forward.  There was just we have this problem.  They had started some initial demolition work and things like that without a plan, which was problematic.

So we kind of took a step back.  We said, all right, what do we need to accomplish?  And we worked from there.  We brought in a great design team.  The architect, funnily enough, had done an internship where he worked with lemurs at one point.  So he was at least a little bit familiar with what we were talking about when we said “lemur.” 

We went from there with a great architect and a great contractor who sat at the table with us and sat at the table with the zookeepers and didn’t make funny faces when they said that they needed things a certain way because they’re the ones living in it every day.  So it turned into a great collaboration, but it started with us all standing around a partially demolished structure going, well, why did we do this, and where are we going to go from here?

BILL YATES:  Right, who’s going to take the spider monkeys home tonight because they got…


Tackling the Challenges

BILL YATES:  I cannot imagine the pressure of, okay, this is, this is the city; right?  There could be some finger-pointing.  There could be some political pressure, that kind of thing, going on.  And you’re basically put on probation.  You have, all right, I’ve got a year.  We need to get our act together.  Here are the requirements.  Let’s stop pointing fingers and get at it.  How did you guys go about tackling some of those challenges?

MEGAN YOUNG:  You know, there’s not a lot of cases in which I would say this, but COVID was a little bit of a blessing because we were able to close the zoo.  We weren’t open to the public.  So our zoo is small.  There’s two or three pathways that kind of snake through.  But there’s not really an option to just shut down an area because it’s either used for ingress or egress, or it’s part of another exhibit.  So, you know, I hate to say again that COVID was a blessing, but it was in this case because we were able to really work in the area without having to be considerate of public use.  The site was a mess.  We didn’t have any idea where utilities were.  Water lines had been run just here, there, and everywhere.

So we started with, all right, let’s sit down and figure out what we know, and then let’s figure out what we don’t know, and then how do we get to those knowns.  I think one of the biggest things is we brought in the primary zookeeper, who was responsible for that area, and said, all right, give us a list of must-haves, give us a list of nice-to-haves, and then give us a list of dreams.  If you could build it, what would it be?  And we were able to meet the must-haves, most of the nice-to-haves, and a couple of the dreams for her.

And so that kept her engaged through the whole process.  She came to every project management meeting with us.  She reviewed all the plans, she and the general curator.  So without their input we wouldn’t have had a successful project because we didn’t know what we were building for.  And the contractor was great, but there were little things that they wouldn’t have thought of, either.  But having those people in the room really helped us get out of that place where we didn’t know what to do.

Building Trust with Stakeholders

BILL YATES:  So Megan, I’m going to go ahead and put you on the spot because you have a reputation for bringing calm to points of chaos in a project.  And I love that.  I admire that in you and in any leader that can step into a situation where there’s a lot of high anxiety, especially in a situation like this where, okay, our zoo may get shut down, or we may lose key animals, et cetera.  So that was a key relationship that you guys were able to build with that curator.  How did you build that trust?  So I guess it’s two sides to that question.  How did you put on that face every day and bring that spirit to the project?  And then how did you build that trust with that key stakeholder?

MEGAN YOUNG:  Well, I would say personally this is pretty much me 24/7.  I don’t get real excited very often.  So I just tried to make sure that everybody knew that we were working towards a goal that we all could appreciate and that everybody’s voice was going to matter.  But sometimes that meant a hard conversation, and it meant, you know, talking to that general curator or that zookeeper and saying, here’s why we can’t do that, and here’s why I want you to understand why we can’t do that.  So I think it all goes back to communication.

And building trust with that general curator started early.  I met him before I was even at the zoo.  We have similar personalities.  He’s not real over the top either, so it was very much a we know where we need to get, and we can both help us get there, but you’ve got to do part, and I’ve got to do part, and what is that going to be?  And, you know, we had our moments where we disagreed.  But if it was respectful, and the end goal was the same throughout, that’s all right.

But I think that when I got to the zoo my goal was, all right, I’m going to walk around every day.  I’m going to meet as many people as I can.  I’m going to see, outside of this project, what can we do to help them do their jobs every day.  So it was little things like allowing them to improve their common area space that really had not gotten a facelift in years.  So we came in and said, you know, let’s paint.  Let’s get new furniture.  Want a TV?  We’ll put a TV up.  Sometimes these folks are called in to be 24 hours if we have weather or anything like that. 

So allowing them to have a little bit of ownership went a long way in this project.  I think prior leadership had been more of a we’re going to tell you how to do it, and that’s going to be how we do it.  And so I hope and think that allowing them to have some ownership in not only projects but in their day-to-day operations helped go a long way.

How to Prioritize

WENDY GROUNDS:  How did you decide how to prioritize?  I’m thinking about if you’re looking at you’re working with the zoo, so you’ve got animals.  Then you’ve got the public who want to come in and look at the animals.  You’ve got the stakeholders.  You’ve got budget.  And then we’re considering our environment.  So how do you prioritize who comes first?

MEGAN YOUNG:  Like you said, in this particular project it had to be animal and human health and safety.  That was the bottom line.  The reason we’re there is conservation and animal health and human health.  So we really prioritize what’s the bare minimum that is the standard that AZA gives us for how to care for these animals.  So we took that and gave it to our architect and said okay, here’s our bare minimum standards.  Now, what can we do that makes it more human friendly, like putting a glass wall on the front of the building so that people could see the animals when they were inside their den and when they were outside the den.  Which before that, if they were inside because it was a cold day, visitors just didn’t get the opportunity to interact with those animals.

So it was kind of animal first, human and health safety second, and then we worried about the public experience.  As long as everybody’s safe, then we started focusing on, okay, what’s going to be the best way to interact with or see these animals?  What’s going to be the most attractive to somebody walking up?  And again, we had a great design-build team that kind of took that part and ran with it while we worried about the standard part of it and what was going to be the best for the animals.

You know, with parks we have a lot of different issues, too.  Cost goes into a lot of it.  Equity is a big part of our parks system. Making sure that we’re addressing it throughout the city, not just in one area, not in one neighborhood.  So with 35 neighborhood parks, it’s really making sure that we’re equitable in our resources and that each neighborhood has the opportunity to engage somehow in our park system.

Software Installation Projects

And then when we’ve done software installations, you know, that’s a big stakeholder engagement project, making sure that the users are getting what they need but are also going to use the software.  And so with our software projects we’ve really focused on making sure that it’s a top-down implementation, that leadership is engaged, because if nobody’s asking for information or asking questions about that particular project, we haven’t felt that the folks who are actually using it day to day feel the importance.

So, you know, and a lot of these software implementations, I’m not a techie person, but I’ve had to be the person that really learns it and gets in it and makes sure that people understand, A, how to use it; and, B, why we’re using it.  We implemented a certain software that people weren’t sure why they were having to put in their daily time and their daily equipment use and all that, until you showed them a report and said this is why we got more people this year, because you were entering this information.  We used that information to go to the next step and say, “Here’s the proof.”  So that really turned that corner in those types of projects, but it really had to be a top-down, everybody’s engaged, not just expecting those who are doing the day-to-day work to kind of carry that project.

BILL YATES:  That’s such a great example.  I love that because that’s always been, every place that I go and train, every private company, I’m always asking about, “Do you guys enter your time?  Do your team members track their time on specific projects?”  Because it’s such valuable data, but as you and I know, it’s such a pain to keep up with.  Or it’s like I’m adding something else to somebody’s list.  But when you can prove out the importance of it and the value of it, you needed more resources, now you’ve got them.  You know why?  Because I could build the case.  I could take this to the VP and show them the numbers.  Yeah, that speaks to it.  It’s great.

MEGAN YOUNG:  Yeah, it went a long way this year, and we took our parks staff data to council and said we’re spending half of our time picking up litter and changing trash cans.  If we could have two positions, we can spend 80% of our time doing that.  So we were able to get two additional positions just based on that conversation and that use of day-to-day, hour-to-hour data implementation.

Kevin and Kyle

BILL YATES: Let’s take a break from this conversation, jump over to Kevin and Kyle, and see what they’re up to.

KEVIN RONEY: Thanks Bill. Hey listeners, do you need help with the PMP Exam application process? Velociteach is here for you! Check out the PMP APPLICATION ASSISTANCE video on our website where Bill walks you through eligibility requirements, documenting project experience, and the application process.

KYLE CROWE: We can also help you pass the exam! Velociteach is an award-winning project management training company founded by Andy Crowe, author of The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try. This book has become one of the most respected books worldwide on the PMP exam.

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KYLE CROWE: Studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam takes time and effort, but knowing what to study should be effortless. That’s where Velociteach can help you! Easy to read, easy to understand, exactly what you need to pass.   And with the Velociteach no-risk guarantee:  Get Certified or Get Your Money Back!

BILL YATES: Thanks Guys! Let’s go back to our podcast.

Budget Planning

WENDY GROUNDS:  Another thing that project managers have to consider, and I’m sure it’s a big factor in a city council project, is project funding and the challenges that you have to consider when you’re planning your budgets.  How do you cope with that?

MEGAN YOUNG:  You know, it’s got to start early.  We’re not successful if we haven’t planned appropriately on the city level.  So even to the point that for a long-time staff would say why are we turning in the same request for funding over and over again every year and we’re not getting it, I said because I’ve got to at least point back and say I asked for it X amount of years, so either, you know.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Right, that’s good.

MEGAN YOUNG:  Either at a point where we need it or we don’t, but I’m not going to be the one who said I didn’t ask for it.

BILL YATES:  No, I should have asked, yeah.  Oh, if only I’d known.

MEGAN YOUNG:  But with the city, you know, we have a lot of funding source restrictions.  So hospitality tax is collected on prepared food and beverage.  And that funding is a large part of the city’s budget, but can only be used on hospitality-related projects.  So the zoo gets some of that funding.  Our Unity Park, which is our 60-acre park we just built, a large part of that funding was a hospitality revenue bond.  So a lot of times people, and when I say “people” I mean the general public, may not understand that, yeah, we did spend $60 million on a park in the downtown area, but it was largely with funding that could only be used for hospitality projects, so things that were going to bring tourism into the town.

You talked earlier about the Liberty Bridge in Falls Park.  That’s a good example of a hospitality tax-funded project.  So often there’s that distinction between where we can spend funds, and that makes capacity interesting, that if we can take it from hospitality and it frees up capacity in a general fund, that’s something that’s always considered.  And our current director of OMB, our Office and Management and Budget here at the City of Greenville, is a master of making things fit and figuring out how to maximize our dollar. 

But it’s really you’ve got to have those conversations early and often with the finance and the people who are helping make those decisions so that they understand the need, they understand what the scope is, what the project is, and you can build from there.  They don’t like to be told after the fact, you know, that you’re further along than they might be.

And, you know, procurement timing is a lie.  I’m sure most of the people who would listen to this podcast understand that it changes.  So we might get approval or we might get funding authorized in July, but we don’t start that project until April the following year.  It could be significantly different by April of the following year.  So we have to be very mindful of what our cost estimating looks like. 

And, you know, we ran into a situation at the zoo with our hospital project there where we bid it, it came back above what we wanted to see in our budget.  So we went back and value-engineered some things and rebid it, and it came back even higher.  So less of a project with more of a cost.  We really learned there that, you know, sometimes it’s not always good to go back to the drawing table, and maybe we should have just moved forward with what we had at the time.  But you never know.  I mean, it could have some back lower the second time around.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah, right.

MEGAN YOUNG:  But, you know, it’s just a matter of shuffling those cards and making sure you’ve got good people.  We’ve got a great engineering team who help us with estimates and can kind of tell us you should be in this range.  If you’re not, something else is at play.  So we really try to make sure that every department in the city is at least at the table when their skill set’s needed.

Negotiating Tips

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  One of the questions, Wendy had jotted this one down, I think it’s so appropriate right here, do you have any negotiating tips that you could share?  I’m envisioning, here’s this budget that’s a bucket of dollars that the city has.  It’s broken into different categories that you have to communicate out to the stakeholders so they know how the dollars are being spent and why.  There’s got to be a lot of negotiating that goes on internally.  What kind of tips can you share?

MEGAN YOUNG:  I think a lot of that negotiating goes back to data collection and data management.  Understanding where your resources are and how they’re being implemented helps tell the story to others of why you may need additional funding or why a project might be important.  So when we were able to sit down, you know, with our budget folks very early on, we could clearly state the need and how we could get there. 

So I would say one of the biggest negotiating tips is know what the ask is.  Don’t just come with the problem.  Come with the problem and a solution, and maybe multiple solutions, and let other people have some input.  But know what your problem is and know what your solution might be.  Our city manager is great, but he wants some input.  He wants other people to own it and to kind of help make that decision.  They know what’s best.  They’re on the front line.  So I would say come with what you need and know what you need.

WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s what Carlene said.  We just spoke to someone recently on negotiation, and she was just saying preparation is really important.

MEGAN YOUNG:  And we start our budget process like December, the July before the appropriation is made.  So it can be hard because things change between December and July.  Or you may – you spend all your money in the spring.  And so people are going, well, you’ve got all this money sitting there.  Well, part of our job is to take care of ball fields.  They’re only programmed in the spring.  But you have to know that when you’re having those conversations.  So I always made sure that my frontline staff, we had meetings ahead of my meetings with our finance and budget folks so that I made sure I understood the data and understood what the need was from the folks who actually would kind of be the end users of this funding.

Addressing Scope Creep

BILL YATES:  I wanted to ask a question about scope creep.  And I want to allude back to something you mentioned before which is with the zoo project.  You talked about kind of identifying from the key stakeholder what are the needs, you know, what are your wants, and then what are your dreams, so sort of three levels of taking that bullet list of requirements and breaking it into those three categories.  Everybody has to fight scope creep.  If somebody sees your nice way of categorizing and says, okay, all my dreams are necessities, you know, what advice do you have for fighting scope creep in those situations?

MEGAN YOUNG:  I think in this situation the zookeeper was just happy we were doing something.  So she was like, I don’t want to ask for too much.  Now, we had the benefit of bidding this as a design-build project, which in municipalities I don’t think have been used as often as I think they should be.  Because you can really have that conversation rather than here’s the specifications and there’s no flexibility.  Once a bid comes in, it’s low bid, and that’s who gets the work.  So when we’re working with a design-build, there’s more flexibility to say, okay, we’re over budget right now, but what are some easy things we can do to get back into that comfortable place?

So I wouldn’t always recommend having that must-have, need-have, dream list.  But in this case it was really important that we got it right.  I mean, otherwise there were animals at stake.  There were people at stake.  So we really had to get it right.  And we had to make sure that whatever we did was going to get us reaccredited.  Which it did.  I guess I left that part out.  We did get reaccredited.

BILL YATES:  Left us hanging there.  Appreciate that, Megan.

MEGAN YOUNG:  Passed with flying colors.

Keeping the Team Motivated

WENDY GROUNDS:  So during the project, while you’re working on these projects, how do you keep your team motivated?

MEGAN YOUNG:  That’s a good question.  Project-specific it’s hard.  A lot of times people are excited when they’re in the project world because it’s something new, and it’s something exciting, and they want to be engaged and at the table.  I think overall I just try to make sure that I’m listening to people and that I’m out talking to people.  You can learn a lot by just showing up onsite and having a conversation with somebody.  People will talk to you when they’re comfortable in their space.

And a lot of times that means just going out and standing beside them.  I mean, when I was in the Parks Department, sometimes it meant helping somebody put a bench together.  And they would talk to you in that process, and you’d kind of hear the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But a lot of times it was the most valid of the truth that you were hearing. 

So I always just tried to let them make decisions.  We had a rule that you’re never going to be in trouble for making a decision.  We’ll have a problem if it’s a wrong decision, and I hear it from somebody else.  But if you’ve made a decision, and there was a reason, then I always empowered that.  You know, we’ll try it.  If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.  But I believe that people need to be empowered to make decisions that affect their everyday work.

One of our better project managers here at the city is our capital projects manager.  His name’s Jeff Waters.  And he has led some of the harder projects that the city has undertaken.  He’s actually the one who went through the PMP class and test with me.  And Jeff is very reserved, and he lets the conversation happen around him.  But Jeff doesn’t miss anything.  Which I think is really beneficial in that he hears a lot and he understands a lot.  And then he has the ability to filter and pick and choose what he felt like was important.  And a lot of times he’s normally spot-on. 

So I think that, you know, listening is a huge part of being a leader and making sure you understand why and where information is coming from.  So I would just say that we’ve got a good group of people, a good group of leaders here at the City of Greenville.  And most of them listen well.

Dealing with team Conflict

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, it sounds like you’ve got a really good team working together.  Have you ever had to deal with conflicts?  How do you deal with team conflict?

MEGAN YOUNG:  In most of my roles when I’ve had to deal with conflict, I’ve tried to get both sides of the story, but then also sit those individuals or those groups of people down together in the same room.  So, you know, it was not so that boxing gloves got put on.  At that point I would feel like I had enough information to ask questions to get to what the real problem was.  You’re not going to make everybody happy always, and there are always issues that are going to arise.  But I think when people feel like they have a safe space to talk, or they have a manager that they can approach, that helps with the conflict resolution.

And the other side of that is, you know, I try not to hold grudges, and I try to make sure other people don’t hold grudges either; that, you know, once we’re past something, let’s be past it.  So in working in the Parks Department, I had 99% male employees.  Those are very different conversations than having 99% female employees.  And not for any reason other than a lot of times our guys in parks didn’t want to talk.  They didn’t want to, you know, sit down and talk things out.

So I think it’s understanding your people, too.  And not to draw a line in the sand and say there’s, you know, difference in male and female, but making sure you understand how people need to be managed and how people themselves deal with conflict helps resolve it on the other end.  So, you know, the zookeeper who worked on the primate project with us, if she had something she felt like was an issue or that she wasn’t being heard, we made sure that, all right, let’s go stand on the spot, and you point and tell us where we’re missing the mark.

And that helped her.  You know, sitting in a room, she’s a person who works outside with her hands with animals all day.  It was hard for her to sit in a room and point at a set of plans and say what might work or might not work.  So we would take her out and stand beside her on the grounds where we were doing things.  And she could point and tell us.  Or we’d say, okay, find me a picture of that and bring it to the next meeting, and we’ll see what that feels like.  So I think just understanding your team helps handle conflicts in the long run.

Megan’s Motivation

WENDY GROUNDS:  What motivates you to give your best in a project?

MEGAN YOUNG:  Well, there’s an early and often reminder of how I need to do my best in a project, and that’s my wife, who works in our procurement department.  And people often think that that means I’m going to get a pass, but it normally just means that my stuff’s got to be even more buttoned up.

BILL YATES:  Oh, yeah.  You’re at a higher expectation standards, yup.

MEGAN YOUNG:  Yeah, I don’t get to play the “I didn’t know that” card.  So it’s a great partnership in a number of ways.  But I also get to have somebody that I can ask a lot of questions to and bounce a lot of things off of. And we have a great team who can handle a lot of things.  And then just overall, you know, I get motivated to see an end product.  I like the work that it takes and being able to stand there at the end and say, you know, we accomplished this, and reflect on what the challenges were and how we can make that better next time. 

So I think a lot of my motivation in these projects is delivering the best thing I can deliver and then being able to be proud of it at the end.  I mean, you never want to stand there and go, oh, that was all right.  Right?  You want it to be something you can be proud of.

Contact Megan

WENDY GROUNDS:  If our listeners want to get in touch with you, if they have any questions, what’s the best way they should reach you?

MEGAN YOUNG:  They can email.  My email address is “m” as in Megan, “ayoung@greenvillesc,” that’s South Carolina, “.gov” [mayoung@greenvillesc.gov].  Happy to talk to anybody who has questions.  We learned a lot in dealing with zoo projects and things like that.  So I’m always happy to be a sounding board or even just direct somebody to anything we’ve talked about in this podcast.

BILL YATES:  Thank you, Megan.  And your advice has been spot-on.  The diversity of projects that you’ve led just adds a different perspective that I really appreciate you sharing.  Great advice.  Thank you for your time.  Thank you for sharing this with us.

MEGAN YOUNG:  Thank you so much.  It’s been awesome.


WENDY GROUNDS:  You’ve just earned your professional development units, your PDUs, towards recertifications by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  Thank you for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

6 responses to “Episode 172 – Inheriting a Problem Project – Lessons from the Zoo ”

  1. Jefforey Murphy says:

    Chock full of helpful tips! Megan Young must be a wonderful PM! Her approaches appear to be spot on! Thanks for a great interview!

  2. Marie Dudenas says:

    Loved this one! Thanks for sharing your insight.

  3. Tuesday Bryant says:

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Tayo Akinfisoye says:

    Impactful podcast. Thank you

  5. Karen Delaney says:

    I like the conflict resolution process to resolve issues and conflict as it allows the team to present their concerns and possible solutions to the conflict and/or problem/issue/conflict.

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