Episode 44 — Project Gratitude with Roger Duke

Original Air Date

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30 Minutes
Home Manage This Podcast Episode 44 — Project Gratitude with Roger Duke

About This Episode

Roger Duke

Roger Duke discusses Project Gratitude – an initiative to help military staff transition into project management careers.

Roger is a project management advocate in the Augusta-Aiken community in South Georgia. He is a PMP and CSM and an active chapter member. Currently employed at the Savannah River Site, Roger is an Engineering Program Manager. He has nearly 40 years of project and program management experience. Roger is also an adjunct professor at Augusta University, where he has taught Project Management for four years and an instructor for SRNS, where he teaches a PMP Exam Prep course. Overall, Roger has taught project management to over 600 students and employees with many obtaining both their PMP and CAPM certifications. This effort alone has contributed significantly to the steady growth of chapter members and credential members.

Roger shares advice in this podcast, such as how to lead without authority, how to match passion with purpose, how to make projects memorable.

Favorite Quotes from Episode

"That’s how I think about community service.  It’s a great balance for work and life; okay?  You’ve spent all day working and making a difference at your company.  But you can use community service to address passions and purposes that you can’t get at work.  And that’s where I’ve really discovered the beauty of community service."

Roger Duke

"I’m a real believer in strengths-based management, and so understanding what people are good at and what they like to do is real important.  So we’ll talk to them and ask them, “What do you like to do?  What are you good at?”  And that at least gets them volunteering on activities that they like.  And that’s the first thing."

Roger Duke

"What is the value of doing anything if it’s not memorable?  You complete a project.  Your project’s done.  You’re ahead of schedule, under budget.  You’ve met all the requirements.  And nobody remembers it.  In my simple mind that’s a waste of time.  And so it’s important for me personally not to do anything unless somebody remembers it."

Roger Duke


NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Every other week we get together to discuss the topics that matter to you, whether you’re in charge of a large team in an international company or leading a small group in a local business.  The guiding principles are the same, and we want to share them with you through the eyes of others who are doing the stuff of project management.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the resident experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And Andy, talk about experts, we have someone in the studio today who is not only in the thick of managing projects himself, but he teaches others and is involved in numerous community projects.

ANDY CROWE:  And a really smart guest, as well.  This is going to be a good one.  And I think his passion is going to connect with a lot of our listeners’ passions.

NICK WALKER:  Well, let’s meet him.  Roger Duke is the engineering project manager at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River site, where he has been for the past 40 years.  He’s also currently assigned as the Agile coach for the first Agile project there.  He holds mechanical engineering degrees from Auburn University and the University of South Carolina.  He is an adjunct professor at Augusta University Hull School of Business, teaching project management.  He is a newspaper columnist, a conference speaker, and has served as director and officer of more than 10 nonprofit organizations.  Roger, welcome to Manage This.

ROGER DUKE:  Thank you, Nick.  Glad to be here.

NICK WALKER:  Now, I know one thing that you are involved in is the community.  It’s important to be involved in the community.  How can project managers be involved, and why is that important to you?

ROGER DUKE:  Well, one thing that I discovered in some of my organizations I worked in is that, when you build a board for a nonprofit, they typically look at things like legal, marketing, businesses that can be sponsors.  And when I got in there, I found out that these organizations are great at coming up with ideas and dreams, but they don’t know how to implement them.  And there was a niche for somebody on the board to actually follow through and do something; okay?  And that’s where the project management approach or significance came in is that they can come up with the ideas, but you need somebody on the board to actually execute them.

ANDY CROWE:  And you know, Roger, I’ve experienced that, as well.  I’ve been on fewer than you have, but quite a few boards.  And what you have is a lot of passion, and then sometimes they struggle with process.  And sometimes they downright resist process, I’ve found, because it gets in the way of the passion.  You know, there’s all this energy, all this passion, and project managers can maybe help channel that.

ROGER DUKE:  There were a couple of big projects that were sitting out there, ready to do, but the sponsors that were supporting them were going to take their money away because nothing was happening, you know.  And so I just stepped up for one in particular to put a marquee on an historic theater, and it was just a great project, very exciting, big difference, big impact on the community because of its visibility.

And that’s when I realized project managers need to be on the boards.  You’ve got to have somebody with that perspective on how you’re going to actually execute and make something happen.  And it just grew from there.  And so as I got more involved in the community and different organizations, I would just take on projects at each of those and really could make a difference.

BILL YATES:  One of the things that we talk about in the role of project manager is project managers get things done.  You know, we’ve had PMs sit in here and talk about, well, my CEO had a vision, but I had to come alongside and get that vision and break it down and then recruit a team and get it done.  So that really – that’s a great point.  And it also ties into one of our core values here at Velociteach, and that is community service.  So I applaud your efforts in your local community to get things done.

ROGER DUKE:  Yeah.  It’s been a lot of fun.  It’s made a lot of difference.  That’s how I think about community service.  It’s a great balance for work and life; okay?  You’ve spent all day working and making a difference at your company.  But you can use community service to address passions and purposes that you can’t get at work.  And that’s where I’ve really discovered the beauty of community service.

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, Roger, Bill mentioned that one of our core values is community service.  And so the way we implement that at Velociteach is we ask every employee to give 5 percent of his or her work time to a nonprofit.  And they can do that without approval from a manager.  So you want to take one day a month and go volunteer somewhere, you can do that.  And ideally it’s a local not-for-profit, although we don’t impose that.  And ideally we use our project management skills in some way.

Now, sometimes we just pack lunches for at-need people in the community; but, if we can, get involved and do use our project management.  So Bill and I are involved right now with a not-for-profit in the area and trying to help them organize a big project that they’re doing as a fundraiser, things like that.  But I’ve got a question for you.


ANDY CROWE:  My question’s this.  When you’re working with not-for-profits, you’ve been on 10 boards, you’re working with volunteers a lot of times, and you’re in the situation where you’re leading volunteers, that’s a different situation than being at the Department of Energy and having a staff.  Talk about that difference a little bit and how you’ve found success there.

ROGER DUKE:  Well, first of all, nonprofits are not going to be successful without a strong volunteer support, so you need to treat them special.


ROGER DUKE:  And I like your approach about asking employees to give time, not money, okay, because time, that’s one of the things I think is the most important resource.  It’s much more important than money because everybody has it.  But the bad news is you only have so much of it.  So you’ve got to use it and apply it appropriately to get the most out of it.

So volunteers, like I said, they’re critical.  And the way that I approach the volunteers, first of all, is I make sure that I don’t ask them to do something unless they are good at it and enjoy it and can contribute.  So we want to make sure that when we give them an assignment or ask for volunteers, that they want to do it.  And I’m a real believer in strengths-based management, and so understanding what people are good at and what they like to do is real important.  So we’ll talk to them and ask them, “What do you like to do?  What are you good at?”  And that at least gets them volunteering on activities that they like.  And that’s the first thing.

But we hope they recognize a purpose for what they’re doing.  So whether it’s associated with the mission of the organization or with the task at hand, we want them to feel like they have a purpose, and we’ll ask those questions.  If they’re passionate about it, that’s just a plus; okay?  All right?  But finding that perfect volunteer who has that combination of purpose and passion.  And we really try to do that.

NICK WALKER:  I want to ask you.


NICK WALKER:  You said you take your project manager hat into the community service arena.  I was just wondering if it works both ways.  Are you able to glean things from your experience with the nonprofits, the passion, and sort of take that back into your project management world?

ROGER DUKE:  I have gotten to the point now where I look for opportunities in everything I do.  So whenever I get an assignment, regardless of what it is, there’s probably an opportunity associated with it.  And so I really just think about that.  And so if there’s a way to find an opportunity that supports one of my passions or my purpose, then I’ll take that opportunity and bring it into my project management world and say, okay, what initiative, what activity, what project can I create that allows me to achieve that opportunity?  And it just kind of all connects.

But staying focused, for me personally, staying focused on making opportunities into reality, that’s a project.  It’s my own product, service, and result, if you will, that I go out and try to do.  And I just call them opportunities or moments or memories or whatever.  And that’s how I have taken what I get associated with and then weaving it into project management.  I love project management.  It’s what I like to do.  So I’m going to take that strength, that talent, that skill that I love, and I’m going to apply it to something that can make a difference.

BILL YATES:  I like the points you made about let me figure out for these volunteers what’s their skill set.  Can they relate to this purpose, the purpose of this organization and what we’re trying to accomplish?  And then it’s gravy if they have passion, as well.  Those are great elements.  And I think about once I was teaching a class, and I had a guy in the class named Edgar.  And it was a project management fundamentals course.  And we were talking about this, you know, how do you lead people that you’re not paying?  And one of the elements that really worked well for Edgar he shared in class.  And he had transitioned from the military, so he’d had a long military career and had retired.

And then he went to work for the VA Hospital.  And he was down in Florida, and he was responsible for a group of volunteers.  And some of these are kids who’ve gotten in trouble with the law, and now they’re having to put in community service hours.  And so he had a very different strategy for them than he did for individuals like us who may be there volunteering for a different purpose.  So I think it aligned with what you said.  Edgar would figure out what’s their point of passion, why are they here, and then really try to dive into that with them to see how are they contributing?  What are they getting from this?  And I thought that was a nice point there is we’re trying to figure out how do we get people to invest in and buy into our projects.

ROGER DUKE:  Well, people like doing things that they are good at, and they like doing things that they feel good about doing.


ROGER DUKE:  So if you’re leading a group of volunteers, to me that’s what you should focus on.  How do you make them feel good about what they’re doing  so they feel good about themselves.  And to do that, though, you have to find out about them; okay?  You can’t just treat them as a group.  You have to treat them as individuals.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Yeah, and I think that to dive into that deeper, Roger, I think for Edgar that’s where he felt the success, the key to success was figuring out for each individual who’s participating in this project, whether they’re a volunteer or someone being paid, what is their skill set, yeah.  But then what is their connection point?  How do they feel like they can be successful in helping in this endeavor?  And it’s fun for me to think – because, again, military background.  He said, “This used to be no issue at all.”


BILL YATES:  You know, you just look at somebody’s shoulder and go, okay, do I need to listen to this guy or not?  Do I need to do what they say?  And so now he’s got people that are – they may have no connection at all.  They may be working community service hours or not.

ANDY CROWE:  Well, something interesting with this, Bill, it gets into something you and I have discussed quite a bit, this idea of task-oriented versus relationship-oriented.  And, you know, contingency theory says you really have to be able to move back and forth between those two things to be an effective leader or effective manager.  I think when I’m listening to Roger, my brain is kind of going through a lot of things.  I’m on the board of an entrepreneurial incubator, and I’m on the board of a symphony right now in town, and love – so I’m very passionate about both of those things.  But I’m listening to you talk and realizing, you know what, it really is important to connect people to that mission.  But you’ve got to get to know individuals.  You can’t, look, it’s not a “one size fits all.”

ROGER DUKE:  That’s right.  I mean, as you use the word “volunteer,” that is singular, not plural.  And that’s the way you have to look at it.  My wife calls me a “simple complicated man.”  And when I was raising my kids, I had two things that I wanted them to learn.  One was to know right from wrong, and pick good friends.  When it comes to dealing with people, when I meet somebody, you look at them, and you believe that that person could be the person that could change your life.  And you treat them that way.  Every person, doesn’t matter who it is.


ROGER DUKE:  And I’ve got stories after stories about individuals who you would think could not have an impact on a person, and it turns out that they’re the ones that turn their lives around.  So when I’m dealing with people in a community organization, in a nonprofit, and we want to make something happen, make a difference, you have to believe that that person has the ability to make that difference.  And then you just go with it, and you look, and you build that relationship piece of it, and you understand where they come from and what strengths they have and what talents they have and what they love to do.  And who knows; okay?  And you don’t know when it’s going to happen.  That’s the cool thing about it.  At some point that relationship that you build is going to create that opportunity that you didn’t know existed.  And that’s what I really enjoy about what I do.

ANDY CROWE:  My oldest son’s in his 20s, and he and I own an event rental company together – tents, tables, chairs, staging, dance floors, linens.  And we regularly talk about seeking out the seeds of greatness in the people that work for him, which is kind of a similar idea.  You’re looking at what makes this person unique and what makes him special.  And you try and nurture that in other people.  That’s the key to great leadership, if there is a key to great leadership.

ROGER DUKE:  Yeah, that’s true.

ANDY CROWE:  It’s finding and being able to bring out those seeds of greatness in somebody else to make other people great.

ROGER DUKE:  It is.  And it took me only 50-some-odd years to figure out what I wanted to do when I grow up.  And but once I figured it out, the next step, Andy, though – and you know this being a project manager – is to put it in writing; okay?  And what’s where the real difference comes about is by actually thinking about the things you just talked about, but then creating that plan and executing that plan.

ANDY CROWE:  Chartering your own life.


ANDY CROWE:  What a novel idea.


ROGER DUKE:  And I used to think, you know, right, having a vision and all that, I thought it was just kind of hokey.  But after some experiences with not being able to figure out what I wanted to do, it didn’t happen till I wrote it down.  So I guess if there’s one message I want to leave with your listeners is that a vision without a plan is just a dream.  That’s my favorite saying.  And what that means to me is that you can have all the visions, you can have all these ideas, you can have all these things, and find out these things about the people that you’re talking about.  But if you don’t write it down, and you don’t create that plan, it’s not going to happen.

ANDY CROWE:  I like that.  A vision without a plan is just a dream.

ROGER DUKE:  Just a dream.  I don’t know who said it.  Can’t remember.

ANDY CROWE:  I might turn it around and say a plan without a vision is just a to-do list; right?

ROGER DUKE:  Okay, that could be.  That’s right.  That’s right.  So anyway, that probably has made the biggest difference in me in the last five years is actually writing out what I wanted to do.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  That’s huge.

ROGER DUKE:  Creating that plan.  It is huge.  That’s why there’s 24 processes in planning; okay?

BILL YATES:  Right, planning’s so heavy.  I knew if we stayed in here long enough the PMBOK nerd in you would come out.

ROGER DUKE:  Ah, yeah, yeah.  It’s there.

BILL YATES:  I want to shift a little bit.


BILL YATES:  There is a particular project that you’ve been instrumental in that I applaud what you’ve done.  I applaud the momentum you’ve gotten behind it.  And it’s gotten a lot of attention…

ROGER DUKE:  Yes.  It’s growing.

BILL YATES:  …within the PMI community.  And that’s Project Gratitude.


BILL YATES:  Tell us a bit about that.

ROGER DUKE:  Well, it goes back to that concept of matching passion with purpose.  And at our chapter in Augusta we took a survey and identified that military outreach was the number one community outreach program that we wanted to support.  And of course being a military community we have a lot of people that are passionate about it.  So our chapter jumped on that topic as our community outreach focus.

The Project Gratitude concept came about because, for me personally, my dad was in the military, forced to retire early, couldn’t find a job.  And I think that impacted the rest of his life, okay, in a negative way.  And so for me personally, as his son, I said I wasn’t going to let that happen to anybody else if I could, you know; that I was going to help somebody, if they were getting out of the military, to find a job.  So, and it turns out that the skill sets that military folks have are project management skill sets.


ROGER DUKE:  So it’s an absolute perfect match, and a perfect match is what I like to do.  So the chapter decided that we were going to create a project, okay, to help the military folks that are transitioning into civilian life have better opportunities, and with a focus on project management.  And so Project Gratitude came about.  And there are lots of initiatives out there to help the military do that.  But, I mean, I talked earlier about how you don’t know when meeting somebody it’s going to result in opportunities.  Well, I had the fortune of meeting Joel Neeb from Afterburner, okay, the local Atlanta…



ROGER DUKE:  Thor, yes.  I believe he was one of your podcasts.

ANDY CROWE:  He sat right where you’re sitting.

ROGER DUKE:  And anyway, I met him, and we started talking, and I realized that his company was the exact, was the perfect model for military folks transitioning to civilian life.


ROGER DUKE:  And that’s one of his company’s values is to help that.  So that was where relationship turned into an opportunity.  We created a very comprehensive program there to help our local military folks transition.  Worked with Afterburner to come and do a fundraiser, so we wanted some seed money.  So Murph, the CEO, came and spoke at our chapter, and we raised some money.  So now we’re off and running with a program.  We’ve got 20, a little over 20 candidates currently from the Augusta area that we are helping educate on project management, train them on project management, mentor them on project management, certify them, and ultimately find them a job.

We’ve collaborated with a local recruiting company; so we’re not only helping them on the front end get ready for the interviews, but we’re also helping them on the back end actually find the jobs.  So we’re working that program right now, and we’re going to present it at the PMI conference in Chicago, and we’re real excited about it.  And it’s just taken off, and it’s going great.  There’s such a need out there for this.  We don’t have to go out and find candidates.  They’re finding us; okay?  So our job is just educating them and providing them the opportunities they need to find employment in project management.  So we’re real excited about it.  And it’s going to be a good project.

BILL YATES:  And there’s so much success there based off – you identified the passion point for your community, the local PMI chapter.  And it happened to align perfectly with yours.

ROGER DUKE:  Correct.

BILL YATES:  And so through that you’re able to get people that have a great skill set and are able to dedicate time and resources to this effort.  So well done.

ROGER DUKE:  That’s right.  So we don’t have trouble finding volunteers.


ROGER DUKE:  Because we went at it from that angle, matching the passion with a purpose.  And so it’s going to be a fine, a good project.  We’re real excited about it.

NICK WALKER:  One thing you mentioned earlier was the importance of creating a memory when it comes to anything that you do.  I want to delve into that just a little bit.


NICK WALKER:  Why is that important to you?

ROGER DUKE:  Well, again, this is the simple complicated Roger speaking.  What is the value of doing anything if it’s not memorable?  You complete a project.  Your project’s done.  You’re ahead of schedule, under budget.  You’ve met all the requirements.  And nobody remembers it.  In my simple mind that’s a waste of time.  And so it’s important for me personally not to do anything unless somebody remembers it.

And so I have put a strong emphasis on not doing anything unless it results in a memory.  And that has allowed me to make decisions and do things in such a way that it ends up better than expected.  And people remember it; okay?  We’ll talk about it.  I don’t know how long we’ll talk about it, but years to come, some of them, and memories.  And so this focusing on creating memories – which project managers don’t do; okay?  They meet milestones.  They don’t meet memories.


ROGER DUKE:  But wouldn’t it be wonderful to take a milestone, enhance it, do something special that results in a milestone that people remember?  Okay.  And so it just seemed to be a better use of my time and more fun for me if I can do something that we’ll talk about later on, as opposed to just forgetting about.

BILL YATES:  This, again, just kind of connecting dots here, this reminds me of Stephen Covey and “Begin With the End in Mind.”  What you’re saying is let’s make sure that our purpose, there’s something that we’re going to create, that we’re going to celebrate at the end of this project.  And again, it’s a bit of a challenge for me thinking about some of the boring accounting IT projects I did in the past.  But I love that.  I love thinking about this “begin with the end in mind.”  What will it be that will be that takeaway memory again?

ROGER DUKE:  It’s kind of crazy, but I delved into human memory a little bit just because I wanted to understand how to create enhanced long-term memory as opposed to short-term memory.  And episodic memory is one of the types of memory, and it’s based on events; okay?  Now, you can call it events or experiences; or you can call it products, services, or results; okay?  And that’s what project managers do.  We create events.  But we don’t necessarily create them with a long-term vision, long-term in mind, impact in mind.  And what I’m saying is why not look at events differently and see how you can make them more memorable so that, when your project is complete, you’ve got something to talk about.  You’ve got…

ANDY CROWE:  So give us an example, Roger.  How would you do that on a project, either at work or in the volunteer community?

ROGER DUKE:  Okay.  We just experienced it with Project Gratitude.  I didn’t have to have Afterburner be part of that project; okay?  We could have done it by ourselves.  But as I talked to Joel, “Thor,” and found out more about his company and his interests, we said, well, why don’t we just make this – why don’t we celebrate the creation of Project Gratitude, and let’s involve Afterburner.  So now we’re bringing an international company, big in the project management community, and so we’re going to have an event.  And Afterburner is going to be the keynote.  That could be memorable; okay?

But then we got a little more personal, and we had four – we did a pilot, and we had four graduates who got their certifications.  And so we said, “Let’s recognize them at the event.  That could be memorable.”  But that wasn’t enough.  So we had custom frames for their certificates, and we brought them up on the stage, and we made it very personal for those four candidates.  And I think it created memories for them.  One of those is now very actively involved in helping the next generation of Project Gratitude candidates.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, they’re giving back.  They’re already plugged in.

ROGER DUKE:  That’s right.  So it’s taking an opportunity and enhancing it.  And you can do that by making it a really positive thing, or you can do it by making it a very sensual thing.  And that’s what the psychologists say.  And so we decided that maybe, if by recognizing these candidates with a very nice framed certificate, in front of 120 business, local businessmen, then that might result in a memory for them.

And that evolved into now an article in the upcoming PMI Today in October about Project Gratitude.  And so it’s just focusing on the opportunities, focusing on the positive things and enhancing those, something that project managers could do.  But what it results in, which I like about it, is that you’re going to talk about it for years; where, if you didn’t do something like that, your project’s over, and you don’t really talk about.  So that’s how I do it.  That’s an example.

NICK WALKER:  And it’s my understanding that you’re putting all these ideas together into a new book that you’re writing.  Can you give us a little hint?

ROGER DUKE:  That is correct.  I’m so passionate about this, and I think it’s just something that project managers need to do.  We focus on minimizing threats.  And that’s nothing wrong with that from a risk-management standpoint.  But I think we don’t focus enough on maximizing opportunities.  And a moment is nothing more than an opportunity.  And so what I’m promoting is that project managers create more of a balance when they do their risk management, and don’t just focus on threats.  Because if you think about it, let’s suppose you minimized and avoided every threat associated with your project.  When you’re done, you’re hoping you’re going to get praise for doing nothing.  Okay?



ROGER DUKE:  But what I’m suggesting is that you balance that, okay, and that you also give praise for actually accomplishing something.  And the way to do that is to make it memorable.  So taking those moments, identifying those moments, and enhancing those and making memories out of those, I think, is going to make a huge difference in the success of projects.

NICK WALKER:  Well, hopefully we have made a memorable moment here today with you, Roger.  And maybe to help you remember it a little bit better, we have a gift for you, the Manage This coffee mug there.

ROGER DUKE:  Thank you very much.  I love coffee.  I had a discussion with Andy about this, about coffee before, and there’s nothing better.  Only problem is my wife.  I don’t have any extra space for this, so I’m going to have to clear out some of her cups to put my cup in her spot.

ANDY CROWE:  She’ll understand.

ROGER DUKE:  She’ll understand.  Thank you very much.

ANDY CROWE:  Simple complicated man.

NICK WALKER:  Roger Duke, thank you so much for joining us here on Manage This.

ROGER DUKE:  Absolutely my pleasure.

NICK WALKER:  Andy and Bill, thanks for your expertise and your perspective, as always.

A reminder to our listeners that we have just given you a gift, as well.  All you have to do is claim it.  You’ll receive free PDUs just for listening to this podcast.  To claim your Professional Development Units toward your recertifications, go to Velociteach.com and select Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click on the button that says Claim PDUs and just click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on November 7th for our next podcast.  In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.  We love hearing from you.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

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