Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Josh Nankivel

Josh Nankivel is a Project Manager who produces the training at He writes great blog articles and serves as a leader in the Project Management community. He sets a high standard for a Mind on a Mission and I hope you enjoy hearing his story as much as I did.

Please welcome Josh to the blog podium. (insert large crowd cheering)

What is your proper title at work? Senior Project Manager, Director of the Project Management Office, Guy Everyone Cusses At?

Probably the last one, "Guy Everyone Cusses At" at least unofficially :-)  My official title is Senior Systems Engineer / Project Manager for the Ingest, Subsetter, Inventory, and MDS ground systems of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), a joint project between NASA and the USGS.

When did you start to become a Project Manager and what did you have to sacrifice for that goal?

I first started managing projects around 1998. I was 20 years old and in my first management role in the training department of a major computer manufacturer. I just called it 'getting things done' back then when we created a new system or product.

It wasn't until 2004 when I discovered this thing called "Project Management" and that there were organizations and standards out there. It was a real paradigm shift for me. The more I researched about what project management was, the more I said "out of everything I love about the roles I've had, this 'project management' thing is the part I love and am best at."

Probably the biggest sacrifice was when I went back to school to get a degree in Project Management. I was very passionate about learning everything I could, which is probably the only thing that got me through it. I worked a full-time job during the day, and trudged to class every night. It was a full-time class load and I took every class offered during the summers. I finished the 4-year BSc in Project Management degree in a little over 3 years. It was an exhausting stretch.

Aside from my degree, there have been several times in my career where I've taken a "step down" in order to get my foot into the right company or department for long-term advancement in project management. Moving down in pay and responsibility level is a hard pill to swallow, but if it's a strategic move it can and probably should be done. I've given up management roles to take individual contributor roles like "project coordinator" for instance, which is how I moved into my current project with remote sensing satellites. It took me a year to learn the ropes and lingo for how the systems work in aerospace and satellite ground systems before I was ready to even think about managing project teams in this domain.

Who has helped you become the success you are today?

Thousands of people too numerous to mention. I credit the authors of all the books I've read, the great people I've worked with and for who have taught me lessons along the way, and the fantastic people I've had the privilege to interact with online through my blog and elsewhere. I learn new things with every conversation.

The constant drive to learn and listen to other people's experiences and opinions are exactly what makes people better and better. There was a time when I was a young "hotshot" who had a pretty big ego. I was afraid to admit when I didn't know something, and always thought my way was the best way. Only after I matured a bit more did I realize that if I'm not listening to other people, I'm not learning jack squat. There is a huge difference in my professional growth rate and I can't recommend LISTENING as a primary mode of communicating with peers and advisers enough.

You do a lot of things for the Project Management Community; run the PM Student Website, a lead contributor for the "Career in Project Management" LinkedIn Group, teach project management on-line, work as a project manager, and now you are coming out with a free course for new project managers. How do you stay fresh and rejuvenated with all that going on?

There's really only one "secret": Do what you love, and it will never feel like work.

I love that quote. It has been guiding me for two decades.

I've been writing and training about project management since 2006 and I simply love teaching people about project management and trying to make sure everyone (including me) is doing the best work we possibly can.

Another thing that sustains me is all the great people out there who genuinely appreciate what I'm doing for them. When I started really listening to people I also realized that to live a fulfilling and happy life, I had to make it primarily about helping other people. I realized that when you give freely, you get back the things that help sustain and fulfill you and make it all worthwhile. If I were just concerned about collecting a paycheck and putting my time in, there's no way I could do this.

Sometimes it is tough to keep going, there are good and bad stretches. But then someone leaves a positive review on my book or sends me an email about how a training course or article helped them. Maybe to land a job, gain a certification, or just understand a new concept they've been struggling with. Those help keep me energized too.

What do you wish someone had told you early on in your career?

I wished there had been some resource that focused on helping new project managers get into the field in the first place and figure out how to do it. That's really why I created the blog in the first place, because I had no resources like that when I started. It was all experienced people talking about advanced topics that went way over my head most of the time. There are hundreds of individual questions I wish someone would have been there to answer for me early on. I try to answer them with my writing and online training.

Who do you turn to for wisdom?

Everywhere available to me. Offline, online. Books, articles, journals, blogs, podcasts. I like to study areas that aren't really just about project management but a somewhat related topic. I like to try and figure out how seemingly unrelated concepts can apply to project management. Most of my current inspiration comes from the Software and Systems Engineering discipline, but in the past I've learned a lot from people who focus more on other areas like process improvement/engineering, people management and leadership, or productivity.

My blog and forum groups are great resources for me to learn too. I've interacted with thousands of people this way, and I learn new things all the time. People who haven't written a book or whatever can still have tremendous wisdom and experience to share with you....if you are only willing to listen. Sometimes in answering someone's question about a topic it becomes clear to me that I've been doing it wrong. I just hadn't been prompted to think deeply about that particular aspect of project management before. These "light bulb moments" are awesome for me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The meaning of life

When life questions us, what do we say? Much of my past would be better ignored, honestly. I am not a total idiot but you have to go hunting for proof. The idea of life questioning you comes from psychologist Viktor Frankl. He feels we should not ask what the meaning of life is but be ready to answer when questioned by life. Here it is in his own words.

"We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life-daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

Many psychologists have said lots of things that sound good but have no practical application. Frankl's words were not lived in the soft chair in his reading room but in the German concentration camps during World War II. His outlook was based on helping others survive through some of the harshest conditions mankind has ever inflicted on itself. If your life seems too difficult, remember that others have endured worse. You can too! It is not about which government agency bails you out or what you can do to beat the system but how you stand up and survive no matter what life puts in your path.

You can read more in "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. It is an easy read but will challenge you to look at life differently.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Radical Leap

One of my favorite quotes from Steve Farber's  The Radical Leap Re-Energized is "Do what you love in service of people who love what you do".  While the book label says it will change the way you lead, I prefer to change the way I live. Leadership is just one part of my life; why limit a good idea to a small portion of who I am?

Since leadership is part of what I do then why not dissolve the separation from one part of me to another? For example, as the head of the house I lead my family in certain directions. As the team lead at work I lead us in getting things done. You cannot fully and passionately engage yourself or others if you cannot fully and passionately engage yourself in what you do. This is probably going to be a struggle for a lot of us because the current economy makes it difficult to transition to a fully engaging job at a salary we would like.

If you are in that position, there are still steps you can take towards success. Naturally, you can read Steve's book. It is written in a parable format and should be available through inter-library loan. You can also realize that where you are now is not where you have to be the rest of your life. Spend some time creating the ideal way to be engaged in your work life and then evaluate that in relationship to what you want to accomplish. What do you need to do, or not do, to meet those ideals? Do you need to change your standard of living to give you the freedom to do what you really love? What skills can you learn now that will prepare you for your chosen path? What character traits do you need to work on to get where you want to go?

In the past several weeks I have written about mental management and how it related to scuba diving. I am sure you have realized that mental management can be applied to any aspect of your life. You do need to actively choose your path, critically evaluate what you want to get done, and do what it takes. Mental Management is not a sugar coated pill to solve your problems without work but a work based structure to get more out of whatever path is right for you.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mental Management when you can die - I Live!

The top people in any sport have what's called a "Passion for the Process". I mentioned this earlier and seeing my behavior in that light clarified why my shooting scores never got much better. I really didn't enjoy the daily practice required to get better. I understood it and could even help others understand it, but it did not engage my passions.

There are people who compete and sometimes win. Statistically, though, 95% of the winning scores are produced by 5% of the competitors. Those people who Lanny says "Train to Win" are at the top levels of their activity. Not only do they have the resources and opportunity to compete but they have the passion for every aspect of their game and are rejuvenated by daily effort towards their goal. They go past the knowledge stage of learning and adjust their behavior to improve their skills on a frequent and demanding schedule.

If you are going to "Train to Win" there will not be any doubt in your mind or in anyone else’s perception of you. You know the challenges you face and what aspects of your performance need the most improvement. If there is a tool you need to succeed then you find a way to adjust your budget and get it. You negotiate with your family for their support and you do what it takes to keep those relationships strong. You still pay attention to what the top competitors are doing but other people start paying attention to what you are doing.

You don't have to "train to win" to enjoy an activity. Winning is nice, but ten years from now will anyone care? Even if they did, would it matter? Let me close this blog series with a two for one deal. This week you get two Mental Management tools for the price of one!

Reaching goals in life is less about what you achieve and more about who you become. Lanny calls this “Attainment”. Pushing yourself to win will force you to face the consequences of your choices and the circumstances of your life. You want to run a marathon and smoke two packs a day? Might want to rethink one or the other. Does the fear of failure activate childhood trauma? Have you treated your family with disdain and now want their full support?

In reaching my goal of cave diving there have been emotional, financial, and professional challenges. I have to continue lifestyle changes to improve my health and ability to perform physically and mentally. The outward goal was just a measurement; the real value has come in terms of personal change and a more joyful, focussed life. Attainment does not come easy and it does not remain without constant review.

Can you use what I have learned to help you? Are you thinking about moving forward in a challenging task and need Mental Management tools to help? Have you found your life’s calling and want to take the next step? I encourage you to move forward because you deserve to live a full life and the world will be a better place when you are fully engaged.

P.S. If you do little else, pick up Lanny’s book “With Winning in Mind” and explore the wisdom straight from the master’s pen. You’ll be glad you did.