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.

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