My Approach to Project Management

A couple of weeks ago, the project sponsor of a project I’m working on sent a really nice note in reference to my work. It said “Dagny knows her stuff and I like her approach.” Since then I’ve been really thinking about my “approach.” I know that I’m good at what I do, and in this case, I’ve been given the flexibility to run these projects my way. But still, I wonder what defines my approach.

In the end, I’ve come up with 3 core principles to my approach.

  1.  Questions, Questions, Questions – It is critical in any project you manage to be willing and able to ask as many questions as you need. This starts before you even take on the project in it’s entirety. Who are my resources? Are they dedicated or part-time to the project? Next is the deep dive into any specifications or other project documentation. What are the goals? What is being requested by the customer? What do the resources think it means? What does the development landscape look at? All of these are just to get you started. Once you manage the projects, it is still your responsibility to ask and push. This is the only way to understand what’s going on. It is also the only way to can effectively keep the stakeholders up to date, as well as truly be able to remove roadblocks for the resources.
  2. Communication – Once you dive in and ask all these questions, it’s equally important to document the answers and communicate the impact. This applies as much (if not more) to negative information as positive. Do not shy away from delivering bad news. Knowledge in an of itself is worthless. You need to make sure you are effectively aggregating, documenting and then communicating the information you find. Make it available. Your forthrightness will be appreciated.
  3. Oversight – I believe you need to check in with your resources and your stakeholders on a regular basis. A regular cadence of status meetings is recommended, but I would strongly consider subsequent email statuses delivered between meetings, especially for time sensitive/critical projects.

I think these 3 principles are at the heart of my project management methodology. They result in not just effective management of a project, but also help to build the trust you need with resources and stakeholders.

Don’t take for granted how far you’ve come

I’m inspired to write this by my 16 year old daughter, who is also our summer intern. I’ve written about her before so I won’t spend too much time on background info. Cayla will start her junior year of high school in about two weeks, and this is Cayla’s first job. She agreed to do it because she had nothing else to do. My husband and I definitely had high hopes for her. Not only did we want her to start developing skills she would need after high school, we also hoped that she would start developing an interest in technology, aside from just personal use. She’s spent the last two months helping consolidate and organize our marketing list; started on Node School; and started learning R so she could work on her data science project to predict who will win the next Stanley Cup. Cayla also started pulling the data she needs for her project and working through her project plan.

Throughout all this, I’ve been amazed by the basic skills in business (and business applications), data management, and project management that I take for granted. There have been ample opportunities this summer for me to realize how far I’ve come since I started my first professional job.

Basic Skills in Business Applications – My experience is all very business and analytics intensive. As part of that, I’m very familiar with vlookups (using one data element in one spreadsheet to dynamically find the data element in another spreadsheet), pivot tables, advance sorting and grouping. While it made sense to make sure to teach Cayla how to do vlookups and pivot tables (as needed), it never crossed my mind that we would need to show her how to sort by multiple columns. Or, that she could use Excel functions to find duplicates, or convert names to the same format using the split text function plus a formula to reformat them. After the first time Cayla spent 5 hours adding the same value to multiple records by copying the cell and paste over and over again, it was very clear that I needed to be more explicit in the instructions and guidance I gave. These are basic lessons that I didn’t even realize everyone didn’t know.

Data Management – Cayla has been working with downloading, cleansing and analyzing NHL statistics for the last couple of weeks. We have had several discussions around computers being stupid and doing exactly you tell them to do. When the computer displays duplicate records, instead of grouping by a single identifier, I am quick to recognize that something is different about the records. Cayla was always more inclined to say that nothing was different as she was looking at the superficial value of the player name. Once she started diving into the data, she found spaces, tick marks and commas that wreaked havoc on her data analysis.

Project Management – I know that everyone works differently, but I’m a huge believer in documentation. I’m an avid notetaker, in my handy dandy hardcopy, spiral bound notebook. I red ink (and blue and green…) spec documents, log detailed questions and explanations and am quick to make sure everyone involved gets the information. I don’t believe in hoarding information. I assumed this was a way of life. It’s really not. No matter how many times I have coached Cayla about clearly documenting her project work, or outlining her blog post, this is not intuitive or comfortable to her. I’m a firm believer that developing these skills will help her feel more organized, help her remember or reference information better and would make communication in whatever form, easier for her.

Each of these are just a small subset of the examples I encountered this summer mentoring and leading Cayla. As we continue to mentor and sponsor people, we need to remember how far we have come. Let’s take a step back and make sure we convey the information required for people to learn the critical skills we have. They may not retain them all, but the good ones will definitely adapt some of those skills as their own.

7 Principles of Relationships

I had the opportunity to see Rita Goodroe (@ritagoodroe), business and relationship coach, speak on “Relationships Drive Success” at the Community Business Partnership (CBP) First Friday event. I attended the event because CBP puts on good events and I hadn’t done much networking in a couple of weeks. I was not familiar with Mrs. Goodroe and was a tad concerned about the direction this topic could take. Mrs. Goodroe had great energy, and gave very practical and down to earth advice. A major theme revolved around action so I thought I would share Mrs. Goodroe’s 7 principles on relationships and share their application to my life.

Before I dive into the 7 principles, let’s review relationships. We all have a pretty instinctive understanding of when they go really wrong, but we don’t generally think of what makes really good ones. Great relationships are ones where you can relax. You don’t work too hard, you don’t overthink it. You enjoy it and thrive in it. That said, do you associate relationships with things other than people? Mrs. Goodroe points out our relationships we have with money, time, yourself, business as well as those you have with others. I would say some of those relationships are even stronger than the ones you have with others.

Now that I left you with that food for thought, we can dive into the 7 principles of relationships.

1. Mindset is everything – Thoughts lead to feelings which lead to actions which lead to results. Make sure you have thoughts that lead to actions. At the end of the day, it’s the curse of the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you didn’t get a good night’s sleep and wake up grumpy, you may see the grumpiness in everything. This might be as simple as seeing the overcast, low 80-degree weather as another reason to bring sadness to your day. It could be that the last 10 days were over 100 degrees and this overcast cool day was a perfect break.

I have quite 3 professional jobs since I graduate from college. One in 2001, one in 2011 and one in 2015. Some might argue that it was wise to quit the first two at the time I did given we were in the middle of the dotcom bust and a recession. For me, it was never a concern. I always knew that I would land on my feet and find a new opportunity. The alternative of staying in positions or with companies that wasn’t the right fit and suffering through my own unhappiness seemed so much more daunting and unreasonable.

2. Know your value, know your worth – It’s pretty common to underestimate your own value and worth. Unfortunately, if you act in a way that does not demonstrate your value or worth, you will probably end in a situation where you are unhappy. This might be you negotiating on rates and ending up with the wrong client. If you are not confident, the people you interact with will know and will treat you respectively.

In the late 1990s I was approached by a family friend to work at a dotcom startup. He offered me $8/hour. I was already waitressing and had another internship on Capitol Hill making $10/hour. This additional job just didn’t make any sense for me unless I was making at least $10/hour. I knew the value that was able to bring and knew what made logical sense for me at the time. The family friend was a bit put off by my initial push-back but has since hired me multiple times and become a long-time mentor. Had I accepted the lower hourly rate, I would have been frustrated and probably would have ultimately quit the lowest paying job I had at the time.

3. Establish boundaries and don’t compromise – I think we all have heard this one quite a bit, but I think as woman it can be very difficult to adhere to. As humans, we all want to be wanted so when we get approached with any offer, it’s hard to take a step back to think about it, before immediately just accepting it. If you compromise your principles and let your boundaries be trampled, you will always be at the whim of someone else. You need to stay true to your goals.

My family has a busy life. My husband and I run a consulting business, so I’m managing day to day operations and out networking while he is the primary billable resource. Time is money for him. This means he has to choose his extracurricular activities very carefully. I then must also pick up the slack for cooking dinner, shopping, and transporting our kids to their myriad of activities including karate, ice hockey and soccer. I am also active in a Women in Technology professional organization and sit on the board of the WIT Education Foundation. But I know my boundaries. I do not volunteer as team mom on any of our kids’ teams as I believe we fulfill our contribution with my husband as coach. Additionally, when I’m approached about other volunteer opportunities, I gracefully decline.

4. Put yourself out their more – Networking and “free education based marketing” are two really useful means for building your business. Speak, blog, participate in communities and meet new people. It’s important to approach these opportunities with your eyes open and thinking about how you add value for others. The more you provide to others, the more it will come back to you (eventually).

This one is hard for me. I’m definitely an introvert and need to rejuvenate alone with a book after each in person networking event. It’s something I work on everyday. While I have been on LinkedIn and have grown my connections there, I was never a big contributor. I only joined Twitter and Facebook in 2012. I did it for a purpose. Actually there were 2: figure out what it was all about and put myself out their for 2 projects I was working on – a women in tech job fair and a food blog. While I’m not as active on my food blog, I did start contributing on this one. I don’t know too many followers, but am working on building a community.

5. Make it about them, not you – You already know all there is to know about you, so spend your time learning about them. It doesn’t have to be business related. Ask about the last book they read or vacation they took. You learn a lot more about the person you are talking to, and do more to build a real connection than you would if you only asked about their business and only looked for useful tips for yourself.

Again, this is one that I’m still working on. It’s not asking the initial question, but continuing the conversation on or transitioning off that don’t come as smooth for me. I will say that some of my most unlikely friends came from having interactions that had nothing to do with business. It might be the older neighbor down the street, or the parents of the child at the daycare who just happens to be your daughter’s exact age and now 16 years later is still considered her oldest friend. If it was all about me, then these relationships probably wouldn’t have happened.

6. Don’t be attached to the outcome – This is very much about perspective. If you are constantly worried that someone won’t like you or aren’t looking for the common ground, then your outcome is probably pretty precarious. If you change your thinking a bit and ask the question “why did this person cross my path?”, you might just be surprised by the answer.

Since I quit my prior job in March to pursue my business full-time, I have been taking a broader view of networking. I’ve tried several new events and approached them with an open mind. While not all the formats were right for me, I did end up meeting interesting people at all of them. I’ve convinced myself that I just need to pull on my big girl pants and go talk to some new people.

7. Every “no” brings you closer to “yes” – As you approach new or difficult situations, look for the lesson or contribution. It’s important here to look at both what you did well, but also what you can improve on. What can I do differently to get a different outcome?

Ultimately, this is the culmination of the 6 principles. If you approach life with a positive mindset, know your value & worth so you can set boundaries while putting yourself out there more, focusing on the people you meet (and how you can help them), but no becoming attached to the outcome, you will be one step closer to your goal.

Every time I’ve met someone for lunch or coffee, or attended a new networking event, I’ve stayed true to the fact that regardless of the outcome of any discussions, I’ve taken our business one step closer to where it needs to be. In the course of conversation, people have asked about me and I’ve been able to share what we are doing. They may not need those services, or there may not be a long-term connection with the people I met, but it is one more person who knows what we are doing. We are just starting out, so exposure is as important as any thing else we are doing.

As Mrs. Goodroe reminded us all on Friday, I will remind you today: It is not enough to have just read this post. You must take action. Stop saying “you can’t” (i.e. I can’t…because I don’t have any time). Recognize how your actions impact your goals. If you don’t like what you see, then change it.

Agile and #ILookLikeAnEngineer and the perception of things

I’m struck this week by the perception of things. This is not an unusual state for me as often I’m perceived as something different than what I am. My husband often tells people he is married to a West Indian woman. This creates some startling responses when those same people meet me for the first time. The general assumption is that I’m a black woman, so when they are presented with a blue eyed, blonde, very pale white woman, there is a bit of confusion. In addition, I am also 5’4 tall and average sized with an exercise of choice is Kempo (karate) and have earned my second degree black belt. Just another example of conflicting perception versus reality.

As a technical project manager, I am always interested in learning about new techniques and methodologies so like most of us, am familiar with Agile Development methodologies. It strikes me as interesting that many people and organizations will say “they do agile.” Agile is an adjective defined by Merriam Webster as “able to move quickly and easily” or ” having a quick resourceful and adaptable character.” How does one then “do agile?” I understand employing some specific components of agile methodologies, or working towards becoming agile. Organizations would be a whole lot better off if they stopped worrying about doing agile and actually started working towards becoming agile.

This week I was struck but yet another campaign about women in tech and what it means to be an engineer. These types of conversations always frustrate me a bit. I fully consider myself a women in technology, regardless of the fact that I’ve approached it from a business perspective. I’m raising two daughters, one who is very interested and one who doesn’t know she’s interested yet. “An engineer” or “to engineer” all relate to skillful or clever delivery of plans. While I will not minimize the effort it takes to obtain a engineering degree, the engineering mindset is definitely more than a degree.

I did participate in the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign, posting photos of both my daughters today. My youngest is very crafty, often coming up with elaborate stories for dolls and creating amazing worlds in Minecraft (parkour courses, stables with fancy armor, and star trek doors to her fancy chateaus). She also is learning to program so she can create games and websites on the topics she likes. We’ve been spending the summer tinkering with old laptops, assembling wooden model skulls and have plans for making cheese, soap, roominate assembly and arduino programming.


As I have written about before, my older daughter sits on the periphery of STEM. While she has never expressed an interest in learning to program, or really anything mom and dad were doing. That said, when we proposed a summer internship working for her parents’ consulting company; learning about programming, social media (for business) and using “big data” techniques and software to predict who wins next year’s stanley cup, she accepted the challenge with open eyes.


All of these are indicative of a larger problem. To make assumptions based on first impressions is harmful to us all. It is within our best interest to approach each situation with an open mind. Be observant; see what the reality looks like, hear what is being said, and then make your assessment.