When the coronavirus crisis hit, government leaders got a crash course in disruption. So it helps to have an elected official who knows from experience how projects can drive innovation amid chaos. Enter Bryan Steil of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“What we’re seeing right now is more work getting done remotely in more of a project-driven approach,” he says. “What we’re doing is almost baptism by fire for a lot of people.”
With his background as an executive and lawyer for manufacturing companies, Steil has become a leading voice on how public and private organizations can collaborate to deliver results in The Project Economy.
“When the pandemic began, one of the companies in my district, Jockey, got government permission to shift their production to medical gowns. They called my office to say they needed plastic from another company in my state, Charter NEX, to get up and running. Since I used to work at Charter NEX, I called some of my former co-workers there to follow up on the production. Charter NEX took an order that had a four-week lead time and they produced it overnight on the third shift, and it was ready by 7 a.m. the next day. It was ultimately air-freighted to Jockey, and now Jockey is producing 30,000 to 50,000 gowns a day. This is how the public sector and the private sector work together quickly in a moment of crisis.”
That philosophy drives his work as co-chair of the Congressional Future of Work Caucus, helping workers and organizations adapt to an increasingly automated business world. Steil is looking at ways to create effective skills programs, promote growth within emerging industries and help workers access good paying jobs. He also is pressing the government to upgrade operations.
“There’s a real opportunity to take data and find opportunities to make government operate more efficiently,” Steil says. “The average person assumes that government is a pure bureaucratic morass. There are areas that operate efficiently, and there are areas that operate inefficiently. We need a continued approach of identifying ways to improve by using project management. This is no more apparent than now, when you have a national and global emergency, like we do. The efficiency with which we’re able to deliver services is a paramount concern.”
The top two priorities in the global pandemic, Steil says, are “terrific communication and good data.” Among the questions he’s asking: “How are you going to maintain communication lines, so you know where you’re at at any given time? And how do you collect data that allows you to understand the progress you’re making?”
Eventually, he argues, leaders must embrace a power combo of high-tech tools.
“You’re going to see more data collection and the use of AI.”
“What we’re doing is almost baptism by fire for a lot of people.”
Q&A: Bryan Steil on road construction, AI and Dwight Eisenhower
What project has most influenced you?
As a kid, it was interstate highway construction. You'd be backed up in traffic because of construction, and I would think: “There’s got to be a more efficient way to do this.” And that really drove this idea of “Is there a faster, more efficient, more thoughtful way to do road construction that has less disruption on the general public?”
What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?
Communication. It needs to be accurate and sustained.
What’s your mantra for leading projects?
Row together. We’ve all got to row together, because otherwise it’s just chaos in the boat.
What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?
I would go with Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander for Allied forces in World War II. The D-Day landings for the Battle of Normandy he led were a testament having the greatest people in the world spending well over a year planning one massive event. Despite some catastrophic mistakes, ultimately they were successful. It was a perfect execution of a plan.