All You Ever Wanted to Know About PM, But Were Afraid To Ask
Noel W. Ross, PMP, AT&T
WBS, PERT, Gantt—at first it seemed like I was learning a foreign language. What did they mean and why did I have to learn this new way of doing things? As Dan Ono, AT&T Projects Director, told me more about his systematic and methodical approach to projects, I bought into the program– hook, line and sinker. A group was being formed that would be breaking new ground and I was extremely honored and excited to be asked to become a part of this challenging new venture.
In August 1987, I was promoted from a sales position into AT&T’s Los Angeles project management group. Although I joined the group with nine years experience selling AT&T telecommunications services/equipment (plus an MBA), I did not fully realize the intensity it would require to become a true Project Manager. In many industries, it takes 15-20 years to become a PM. Dan’s goal was to develop our team so that we would be truly proficient within two years. I was assured that this was possible because we possessed the skills that were required: verbal and written personal interface skills, leadership, assertiveness, some computer literacy and, most of all, tenacity. Our entire team had been high achievers in their previous positions and we were committed to knock down any barriers standing in the way of our success.
Not only were we required to read PM material, attend Russ Archibald and PMI seminars, watch PM videotapes, and learn PM software, we were gaining on-the-job training by managing multiple projects (on time, within budget, and with the highest quality, of course).
My first Project Kickoff Workshop was conducted within one month of joining the group and I was off and running. By following the outline developed by Russ Archibald and Dan Ono, I was able to produce a work breakdown structure, responsibility matrix, master implementation schedule and PERT network for presentation to my client within one week of that first workshop. These deliverables were unheard of within AT&T’s premise system installation group and were especially amazing because of the short turnaround time.
It was a very painful and frustrating process which took many long days. I’ll admit that at the time I hated Mr. Ono for putting me through the pain of trial by fire. At one point I remember approaching him with the analogy that I felt like I was trying to drink from a fire hose. The learning curve seemed so steep, it was almost insurmountable (magnified by my slowness in becoming computer literate). If it hadn’t been for a taskmaster with a strict schedule, I don’t think I would have pushed myself as hard as I did.
However, with each new project, our team became more professional (and successful). We learned that the PM process was a building block approach and, once we had the basics down, Dan wanted us to add more layers (i.e., quality assurance programs, budgets). I believe the key to this program’s success has been that it follows industry standard PM methods and principles (primarily PMI). Dan continually reinforced his position that in order for us to differentiate AT&T as system implementation experts, we needed to be true Project Managers and, not just meet, but exceed AT&T project standards.
By the summer of 1989, our team felt we were ready to face another giant challenge–attempting to achieve Project Management Professional status. After several months of intensive study, the certification examination was taken and four of AT&T’s project managers were certified as PMPs. Another remarkable accomplishment and what a relief for those of us who passed on the first try.
My 2.5 years working for Mr. Ono have been the most challenging, yet rewarding, in my AT&T career. Now I understand the meaning of critical path management, fail-safe contingency planning, monitoring and control, proactive management, risk reduction, quality assurance, staff development, communication, and accountability. Not only that, but WBS, PERT and Gantt no longer seem like a foreign language! The process continues, as new PMs join the group and are put through the same regimen of trial by fire. However, now the new members have some role models and additional PM mentors (other than Mr. Ono).
I will always look back on these times with great pride and I know that I would not have stretched to reach those goals without the drive of our leader, Dan Ono.
Noel W. Ross is the AT&T field services manager for Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, responsible for the installation and maintenance of AT&T Business Communications Systems products. He received a bachelor-of business administration degree from Loyola University of Los Angeles in 1972, and an MBA from Loyola Marymount University in June 1980.
After five years with Bank of America, Mr. Ross joined AT&T marketing in January 1979 as a communications consultant for banking institutions and became certified as a financial services industry consultant in April 1982. Mr. Ross was promoted to project manager in AT&T’s Services organization in August 1987. During his two year project management assignment, Noel successfully completed several mega-projects and was certified as a Project Management Professional by the Project Management Institute.