KATIE SIERZEGO, PMP
TITLE: Chief of information technology services
ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District
LOCATION: Wiesbaden, Germany
In Katie Sierzego's job, tech prowess would be nothing without proper stakeholder management. As the head of IT services for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Europe District, she must manage the input and feedback of everyone from U.S. military leaders to local contractors in more than 40 countries to her own team of approximately 35 members who work on 10 to 15 IT projects at any one time. And she must do so with one signature stakeholder in mind, she says: the U.S. taxpayer.
Ms. Sierzego assumed her current role in April 2018, after four years as the chief of the IT program management office and the enterprise data warehouse program manager for USACE in the United States.
How do you support USACE Europe's strategic mission and vision?
In my role I am able to lead a team that brings the latest communications and collaboration technologies to empower the USACE Europe mission. Our organization provides engineering solutions, infrastructure and general engineering services in support of U.S. national, foreign and defense policies overseas. I recommend the right investments in IT and emerging capabilities, and our IT team builds them in a cost-effective way that benefits the organization. So for me as an IT leader, being technical is not enough. I have to work in close concert with my organization's leadership—including the commander, deputy commander and chief of contracting—and our customers to understand their challenges.
Can you describe the project work your team delivers?
My team delivers automation capabilities to support USACE Europe's mission—providing emerging technologies, information management, custom solution services and collaboration tools for U.S. government agencies and foreign partners. Being able to securely share information, work with local partners, rapidly execute contracts and develop designs across organizations is a very exciting thing. We help make the ideas a reality.
What are a couple of notable current projects?
Our district is currently working on the biggest project in the history of USACE Europe. It's a US$1 billion project in partnership with the Defense Health Agency to build a new military medical center in Germany. To provide the site's connectivity, I collaborate with a lot of different stakeholders and government agencies, telecom providers, infrastructure vendors and local contractors. Also this year, we launched a project to deliver organizationally unique software to track and manage the status and key data of contracts. To deliver this solution expeditiously, we're taking an agile approach so we have continuous feedback and incremental improvements.
How do you determine when to use agile versus other approaches?
It's about using the right tool for the right job. I use waterfall processes when outcomes are predictable and uncertainties are at a minimum, like with server deployments or data center builds or expansions. I leverage agile for software development and building out capabilities incrementally—projects where I focus on tight feedback loops and where the end-user representatives are available and interested in being deeply involved in the product's evolution. And sometimes we use a combination of both, like if we develop a base product using waterfall but then customize it using agile.
It's imperative that our project delivery teams have a breadth of understanding of project delivery approaches so they can apply each one, or a hybrid of them, as appropriate.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Balancing so many competing priorities. Spending time on one priority presents an opportunity cost for another. When we develop a custom application, each of our many stakeholders—for example, our resource management team or our contracting community—wants us to design the project to their needs. So I have to take all those priorities and rack and stack them to determine what should be included in the requirements and deliverables. I have to ensure we meet the mission's objective without allowing one stakeholder to overtake another. To do that, I rely on the support and intellectual prowess of my team.
How would you describe the value of project management to USACE Europe?
Project management is a core competency that's deeply enforced in our culture, and it has to be. We have so many projects with nuanced challenges in 40-plus nations across Europe and Africa, each with its own culture and regulations. There's no way we could sustain our pace and quality without project management standards and processes. PM
What one skill should every project manager have?
Soft influence. For project managers to excel, they need to motivate stakeholders who don't work directly for them or who may not even be in their organization.
What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?
I wish I could have been more comfortable taking risks and seeing failure as an opportunity for growth rather than an end in itself.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Waiting to deliver bad news. As a leader, it is important to foster an open culture where the team is not penalized for identifying a challenge. The earlier problems are identified and more people involved in the solution, the more likely a project is to stay on track.
PMI is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
What has been the biggest change in project management over the past half-century, and what's the biggest challenge for the future?
In addition to professional recognition in the form of the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification and other credentials, we've seen a paradigm shift from waterfall to agile, especially in the world of IT and software development. We'll see more technologies like automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence being used by project managers and helping to drive business decisions. The challenge will be to leverage those technologies while still keeping people at the forefront. The need to collaborate and bring out the best in project teams will always remain critical.