Career Development — Your Personal Project

PODCAST | With Guest Jacqueline Van Pelt | 28 October 2017

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified With PMI we'll help you stay ahead of the trends as we talk about what that means for the industry and for everyone involved.

Stephen W. Maye

I'm Stephen W. Maye for Projectified With PMI. For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified With PMI go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music and pmi.org/podcast. In this episode we explore the professional development journey of Jacqueline Van Pelt. A rising star at BAE Systems. Jacqueline recounts her experiences in a number of project management roles and shares the deep insight she's gained along the way. Jacqueline's insight will benefit both up and coming and mid-career project professionals alike. Jacqui, I've had the opportunity to talk with you and learn a little bit about your history and some of your experience and what you've learned along the way and I believe you have a lot to bring to the community of project professionals and project managers and those involved in PMOs and related work and I appreciate you being here.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Thanks Stephen. I'm really glad to be here and be doing this podcast with you. I have spent the last year very immersed in a project management role and have gotten to see project management from a number of perspectives angles, so I'm anxious to talk about it.

Stephen W. Maye

Well, I am anxious to hear from you. I do think you have a lot to offer and we don't want to be overly focused on age, but you are a young professional and as a young professional I think you have amassed an impressive level of experience.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Thanks. Yes, I do feel really lucky that at this point in my career I have already had the opportunity to work with a lot of leaders that I really respect, both in the project management profession and in business in general and I have had a number of different opportunities career-wise for myself to develop in different environments. I started as a consultant in the defense industry and doing engineering, project management and business development consulting and now I'm with BAE Systems, which is a leading defense contractor and we do a lot of really cool stuff and I've gone to work in a number of different roles here, so I feel very lucky for the opportunities that I've had and hopefully I can share some of that with you guys.

Stephen W. Maye

Let's do. Let's jump right in. So I know, again from our conversations, that you've been involved in the last year too in what I consider a really interesting project where you, along with others of course, but you as part of a team, have played an important role in reinvigorating a PMO. This was a PMO that had existed but was at a point in its life cycle where it was time to kind of rethink it and to bring it into its new purpose and tell us that story? Tell us what you came into? Tell us what the challenges were and how you moved through that?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

So, our business is in a really exciting time right now. We have a number of different products that are at varying places in the life cycle and upcoming programs. We manufacture combat vehicles... design and develop and manufacture, so we have kind of a lot going on and a lot of different programs. Some of them that are approaching production, some of them that are in the design phases and a number of different customers that we're supporting. So, sort of doing that responsible planning for the future as we look ahead, we knew that there were some new leaders put in place within our project management function and how we run our programs and to support that we wanted to do some reinvigoration and sort of get back to what we felt like were some of the core competencies that we had and just re-enthuse those. So, sort of the mission was to develop our people as program leaders, to enhance our PM culture of accountability and dependable delivery through continuous improvement and customer focus. So I joined this initiative probably about a year ago and for one year it was intended as a rotational assignment at the time. I was supporting two Vice Presidents. The way that our project management was kind of structured is we had one that sort of did governance and life cycle process and best practices and then another Vice President that was responsible for really the project and program execution and the actual individual development of PMs and sort of personnel management. So, I was in a neat position in that I got to support both of them over the past year in sort of helping to make the vision for the improvements and future of our PM function with them and so it was very neat in that it was kind of an open-ended project. So, one of the things that one of the Vice Presidents that I worked for told me multiple times when I first started working with him was "Jacqui I want you to question everything. I want you to ask why. I don't want you to just do. I want you to make sure that you understand the purpose and the strategy and that you're fully on board." So that was really empowering for me and I think made it kind of really fun. I really felt like from the very beginning I was a part of something important.

Stephen W. Maye

Well, I think you have already touched on something that a lot of us can feel a little envious of, which is relatively early in your career having that kind of mentorship. Having someone that will say and mean it, come into this important role, be involved in something that matters and by the way, question everything. That is, in my experience, a little rare. It's a little rare for people to say it and, and actually mean it.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

I agree and I think I've been very, very lucky in the folks that I've had a chance to work with. I've gotten to work with some phenomenal leaders with varying styles, but largely all very effective. So I think that's really cool and I will say I think, had he known me a little better, he might not have told me that quite so many times.

Stephen W. Maye

Did he get a few more questions than he was planning for?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Perhaps.

Stephen W. Maye

That's okay. So you've set it up. So you've kind of come into this situation, this reinvigoration of a PMO. What was the big challenge? When you looked at it, if you would look back on it today and say okay, between kind of where we were and what we really needed to be effective, what were the big gaps?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

So, I think the significant challenge in this is probably a challenge in just about anything, is change and how change will be interpreted and trying to communicate with all of your stakeholders and most importantly, within our PM function, you know, our PMs, our Project and Program Managers are our stakeholders. So trying to communicate effectively your messaging, which is not that we've been doing a bad job or there's something wrong, but more of, you know, we're trying to prepare for the future and we recognize that if you're not growing and you're not improving you are not going to be able to stay at the forefront of your industry or your profession. So, trying to do that and get all of the appropriate stakeholders on board, I was really surprised at how much it really was not just about doing but about interactions and relationships and communicating and getting everyone's input and then assembling that into sort of a mission and vision that everyone could get behind.

Stephen W. Maye

That's interesting. You are an engineer by training and even in our own interactions I think there's a level of that engineering discipline that comes through. I hear that in the way that you question and the way that you look for clarity and it's interesting to me to hear you go so quickly to relationships. So, how did that come about for you? So here you are, someone with the skill, the knowledge, the training, the education, the experience as an engineer and you quickly go to, you know what, you've got to focus on the relationships. How did that come about for you?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes, I think you've hit on something that is certainly tough for me... the transition from really being a results oriented facts and numbers based engineer... And that really is kind of my mindset that, you know, you look at what you create in your job or your role, you look at your work products and that's something that you're very proud of, I think, as an engineer. You're trying to create something tangible. And so when I started in this role it's certainly a very different role and it took me a little bit of time to realize that it really was more of a relationship and people interaction role and that my work product really is my interactions with people.

Stephen W. Maye

Give me an example of where you recognized... I started to say early in the process, but maybe it wasn't... but where you recognized in the process of what you were trying to do to bring about this PMO two dot O that was the appropriate version for what the organization needed at this time, what did you run into that told you, you know what, if we can't focus on relationships here, I can't personally focus on relationships, I'm not going to be successful. What did you actually run into?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

We have a program management leadership team that are also responsible for program execution, but we sort of let them be the voice of the PMs and their very senior program directors and in working with them it was neat to see the diversity of thought, based on the experiences that they had had, either in their current role, in previous roles, previous companies, just throughout their career... very wise, seasoned people... that they had and how they received the messaging and just in conversations that we had as a program management leadership team about what the next steps were and what was important. You know, you have some people who are just enthusiastic and on board with anything that might make the needle move a little and then you naturally have some people who are more sceptical and see the challenges and are very careful to say hey, you know, the first thing we need to do is ensure that we're going to do no harm, because we don't want to damage the solid foundation that we already have. So I think just even in that small group of program directors really, that had a lot of respect for each other and yet felt very strongly in each of their perspectives about doing the right thing for the organization and for their programs and just the matter of having to get those handful, half a dozen, a dozen people on board together and on the same page, it really I think showed how the first thing that you need is to have a common vision and agreement and build some consensus.

Stephen W. Maye

Give us a little window into what you actually did to begin building those relationships, and correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I hear it, the relationships you were referencing in that example were not really those with the people that you reported to, they weren't really those with the people that you led. These were more kind of lateral stakeholder relationships, is that right?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Absolutely, yes and the only thing I would disagree with there is probably lateral, in that that was one of the challenges, I think, of the role that I've been in and also one of the tremendous opportunities for growth in that when I sat in the room with the program management leadership team I would need to get four promotions instantaneously to be lateral to any of them.

Stephen W. Maye

Only four?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes. And, in fact, both of the two Vice Presidents that I worked for I think, I mean, at some point I lose track of exactly the executive grading system, but I think I would have needed probably seven or eight to get to their level. So, a tremendous opportunity for growth for me, but certainly not lateral stakeholder management. So I think an important part of that... I know you're looking for my input as far as an early or mid-career professional... it's trying to get a seat at the table and, you know, convince yourself that you deserve a seat at the table and then gain the respect of the other people there. Relationships, naturally you know, when I walked in the room I realized immediately in that type of a setting how important relationships are. I think sometimes we take that for granted when we're working with, you know, more lateral type relationships, because we assume that there is that assumed respect for your position or your authority.

Stephen W. Maye

Yes. So, how did you do that? When you think about your mindset of coming into a room where some of those with whom you have to establish relationships, maybe they are four levels above, maybe they are more from what you were describing, you said it's important to first convince yourself that you actually deserve a seat at that table. What was that anchored in for you? Is that a kind of cosmic everybody deserves a seat at the table or was it anchored in something else? Where was that anchored? This is something you and I haven't talked about and I'd love to hear this.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes. So I think that, you know, you're not going to convince anyone else of anything that you don't believe, right? So I think that that's your first step in anything. When you're dealing in any situation as a project manager, trying to be a leader, trying to make progress, you need to value your own perspective first, so that others will as well and I think sometimes, you know, in situations like that I wasn't in a position where I was going to be able to offer a more experienced or in some cases, you know, more informed perspective when it came to the status of our programs or the history of our company or programs or things like that. I was not in a position to offer a more informed or a more experienced perspective, but I really had to recognize that I did have a valuable perspective to offer, even though it might not be the traditionally valued perspective and that was why I was there and they not just could use that perspective, but they expected and needed that perspective.

Stephen W. Maye

I know that had to be difficult, so is there a backstage tip or trick that would use before you would into one of these rooms with eight or ten people who were significantly your senior and you need to be able to influence them, you need to be able to advance those relationships? What was your backstage ritual?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

So, I think this is actually something more recently that I've learned. Perhaps I would have benefited from knowing this sooner. Power posing. It's something that a mentor that I have here within the business has introduced me to and there's a TED talk about it. There's a lot of research and evidence that shows if you just take a power pose a couple of times for a minute or two before you go do something important, it kind of convinces yourself that you're a powerful person. I actually have a picture of Superman and also of a tiger power posing hanging on my white board, just kind of as a reminder that you're responsible for your own power.

Stephen W. Maye

With the more recent film you can update that to include Wonder Woman.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes. And there's one other thing that I would say with that and I think that that's kind of developing your own sense of when to speak up and when to listen up. It's a little bit difficult. I'm not sure that it comes naturally to anyone and maybe it does. If it does I'm jealous of you. But you do have to accept some risk in trying to establish those boundaries of when it is that you should be speaking and when you should be listening up, because there's certainly a time when it's time to offer your perspective, maybe offer a candid assessment that's contrary to the general consensus and then there's other times where you just need to get on board and move out. And so trying to find out when those times were to do each of those things was important as well.

Stephen W. Maye

Where did you land in terms of you must have established for yourself some basic questions, your basic principles that you apply for when you speak up versus when you listen up and move out as you said? So what was that for you? How did you determine that?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

So I think it's just, it's a feel that you develop over time from trying things and they work sometimes and they don't, and trying to be self-reflective both before and after you enter engagements where you're going to be a position where you need to determine how to react and what to do. And I think it's also again underpinned by the relationships, right? If you have a strong relationship with the people in the room you can know whether you should speak up in that setting, whether you should hold off and speak up in another setting or what it is, and I think it's establishing a level of trust with the people that you work with and I'd like to think that I've been able to develop this with the program directors and the vice presidents and those that I've supported that I will offer my candid assessment and I will ask the awkward questions when it's needed, but when a decision is made and that's what we're going to move out and do, I will be behind you 100% and it will never be attributable to one person, whether it's wildly successful or falls flat on its face.

Stephen W. Maye

I think that's a powerful lesson. That idea that you can have the discussion, you can have the disagreement, you can raise the tough question... and I think you used the word awkward... you can raise the awkward question and people still trust you to go out and do what you've agreed to do once that conversation is over.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes, and I think that's really important and that really does break down a lot of barriers and that comes back to, I think we mentioned trust earlier. An important part of relationships is the trust that is created when you do build strong relationships and I once heard that trust is the conduit for influence and therefore it's the medium through which ideas travel.

Stephen W. Maye

So what is Jacqueline Van Pelt's key to building trust with those that you need to influence?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

So, for me, this is a concept that I was introduced to over the last year as well, and it's the idea that how do you create trust with people? You create experiences with them that change the beliefs that they hold about you or with regard to you. So, I look at myself as an experience creator in my interactions with other people. I'm creating experiences with them that are going to influence their beliefs and then subsequently, you know, their actions and their results in working with them. So every interaction, you know, you want to be consistent so that they know what to expect from you and you want to create experiences that will lead to them holding the beliefs about you that you want them to. So, if you want them to believe that you're trusted you need to create experiences that you're trustworthy.

Stephen W. Maye

As I continue to listen to you and to listen to so many things that you readily acknowledge are things that either became more real for you or that you have learned as recently as over the past year or so, I have absolutely no doubt that it will not be long before you are sitting at the peer level with some of those same folks that you've been talking about building relationships with. So, talk to us a little more about raising the awkward question. That's something that I've heard you mention before. You've mentioned it in this conversation, but you've mentioned it to me before. Tell me, when did that surface for you? When did it surface for you that it's actually part of your job to raise the awkward question?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes, so I was fortunate enough to learn that I think at a very early stage in my career as a consultant. I worked for a consulting firm that actually I was supervised for a significant portion of the time by my mother and there is no-one who believes in you more than your mother, who will put you into situations to allow yourself to grow and rise to the challenge. So asking the awkward question is really something that I have learned from her. She is an engineer as well and in the consulting world it's kind of, you know, where there's smoke there's probably fire. So, if somebody else isn't asking the question it's probably why they brought you in, because you need to get to the bottom of it and help ask that question and find the root cause of the problem and go from there. So, I think that my consulting experience... and I can cite one specific example... I've worked with some folks that I would say are excellent leaders and then you put them in a different forum and it's someone that you would really have expected to be that person to ask that awkward question and to trust but verify when it comes to something that's very important to the success of the project. And I can remember sitting in a boardroom for a high level review of a project that we had been working tirelessly on, with the expectation that the project manager on that effort... there was an issue that came up and I cannot remember the issue now, nor is it important, but he did not ask the awkward question or raise the issue with leadership and point out why that was something that our team could not do or should not do or it was not in the best interest of our goal. So we actually left that room with guidance contrary to what I believe that program manager thought was appropriate because he didn't have the confidence or whatever it was to ask that awkward question. And I would never have expected that, because he was an excellent leader when he was leading his peers and subordinates, but in that circumstance for whatever reason, did not ask the awkward question and I thought it was detrimental.

Stephen W. Maye

So, I've served as a consultant for many years and one of the things that you encounter is that there are times when you recognize that there's something that the people that are employed, that are in leadership roles, that are in other support roles and so forth in an organization, they either could easily recognize or have already recognized, but they are looking to you to say it. In some cases they actually say that and, of course, the joke behind it is well, you don't have to build a career here. Because you're the consultant you can say it, you can hurt someone's feelings and maybe ruffle some feathers and you eventually go on and serve another client or serve another initiative. So how did you carry that forward? So, when you came out of consulting into an organization where you now are on the payroll, you are now an employee there, you are now building a career there, how did you carry forward that willingness and ability to raise the awkward question, to make the uncomfortable insight, even though you no longer had that buffer of being a consultant?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

So I think that is a bit tricky, right? Maybe this is a bit harsh but I'll just come out and say it. I think in business you're building relationships not necessarily friends, right? You know, I think friendship hopefully underpins a lot of it, but when you build relationships you're not expecting someone to tell you. I think a lot of times you look towards like a... when I say friend, I mean the type of person who's going to tell you what you want to hear. I think in business when you talk about trusted relationships, you're not looking for someone who is going to tell you what you want to hear and so I think that's different and that's hard and that's a way that you have to look at building relationships and how you interact with other people. And then the other thing that I carried with me from consulting into my role um, you know, as an employee, is something that I learned from when as a consultant I always had to, you know, you're filling out a time card, you're doing a lot of hourly work, those kind of things. You do the standard documentation of the project task. You know, what you've done, those kind of things. I was always required... I had an excellent manager who thought it was important that not only that... he had a separate area of the report where you had to put the value that you added to your customer. What value did you bring to your customer with that period of work?

Stephen W. Maye

That would terrify a lot of people.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes, but it's really powerful when you take even just like a subset of your week of work or your day of work or whatever time period you're operating on and, and really try and think about not just what I did but how did I help further whatever their goals are, or further their strategy or their vision. You know, it really brings you back to the focus of customer and the bigger picture and I think sometimes, you know, you really need to close the aperture and get down to business and get things done, but a lot of times there's a lot of value in being able to open the aperture and check in on where you stand bigger picture-wise.

Stephen W. Maye

You have had, not to take anything away from what you have learned and brought to these situations, but you've had some excellent mentors. I mean, that, that seems to really come through, that you have had the privilege of serving under folks, apparently at differently places, different organizations, that really did provide some valuable training and insight and coaching and mentoring and wow, what a privilege. So many have not had that.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes, and I will say I've been very lucky in that I've had a number of good mentors, good managers, good supervisors, good leaders that I've worked for and I probably have not recognized until more recently exactly how lucky I've been. And now that I am realizing that, there are some things that I'm trying to consciously do to really take advantage of that, because I think that, you know, there are some, there is some level of just osmosis or just being around really passionate, purpose driven, successful people that have a lot of qualities that you'd like to emulate, I think. You naturally grow from that, but I think there is also a lot of ways that if you realize what a fortunate position that you're in, you can take some steps to kind of consciously learn as well, even simple things as really trying to think about when you're working with people. Hey, what are the qualities that they have that I'd like to emulate, you know? Why is it that people respect them? And really trying to think through those things and then take it down to granular, because as I mentioned before you know, it's about experiences that you create with people and so it comes down to the smaller actions and things build. You know, the ripple effect. So, I've tried to decompose in watching other people work, you know, what it is that makes them successful. And so I know, I know it's hard because we're running from one meeting to the next, one priority to the next, but a lot of times when I'm about to walk into a meeting that's run by one of these people that I respect or things like that, I try and say hey, you know, what's one thing that I'd like to learn from them here or do you know, take three minutes afterwards and write down one thing that I thought went really well and why it did. Just little things like that to really try and enhance the impact on your own growth from working with people that you respect.

Stephen W. Maye

Yes. It's just such a great set of learning habits and you're described them at different points throughout our conversation today that I think you've developed and that's wonderful. So, you've talked to me before about this idea of developing or I think you've even used the words "figuring out" which I love that because it has this idea of kind of trial and error and trying things on and moving through different options. But this idea of developing or figuring out your own leadership style. Talk to me a little bit about your experience and developing your own leadership style?

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Yes. So I think that it takes a lot of introspection and self-reflection to kind of decide what your leadership style is, you know, to develop it and mature it, and I think it encompasses your personal style too, because I think the way that you lead is not just about how you lead when you're actually in a leadership or authoritative or management type position, but it's every interaction that you have. I'm an equine enthusiast. I have two horses and one of the things that in working with horses one of the famous trainers always says is that in every interaction that you have with your horse you're always training or un-training them. So, certainly dealing with a 1,000 lb animal, that's a position where you would certainly want to be the leader. So I think that that can also apply towards your interactions with anyone. You have to think about, you know, you're training people how to treat you and you're training people how you will treat them and so are you training or un-training them at the moment? You know, are you achieving your desired effect and impact or are you actually doing something that you're going to have to then go undo the next day?

Stephen W. Maye

That is a wonderful insight. In every interaction you are always training or un-training. That's wonderful. And with that advice, Jacqueline Van Pelt gets the last word. Jacqui, thank you so much. It's a pleasure talking with you. The time has just soared by. I could certainly refill my coffee cup and continue this for an hour, so thanks again for being here.

Jacqueline Van Pelt

Thank you for having me.

Stephen W. Maye

For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified With PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music and pmi.org/podcast.

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