Projects are life: Getting to the moon with the right people, process, and technology

After watching the Apollo 11 mission successfully land astronauts on the moon in 1969, kids around the world wanted to explore the final frontier and work at NASA. Tom Kwiatkowski, a project manager at ImOn Communications made it happen. When I mentioned I saw he worked at NASA he said “That intrigued me and I thought that would be a pretty neat thing to do.” Turns out, it was a very neat thing to do. 

Tom takes the lessons learned from managing projects at NASA, the US Army, and Sikorsky – Lockheed Martin and applies them to telecom infrastructure projects at ImOn Communications, an award-winning provider of telecommunications services for residents and businesses in Eastern Iowa, every day. 

After speaking with Tom, I started to realize that the moon, stars, and space have a lot more in common with phones, connectivity, and telecom projects than one would think. 

I imagine things are pretty different in space than on earth. How did project management change from industry to industry and throughout your career? 

I changed industries from aerospace to telecommunications. The basics of project management did not change. Scheduling, resources, quality, budget management, site visits, and personal relationships are all crucial. 

But, there is a significant difference in the type of project management from aerospace to telecom. Aerospace project management focuses on specific systems and system integrations over a finite time with project completion at product delivery. The volume of projects is relatively small, but the budgets are quite large. 

Telecommunications is all about volume, customer service, and delivering services to specific customers within the promised timeframe. Projects can vary in size and scale, but the tasks are generally repeatable from project to project. So, it’s a challenge of managing resources to meet customers’ needs. 

The key is managing resources and working toward a schedule that meets the company’s needs. 

PM has moved from managing projects via spreadsheets to managing with more sophisticated tools such as Sitetracker. This makes it more manageable to track the large volume of projects we have. I still use some spreadsheets, but Sitetracker is the management tool.

What is your first thought every morning?

Where’s my coffee? Actually, the better question is “what is my last thought of the day?”  I close each workday by listing the 3 or 4 things I need to do the next day.  This helps keep me on track with priorities and prepares me for the next day.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about project management?

One big one is “It’s okay to spring into action without proper planning.” Execution without planning leads to expensive rework, can derail the project, and delay anticipated revenue. Good planning in project management helps avoid those downfalls. 

Another one is “A project process is all you need to be successful.” People are at the core of everything we do at ImOn. Without trained, skilled people to make sensible decisions, projects will fail regardless of the process.

Let’s talk a little bit about people and technology. How do the two fit together for you? 

Technology makes things easier, such as reporting, task management, and coordination. But the challenge is to not let technology replace personal relationships and decision-making. Technology is a tool but critical thinking will always be the key to anything in life. The temptation will be to let technology do it for you…resisting this is a big challenge and can create barriers to accomplishing other things.

You’ve been in project management for a while. What’s your best piece of advice for new PMs? 

It is so important to get to know the people you work with on the team. Those relationships foster good morale, promote a sense of unity, and provide motivation for the team to perform for one another. I also think it is important to get out in the field and see what’s going on. The final pieces go hand in hand: be willing to help wherever you can, and be humble.

How do you track your KPIs and core metrics?

Sitetracker has made a lot of our reporting much easier relative to KPIs. Before Sitetracker, we tracked all metrics via spreadsheets and laborious data gathering. We still use some spreadsheets, but we are adding more info to Sitetracker to track more metrics.

How do you measure success?

We measure metrics such as on-time delivery, customer satisfaction, and revenue targets. Overall, success is the team’s success and the company’s success. The team working together to achieve company goals is what helps ImOn be successful.  

Any advice on how to stay sharp? 

Well, I am talking to you looking outside on a beautiful day. I think resting your mind is important. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is getting away from the problem you are trying to solve, and take a break. 

Do you know a fantastic project manager? Someone who hits deadlines, has stories to share, can get around any roadblock, and pushes projects over the line? We want to feature them in our Projects Are Life series. Shoot us an email and tell us why they are awesome at

About ImOn Communications

ImOn Communications provides high-speed broadband services to residents and businesses in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, and Dubuque, Iowa. ImOn was the first to introduce fiber-to-the-home services in Cedar Rapids in 2011 and residential gigabit service in 2015. As part of ImOn’s philosophy of supporting their communities, the company provides free community Wi-Fi service to Downtown Cedar Rapids, the McGrath Amphitheatre, Newbo City Market, the ImOn Ice Arena, Green Square Park, Ladd Library off Williams Blvd., and outdoor areas near the Jane Boyd Community House.  ImOn also provides free Wi-Fi at various parks in Hiawatha, Iowa, the Iowa City Ped Mall, Riverfront Crossing Park in Iowa City, Chauncey Swan Park in Iowa City, and in Dubuque at the Fighting Saints Arena and the Five Flags Center. ImOn is locally owned and operated and offers customers tremendous value and choice for telecommunication services. For more information regarding ImOn Communications, visit