Michelle Dinan is a network operations program manager at Swift Navigation. Swift, a San Francisco-based tech firm redefining GNSS and precise positioning technology for automotive, autonomous vehicle, mobile and mass-market applications.
Michelle brings over 20 years of experience in various industries, from government to telecom, to the job. When you meet her, you notice her positivity, hard work ethic, and systematic thinking—that, and her fantastic sense of humor. Michelle gets projects done and even has a knack for rescuing the ones that “get away.” She shares how she got to Swift Navigation, her best tips for saving a project, and has sage advice for anyone new in the project management space.
So how did you get to this point in your career, and how did you get to Swift?
“It’s funny that you ask that because for my interview at Swift, I told my story. So, how did I get here? I started in project management, not knowing I was in it. I worked in government for a bit, moved onto Dell, and then to telecom. I grasped telecom. Swift wanted somebody with a telecom background, who had done deployments before. They also wanted someone who could build out their network ops program. So I came in, presented myself, and now I work here.”
What types of projects are you responsible for at Swift Navigation?
“I’m in charge of the deployment for hundreds of stations across the United States. We have a set amount of stations that we want to install in different areas or different towns. My job is to schedule that work, budget inventory, run Sitetracker, plus all the in-betweens. Everything from administrative work, purchase orders, to dealing with vendors. It’s a cycle. I also work on program-related projects like our disaster recovery program. We didn’t have one in the past because nothing disaster-related had happened. I mean, one time we had a tornado that affected our station, but everything was fine. As our deployments grew, we realized we needed a plan in place. Station deployment is not the final step. Every station needs maintenance, and I put the process together to do that.”
That is no small task! What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned that you keep in mind to make projects successful?
Never make assumptions.
“Never assume somebody is going to do something. Never assume a team knows about a project. Never assume people are mind readers. It comes down to communication; you have to communicate. I’m a communications/status overload kind of person. Projects can change at a moment’s notice, so it is crucial to communicate all the time. It’s not about meeting every Friday and having an assumption that things are going as planned. It is best to avoid assumptions and always communicate. Even if it’s like someone says, ‘yeah, I knew that,’ it’s like, ‘good’. I needed to make sure you knew that. Now I have peace of mind.’”
What’s your favorite thing about project management?
“The end-to-end part is exciting because I like to stand back and look at the finished product. But I learned in my career that I enjoy project recovery. If there is a project in recovery because of scope creep, an off-schedule, or the budget is wacky, I love fixing it. I love diving in, finding out what’s going on. It takes time and learning, but I like it. It’s kind of like being a detective. Backtracking, finding out how this went wrong and fixing it. My favorite part of project management is fixing troubled projects.”
In a dream world, there would be fewer projects to recover. What advice would you give to a new project manager, looking to avoid derailed projects?
“If you’re going to make a decision, when you do make it, ask yourself, is this going to affect other teams? Is this going to affect any other coworkers?
Communication is Project Management 101.
You must communicate decisions. It’s a domino effect. And a lot of new PMs don’t realize that. They’re kind of like, oh, you wanted me to do this piece, and that’s all I’m going to do. And don’t realize, hey, you had to send that to somebody. You need to let stakeholders know what’s going on. You have to communicate.”
What is your first thought every morning?
“It’s funny because last night, I started thinking about something I saw in our Sitetracker org. I thought, oh, I need to fix that. I thought, don’t think about it because you’re not going to go to sleep if you keep thinking about that. My thought from last night, that was the first thing I checked this morning. I logged into Sitetracker to check something, and that kicked off my day.”
Tell me more about how Swift uses Sitetracker and what role that plays in your day?
“We use Sitetracker to manage deployments and maintenance of our stations. Sitetracker acts as a single system for tracking our stations’ information. We can pull asset serial number information and track station functionality. We can see relevant pictures, the location, the latest updates.
I am always looking at reports. Sitetracker reports play a significant role in my day because I can see where missing info is at a high level. Before, I would have had to click into a lease and read it. Now, I can run a report and see it right away.”
What is the most significant benefit of using Sitetracker?
“Well, we did not have a station registry. We had information in about three or four different systems.
With Sitetracker, all our information is in one place.
I don’t have to click on Dropbox, and then go to pictures, and oh wait, that’s in Google Drive, let me go there. Oh wait, let me go to our accounting software to look at the lease payment. It’s all in one system now. We wanted one central place to house all our information that anybody in the company could access. Now, we have that.”
When you aren’t using Sitetracker to deploy and maintain Swift’s stations, how do you spend your time?
Well, besides reading and watching British detective shows, I walk with my dog a lot. I have a mini schnauzer named Sherlock. I started quarantine binging Netflix shows, and that faded. But other than that, I love to cook. I didn’t hop onto the sourdough bandwagon, but I did get into Montreal Bagels!
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 PaL@sitetracker.com.