When you start a project, you can go in one of two directions: you can build the tower of Babel or you can find yourself the Rosetta Stone.
— Walter A. Nesbeth III, Project Manager at a Tier 1 Mobile Network Operator
About Walter A Nesbeth III
Walter reckons that there’s really only one way to complete a project successfully, and that’s to make sure everyone is speaking the same language. His projects have spanned network design, marketing, IT, and construction, and he regularly collaborates with 15 to 20 people every day.
Walter A. Nesbeth III has never failed to complete a project successfully during his 15+ years as a project manager. He likens his flawless record to putting your signature on something, and mentors his team to do the same. He wants people in the industry to be able to say: “That’s a Walter project,” and have that mean something. His combination of field experience, organizational skills, as well as technical and administrative acumen allowed him to create a new approach that ensures project success, led to his perfect project record, and emphasizes the human side of project management, gaining him a community of acolytes.
Walter is currently responsible for the delivery of wireless communications services as well as the integration and maintenance of project management platforms. He manages three primary projects that deliver hundreds of design solutions.
In this changing project management landscape, he values the ability to work virtually across time and distance to greatly enhance team efficiency. What is all boils down to for him is that, as a project manager, you should, “…spend as much time as you can, thinking about what could go wrong as you do dreaming about what could go right.” But, he says, “…a theory is great, trial and error are better. You can imagine every possibility, but there’s no substitute for experience.”
Q&A with Walter A. Nesbeth III
How did you get into project management?
My first formal foray into project management was at the behest of a company executive. At the time, I was serving in a field operations role and our company was preparing to launch a new national product. That executive approached me and suggested that I had accomplished all that there was to be done in my role at that time. Given the new direction that the company was headed in, he believed that a person of my skill sets would be invaluable to the launch of this new product.
What made you passionate about full-lifecycle project management?
The biggest complaint you get from stakeholders is: I don’t know what you’re doing.
They want to know what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and when they will see results. Your job, as a project manager, is to provide a level of visibility across the whole project.
The solution to this is a full-lifecycle platform that enables project managers to see a birds-eye view of the entire projects, as well as provide granular reporting to stakeholders. This type of platform is what enables me to translate my vision of a project into a reality. It’s my Rosetta stone — it takes you from building the tower of Babel to really speaking the same language. For a project manager, a platform like that is a necessity.
The way we have things structured in the telecom industry is far from a one-stop shop. Everything is siloed: real estate, construction, RF Design, network assurance, and systems performance. All of these teams look through that single pane of glass, and you, as a project manager, need to make sure that glass is clean, and shaded in the right places so that what needs to be shared is clear and what shouldn’t be shared, isn‘t. A project management platform should have the ability to create clarity and opacity, as necessary.
A platform is only as good as the information you put in. An efficient project manager maintains the integrity of the data through clean and accurate input. This gives you the ability to make data-driven decisions at the click of a button.
How has project management changed during your time as a PM?
Project management has changed tremendously since I first started. Over the past decade, I have seen the environment evolve from the “Phone Call-Update Model” to one that is based on mobility and collaboration. This is largely due to advances in connectivity and the resulting technology and innovation.
Project management was once a mythical, niche role whose acolytes were those who already wore multiple hats or those that were viewed as nerds — you know, the people who worked in the back rooms and came up with ideas in a vacuum. In that time, you didn’t arrive at the role of project manager by choice, you landed there out of necessity.
How has the language of project management changed?
The language was not universal or relatable and the techniques were not easily integrated amongst those expected to produce the outputs. The primary objective was to implement the plan with minimal accordance with the stakeholders. Now, through training and collaboration, we’ve discovered that the human resources and technology are more important than the plan itself.
Conceptually, through evolution, the rigidity of older PMBOK principles have been made more malleable by integrating higher levels of team and stakeholder engagement. In the same way that we do not have androids serving as law enforcement due to, among other things, getting the AI to understand the subtle gradations between right and wrong, people being more engaged affords greater opportunity to integrate their technical skills with their soft skills. This approach affords better risk management and end-to-end consideration.
There is also a greater level of leadership engagement and not just from an update perspective. Leaders are being vertically challenged to evaluate the “why” of the projects and partner or sponsor these initiatives. The other critical change is the introduction and use of technology-based tools. Email, while revolutionary in its time, has been supplanted by social collaborative tools that facilitate cost-effective, communication, updates, reporting, and team mobility and decentralization. The ability to work virtually across time and distance greatly enhances team efficiency. The ability to have stakeholders “Bring Your Own Device” and share platforms virtually while efficiently managing data storage and security in a paperless ecosystem help create greater integration of process and knowledge management.
What types of projects are you responsible for?
I am currently responsible for three primary projects that deliver hundreds of design solutions. My daily routine has me collaborating with 15 to 20 people minimum on a daily basis.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your time as a project manager?
The biggest lesson that I have learned from my time as a project manager is that no one solution works for all challenges. While there may be baseline elements that can be applied, a Project Manager must be able to create or identify a vision and then deconstruct it so that a sound strategy is an outcome. Don’t work A to Z, Look at Z and work your way back. Follow the breadcrumbs and find your way home.
What advice would you give to other project managers?
If you’ve been a project manager for a long time, it’s important to remind yourself that you don’t know everything under the sun. You can learn from every encounter.
What’s the biggest misconception that people have about project management? In your industry?
In project management, it’s that all project management theories are the same. In the industry, it’s that project managers are paper-pushers who have no idea how it works in the “real world.” The reality is that great project managers have a more holistic view of what’s going on than almost anyone else in the company.
What’s your favorite thing about project management?
I relish the opportunity to either create something where there is nothing or to fix the supposedly unfixable. Challenge drives me toward continual improvement.
What are your big priorities over the short, medium, and long-term?
In the short term, my goal is to deliver on my current projects and exceed the goals where possible. The questions I ask myself frequently are:
- What is my vision and how do I make it happen?
- What is my discovery model?
- What are the challenges that would prevent my vision from becoming a reality and how do I address them?
- What is next?
In the longer term, I look for what the next problem will be so I can get ahead of it. I also find it helpful to do a SWOT analysis on myself to figure out where I’m succeeding and what I can improve. In order to advance my career, I ask myself:
- Have my actions been successful?
- What impact can I make here or elsewhere?
Continuously asking these questions of myself has opened up unforeseen opportunities, and I recommend doing this to anyone looking to progress in their career.
What do you anticipate are going to be the big challenges in the future?
In the immediate future, I aim to continue to create acolytes that further the successful project management strategies that have been put in place.
Further into the future, I want to be a part of building a platform that:
- Fosters greater career progression opportunities for myself and team through a meritocracy.
- Helps us gain greater control over the environment so we can drive new projects successfully.
When managing projects, what would the ideal project management platform provide?
Dispersed projects require teams to work across time zones, so the ability to have a single source of truth is integral to clear communication. Versatility is also important — I need a platform that affords you the ability to highlight critical milestones, as well as provide commentary and task status. Sharing commentary, versus only tracking in a spreadsheet, adds a level of depth and allows managers to spot potential points of failure before they happen.
First and foremost, project data needs to remain secure. The platform has to be vetted before it’s implemented. There is always an accepted level of risk when adopting new technology, but that can be mitigated if you do your research.
Mobility is also an essential component of telecom project management, in particular. Having that kind of remote access enables workers in the office and in the field the ability to work now.
Integral to any organization is the ability to effectively preserve institutional knowledge. The ideal project management platform lets us keep projects from being person-dependent. Though a project should be able to move forward even after someone leaves the team, it’s also important to take note that fostering relationships is the most important part of a project manager’s role. Empowering individuals on your team is the bulk of the job — constant communication is the nourishment that drives them to execute well. If they’re empowered, they are more likely to buy in and contribute themselves.
Project management is not simply managing the process of building something or installing an asset, it’s managing people and relationships. A team is a reflection of you – it’s your signature. I want others to be able to say, “this was a Walter project,” and have that mean something.