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Project Manager Tips

Updated: Feb 19

This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Zach Carlson, one of our newest project managers at Katapult Engineering. We took some time to talk about the projects he has worked on in the past year, as well as his experience transitioning from field work to project manager. He joined the Katapult team in September, 2017 as a field tech for a small-cell survey project we had taken on a few months earlier.

When I asked Zach about that first week, he reflected on how quick the pace was. "I remember learning both camera workflows at once," Zach told me. He, along with most of us here at Katapult, believe that new crew members should be brought up to speed on the rugged camera and height stick before moving on to SLR operation. The following week, he was back in the Dillsburg office working through some the basic steps of our office workflow. After a week of tagging, associating, and scraping photo data into our designs, he was ready to move on to the next challenge.

For the duration of October, Zach was working as an OSP technician for a project on the west coast, getting exposure to extracting height measurements and other data for make ready engineering and pole loading analysis.

In November of 2017, Zach began managing his first project. "The scope was really simple," he told me, reflecting on this first experience. "The biggest difference was that I was responsible for developing the routine and delivering the job package to the client." By January, Zach had a new project for a client on the West Coast. The scope was much more comprehensive, including design, field deployment, make ready engineering, pole loading analysis, and more.

Now--as he transitions into a new project--I wanted to get his thoughts on what it means to be a great project manager, as well as the things that he thinks prospective OSP technicians should know before becoming a PM.

1. Ask Questions

As an OSP tech, Zach had lots of experience processing and delivering high quality data to our clients, but wasn't responsible for communicating directly with them. As a project manager, he was the only one responsible for understanding the client's scope, expectations, and timeline. "You have to develop the package that the client wants," Zach said, "which means asking lots of questions."

2. Get Feedback From Your Client

Zach was quick to follow up his first point with the second one. "Make sure that you ask for lots of feedback, especially on the first job. You need to make sure you know what your client is expecting before you get too far into the project." He talked about the importance of getting that first job submitted and reviewed by the client so that you can use the client's feedback to deliver the next job even better.

3. Understand the Scope, and Understand Your Resources

In his third piece of advice, Zach broke project success down to three basic elements: scope, deadline, and resources. By asking questions and getting feedback from the client, you should know exactly what your client needs and when they need it. That leaves a single variable; how will you most efficiently use your resources? For Zach, it became crucial to quickly allocate his resources in ways that contributed the highest value towards his client's goals.

4. Communicate Goals With Your Team

Zach pointed out that while you may understand the ins and outs of your client's expectations, there is a good chance your team does not. Since your field crews aren't sitting in on your conference calls, it's important to let them know your client's goals and deadlines, as well as any scope details that will help them perform their jobs better. Similarly, your co-workers helping to support office processing will need to understand how the client's goals and deadlines affect their day-to-day, too.

5. Be Flexible

"Inevitably, your project's scope will change." Zach ended our discussion with a harsh but necessary truth. As more information is revealed and your client's expectations change, your team will have to pivot and adapt to new workflows and routines. As a project manager, it's important to not be discouraged by these changes and to understand that they are a part of every project. By communicating frequently with your client and your team, you can reduce the shock that these changes have on your project. Zach has a biology degree from Albright College, and spent the last few years working at an environmental science laboratory. He lives in Dillsburg with his wife, Brittany, and three children, Avery, Elijah, and Sawyer.

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