Special Interview with Diane Dromgold
1. “Project and Program Rescue.” What motivated you to select such niche and specialized field?
The initial motivation was because at the time I started RNC there were lots and lots of people calling themselves project managers (the language around programs was in its infancy) and I wondered how clients could tell them all apart? I also knew that getting actual outcomes people want isn’t an easy thing and the reported level of project failure was increasing. I decided to differentiate the RNC offering by saying we fix up broken, breaking or troubled projects and programs.
Since then it’s been very useful because the problem of misunderstanding what PM’ers do has increased – a lot – with short courses, holy grail methods, proliferation of tools and the rise of the accrediting professional body. I’ve been able to keep RNC out of that mire by simply offering to make it happen when it matters. And it matters when the project is critical and someone cares enough to need to be delivered. Either from the start or when it’s in trouble.
2. Did you have an idea of becoming an entrepreneur when you quit your job?
I think I always had a fantasy about running my own show. Past bosses will tell you I was never really settled in ongoing jobs and roles. But, when I started RNC I truly only thought it would be me as a sole operator. The entrepreneur bit crept up on me. I kept borrowing a phrase from Richard Branson – screw let’s do it.
3. How difficult was it to get your first project in your company? What was the feeling after the first successful project?
The first one wasn’t hard at all. I had a good network and I was looking for work for me. I called people, drank coffee and said, if you have any troubled projects I can fix them. I also explained the commercials and why it would be a good deal for them. (So many people miss that step, yet it’s a commercial advantage).
At the end of the first successful project (for RNC) I was walking on air – I learned one of the enduring lessons I still carry with me. Success is when the client says so. Doesn’t matter what I think. It’s really important that the client thinks it’s successful. Doesn’t matter if the project management was sound – no one will remember that if the project is perceived to have failed. (It’s something else that is rare as a perspective – most people hide behind, ‘I did my job well’.
4. What was that one Spark or that one event that changed your life forever?
I don’t think there was one, I think life is full of moments that can go one way or another. I guess I’ve always lived by the philosophy that when the rings swings by grab it. I could write a whole book on moments in my life… perhaps I should, and thank the people who were part of each moment. I’ll think about that.
5. Anyone can run a project or program, but it takes a higher skill and capability to turn around a troubled one. What will be your 5 DO’s and DONT’s to make a troubled Project successful?
• Firstly the Do’s
i. know who gets to call it a success. I mean the largest voice whose opinion will carry the day. This may or may not be the sponsor. Leave out this step at your peril.
ii. Then work out what they’ll be saying when it’s successful – there are tips and tricks to do this
iii. Then work out to whom they’ll be saying it – your stakeholders (for and against)
iv. Now plan the project starting with the end and building it back to now – it is a higher order skill – if you can’t do it perhaps consider another profession
v. Next build and boost the team. Make sure everyone knows what they are expected to do, when and why. That they know who is depending on them and on whom they are depending. More important than anything – please take the time to make sure they think they can do their job and that their thinking is justified. There are many sub- steps here.
• Now the dont’s
i. Don’t promise an outcome until you know you can deliver it
ii. Don’t beat up people to get more work out of them
iii. Don’t obfuscate the truth
iv. Don’t promise magic
v. Don’t stay if you aren’t backed and can’t get the resources
vi. Don’t think it’s like starting a normal project, just starting again. There is a whole lot more politics, emotion and pain to overcome – higher order skill.
6. As a woman, what is your Message to the women out there who always keep telling “I am a woman, I should NOT DO this / I CANNOT DO this?”
If you think that’s true, it is. If you want something, find a way. You might be lonely, you might be afraid, you will stumble and scrape your knees but in my opinion it’s worth it. I love the quote “most people lead lives of quiet desperation’ – don’t be most people unless you want to be. Never, ever, let anyone keep you back. But in saying that going forward has a cost which you need to be willing to pay.
7. What were the lessons that you learned the HARD WAY? Can you please share it with our audience?
Ah, so many. Here are a few
i. Trying to please everyone is a recipe for disaster (for me)
ii. Some people won’t like me and I have to be ok with that
iii. I can’t help people who won’t help themselves
iv. Forging your own path can be lonely and can give rise to criticism from all sorts of places – don’t take it in (by all means take it on and consider whether it has merit but don’t take it in)
v. Accepting the situation as the way it is does not mean the situation is ok. It just means realizing that’s what it is and no amount of wailing or railing will change it. Accepting it gives me the freedom to respond and act in a way where I have power. Especially important if you’re being bullied or harassed. Step back, go “ok, that’s what you’re doing but it’s not ok – and then act calmly and with intent.
vi. Every time you say yes to something think about who pays. People will keep asking for favours – you don’t have to say yes.
vii. Treat everyone with respect and accord them dignity. You catch more flys with honey than vinegar.
viii. I could go on……..
8. What is your 3 Life Quotes that you would like to share with our audience?
i. The whole of desiderata
ii. The whole of Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF
iii. The whole of the serenity prayer.
• I use these all the time and there are others….I have to add one:
i. I can’t help anyone who doesn’t want it and isn’t willing/able to help themselves as well.
9. It takes lots of guts to say that you were unhappy with a big company you were working for, especially on a platform like LinkedIn. What would be your one piece of advice to people who are working in a job that is unsatisfactory and want to do something different but they are too afraid to take the step?
I’ve been lucky as there was really only one job/company I’ve been truly unhappy in so I have a good baseline of being happy. That’s a gift beyond measure.
I see a lot of people who are serially unhappy and that’s harder.
My advice to them is to check with themselves why they’re unhappy – sometimes we cause that ourselves and it doesn’t matter what we do we’ll be unhappy. Get counselling if you are serially unhappy
Life is way too short and precious to be unhappy all the time
My best advice is to set up your life so you have choices. Save 10% of your salary as freedom money. You’ll be amazed at the clarity you can get when you aren’t depending on the next paycheck to feed the kids or make the mortgage. I get a lot of kick back on that advice, suggesting I don’t get it. Remember though, I left school at 15, got my higher school certificate at night school, took seven years to get a degree because I did it part-time while working full time and have committed to a lifetime of learning.
Work isn’t going to change, you need to find work that resonates.
10. What do you say to yourself every morning when you look into the mirror?
I don’t believe in that (talking to myself in the mirror that is).
11. Is working under “Pressure” a boon or bane to you?
Pressure makes diamonds, so I like it. BUT, I like to be managing the pressure. Random, ambiguous, meaningless pressure is kryptonite.
12. What would be your 5 strong points for the budding entrepreneurs to succeed?
• Manage your expectations. It’s easy to get carried away with great business cases…Hope for best case but plan for worst case.
• Don’t give away your product or service. Any idea about Loss Leading is still a loss. That might be the dubious privilege of big companies but not of startups.
• Don’t worry too much about the competitors – run your own race.
• Find an area or angle where there is a real or perceived market gap.
• Think about your story from the clients perspective – make it mean something to them.
• Whatever you do, don’t cross your moral/ethical boundaries.
• Be true to yourself.
• Success in anything comes with a price – consider if you’re willing to pay it.
• Take advice from people who’ve done it.
13. What was the most discouraging event in your entrepreneurial journey? How did you handle it?
It’s always the same. People I think I can trust proving me wrong. People with whom I thought shared values, prove me wrong
I’ve learned to process it as their stuff and move on. I forgive but I don’t forget and I don’t let it happen (to me) again.
14. How would you categorize a difficult organization to work with. How would you approach bringing a change to such organization? Could you share an experience which you may have had in the past?
• I don’t think there is ever a difficult organisation.
• I believe people in organisations can be difficult and I’ve observed that people tend to surround themselves with people like them.
• I’ve learned over the years what cultures I don’t do well in and mostly can suss them out and not engage. However, I do make mistakes and my best advice (which I wish I’d taken earlier a few times) is to disengage with dignity as soon as possible.
• Re specific experience. I think I’d rather not go into details here.
• Re changing them – it’s all about the people. Usually the person at the top. If they don’t want to change (but want everyone else to) that’s hard. Change happens when things change and someone has to start it.
15. Is understanding and accepting cultural differences a vital part when you work with an organization? How do you manage cultural differences to bring change within an organization?
• It’s a critical part of any project or change or being effective in any environment.
• Culture is a big term though and you can do mad trying to fit in with the various elements.
• My approach is to find the areas of agreement within the culture and build from there.
• Change is easiest from points of agreement.
16. What will be your 5 special points for Women in Developing Countries to follow, in order to be a successful Professional? I stress on “Developing Countries” because the challenges faced by women here is much more.
• I’m not skilled or experienced enough to give advice there. I can’t presume to know the challenges they face. I’d suggest they learn from people who’ve been successful in these environments.
17. Any book or movies that inspired you, when you were feeling low or when you wanted to get strong and firing up?
• I have a play list which I listen to if I need cheering up and I sing along loudly.
• If I really need a boost I reread a book about Mother Teresa. Talk about making a difference in spite of obstacles.
18. When you were a kid what was the area of work that you said to yourself : “I will do this if I grow up” ? And, is what you dreamed and what you are now doing the same?
I’m sure we all have childhood dreams. Mine was to be a Dr. It’s not what I’m doing now though and I’m glad. I don’t necessarily think childhood dreams should dictate our grown up ones. The secret, for me, is loving the dream I’m living. Too many people waste their lives dreaming of another one.
End Of Interview