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This web page is offered to share insights from the author on the topic of well-managed education. Most of the work is taken directly from an essay composed for an organization considering such efforts in northern Colorado (2008).
The Business of Education is Excellence
By David Mullaney, MBA, PMP
Applying best practices in business to our educational system captures the imagination of this MBA/PMP (Masters of Business Administration and Project Management Professional) on a variety of levels. Similarly, the reader will discover how personal and professional experiences align for such an effort. The following paragraphs address both of these perspectives while emphasizing the significance of staff/administration, students and personal motivation.
Staff and administration personnel face challenges in communication, organization and planning. Communication challenges arise when people have different languages, perspectives or preferences. Leaders often try to convey a thought or emphasize importance without success, because they are not using the mother tongue of the audience, because the speaker and the listeners respond to different motivators, or because the medium selected is not effective for the message being conveyed. Imagine a principal trying to convince the student body to separate utensils, dishes and trash when finishing lunch in the cafeteria. A not so effective principal might send a letter stating the rule in English to each of the student's homes. A more effective principal would meet with each class during lunch one week. He (or she) would lead the students on a quick tour of the school kitchen and introduce them to the kitchen staff. The staff would probably represent any language groups represented at the school, and they could explain how the students' help would be valuable to them. The principal could run an art contest whose winning entries would remind and encourage everybody's participation. Some weeks later, the principal and kitchen staff would thank the students again and report on the progress, savings and efficiency gained through everybody's participation. The same concept applies to more significant and complex challenges in the school as well. This project management professional recognizes such opportunities and acts to resolve the communication challenges. Recently, my local church was challenged by the complexity of a church management system (similar to an Enterprise Resource Planning system in the corporate world); as a project expert and objective observer, I was able to focus the key players on the breakdowns in communication, the interdepartmental frustrations and opportunity to involve appropriate groups in making the deployment a success.
Just as leaders need to be in tune with their constituents, students need a vision for leadership, integrity, and excellence. Dropping out, getting pregnant and performing poorly on assignments and tests continue to plague our educational institutions. The students may not admit their need, but they hunger for the influence of adults bold enough to lead, and the students grow through opportunities to lead others themselves. Young people value fairness and respect, even though they often experience exceptions; students awaken the best of themselves when expected to identify and demonstrate integrity. In order to identify integrity, they must understand their own values. With leadership and integrity in place, excellence in their work emerges as one of the effects. At Hewlett-Packard Company, the engineers in the Software Distributor Team (on a rotating basis) were responsible for fielding calls and emails from other HP employees experiencing difficulty with the product. Responses were unpredictable and untimely in many cases. One of the project managers identified this contributor as a leader that could bring significant improvement to the level of service experienced by partners throughout HP. Receiving that mantle, I defined and fulfilled a new leadership role, applying all that I cared about in terms of customer service and excellence to the job. The support role for Software Distributor earned a new reputation for proactive strategy and helpful responses.
Since the "Mr. Swupport" role was one of the most significant work-related leadership roles of my career, some details on the situation/circumstances, the specific outcomes achieved, and relevant skills are in order. In addition, the lessons learned may prove fruitful for the reader. Everything in Software Distributor was "sw-"something: swinstall, swremove, swlist, etc; therefore, the idea of support morphed into "swupport." The rotating responsibility had been referred to previously by the metaphor "a monkey leaping from the back of one engineer to another." Each week, whoever had the turn was supposed to login to a special email account and dial into a dedicated voice mailbox. When the job was a monkey, partners were lucky to have the messages checked more than once a week; when I consolidated the role and saw it as an honor and responsibility, I checked for and responded to messages at least every two hours. Furthermore, we developed an internal website with useful documentation and answers to frequently asked questions. I developed training presentations and even a dramatic comedy video to instruct partners throughout HP. When our external customers needed similar support, I collaborated with HP's global support experts and the web managers to create useful documentation externally. This provided a means for the Research & Development Lab to share information directly with end customers. The quality of software packaged for HP-UX increased dramatically, and the Software Distributor Team earned a reputation for excellence and leadership around the world. In order to accomplish this, the following skills were necessary: sensitivity to the needs of partners and customers, broad knowledge of the product, ability to identify subject matter experts for unusually challenging situations, web and HTML authoring, negotiation, communication, and presentation. The primary lesson was that one motivated and focused person can bring together a multitude of experts, combining to create real value of benefit to all stakeholders.
As the reader may surmise from the church management and Software Distributor support examples, this professional thrives in opportunities to make a difference by bridging communities, promoting and executing project management professionally, and mentoring. One of the lead pastors at my local church is glad to have me mentoring him through project management excellence; administration is not a gifted area for most pastors, but effective communication and motivational skills are key to leading the flock effectively. One year, I created and led the Northern Frontier Roundtable for project management discussions under the auspices of the Project Management Institute; this provided a time and place for project managers to share ideas and discuss best practices. One of the more unique aspects of our group was that it spanned many companies, allowing for independent professionals or managers from small firms to participate. Several years ago, one of the greatest areas of satisfaction was to incorporate the team at a remote site into the operations of the primary site; prior to my arrival, the remote team was disenfranchised and considered second rate. By the time I left, the company was planning to expand to include many remote offices that would require an attitude of mutual respect and collaboration to keep their product profitable.
The motivation for bridging communites, promoting and executing project management professionally, and mentoring colleagues and constituents leads me to seek opportunities to walk alongside students, staff and administrative personnel as they develop in terms of leadership, integrity, excellence, communication, organization and planning. The lesson from the "Mr. Swupport" experience serves as a reminder that one person can make a difference, and many people are interested in being part of the solution.
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