Being a “student of the game” has led Stan Lewis to rise above numerous challenges. As he explains, a “student of the game” is a person with an insatiable desire for knowledge relating to the craft. It’s a phrase that he adopted early on in his career and extended to his students – encouraging each of them to strive in being the best in any endeavor, learning through valuable lessons from the establishments where the craft is actually executed.
As a project management practitioner, Stan is a proven leader with demonstrated success in program execution. Over the course of his career, he has been entrusted with leading over 30 projects and portfolios, and 10 programs in the defense and commercial sectors and has led globally dispersed teams, including manufacturing activities in China and Mexico.
Four years ago, Stan established The Project Edge, LLC, a consulting firm with a mission to “make project excellence a national priority” through its commitment to the latest research in offering services validated effective by real-world results.
Below, Stan discusses his start in the industry, teaching the next generation of project managers, and what he thinks are the qualities of a great project manager.
Let’s begin with how you found your start in project management.
I entered the craft in a very deliberate way. I began my career at the Howard Hughes-founded, Hughes Aircraft Company. I spent a few years traveling the world as a systems engineer demonstrating state-of-the-art technology. I would lead a demonstration at the Pentagon, then travel the US, then fly off to Norway and Switzerland to demonstrate the pioneering technology in fielded environments.
These experiences fueled an ever-expanding interest on my part in leading the endeavors that make the world safer and improve the human condition. I informed my management that I wanted to move into a program management career path as I became mesmerized by the challenge of leading programs to successful outcomes. For me, program management represented the compelling challenge of creating winning sports teams, and the strategy of multi-dimensional chess, all rolled into one.
After a concerted effort to learn as much as I could about the craft, and having led a few projects, I got my first program assignment in 1995. I was to take over a program that was over budget and significantly behind schedule. I was tasked with leading the Armored Gun System Commanders Sighting Subsystem Program which included Forward Looking Infrared, Day Sight, and Laser Rangefinder. My first customer briefing for the program was for Major General John E. Longhouser of US TACOM in San Jose, California. As one might suspect having inherited a program that was over budget and behind schedule, the general justifiably took me to task for my firms lack of performance.
That’s quite the challenge for one of your first program assignments. How did you manage to get the job done?
I acknowledged the situation and took full responsibility for my firm’s lack of performance to that point, and gave the general a realistic recovery timeline for the program, despite pressure to give a more expedited timeline. Our team ended up delivering 3 months ahead of schedule. This would be the first of 4 commissionings by executive management to lead successful troubled program turnarounds over the years. The experiences fueled two characteristics, which define my management style. The first, fortitude under pressure, to deliver unwavering truth to power, and the second, an appreciation for the immense impact of culture in project and program success. There is no “I” in “Team”.
Within any field, challenges are inevitable. In your opinion, what qualities make for a great project manager?
The first is they recognize that culture begins and ends with people (individual team members). Being well versed in the tools and techniques is important, but it’s the people that make it happen. Genuinely care about your people. Project managers are the proverbial pebbles dropping into the project pond, which create the ripples that shape project culture. And your vibe definitely shapes your tribe.
Great project managers exercise effective communication. Some might presume this to mean they are articulate, which is often true. However, expression is but a small portion of communication. They are also perhaps more importantly good listeners, who not only hear but more importantly seek to understand. They are often well-versed in the soft sciences, astute assessors of body language, and take full advantage of the five sensory channels. Good project managers prioritize building rapport with all stakeholders.
Great managers also exercise good judgment, often of necessity with less than complete actionable information available to them. For instance, they know when to advocate for eye-to-eye engagement, or Zoom (in the midst of a pandemic), as more appropriate than email, or phone.
They exhibit a compelling balance of leadership and humility, which conveys authenticity.
Finally, they are “students of the game,” always looking to better their philosophy for enabling project execution excellence. This generally includes keeping apprised of the evolution of the craft to include new trends, tools, relevant studies, and continuing education.
Given the current climate, in what ways do you think earning a master’s degree in project management is beneficial?
I can literally think of no better investment for a graduate degree in the year 2021. Project management is literally becoming a professional (and personal) superpower! Project management enlists a set of skills with virtually universal applicability for-profit, non-profit, government, academic administration, or political applications.
Can you tell us more about a project you’ve recently worked on?
Last year, my firm, The Project Edge, LLC, and my business partner firms, the UK-based Oxford Global Projects, and DeepReason.aI, executed a US Air Force contract. The partnership provides state of the art expertise for “de-risking” megaproject performance through the use of Reference Class Forecasting, among other techniques. The activity was with the USAF organization entrusted with developing the $100B replacement to the Minute Man III arsenal (i.e., Ground Based Strategic Deterrent Program). We successfully executed the subject contract, and have engaged to discuss follow-on scoping.
My firm was also engaged to provide input to an assessment for delivery of an infrastructure project on the island of Greenland, an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. The project would improve mankind’s access to this key region of the world to study and better address prevailing climate challenges.
What do you like most about teaching the next generation of project managers at Bovard College?
The collaboration, without a doubt. I believe we are all at our best when we can learn from each other. The PJMT program brings together peers among faculty and students representing a variety of different sectors. I facilitate my courses not as a classic lecture, but rather as a discourse between peers. Our engagements are conducted with mutual respect which fuels intellectually-stimulating discussion, leading to a productive and applicable learning experience.
Stanley Lewis teaches PJMT 515: Cost Estimation and Forecasting, PJMT 520: Risk Management, PJMT 540: Organizational Change Management and Business Relationships, and PJMT 550: Portfolio Management.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Learn more about the MS in Project Management program.