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Project manager Laurie Bradman clears paths for success

Laurie Bradman

The list of projects Laurie Bradman has led is extensive.

She’s helped build wireless networks in Omaha, and has guided elections in Florida, Texas and California. She’s worked on a dam site in Wyoming, and various constructions sites here in the Midwest.

But the core of her career most recently has been leading and shaping software development projects. 

Bradman joined AIM Institute in November of last year as Senior Program Manager, and recently sat down with CareerHub to talk about what a successful career in project management looks like.

She says there are any number of ways to enter the field, but one underlying concept is crucial: servant leadership.

Servant leadership is huge. It’s really important,” Bradman says.

The concept essentially says, instead of a team working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the team.

The philosophy has been around since ancient times, but was popularized in the 1970s by American executive and educator Robert K. Greenleaf, someone Bradman cites in her LinkedIn profile.

“A servant leader serves the team. We’re not top down. We want to collaborate with the team, we want to empower the team, we empathize with the team. We are there to build everyone up, essentially,” Bradman says.

From wireless boom to electoral debacle

Bradman’s career began in the early 2000s, working with companies like Lucent and AT&T, and US West/Qwest, to build out wireless networks in Omaha.

Then came the aftershock of the 2000 presidential election.

hanging chadsAfter the infamous paper ballots, hanging chads and weeks-long battle over who would be the next U.S. president, election supervisors and voters demanded a better way.

“Everyone wanted to get touch-screen voting machines because of the hanging chads,” Bradman recalls.

That led Bradman to work all around the country, managing installation of modernized election systems.

(A Florida election worker closely examines a punch-card ballot. Wikimedia Commons, 2000.)

“We had contractors, trainers, installation people, we’d have to get all the equipment on site, hundreds and hundreds of voting machines. And I had to load the software, train poll workers, the county people — anyone on site who was going to be participating in the election in some capacity had to be trained,” she recalls.

In the mid to late 2000s, Bradman got more involved in software development and the “Agile” management process.  She describes the Agile software development cycle as very different from brick-and-mortar projects with concrete deadlines.

“With Agile, you are constantly evolving with iterations and sprints. Getting with the customer every two weeks. Asking for feedback, asking for changes,” she says.

Bradman says a big part of her job is clearing the way for developers to stay focused on coding.

“If a developer is working on a ticket or requirement or user story, and they don’t understand, I’m going to go chase down the answers for them. That’s not their job,” she says.

‘No one wants to be unhappy at work’

In the process, she says she builds relationships and trust, partly by helping developers pursue their own interests.

“I like to give developers interesting work that they like. I’ve worked with them so long that I know when they are working on code or working on a project that bores them. No one wants to be unhappy at work,” she says.

Bradman says trust building and leading by example have sometimes had a surprising result: some of her developer colleagues have asked her how they, too, can become project managers.

“Developers and PMs, we have really different skill sets, obviously, but there are developers I’ve worked with in my life who are as good as me in terms of communication, and I love that. Because they speak tech and break it down for a customer, or an end user, in a way that they can understand, which is what I have to do,” she says.

Communication, and a crystal ball

That brings her to what she says are the essential aspects of successful project management:

“The best, most important skills are communication. You have to know who is going to be affected by what change, who needs to know something is happening, who to copy on emails.”

Next? The ability to see into the future.

“A big part of project management is risk mitigation. The ability to look down the road on a timeline with something we are working on now, and to know *this* is going to impact *that*, and how do we minimize the risk of it doing *that*. It’s cool to be able to anticipate something and figure out how it’s going to affect everything else going down the timeline,” she says.

For young people interested in starting a career in project management, Bradman says a customer-facing job is a good place to start.

“There are various positions where you work with customers every day, like client relationship manager, client manager, or account manager,” she says.

Identifying solutions

Along the way, you not only learn to celebrate success, you learn to navigate negative outcomes.

“There have been times I’ve had to communicate terrible news to clients, internal or external. But always…approach it with, ‘we have a problem, but we’ve already identified a solution’ ,” she says.

In the end, Bradman says if you have served your clients and colleagues well, it’s a great feeling, and it’s why she has been a project manager as long as she has.

“When a project goes well and we deliver what we said we would, when we said we would, it’s wonderful,” she says. “I’m just thankful to be able to do what I do. I’ve had a good career, and I’m happy to be here.”