What is like to work as a project manager? The easy answer is “it depends.” That’s true but it doesn’t really tell us much. In today’s article, you will hear directly from Leigh Espy about her journey into project management success at FedEx.
- Established in 1971.
- Services and Products: global delivery of letters, parcels and packages to over 200 countries and territories. In 2013, the company delivered 1.5 million items on Mother’s Day.
- 2015 Revenue: over $47 billion U.S. ($2.57 billion net income)
1. What did you study in school?
I studied political science for my undergraduate degree and went on to earn a master’s degree in sociology. This led me to a project coordinator position in local government early in my career. Through many discussions with my husband – who works in software development – I discovered an interest in the technology field.
- For further insight on Leigh’s entry into project management, read her blog post: How I Made the Move to IT Project Management With No Technical Experience
2. What was an early project that ignited your interest in the field?
In 2003, I managed a project to set up a new customer at my company’s data center. The customer needed a delivery date that was unrealistic and would not be possible the way it was laid out. It was a growth experience for me because it involved coming together with the customer to identify creative solutions to meet their needs. I had to be comfortable with transparency and being honest about what was realistic, and still demonstrate a willingness to find a way to make it work for everyone. We settled on a staged delivery, and first delivered the most critical components within the customer’s required timeline, yet were able to deliver some components afterward. The project was successful and the customer was happy.
3. Thinking back to one of your first projects, what was a mistake you made that you have learned from?
Omitting impacted parties during planning was an early mistake I learned from. I recall a project where we were close to going live. There was one team that would be impacted and we had not communicated with them. As a result, a key question I ask today on every project is: “Who else is going to be impacted?” I don’t want surprises at toward the end of a project.
4. What is a personal habit you practice to maintain productivity each day?
There are two habits that give me a foundation to perform. Sleep: without a proper amount of sleep each night, my performance suffers noticeably. Watching what I eat matters as well – some foods make me feel tired and I avoid these. There are other productivity habits I layer on top of these, but these are two foundation behaviors that I consider non-negotiable for myself.
- For a list of Leigh’s productivity hacks, read 5 Ways to Quickly Improve Focus
5. How did you get hired to your current job at FedEx?
I was hired as a project manager at FexEx in Memphis, Tennessee by applying to an online posting. I knew from others who work there that FedEx is a great company. I sent out a query to find out if they knew of any positions available. Fortunately, I had a friend there who told me about an an opening on his team. I applied and got the job, and now I know first-hand how fantastic the company is.
6. What is a project you worked on or managed that you’re proud of and why?
I led an effort to develop a risk-based software development process. We developed the process with input from the user community, including business partners as well. It had global impact so it gave us a great opportunity to reach out and make contacts around the world. It was a process change that had real impact to the use community, to make their work easier while still maintaining the quality and compliance requirements we must meet as a publicly traded company.
7. What industry trends are important to your work?
My team has adopted the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) in the last two years. It’s been fun to learn new approaches after having followed waterfall methodology for so many years. I realize that Agile is not the right fit for every project, but I’ve enjoyed adding a new approach to my skillset.
- Curious for other perspectives and techniques in project management? Read I’ve Traded My To-Do List for a Kanban Board.
8. What is something special about Federal Express’s culture?
FedEx is well known for the expression: people, service, profit. When we take care of employees, profits and other business results will follow. Staff are well supported here through learning and development, employee recognition and support for philanthropic efforts.
In the community service area, FedEx has a lot to offer. For example, some staff volunteer to build homes with Habitat for Humanity. The company is also involved in emergency relief efforts by offering planes and other infrastructure.
FedEx has repeatedly been recognized as a top employer in several publications including Fortune Magazine’s 2013 Best Companies To Work For List.
9. What was the most valuable professional development activity (e.g. seminar, course, conference) you’ve attended and why?
I took two courses with Rita Mulcahy early in my career: a PMP exam preparation course and an introduction to project management. These courses gave me a more solid foundation and added confidence as I transitioned into IT project management. This move impacted the trajectory of my career.
- Editor’s Note: Rita Mulcahy passed away in 2010. Her company, RMC Learning Solutions, continues to provide a variety of project management books and training resources.
10. If you could give two books to someone else to help them achieve career success, what would they be?
Ryan Holiday’s book, “The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.” Drawing on Stoic philosophy, this book shows how and why to view challenges as opportunities for growth. Further, Holiday reminds us that challenges will always be with us.
- Read Leigh Espy’s book review of “The Obstacle is the Way.”
Steven Kotler’s book, “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance.” This book emphasizes the importance of a flow state in achieving productivity in our work and activities.
11. What is your approach to building and maintaining your network?
My networking philosophy is to reach out and offer value to other people. To succeed in networking, you need to be intentional and proactive. One way to add value is to share good resources with your network by posting on Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m a fan of promoting the great work of others to support their success. It’s easy to do, and can have a positive outcome – either for the producer of the work, or for someone it touches.
- Editor’s Note: Leigh first introduced herself to me by commenting on a blog post and then joined my email list.
12. Any parting words of advice to reader?
Get comfortable with discomfort! Look for stretch opportunities because that is where you are likely to grow your skills.
- Editor’s Note: Do you want to get promoted? Author Donald Asher points out that taking on stretch assignments is vital to getting ahead.
13. What’s the best way for readers to get in touch with you?
Readers are welcome to visit my blog, Project Bliss, and contact me by email: leigh AT espy.net.
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