On the Job with Thaddeus Jankowski

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: October 29, 2012 - 11:44 AM
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Thaddeus Jankowski

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Project managers implement technology projects designed to save time or money; rarely do their efforts save lives. As a technology manager who moves back and forth between corporate consulting projects and mobilizations as a Marine Corps officer, Thaddeus Jankowski has done both.

Jankowski has been in the Marine Corps for 23 years. His business career started in marketing management, but, he says, "In 1998 I switched to IT because I saw the marketing department make a bad IT decision. I could see that IT would increase in importance. Back then, IT project managers were software engineers with leadership ability, but they had never met a budget and didn't have mainstream business responsibility."

The University of Minnesota's Management of Technology program gave him exactly the background he needed to make the transition, and he began consulting in 2002. "I've pretty much been employed for 10 years, with three mobilizations as an officer in the Marines," he said. "You choose to take the employment risk; there is a higher wage for taking the risk. If I have steel in my heart, when an engagement ends I say, 'Yippee -- I have vacation!' If I have a weak constitution, I start to worry that the two weeks between projects will turn into six."

Jankowski has been able to schedule his mobilizations to begin as a civilian contract ends. In 2006, during his second mobilization, his Colonel at the time realized he had a background in leading technology change, and had knowledge of technology as a component of strategy. So he was assigned to lead the "Urgent Needs" new technology program of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command. From July 2006 to March 2007 he led the initiation phase of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) program, which grew to $40 billion and was the largest program of its kind since World War II.

"These vehicles were critical to the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and will likely be in service in the Army and even in the Marine Corps for the next 30 years," he said. "MRAP saved thousands of lives and avoided thousands of injuries. I believe it shortened the war."

As an experienced senior project manager, how do you fight the perception that you're too expensive?

I price the market. If you think you're worth $100 an hour because last time you were priced at $90, that doesn't work. I monitor my productivity relative to other people. I try to manage more projects over a 40-hour time clock -- doing as much as or more than the productive people around me. A disciplined PM is a source of competitive advantage.

Do credentials like the Project Management Professional (PMP) designation matter?

Originally, I acquired my PMP certification so I could check a block -- not be screened out for a job. I'm increasingly pleased with what the PMP teaches. You can use it to infuse discipline. You can use it to communicate value. Finance has a 500-year-old double-entry foundation. IT is new. With the PMP designation, "I'm a CPA for projects."

Will you be consulting until you retire?

I don't see any really old project managers. It might get to the point where I'd want to focus my efforts on a single company. When you're a consultant, it's their company -- you help them accomplish their mission. When you have a chance to ask, "Are they still running that application we built?" it feels good if they say yes.

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