Sometimes I need to be a teacher, in other situations I am a coach, and sometimes I am a drill sergeant.
Tim McCrosson
Associate Chief Information Officer, USDA
Washington, D.C., USA
Meet Tim, stakeholder wrangler and master risk identifier.

What motivated you to start a career in technical project management?
I got into project management the same way most people get into most management roles, I was good at something else (web management), therefore, I must also be good at project management. The truth is, when I first started out I wasn’t good. I did my homework, I read all the books and best practices, I got my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. But certifications only signify understanding of the concepts, applying them in real world situations is quite different.
What was your path to your current position?
I began my career in web management at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and moved into project management. I ventured to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) where I founded a project management office and became an IT Program Manager. Next, in the White House, I leveraged my experience to provide oversight to IT projects across the Executive Branch of government and review and support their IT budget requests and management capabilities. I also served as a staffer in the Senate, advising on IT, acquisition, and cybersecurity policy, before returning to my current role as an Associate Chief Information Officer at USDA.
It’s key to take the input of security professionals into account from the beginning of the decision-making process to help you understand when you have achieved a minimally viable product.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
A typical day as a project manager starts off with the daily standup, in which each of the people on the development team share what they did the previous day, what they plan to accomplish today, and anything that may prevent them from achieving what they plan. Stakeholder management is a critical part of the work. The project is successful when the stakeholders feel like they are successful. The Project Manager must work with each stakeholder to understand what constitutes a “win” and what constitutes a “loss” for him or her. The work is to make each stakeholder a winner. To do that the project manager must facilitate discussions between stakeholders and developers so that the criteria that makes each stakeholder a winner is well-understood. What does the system/application need to do to address this stakeholder’s needs? The work of achieving this understanding must continue until the stakeholder and developer both agree that they got it.
What is a particular project you learned something from?
My first significant project was a complete disaster. It was a $10M reengineering project transitioning from a legacy mainframe system to a multilayered application. I followed the book but we ended up pulling the plug after spending $6M. I committed to never making these types of mistakes again.With the remaining $4M and the knowledge of the challenges, we began again. The project was structured differently, and it deployed with the remaining budget and is still being used to this day. The books and knowledge are great assets but alone don’t guarantee successful projects. They do provide a language for the team to work together to diagnose the issues that are impacting project performance and consider the remedies. The balance of my career has been spent trying to make up for the $6M failure.
What advice do you have for someone starting out in this field?
The work, as identified in most textbooks on project management, boils down to the triple constraints of cost, schedule and scope, or, how much money are you willing to spend, how much time do you have, and what do you want? These dimensions play off each other, and project managers must recognize that Newton’s third law of motion must be applied. A change in one of these dimensions must result a change in one or both of the other two. Thus, if you want to get new features (scope) you will need more money or more time or both. Getting the project done faster (schedule) will require more money or less scope or both. Delivering a project cheaper (cost) will require more time or less scope or both. None of these dimensions is independent of the other two and people want to think that a change can simply be absorbed into a project. The project manager must remind people, even when they are agreeing to a change, that there is always an impact to the other dimensions.
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