What’s the one skill
every project manager
Project managers must
be flexible so they can
work with different
people. They have to be
chameleons: Their color
changes, but who they are
What’s the best profes-
sional advice you’ve ever
I asked my boss to write
me a graduate school recommendation letter, and
she said, “Under one condition: You find the best
school in the country in
your field, and you apply
to it.” As a result, I ended
up going to Stanford University to study engineering. My takeaway: You
don’t know what you can
do until you try.
What’s a book that has
special meaning for you?
First, Break All the Rules.
It says that if you can
figure out how to play to
people’s strengths, great
things will happen. That’s
what project management is all about.
on getting the science right. We wanted to provide
additional support in areas such as scope, budget
and people management to ensure the success of
our research. Our largest initiative, the BetterBirth
Program, has consistently demonstrated the value
of project management. Watching how project
management helped us succeed turned our executive director, and Ariadne Labs in general, into
project management believers. BetterBirth, which
will end in 2017, has been a transformative part of
What is BetterBirth, and why did it require
such rigorous project management?
It’s a program designed to test the implementation of the World Health Organization’s Safe
Childbirth Checklist at healthcare facilities.
About 300,000 women each year die in childbirth,
and the world has the knowledge to change those
outcomes. We worked with an implementation partner, Population Services International
(PSI), to conduct a randomized control trial with
140,000-plus deliveries at 120 community healthcare facilities in Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorest
states in India.
During these trials, we have to ensure the birth
attendants use the checklist the same way every
single time. It’s a massive and incredibly complex
public health project. Success requires project
management on steroids. So we set up the project
management infrastructure to deliver the work.
What did that infrastructure entail?
It started with getting clarity around roles: What
is PSI doing, and what is Ariadne doing? We made
sure we had the right teams in place in both Bos-
ton and India. Then we set up our communica-
tions and issue-resolution systems. Because we’re
working across cultures, time zones and organiza-
tions, there are challenges even with simple com-
munication. So each member of our Boston team
has a partner in India. Whenever they run into a
problem, the first thing they do is contact their
partner. If they can’t resolve it, they bring it to
their team leader during the weekly team meeting.
And if they still can’t resolve it, the project sponsors address it in the weekly leadership meeting.
How does being part of the executive team
make a difference?
As a member of the Ariadne Labs executive team,
I can ensure that the organization is positioned
to deliver high-quality work with excellence—on
time, on budget and on scope. It’s also really
important for our project managers from a morale
perspective. They see the value the organization
places on project management. They see that if
they need something, there’s a decision maker who
can help make that happen. And as a member of
the executive team, I’m also demonstrating that
there is a career path for our project professionals.
How do you demonstrate the value of
For me, the real proof is customer satisfaction.
We have two key stakeholders: our funders, like
the Gates Foundation, and the people whose lives
we impact. On the funding side, we have multiple
funders that have given us additional support for
our projects. On the care side, birth attendants say
they are more confident they are providing excel-
lent care. The model of joint leadership between
project managers and scientific leaders makes
those results possible. PM
Watching how project management helped us succeed turned
our executive director, and Ariadne Labs in general, into
project management believers.