May 19, 2020

The Parenting of Corporate America

Project Manager
corporate America
Russell Harley
5 min
The Parenting of Corporate America

As children, growing up we heard no a lot. No you can’t have ice cream for dinner. No you can't go out and play until your chores are done and so forth. As we grew older, the nos we heard became more important. Like no, you can't use the car, as the roads are too dangerous. Once we became adults our parents could still say no, but we no longer had to listen.

Unfortunately, we ran into an entirely different set of nos in the form of the laws of the universe and our first jobs. No you can't take time off again, is one example of this. As we grow, we learn to deal with these restrictions up to a point.

If we are successful at work, we get promoted and may end up as an executive. At this point a transformation occurs. There are less nos in our lives. With less nos we began to believe that their absence must mean everything is a yes. Right? If everything is a yes, then anything and everything must be possible. 

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This leads executives to utter the clichés we have all come to know and love. For example:

  1. ​Not on my watch
  2. If this doesn't happen, then there will be consequences
  3. Failure is not an option.

The Failure Is Not An Option cliché is a personal favorite. Anyone who doesn't live in the land of the Gods should understand, failure is always an option.

In the Y2K projects—which had to get done by the end of 1999 or bad things would happen—there were executives who wanted different projects to get done first, and so, requested the Y2K projects have their end-date moved. Some actually had trouble understanding why this couldn't happen. After all, up to now, they could move projects around to their liking. So why could these projects not move?

Here is where project managers step in. Since we actually deal with the real world on a regular basis, we, unfortunately, have to be the parents to those executives who no longer understand how reality functions. Sadly, we can't be as direct as our parents since, typically, the executives we deal with have a direct influence on our own personal success or failure. So we try and avoid telling our executive sponsors things like, I’m sorry, but you can’t do that.

Instead, we spend a lot of cycles along with our project teams to develop pro-and-con analysis, along with several options and flavors. Even though there is usually only one "best" way to do something. Of course actually stopping the project—even though that would be the best option—is typically not part of this analysis.

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Does this mean that every executive is equivalent to a 4-year-old? The answer is no. The issue is that without hearing nos, people tend to behave like small children. A critical part of a project manager’s job is saying no, in creative ways, just like you would do with small children so they can learn what no means without getting upset.

So do project managers need to take courses in early childhood development in order to enhance their skills? It may not hurt. It's better though if you just accept that, no matter what, executives will have the final say. Regardless of what you or your team recommends they should do. The following example is provided as a case in point.

A small data center was upgrading its servers, which at the time had a 10M backbone. It was recommended by the project team to the CIO that a separate 100M network--10 times faster—be set up to transfer all the data. This was nixed, as the existing network had never had any issues and it would not have any now—according to the CIO anyway. Once again, speaking of bending the laws of space and time, the CIO’s belief that the existing network could handle the load caused massive issues. This is because there is a finite amount of data that can be sent before an Ethernet network completely shuts down. With a 10M network, this can happen pretty quickly, which is why the team recommended a separate network with a much higher capacity.

Parents say no a lot which tends to make children upset. As project managers, we too say no a lot. Plus, we also raise issues and concerns about projects. Needless to say, this causes a lot of dislike toward us and our field at times. After all, we are the ones standing between the executives and their version of utopia.

Consider the following:
Executive: I want a pony
Project Manager: Where are you going to put the pony? Do you have a budget for the equipment to ride, feed, and take care of its vet bills? Will you take care of it, or will you hire someone?
Executive: I don’t care. I want a pony, so get me one. Make it blue too, or you're fired.

Fortunately, there are many executives out there who still understand the real world. Executives like these are the ones who can really help projects, project managers and project teams to be successful. You can work with them on an adult level and actually have real world discussions. In other words, they get it. These are the kind of executives we keep searching to work for. Pair a good project manager with an executive like this and maybe, just maybe, failure really is not an option. Otherwise, we need to get very good at finding blue ponies.

About the Author Russell Harley, PMO (

Russell Harley is a veteran project manager and PMO director who is passionate about helping organizations embrace world-class project management practices and "climb out of the quicksand," in terms of gaining control over complex, ever-changing project portfolios.

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Jun 13, 2021

Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl

Kate Birch
5 min
Former CMO for IBM Americas Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl. Maria talks about her new role and her leadership style

Former Chief Marketing Officer for IBM Americas, and an IBM veteran of more than 25 years, Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl.

Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.

With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.

You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?

I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.

We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.

What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?

I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.

The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.

I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?

When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.

What does success look like to you?

I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.

What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?

I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.

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