Olin’s project-based curriculum throws us into the deep end, again and again, until we learn to swim. Those experiences, first learning to manage myself, and then a project team, have served me well in the professional world. Creating an innovative environment is often the first step, because merely allowing people to communicate is not usually sufficient to encourage true collaboration. At that point, the focus can shift on turning vision into reality.
Creating An Innovative Environment
One of my favorite parts about project management is that it allows me to draw out the potential of the brilliant people I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by at Olin, MIT and Cambridge at large. When one of my closest friends came back from a ‘design for the developing world’ conference complaining about how unproductive it felt to simply listen to presentations, we knew that we had a great opportunity on our hands.
We invented the ‘Flash Conference’, which focus cross-diciplinary teams of undergraduates on development problems with the guidance of an advisor who works on the ground in the region. We found that making these teams innovate together was all about the structure that we provided, and much of our project management work was focused on building an environment where they could thrive.
We started with a mixer, so that our participants (drawn predomenantly from Olin, Wellesley, Babson, MIT and Brown) could get to know each other and feel more comfortable in the ideation ahead. The next morning, they were introduced to the problem, brainstormed ideas onto a whiteboard and began connecting them to form the seeds of teams. The layout of the room encouraged the teams to feed off of each other’s energy, and be inspired by their sketches, physical mock-ups and conversations with our advisor. The flash conference format was a huge success, and were replicated by several different Olin groups.
Turning Vision Into Reality
Developing a clear and compelling vision is necessary, but not sufficient, for having an impact on the world. Being able to manage a specific, finite set of resources to achieve a measurable goal is also critical. As the Operations Manager at Stever Robbins Inc, I was able to develop the tools, organization, and focus to turn vision into reality.
My first major challenge was establishing my credibility with our web designer and web developer, despite being the youngest on the team (by multiple decades). Through dozens of calls and emails, we slowly converged our respective visions and solidified them into a brand-new website. Project managing at Olin had given me strong fundementals, and this gave me a chance to experience work within the constraints of business hours, formal communication channels, and overworked subcontractors.
We got it done, and I went on to handle relationships with designers, marketing consultants, and even my own remote assistant. With each one, I learned to adjust to a new communication style, lay out clear and comprehensive expectations in a new domain, and integrate specific projects into our expanding company mission.
- Taken concepts from prototyping to implementation, on a wide variety of project types
- Managed engineers, programmers, designers and businesspeople on tightly coupled design challenges
- Experience managing rapidly moving, results-driven projects
“I count myself extremely lucky to have worked with Matt for a year. He exceeded my expectations along every dimension. He has a broad skill set and grasp of the business. He worked almost completely without supervision, teaching himself not only what he needed to get his job done, but often going far above and beyond in improving how he did the job.”
– Stever Robbins (see full recommendation on LinkedIn)