The Stage Four Project-Segment Four

A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

The Introduction and first three segments to this multi-segment blog/e-book can be found at the links at the bottom of this article. 

Segment Four – The Most Important Component (Part 2) – Resources – Professional Resources

This is the fifth time I have restarted this section.  I’ve struggled because it’s hard to know which aspect of professional resources is the most important.  Part of it’s about priorities.  You have five projects in process and a dozen in the wings. Each was scheduled months ago, and each has its own level of importance in your professional life. The phone rings.  We finally got you scheduled for your MRI.  It’s two weeks from Tuesday at 11AM.  We’ll see you then. Of course, it conflicts with everything else. Of course, your health concerns take precedence.

Initially, I believed that I’d be able to juggle my job (since I work for myself) and my treatments.  Forget it. Welcome to Fantasy Island.  That’s not happening. Flights to PMI® SeminarsWorld? No go. A drive and an overnight stay in Pittsburgh? No chance. 

I was likely one of the few people somewhat thankful for the pandemic. It encouraged everyone to work on-line, which I thought I could do and still keep up with the medical community.  I was wrong.  Even in a virtual event, my stamina was limited to an hour early in the experience.  Add to that (as actually happened just two hours ago), calls from the medical community telling you that they need to see you right away (read: in two days). The priorities’ side of life becomes a real challenge.

What makes ANY project survivable? Relationships.

If you have good professional relationships, like your personal relationships, the level of understanding is staggering. One of my peers who ran my Project Management Institute (PMI®) relationship was Sheila D. When she learned of my situation, she bent over backward to make sure that everything went right. I could not have asked for a better professional resource.  Classes were cancelled, and I believe she really just wanted me well.  Corporations and organizations don’t create long-term professional relationships.  People do.  Sheila was top of the heap.

Ditto for Lee S.  More about her later.  But suffice it to say, she was another individual who kept it all professional and still seemed to be invested in my best possible medical outcome.

The types of professional resources you need in both my situation and in your projects include the following:

  • Your professional team
  • Clients who value you
  • Peers who support you (and may even spend some political capital on you)

Your Professional Team

There are, of course, the doctors, who I’ve already discussed.  They’re the key pro team members.  You cannot make it without them. 

I haven’t talked about the other team members and stakeholders.  The drugs people matter a lot here.  And although the pharmacist at my local CVS doesn’t see herself as a team member, she is.  In fact, there’s one technician behind the counter at the drug store who has coached me on how to save money on certain drugs. And she’s pleasant, to boot.

Fred Rogers (MisterRogers) often said that in the darkest of times, we should “look for the helpers”.  I couldn’t agree more.  Find them and glom onto them for all you’re worth.  You need them.  Whenever I find myself beating my head against the wall because of some administrative snafu, the helpers are the ones who talk me down off the ledge.  Where have I found them?

  • The pharmacy
  • The lab
  • The radiation therapists’ office
  • The oncologists’ offices
  • My insurance brokers’ office

Lesson Learned: When breaking ground with a new office/provider, begin every conversation by asking for the person’s name.  Jot it down. You may never run into them again, or they may prove to be a helper. My helpers (Aaron, Beth, Leslie and others) were folks I didn’t know I’d encounter over and over again in this journey. 

Clients Who Value You

Other helpers in my world have proven to be those clients I’ve worked with for years.  As I mentioned earlier, Sheila D. and Lee S. both represent the clients you really want to develop in a project management environment.  Agile or Waterfall, it doesn’t matter.  Notice that it’s your responsibility to develop your resources long before you actually need them (and in a case like mine, need them desperately).

The “how” component of this goes to the relationship you develop over time.  Oddly enough, the best approach to developing the relationship is enjoying the people you work for.  I have been blessed in the last 30+ years to truly learn to like the people who pay my bills.  In my classes, I often mention my “old boss, Ed” and do so with great fondness. 

In all of these cases, it’s a matter of respecting the relationship and letting them know how much you value them.  There were some folks I knew who had trouble working with Ed because of the demands he put on them.  By contrast, I was proud to work for someone who had flirted with bankruptcy and came out smelling like a rose with a $40-million+ business.

While I haven’t worked for Ed for over 25 years, he took time out from his activities when he learned of my condition.  He called to check on my progress. He had heard about the cancer through the old company grapevine and wanted to ensure I wasn’t breathing my last.

Lesson Learned: You develop lasting business relationships by delivering on promises and by showing genuine gratitude.  I never hesitated to let Ed or Sheila or Lee know how much I appreciated their role in my life.  You might think that gives them an edge over you in the business world.  Instead, it gives you both a more finely honed relationship that will serve you well when you need it.

In all of these cases, I had work pending on the books that I had to cancel. For the sake of being able to keep going, I canceled. For the sake of my future work (which I can’t live without), I needed to know they’d continue to be there for me.  They have proven to be amazing allies.

Peers Who Support You (and may even spend some political capital on you)

Anyone who has spent any serious time in the project management profession can put two and two together to figure out who I’m talking about here. One of the Project Management Institute’s self-professed founders, Lee L., has been in my personal and professional circle for decades, and was among the first to offer assistance in any way he could.  When I got his first phone call, I was at a loss as to what he might be able to do for me, but thanked him for the offer.  It was shortly thereafter, however, that I realized that I was going to have to shut down my business, at least for a year or two. Unfortunately, I had just committed to a $10,000 investment in professional corporate certification. The terms of the arrangement were pretty unequivocal. In for a penny, in for a pound.

The only person I knew who might be able to help extricate me from this arrangement was Lee L.  I’m sure he spent a little political capital getting there (over a three-week period), but he got my investment back since my business was closing (albeit temporarily).

While this is all about dealing with professional resources, it goes back to the cancer.  This was a time in my life when I seriously doubted that I had another year to live.  If there’s a time in your life for “cashing in chits”, this is it. I had never really looked at professional relationships from a balance sheet perspective, but it started taking on some of that feeling.

I handed off some of my prime client work to Jeff B., who took it on with aplomb.  The nice thing for me was knowing that my client was in good hands, and that Jeff would do what he could to carry on a relationship I had built up over a decade.  (Fast forward to 18 months and a lot better health later: Jeff B. handed the client relationship back over to me). It wasn’t about the money at this point.  It was about leaving my clients with a solid legacy that they were cared for.  I never realized at the time that I was setting the stage to ensure that I was cared for.

End Users and Other Stakeholders

I could list a hundred people who have come to my rescue during the past two years.  Students from past classes are definitely on the list. Relationship managers with everyone from big automotive to the financial sector to big pharma have all played a role.  When cancer forces you to cloister yourself in your home and hospital, every single one of these people matters.  Big time.  Your world actually grows, rather than shrinks. 

Lesson Learned: Stay current on your social media.  Yes, it’s often mindless drivel, but I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great resource for reconnecting with peers, students, co-workers and fans.  (Yes, there are some people psychotic enough to be “risk management fans.”  I love them).  The world keeps growing! 

And in that growing world, you need to start thinking through your plan. 

In the next segment, we’ll look at the Cancer Plan.

If you wanted to read the lead-ins to this segment, they can be found at: