Modern Role Models

Recently I have been reading about young women who are breaking through the glass ceiling that has been thought to have been in place in corporate culture.  In particular, I have been following the progress of a company called Theranos, founded by Elizabeth Holmes.  The formation of Theranos and its rapid success, are, in my opinion, excellent references for project management.

Theranos has been valued at $9 billion dollars, which occurred before Elizabeth Holmes turned 31.  Ms. Holmes dropped out of Stanford, while working on her undergraduate chemical engineering degree.  Since then, she has methodically developed patents in pharmacology and laboratory analysis.  Additionally, she is changing the way individuals can access their health information, which has the potential to improve preventative care.  Ms. Holmes appears to be incredibly driven and passionate about her work.  I believe being passionate about your work is a key requirement to being successful as a project manager.  Individuals who are passionate about their work are able to speak clearly and consisely about it and have a thorough understanding of the inner workings.  In this example, Ms. Holmes and her colleagues were clearly powerful advocates for Theranos, as over $400 million was successfully raised during its evolution.

Under Ms. Holmes guidance, Theranos has overcome obstacles, including FDA testing regulations and legislation changes.  Ms. Holmes has adapted to the company’s situation, while maintaining her focus on bringing Theranos to the general public.  For instance, once she’d completed her patented work on blood analyzers, she registered the Theranos lab as a testing facility for pharmaceutical companies currently in clinical trials.  Not only did this bring in revenue for Theranos, it began to build Theranos a reputation as a reputable testing facility.  Coming up with creative ways to overcome hurdles while keeping an eye on the goal can be challenged, but is a crucial aspect of a successful project manager.

Ms. Holmes is also very thorough, signing up for additional, non-required, rounds of FDA testing and approvals for the newly created analyzers.  This may have been decided following criticism from their competitors, regarding the level of secrecy maintained by Theranos.  In this regard, Ms. Holmes is not only thorough, but is also addressing a hurdle in a dignified manner.

Lastly, as the organization grew and took on additional roles, more staff were added. Theranos has been set up with a clear organizational structure.  As the daily operations expanded, Ms. Holmes made the wise decision to delegate some of her tasks, including project management.  Project managers should be able to recognize when they’ve reached their limit and ask a reliable peer for assistance.

In conclusion, there are current role models of today that demonstrate how to use project management successfully.  Additionally, the careers of these individuals can demonstrate how project management is used both during the start-up phase of an organization and as the company evolves.

4 thoughts on “Modern Role Models

  1. Caitlin,

    This is a very interesting story and it is directly connected to what I do for a living (selling blood analyzers). Though I have many questions about Theranos and their business plan, I think the over-arching theme here is that in order to be successful with a new business, one must “project plan” accordingly. We have seen many startups that have reached their apex of success in a matter of a few years. But many fail miserably in and even shorter period of time. It is clear that the startups that succeed must have clear-cut goals along with manageable timelines for production/execution.

    What differentiates Elizabeth Holmes and her company is that she planned ahead for potential obstacles – FDA regulations and legislation changes. She knew that she was embarking on a relatively untouched market which would come along with significant hurdles and barriers. By planning ahead, she was able to mitigate risk and uncertainties related to the blood testing industry. Given the competitive markets in today’s business world, it is essential to eliminate risks that can put a company out of business. Ms. Holmes is an excellent role model for how to plan ahead to ensure the success of her company.

  2. I am glad to see that Elizabeth Holmes recognized the importance of delegation. This is a leadership skill with is often under utilized and underrated. Often managers will fall into bad habits of not appropriately delegating work and responsibilities, resulting in workplace silos and inefficiencies. A manager once told me that you are only as good as the people who work for you. I believe in this and try hard to provide proper training and guidance to my group as well as trusting them. Elizabeth Holmes realized, as all managers do, along the way we cannot do everything. Having good people with whom you can delegate projects or tasks to will support the organization as a whole in the end. Knowledge sharing and empowering team members to take ownership in their areas assist the organization in growing strong.

  3. Caitlin,

    Great post! It’s certainly impressive to read about Elizabeth Holmes and what she has accomplished. One of the more impressive components of your blog came towards the end when you wrote, “Project managers should be able to recognize when they’ve reached their limit and ask a reliable peer for assistance.” This phrase correlates nicely to an article I read earlier today in the Chicago Tribune, essentially discussing how one shouldn’t be afraid to “say no.” (see link below).

    Some people may feel that by admitting to not knowing the answer to something , or not knowing which step to take next will sound like an admission of weakness. As PM, being able to admit ones uncertainty should be ok. Being able to find the correct answer or the right way to move forward is what I find more important.

    Nice job.

  4. Caitlin, this is a fantastic article. I believe that Elizabeth Holmes will be 100% successful in what she does. It appears that she is driven by what she wants to do. If every project manager was as driven as she is, we might have more innovations today. I love how “She also says that she’ll release more information about her company when she determines it’s time to do so, not when her competitors request it.” One of the hardest things to do as a project manager is to keep quite, especially if you have a lot of people working for you.

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