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From Navy Fighter Pilot to Superstar Project Manager: PMOtiger Dave Lozinger shares his insights

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

After meeting several years ago over the phone thanks to a mutual connection who said, “You know, you two really need to meet,” we at PMOtraining are now celebrating one year of working with Dave Lozinger.

Thanks to the power of Zoom, no germs were exchanged during this article’s interview process. Ok, let’s start with an easy question. (Or so I thought!)

1) Who is Dave?

First of all, my name isn’t Dave. My parents wanted my initials to be JDL, after my uncle. So my first name is actually something else. But they liked the name David.

So, J. David aka Dave, let’s go through some stats to get to know you better.

1 Physics BS from the Naval Academy

1 bride of over 20 years, 6 of which were active duty Navy

2 deployments to the Middle East flying F-14s from aircraft carriers

3 years as a flight instructor in Pensacola

3 baby Lozingers born while in the Navy

7 year hiatus because they thought they were finished having kids (but then decided…)

2 more baby Lozingers make a total of

5 children ranging in age from 21 to 8

1 at East Stroudsburg University (Go Warriors!)

1 at Temple University (Go Owls!)

Lozinger with his beautiful bride and baby
A Happy Welcome Home

2) What was your first job after the military and how did you get it?

After leaving the Navy, I went through a junior military officer recruiting firm, which resulted in 7 job offers (mostly in sales). I took a commercial HVAC sales engineer position. After six months, I knew it wasn’t for me.

Next stop: Accenture! The role was in Change Management/Human Performance, which being a flight instructor in the Navy prepared me for. I picked up project management skills along the way, because the change management team typically ran their own parallel plan alongside the technical work.

Top Lessons Learned: The importance of having methodology, doing things by the numbers, and paying maniacal attention to detail. The importance of having a game plan can’t be expressed enough. To steal shamelessly from the Navy SEALS: “Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is Fast”.

After six years at Accenture, this former Tomcat RIO moved to another consulting firm performing turnarounds where everything is a “Hail Mary Pass”.

3) What was it like throwing Hail Mary’s for the big leagues?

Oh, that was fun. We were working with mid-sized companies that had once performed very well, but then lost their vigor. This usually happened over time, like the frog in the pot of water that doesn’t realize the heat is turned on. So ineffective practices and poor methods are set by the time anything is done to correct the situation.

The management teams typically face three extreme choices: Sell the company at a discount, let large numbers of people go and start over, or throw a hail Mary and turn everything around in 6-12 months. Our turnaround firm entered the picture when they selected door number three.

First, we would run a quick assessment, especially focused on the finances, processes, and people. Then, recommend actions that would make the turnaround happen. Lastly – and this was the most important part – coach and monitor new management behaviors from the floor supervisors all the way up to the executives. Rarely was there a severe lack of functional skill...most of the problems were due to lack of management systems and expertise.

I found it interesting that most of these companies had Six Sigma/Lean programs already in place. Unfortunately, the focused improvements coming from individual Six Sigma projects didn’t matter when there were out-of-date programs, people issues getting in the way, and sales teams making poor decisions.

Top Lessons Learned: Focus on the fundamentals. Someone I greatly admire would often say, “Failure, by definition, is observed at the point of execution,” which is especially profound when one realizes that the root causes of execution failures often happen much farther upstream than most people think.

4) What do you love about project management?

Project management is about hope, vision, and it is leadership put into practice. It’s also where the action is!

You’re building something that doesn’t exist and you have to rely on your own skills, experience, and leadership to get you through it. Companies are willing to spend a lot of money on the project in order to achieve a desired outcome and they choose you to help them make it happen. There are a lot of expectations for you, not to mention faith, hope, and confidence. One of the most talented groups of people I’ve had the privilege to work with has an operating principle that says, “Each transaction stands on its own merits”. So your last project may have been awesome, but it’s a new day and you have to prove it.

One of the differences – and major challenges – between being a project manager vs. an operations manager is the frequency and reliability of feedback. Operations provides feedback at regular intervals, and usually pretty close to the time of execution. In some operations environments, reports can be run multiple times a day with feedback on how the operations are going. So you have pretty good indicators of how things are going at any one time. As a PM, you don’t get feedback from the outside world right away, if at all, about whether or not your project will be successful. You have to take comfort knowing you’re doing the right things at any one time.

Top Lessons Learned: You also have to be able to persuade and influence. When things look really bleak on a project, and they do on occasion, you need to be the bison standing strong while others all around you may be doubting their resolve. It takes a lot of self-confidence to be a good project manager, especially during the dark times.

5) How does your military training translate to leading projects?

In Project Management, everything is about the Desired Outcome.

In Naval Aviation, it’s all about the Mission. For big missions we would plan days before the event, brief the mission 1-2 hours ahead of time, fly the mission (30 minute dogfighting session to 5 hour excursion over Iraq) and then debrief to improve it. And the debriefs could take hours. There’s a defined process for planning, flying, and debriefing a mission, and there needs to be one for every project too.

In the military, roles are focused and each person provides a very specific expertise. Everyone from aircraft maintenance to the aircrew to the carrier deckhands all know their roles. We learned how to compartmentalize work and seek expertise from the right roles. This translates directly to what I do today. Project managers need to know what the mission is, what the roles should be, where the project manager’s expertise ends, and where the collaboration points among the roles should be. This mindset is really helpful.

Perhaps the most critical key to mission success, especially in aviation, is communications. There’s the old quote that “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy”, and effective communication enables everyone to flex reliably and predictably. Communications procedures are tightly defined and practiced every time you go out. Whether talking on the radios to your wingman, or talking to air controllers 200 miles away, you learned to speak succinctly and unambiguously. You also needed to listen for feedback to make sure you were heard and understood. This applies to Project Management too, of course, to ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page and has common understanding of the work.

Lastly, in drills and obviously in combat, you get a real sense of perspective on what is important in any one moment. So you get really good at prioritizing. You learn to not be afraid to prioritize and you learn to do so in a flexible, adaptive way.

6) Do you think all project managers need to understand change management, and why?

Complicated projects have many workstreams, each of which can go incredibly deep and requires its own expertise. A great Project Manager will have a holistic view of the project, how it all fits together, and how it’s coming along.

The Change Manager should have the next most comprehensive view of the project. Additionally, they have the benefit of knowing how the stakeholders and the customers perceive and regard the project at that moment. The Change Manager can often represent the end users’ perspective, which may not be readily apparent to the technical team.

The Change Manager can be the PM’s secret weapon, especially if they can bring stakeholder feedback to the team. And this can usually be done earlier than most think.

I experienced this firsthand on a project with Best Buy. After speaking with logistics managers running large distribution centers (DCs), they brought to light a requirement they were very concerned about and which the technical team didn’t realize was so important to them. The bottom line in this case was if the logistics managers were not on board, the 100 people working in the DCs wouldn’t be either, and the project would fail.

7) What advice do you have for anyone considering project management as a profession?

If one of my kids came to me and said that they were considering making project management their profession, I’d objectively help them see if they “had the DNA” for it. Then, I’d have to have a serious chat with their mother.

All too often, project managers are seen as meeting schedulers and stenographers. Project managers must always have a point of view on the quality of the work. Of course the PM probably won’t be quality checking code, reviewing configuration, or error-checking technical specs...that’s the expertise of the Workstream Leads. However, the PM should be asking questions, especially if it seems like pieces are missing or things aren’t documented properly.

The best advice I ever received was, “Always remember the Desired Outcome…from a single meeting to the end of the project.” Always. Remember. The Desired. Outcome.

You have to be technically minded AND be able to communicate the “state of the union” to the business and vice versa. A certain amount of technical precision is required, and sometimes the business needs to increase its understanding of some of the technical aspects if its truly going to own them. That part of the job is absolutely tougher than it looks.

Project Managers have to deliver something tangible. You don’t deliver an activity. You have to deliver a thing. Be Deliverable- and Work Product-oriented. Think tangibly. It doesn’t matter how much work or activity went into something. If you haven’t delivered something that is unambiguous and can stand on its own, you will have failed. For example, if you’re delivering a process, it has to be able to be reliably and confidently executed by someone. If you feel that something is just living in a team member’s head, you have to get it out, on paper.

Lastly, the team and leadership must absolutely make confident, informed decisions from time to time. A good PM will lead the team in this process. However, the PM also has to make decisions daily in order to keep things moving along. If you are not good at making decisions and working with incomplete information, don’t go into project management.

6) BONUS: Do you have a favorite client success story?

At a global energy company, the IT group had a $1.7 Billion budget. There were multiple business units and they all had to pay a portion of IT’s bill. So usually the budget process was very painful as they all vied to get as much as they could for their part of the budget allocation.

Our job was to transform the 6-month budget process for the year and rebuild it in real time, so that:

  • All business unit wish lists were in the queue

  • Preliminary budget delivered 3 months early so they had visibility and could adjust course

  • Leaders had the opportunity to provide input and feedback through a formal engagement process

  • Ultimately, the leaders understood that they were heard, they heard everyone else’s requests, the budget tradeoffs were visible and made sense, and they could get behind it

Top Lessons Learned: When the stakes are high, delivering incomplete information early in the process can help get everyone onboard. Visible and objective discussions about individual business unit needs versus enterprise needs can help put overall spend into perspective for everyone.

7) THANK YOU! Many thanks to JDL / J. David / Dave (Ok, MR. LOZINGER!) for his military service, for his willingness to share his insights, and for his dedication to being the best darn PMOtiger he can be. And saving the best for last, thanks to his bride and their children, for the many hours they miss him while he’s helping clients get their projects done right the first time.

Saudi flight students earn their wings with Lozinger as their flight instructor

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