Departing product managers reflect on teamwork as the key to success

Lt. Col. Anthony E. Douglas, left, outgoing Product Manager Soldier Maneuver Sensors, sits with his replacement, Lt. Col. Toby Birdsell, during the Change-of-Charter ceremony June. 22.

FORT BELVOIR, Virginia – Reflecting on their tenure, two departing product managers within Project Manager Soldier Sensors and Lasers credit teamwork as the key to their organizations’ success. They relinquished their charters during two changes-of-charter ceremonies June 22.

Lt. Col. Michael P. Frank became Product Manager Soldier Precision Targeting Devices Feb. 20, 2015, while Lt. Col. Anthony E. Douglas became Product Manager Soldier Maneuver Sensors June 22, 2016. Both product management offices fall under Project Manager Soldier Sensors and Lasers at Program Executive Office Soldier.

Lt. Col. Frank said teamwork was the required driving force. “In PdM SPTD, as in any product manager shop, you work as a team,” Lt. Col. Frank said. “Cost, schedule, and performance are the metrics we are held to. Engineers making sure the system operates as the performance specification says it should is as important as the cost folks keeping the finances aligned fiscally.” To illustrate, Lt. Col. Frank brought up the Joint Effects Targeting System. “As we prepare JETS for the next decision, the test team is working closely with the performance team. They are making sure we have all tests that have an operational impact completed while the other tests that may not be as operationally relevant can be completed at a later date.”

Lt. Col. Douglas credits his team’s focus on the Soldier for their teamwork. “As a product manager, I quickly recognized my organization was only one component of a much larger team, all focused on equipping the Soldier,” Lt. Col. Douglas said. “Throughout my tenure, my team has worked with our many stakeholders who make up the team to include Requirements, Testing, Contracting Representatives as well as our vendors who actually manufacture our product.” “Without teamwork, PdM SMS would have failed, and the Soldier would be severely disadvantaged,” Lt. Col. Douglas said. “I am proud of the teamwork that PdM SMS has demonstrated since I joined the team.”

Lt. Col. Michael P. Frank, right, outgoing Product Manager Soldier Precision Targeting Devices, stands with Col. Christopher Schneider, Project Manager Soldier Sensors and Lasers, after receiving the Meritorious Service Medal. Lt. Col. Jamal Williams took over for Lt. Col. Frank during the change-of-charter ceremony June. 22.

The lieutenant colonels reflected on the milestones their respective teams achieved. “We have a joke that PdM SMS has seven Super Bowls every week,” Lt. Col. Douglas said. “The team has a reputation for making the hard look easy, so it’s almost impossible to identify specific achievements for a team this well rounded and cohesive,” he added.

During the past month, Lt. Col. Douglas has reflected on all the milestones and achievements the PdM SMS team has done. He said PdM SMS has 10 programs of record it manages. When he compared that to the team’s successes, it encompassed many domestic and international fieldings, successful testing events, record-fast processing of contracting actions, and exceeding Army goals for annual financial expenditures. “The organization has always impressed me with their ability to involve stakeholders early and often into the lifecycle of each program,” Lt. Col. Douglas said. Because of numerous milestones over the past three-and-a-half years, Lt. Col. Frank said the most notable to me was the JETS contract award.

“Not only did the team meet the very aggressive schedule—again the team worked very closely with our extended teammate from Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Army Contracting Command (Maryland)—but the contract was awarded without protest,” Lt. Col. Frank said. “This further helped to keep JETS on its aggressive schedule. JETS is paradigm-shifting technology the Army Fires community badly needs to enable rapid and precise target location.” “The entire team was involved in ensuring all documentation, test reports, et cetera were completed in time to support this milestone,” he added.

Lt. Col. Frank and Lt. Col. Douglas offered reflections on what amazed them from their teams. Upon reflection, Lt. Col. Frank offered one word. “In a word, everything,” Lt. Col. Frank said. “Their dedication to the mission, the Warfighter, and each other; their technical expertise and ability to explain the technology and its operational impact; the ease at which they partner with others to accomplish any mission; their flexibility to surge and adapt to meet the needs,” he added. PdM SMS team’s ability to adapt struck Lt. Col. Douglas.

“When I took command two years, many of the ‘things that keep me up at night’ now didn’t exist then,” Lt. Col. Douglas said. “For example, the Soldier Borne Sensor Program didn’t exist at the time. The Enhanced-Night Vision Goggle–Binocular wasn’t even on the radar and now the team is working hard to bring it to Soldiers.” “And some of more energy-consuming efforts—like the Universal Helmet Mount Assemblies and Helmet Cleats—weren’t on the glide path for immediate fielding,” he said. “In each of these cases, I have been impressed at how PdM SMS has risen to the opportunity to adapt and make each of these efforts the success that they are now.”

In closing, each of the lieutenant colonels offered words of appreciation to their teams and advice to their successors. Lt. Col.  Frank passed on the PdM SPTD charter to Lt. Col.  Jamal Williams while Lt. Col. Douglas passed on PdM SMS to Lt. Col. Toby Birdsell. For Lt. Col. Frank, leaving his team is difficult. “To the PdM SPTD team, thank you for making this the hardest job to leave in my 20-plus years wearing the uniform,” said Lt. Col. Frank, whose next assignment is at the Missile Defense Agency at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. “You made each day different and memorable,” he said. “You are a testament to the effort behind the Warfighter that not many people think about or remember. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do. Because of the team, being the product manager of SPTD has been my distinct and extreme honor.”

“To the incoming PdM SPTD, the team is there and knows what needs to be done. Give them some rein and watch how fast they can run,” Lt. Col. Frank added. “They will continue to surprise and overachieve.” Lt. Col. Douglas, whose next assignment is as a student at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, told his team to continue providing Soldiers with the best equipment as they always have.

“I shared with my workforce earlier this week that if I could leave them with just one thought it would be that the Soldier waiting on our technology doesn’t care about the FAR, the JROC process, the FYDP, or our Program Milestones,” Lt. Col. Douglas said. “All they care about is that they receive superior technology that works before they need it on the battlefield,” he added. “Our ‘why’ is to work within the Acquisition left and right limits to deliver technology that works the first time and on time.” “As for advice to my replacement, Lt. Col. Toby Birdsell, it’s simple: Always remember to care about the people just as much as you care about the mission,” Lt. Col. Douglas said.

(Russell Petcoff, staff writer at PM SSL, contributed to this article.)

About Debra Dawson