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Featured Member... Mahlon Barker

Featured Member


By Katie Dietz

I got the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Mahlon Barker back in July. He picked Pancheros because of the proximity to his office and I'm also guessing it's a favorite lunch spot of his. I hope you all enjoy the chat because it certainly was a highlight to my day!

{Katie} Tell us your personal project management story.

{Mahlon} "Even though I haven't always had the title of Project Manager, I've still sort of been playing the role. For several years I was a System Support Manager at Continental Western Group. In that role, I supervised and lead the help desk along with managing Business Analysts. I would sometimes help with project management work for various projects. That was over the last 15 years before restructuring occurred at the company. In total though I have actually been with CWG for 34 years. The main project role I played over the years was mainly App Developer, involving coding in Assembler {Katie – "I've never even heard of that – haha!"} and projects focused on system conversions. I have a wealth of historical knowledge and I know the relationships with data so projects benefit from my insight and leadership."

{Katie} Tell us about project management in your current role.

{Mahlon} "I'm currently an IS Project Coordinator @ Continental Western Group, a Berkley Company. There has been restructuring the last 2 years. We have transitioned into an agile methodology now. I'm leading a team called "Tactical Support Team" – who deal with day to day issues and ongoing operations of what we have in production. We use the agile process (Kan Ban) and prioritize tasks to complete them quickly. I'm very interested in learning all things agile and enjoy these topics at PMI meetings."

"One of my development goals is to attend 2/3rd of the chapter meetings this year. My favorite speaker so far this year was a couple months back and she spoke about ways to choose the work we do. The ROI [return on investment] isn't necessarily the best way to choose priority. We should ask, "What's the cost of doing nothing?". For example, a company had a code freeze right before black Friday and identified several issues. They chose to spend money to fix something that wouldn't necessarily generate revenue but it was a wise business decision. The fix was for a misspelled word on the company website which all customers would have seen. They figured customers would have thought poorly of their business even though the shopping experience was good. I basically liked the idea of prioritizing based on value and not just dollar wise for ROI."

{Katie} How have you been involved with the chapter over the years?

{Mahlon} "I have been a member for about 2 years now. Involvement has been limited to chapter meetings. I enjoy attending the meetings so I can build relationships, make contact points, and for learning more about the formal process of project management and governing agile."

{Katie} What is one thing you're excited about in the field of project management?

{Mahlon} "Learning how to incorporate agile methodology. It's tough because it's very different than how CWG has done things in the past. It can be a challenge partnering with other groups, other software teams even though you are under the same corporation. The main thing I've learned is that communication is key."

{Katie} Tell us 3 random facts about you.

1.Married for 33 years and Father of 4 boys

2.Favorite movie is The Quiet Man with John Wayne

3.The first project I led was CWG's Y2K efforts (back in the day!). We started planning 5 years prior because a bond policy blew up in 1995. When we attempted to process a renewal from 1999 to 2000 it went haywire.

{Katie} What is your greatest project accomplishment to-date?

{Maylon} "It was a policy issuance system conversion 5 years ago. The project was slightly in chaos when I was brought on and I had to use a lot of soft skills to negotiate. We knew we wouldn't have everything perfect in the end but needed to reach it anyway. And we made it and the world didn't come to an end."

{Katie} Please tell us the first thoughts that come to mind when I say the following words:

{Katie} Sponsor / Business Owner / Product Owner

{Mahlon} "Codling."

{Katie} Waterfall

{Mahlon} "Beautiful when it works."

{Katie} Agile

{Mahlon} "Mini-waterfall. For instance, you have the entire project and thing to be delivered, but agile is like little drops, or ripples, of the larger waterfall."

{Katie} Scope creep

{Mahlon} "You can't have everything or we will never be done!"

{Katie} Change

{Mahlon} "Life."

{Katie} When you tell someone you are a Project Manager, how do you explain your role or duties?

{Mahlon} "I see my role as a person who brings people together towards a common goal and have everyone put their own priorities aside for the greater good."


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