Downtime with Mike Walls: On Windows 95, The Army and a Perfect Sunday

Mike Walls is the Practice Leader for Kraft Kennedy’s Project Management Group. Heading up a team of Project Management experts, Mike’s practice group works with personnel to structure approaches tailored to a firm’s needs and culture by delivering just enough project management.

Downtime is our interview series spotlighting the people of Kraft Kennedy.

What is the story behind how you got into your line of work? 
I joined the Army as a paralegal shortly after high school. It was my intent to gain experience, have the Army help pay for college (which they did), and maybe consider law school. I was put in charge of office administration at my first duty assignment and worked directly for the office’s legal administrator. This was right at the time that Windows 95 launched, and I was given the project to deploy new computers, new software, and train everyone on this new “thing”.  I quickly became hooked.. Not only on technology, but leading and managing projects… a project manager was born!

What’s the biggest challenge you see your clients having?
Managing resource availability. Most of our clients understand new technology, what they need from technology, and a project portfolio to support their initiatives. The biggest challenge I see is that IT Department employees are being asked to take more and more on, while expected to do their “day-job”.  There is a “zero-downtime” expectation at law firms, so their IT departments are typically resourced to just support existing technology.  This creates big challenges for CIOs, Directors and IT Managers to implement new technologies, execute an office move, or support a merger, etc., because these initiatives and projects fall way behind schedule while waiting on their resources to come up for air from their daily, operational responsibilities. 

What advice can you share for people getting into your field? I would love to tell you that getting a college degree (B.S. and/or MBA), along with a PMP certification is the clear path to becoming a top-tier PM.  All of this truly helps, (so I do not want my peers to kill me!).  But the best advice I can give is 1) get as much experience as you possibly can… find a mentor or great leader and absorb as much as you can, and 2) learn as much as you can about what your team members do for living. I have been very lucky in having great leaders and mentors who took the time to make me better.  And how could I possibly try to manage, control and lead a technical project if I do not know what my team does for a living.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Perhaps. “Perhaps” I am constantly trying to get people to do things they do not normally want to do?

What is your greatest regret?
Ignoring some of those great mentors and leaders I talked about above and waiting too long to invest in retirement.  I really blew it by not dropping some dimes in Microsoft, Google, or Amazon.  You cannot start early enough. 

Describe your perfect Sunday.
God, Golf and Football – pretty simple to me.

What do you most value in your friends?
I love a good storyteller.  If you want my attention, just start with “dude, I got an awesome story to tell you…” be warned, it better be good. Of course, the key values are always there, like loyalty, honest, integrity, etc.  We cannot get to storytelling if you do not have these attributes.  But if you can get to storytelling time… we are friends for life!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Wow, this is tough. I would love to say retirement, but I would probably be bored out of my mind.  Nothing makes me happier right now than to see my children succeed.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I am avid travel point-chaser… so any time I am traveling (for pleasure, not business), I’ll buy the extra points, or pay a little extra for some first class treatment to get the points.  I tell myself that one day, I’ll get enough points for a free “something”… maybe I am not doing this right? 

Where would you most like to live?  The Army took me all over the world over my 21 year career.  I have truly been blessed to see some amazing places.  But, when it is all said and done, I will be happiest lost somewhere deep in the Tennessee mountains… Hiding from the Coronavirus!