Justin 'Tom' Unthank, Project Manager for the NCI Agency's Network Services and IT Infrastructure Service Line, was recently responsible for delivering the connectivity of five out of eight NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) in record time. In this article, he talks about getting the job done under tight deadlines. with the help of participating Nations.
Justin began managing communications and information systems (CIS) projects long before he was recruited by the NCI Agency. Prior to his current role, he served 24 years in the British Royal Corps of Signals of the British Army, sometimes in operational theatre. In 2012 for example, Justin worked as Technical Project Manager delivering Intelligence, Surveillance, Target, Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability to 72 locations across the Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan.
When asked about the difference between managing projects for the military and managing them for the Agency, Justin explained that Agency project management is very much in line with the defence sector. And he really enjoys working on Urgent Operational Requirements.
"They [the requirements] need to be delivered very quickly, and without fuss. In the military, you have very clear chains of command through which decisions are pushed through rapidly and uniformly. In a customer-funded Agency, it is rather stakeholder and customer management together with clear and simple communication skills that are the vital mechanisms for success," Justin said.
Every project has a carefully planned timeline, group of stakeholders and budget. Nevertheless, when carrying out the plans, there is always an element of surprise, even for the project manager.
"This is where the Program Manager really earns his or her salt! We had many instances such as these during the installation phases of the NFIU projects." Justin recalled one of many emergency situations solved thanks to great teamwork: "On the third day of the installation of NFIU Slovakia, we visited both ends of the network, only to find that nothing worked! Not to panic, we tested our equipment and everything looked in good order. Some minor changes were made but there was still no connection. This is when stress levels in the technical team started to grow, but there was still no panic. After thorough testing by the service provider and by our team, who spent a day and night troubleshooting, plan B seemed to get closer and closer and with the clock ticking, it was looking increasingly uncertain that we would succeed in the allotted timeframe. But we eventually found a glitch in the service provider's network. It was as if a huge rock had fallen off our chests – the sun was shining again. After losing a day and a half with troubleshooting, we did what we're good at – we rolled up our sleeves and got back to work as quickly as possible to stick with the original plan and finish on time!"