Hacking Project Management Comfort Killer Style

PMO Project Management
  • by Stacy Cross
  • Dec 07, 2016
  • Category:

 Uncomfortably Bold: Hacking Project Management Organizations

Case Study of Absolute Belief and Positioning

For those of you that know nothing about me, I apologize I haven’t said something sooner.  I’m Leon Burks, Jr.  I’m from a small town in Maryland, the son of a migrant worker.  My father taught me one thing as I watched him go from making $3 an hour to becoming a VP of a University.  That was positioning.  This example of an accession has driven me continually throughout my life.  I graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2003.  I’ve done some cool stuff and not so cool stuff but lets get to the point.  Feel the walls around you, stay centered and figure out what your next best step is going to be.

I joined the civilian workforce in 2008 as field engineer making 55K per year in the Oil and Gas business.  I was offered positions which offered me 30-50% more but I wouldn’t learn the skills of the industry in which I was entering.   I internalized what a successfully ran project looked, felt, tasted and sounded like from the ground up. I hated this job. I had been set up to fail multiple times and I ALWAYS WON.  WINNING became an obsession of mine.  I had to be successful and win at all cost. I was discriminated against, ostracized but I knew one thing they couldn’t take away and that was all the knowledge and skill I had acquired.  I was refused promotions because my manager believed that I was nothing more than an affirmative action hire and I needed to know my place.  After doing more than what was required to advance I was held back because others that had been promoted we failing.  How asinine is that? Made no sense at all.

At that moment I had to be the CEO of my own Life.  I wasn’t an employee. I didn’t work for them.  I worked for myself and I was in a contractual relationship with a company that could terminate our agreement without cause.  Well, I beat them to the punch. I fired my first client.

Hacking PMO

Three months later I had my second client.  They required my project engineering services.  Our agreement was more than double my first client.  I was yelling from the rooftops after I was selected.  I loved what I was doing but I couldn’t forget people will place you in the lowest position that you will accept.  This is where I had decided to move faster and gain a massive amount of influence.  This was just an experiment until it worked.

First, I solved a huge project closure problem that this organization had within the first 2 month of working with them. I made them money.  Other project managers didn’t like what I did because it no longer allowed them to be complacent.  I made them uncomfortable.  I, myself didn’t care because I was adding value to my client. I was relentless in demanding the best out of everyone on my team and didn’t accept anything less.  I was getting noticed by management and I was routinely being publicly acknowledged as a great addition to the team.  I wasn’t liked but they couldn’t argue with results.  I wasn’t a certified Project Manger at this time I just had a very powerful GSD “Get S#$% Done” Degree.

Second, I had to gain credibility by becoming an expert.  Within a year of being with this organization I became the first in my group to become a Certified Project Management Professional.  This separated me from my peers.  Being the first to market with this credential granted me the opportunity to train all of my peers.  I was their project execution mentor (Reposition #1).  I was uncomfortable and loving it, this also allowed me to negotiate a training stipend with leadership.  I now had 2 revenue streams from one company.

I was now known as a problem solver and a trainer.  I as asked to take a position as a project scheduler for the new PMO (Project Management Office) for the company.  There was one catch, my primary revenue stream had to take a 15% hit.  I didn’t like it but I knew I would be working with a tough manager who has been running, training and turning around project organizations for 20 plus years.  I would be mentored by the best.  I could learn more from her in 3 months than I would learn in 3 years doing what I was currently doing.  I made the MOVE (Reposition #2).

I left the prestige of the position I previously held.  Everyone thought that I had been demoted.  They laughed and laughed.  Many said, “ You’re just a scheduler now, you can be replaced like that. You have no authority anymore.  That is stupid.”  Little did they know, they would now have to report all project status’ to the PMO, my new organization.  I had one problem.  I was failing.  I couldn’t do my job correctly.  I was making a plethora of small errors.  I had to learn a completely new skill set overnight.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  I just knew I could do anything that anyone else could do.

Was I foolhardy? Yes!  I had ABSOLUTE FAITH AND BELIEF IN MYSELF that I would be successful performing this function.  7 Months after the change I was put on a performance probation.  I was almost fired. One day after the countless hours of studying reading, failing over and over then BOOM!  It magically came together.  I was no longer on the chopping block.  I knew what I was doing.  I was no longer informed.  I became NEO and could see the pattern of any project and I became a magician.  I couldn’t only execute projects I could create money through the project by becoming an Architect.  Move 3 coming up.

I showed that there was a perceived problem in the organization.  I proposed a solution to solve the problem then lobbied to be the one to implement the solution.  By having access to every project I saw patterns.  They weren’t bad, they just weren’t good.  Hey, they didn’t know that.  I was the only one that saw this because I was the architect.  My solution was to implement a system in which the organization would gain transparency through all projects.  But to obtain this transparency I would have to train (hint, hint) all the Project Managers and Engineers in Scheduling and Opportunity Exploitation.

I’m not sure you are aware of what I did.  #PowerMoveAlert I created a sense of urgency about a so-so problem that only I could solve though a concerted effort of training (My additional Revenue stream).  I had renegotiated my position of influence by becoming the cog in the wheel that is now holding the organization together.  Now, All Project Leaders reported to me indirectly as well as asking me for recommendations to make their projects more profitable.  I knew more about the portfolio of projects than anyone else in the organization.  I proposed a system that I would have to train them on to use.  I also ensured my training program and Enterprise tool was placed into standard processes so its use was mandatory, solidifying my position as the expert.  I gained massive influence in the organization shortly after almost being fired. I was the key influencer without the responsibility of the official title of Portfolio Manager.

HACKING PMO Project Management

Publishing a monthly newsletter about the Success of the System and gave accolades to project managers that followed the system rooted me as the #1 advocate of all those that previously hated me.  My publication made me sought after by my manager’s bosses for insight on business decisions based on the profitability of the various project sectors.   I was playing in the big leagues.  I was riding a gravy train.  I wanted more.

My next move (Reposition #4).  I needed another revenue stream.  I had the vision to see what opportunities I could exploit and increase revenue on all of these projects.  I negotiated a bonus structure outside of my base salary and training revenue.  For every dollar I am responsible for recovering in projects or a settlement in a project I would receive 5%.  It was much easier to to do than I originally thought.  There wasn’t a flinch at all.  I thought I should have asked for more money but hey, I am getting a lot more than my counterparts.

Within 3 years of being in this organization I had doubled my income from my initial base salary.  At this time I was on track to making over $220k.  I was taking home 85K when I was almost fired.  I had forced myself to be uncomfortable and crushed it. I had gained everything I wanted in this organization and more.  Now it was time to have my own PMO.  I was contracted via linkedin to lead the PMO for another organization.  Now I was leaving my new found comfort for a Contract which was much more painful than I have ever experienced.  That experience will be accounted for in my upcoming book.


Your path may not look exactly like mine but below but here was my Blueprint:


  • Solved a Painful Problem
  • Used that success to brand myself as an expert and have paper to prove it.
  • Reposition 1, Became the Trainer and Got Paid for it.
  • Reposition 2, Moved to Learn and Actually be an Expert
  • Reposition 3, Used new skill to solve another problem that only I could solve.
  • Reposition 4, Made new training and system mandatory for use by all Project Leaders
  • Negotiate Bonus Structure where I was paid a percentage of Project Revenue


I owned my father’s principle of repositioning yourself for influence which was much more important than security.  Once I believed him and took massive action, the magic happened. Now, I own my own Consulting firm (Executive Millennial Consulting Group, LLC. www.executivemillennial.com ) which helps organizations increase their bottom line through Project Management and Digital Marketing.  I also speak to various companies and organizations on the subject of How to Bridge the Generational Gap and Increase the Effectiveness of their Millennial Leaders.  If you have any questions you can find us at the website above or email me at leonbjr@me.com .  I would love to connect with you. You can find me on Facebook @leonburks, Twitter and Instagram @leonbjr.  You can also connect with me on Linkedin Prosperity is yours if you get uncomfortable and crush it!!!