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Mentoring a Greenpower Race Team: Episode 6 – Project management 101

Siemens Valued Contributor Siemens Valued Contributor
Siemens Valued Contributor

One of the keys to a successful Greenpower team is empowerment. Students need to be given responsibility and learn how to take and give direction amongst their peers. At the start of our first season, we assigned a student to act as the project manager and to help them settle into their new role, I came up with a list of the top 10 things every project manager should do.


  1. Be passionate: If you are excited, everyone will be excited. If you are not excited, but look excited, everyone will be excited—and people generally want to be excited and work harder for passionate people.
  2. Challenge your team: You don’t need to know any or all of the answers, but you need to know what questions to ask. Is the best we can do? What is the competition doing? What are the kids in England using? What’s the plan? Why are we doing it this way? If someone presents a problem and asks you to solve it, push back, ask for 2-3 options with pros/cons. Generally they will arrive at the best answer. Although you don’t need to be a domain expert in any area, be able to answer the following for every activity:
    1. What is it
    2. Why are we doing it
    3. Who’s working on it
    4. What’s the status
  1. Lead by example: No one want’s to be the first on the dance floor but if you take the initiative and start something, people will join in. If people are standing around, start an activity and ask for help (and let them take over). Just watch Tom Sawyer.
  2. Don’t ever let them see you sweat: If the team sees you panic, get upset, or lose your cool, you will lose confidence and respect—worst case people will lose confidence in the project. Always be and look positive. People follow confident leaders.
  3. Relish conflict: The best solutions can “pop” out from disagreements. “I want A, but they want B” is fine as long as it’s a productive discussion. You may end up with the best from each.
  4. Watch out for the power struggles: At all ages, all levels, all positions you will NEVER avoid power struggles. If you can change the debate from winning to finding the best solution, you will win every time. If someone just will not listen, consider letting them win but hold them accountable for the results—if they were right you win for getting the best result, if they were wrong, you win by earning voice and respect, and they will be more amenable when you request they clean up the mess.
  5. Be organized: Very early on, you should develop a detailed project plan with clear deliverables, clear time line, and who is responsible. Be relentless in managing tasks and making sure jobs are done. Students have other activities, AP courses, football, prom, and a ton of other activities. If you let things slip, nothing will get done. Set expectations early and keep your finger on the pulse.
  6. Never lose sight of the vision: Get a worthy yet attainable vision and keep it in your sights. Is your vision to be the fastest, best design, race internationally, etc. Find a worthy long-term vison and let that be your mission statement. Remind the team of the vision when things go off course. Make sure your teacher and mentor are in agreement here.
  7. Exploit strengths: For the rest of your life you will both work with all types of people, those that are smart and those who should “find something else to do”.  Everyone has strength and a successful manager will match that strength with an appropriate job.
  8. Your team is your life, keep your life happy: Things will get hard and people get burned out so keep spirits high. Have a party, host a “team-building exercise” at a go-cart track, bring in popsicles, publically point out good jobs, show care in your teams well-being. If your team sees you care about them, they will care more about you.


See you next time


Kris Kasprzak