Smashing Spotlight: Lisa Dawson, Executive Director, Program Management

Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Lisa Dawson, our Executive Director, Program Management, to talk shop, how Agile methods like Scrum and Kanban not only lead to remarkable business solutions, but are clever ways for parents to get their kids to do chores, and the story behind winning the Navy’s Samuel F.B. Morse award for speed for her unstoppable Morse Code skills.


First, let’s begin by saying welcome to SI! You’ve been here a little over a month now. What are your first impressions of our agency? 

It’s infused with creativity! There’s a desire to push the limits not only in what we deliver, but how we go about delivering it. I think the SI Methodology, which incorporates Motivational Design and Lean UX, in addition to the familiar agile development methods, reflects that creativity.


Schedules, budgets, team coordination…the production team handles many moving parts. As Executive Director, Program Management, how would you describe your job to people who don’t know you?

In a nutshell, I support the people who are responsible for making sure our projects are well-defined, appropriately staffed and managed, and result in delivering digital experiences that delight our clients and their users. I also have the pleasure of collaborating with the other SI leadership team members, and drawing on the collective experiences and perspectives of our varying teams to continuously improve the way we work together and with our clients.


What is the magical methodology mix you use to run a successful project?

I wish it were as simple as magic! Honestly, it varies from project to project, and client to client. The most critical components are a shared understanding of the problem that needs solving, the technical resources available, schedule constraints, budget, and risk management. You also need to know what the individual members of the project team bring to the table and how they can work together to create a remarkable solution. I like Agile methods, specifically Scrum and Kanban, for capturing prioritization, sequencing, and assignment of work. And never underestimate the power of communication! Devising a plan that supports accountability and decision making, while keeping interested parties informed, is critical to a project’s success.


What was your last truly smashing idea?

Pretty geeky, but I’m in the process of setting up a Kanban board for my family to manage chores and projects around the house. I’m a big fan of Atlassian tools including JIRA, JIRA Agile, and Confluence, so it gives me the opportunity to play with new functionality. Plus, my kids are totally into it.


Program Management plays such a critical role in the creation of digital products and engagements. How would you describe the role your team provides in the big picture of a project?

A program manager has a role similar to the conductor of an orchestra in that they’re working with a group of talented individuals (musicians) to deliver a solution (performance) that delights their client (audience). To do this they need to have a deep understanding of the project objectives, the ability to draw upon the strengths of each member of their team, provide direction and support, all while keeping an eye on the timeline and budget.


You are very active in philanthropic endeavors. What charities are nearest and dearest and why are you so passionate about it?

I’ve got a very strong interest in women’s health issues and am a big fan of Cancer Lifeline, Hope Heart Institute, and Komen Puget Sound for the fantastic work they do in our community. An absurd number of people in my life have been affected by breast cancer, and as a witness to the devastating emotional and financial toll it can take, I feel compelled to do something to make sure people facing medical challenges have access to the reliable information and resources they need.


You’re an award-winning Morse code analyst. What?!

I originally wanted a career in law enforcement, ideally with the government, and figured military service would be a good way to gain some practical experience. Apparently the Navy thought I might be a good Cryptologic Technician, a position that included learning how to decipher Morse code. Much to my surprise, I ended up being really good at it and earned the Navy’s Samuel F.B. Morse award for speed (take a listen).

It’s a pretty interesting sensory experience to clear your mind and let audio input drive the actions of your fingers on a keyboard – almost meditative. I’m still trying to determine how the skill is transferable in the civilian world…


As you’re integrating into life at SI, what are you most excited about for the upcoming year?

We’ve got some intriguing work lined up and I can’t wait to experience the SI Methodology from start to finish!


You’re at the forefront of interacting with leading-edge companies that are shaping the future of digital. What are some digital trends you are excited about coming to fruition?

I’m really interested in how healthcare providers are adopting digital to improve quality of care and strengthen relationships with patients. There’s a local medical center that is using tablets to help cancer patients navigate their treatment, shortening the feedback loop between patients and providers, and helping the hospital provide a personalized experience based on the patient’s individual needs. Medical centers have historically been slow adopters of information technologies, as evidenced by the relatively recent move to convert medical charts to digital. I see a lot of opportunity for them to take advantage of innovation in the digital space.


If you weren’t leading the production charge at SI, you’d be…

Organizing spectacular, fiscally responsible charity fundraising events!

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