Spotlight: Our Project Management Team
By Jose Alvarez, Senior Director of Program Management
I am the senior director of the program management team. For my clients, I get to be hands-on building and executing strategic improvements. Within Athena, my role is supporting some of the most industrious and creative professionals I’ve ever worked with to bring amazing projects to life.
What’s it like to work for a woman-owned, women-led organization?
Being a part of an organization founded and led by accomplished women is inspiring. It means working in an environment where empathy and excellence are not opposing drivers. Our business is fast-paced and challenging, so having that balance has allowed me to grow professionally in ways that I didn’t see coming.
You left the organization for a period of time to pursue another professional role. What brought you back to Athena?
Simply put, it was the challenge. Athena’s clients are leaders in their respective industries, so it takes something special to help them move the needle. Working at the level we do, for the clients we have, brings a thrill and a sense of accomplishment that I need!
Speaking of clients, much of your work at Athena centers on Liberty Latin America, a leading telecommunications company operating in more than 20 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. What do you enjoy about working with an international client?
Working with Liberty Latin America has been a privilege. They’re an innovative company that truly understands their customer base. As an international enterprise, they’re open to best practices from across the globe, tailored in a way that suits their individual markets. That open approach has allowed us to bring our unique perspective to an organization that values creative solutions.
Everyone on my team has heard my analogy about project management as storytelling. But it’s also an apt way to see what a typical day is like for me. Most days start with a series of morning meetings. Borrowing from my experience in being a PM focused on agile transformation with software teams, a morning meeting is an effective way to kick off the day—both with my clients and at Athena. This allows every day to start as a new chapter, but we know exactly where the action left off and where it needs to go.
Much of my daily work is collaborative, taking place over virtual meetings, so I work closely with my clients to ensure that we are keeping the plot moving along, that all the players know their role in the story, and that motivations and challenges are clear.
One aspect that has been a welcome change in recent months is Athena’s embrace of the hybrid working model. So when I’m in the Philly office, I’ll punctuate my day by stepping out of the office and into the city for lunch or coffee with colleagues.
You lead Athena’s core team of project delivery experts. What makes a good project manager?
Athena project managers don’t simply keep an eye on a plan and ask for updates. We actively shape and drive projects, so we need to be assertive. Not just about due dates, but also ensuring that there is clarity for anyone touching the project. It is our responsibility to make sure everyone knows how they contribute and why their contribution matters. We are creative, both in problem-solving and in finding where problems may hide. We are open communicators, always finding opportunities to bring stakeholders together, to align ideas, and to talk out disagreements. I recently learned a new saying, that without friction there is no polish—to me, that means we also have to be courageous.
What are some of your secrets to success?
I am proud of all the work I do for clients. From major product rollouts to improvements in customer experience and affordable connectivity initiatives, every project I’ve been part of brings direct value for our clients and their customers. However, my greatest point of pride is leading the program management team. We have a philosophy at Athena to recognize our organization as a client—in other words, to treat our team members as valued stakeholders. That philosophy is a big part of what helped keep our team together during and after the pandemic. In that spirit we are building a more formal approach to mentoring, coaching, and professional development. Being a servant leader and successfully supporting this team, and our clients, drives me to bring my best every day.
What are some of your favorite resources for work inspiration?
I have a few go-to books on my shelf that I pick back up whenever I need inspiration or a reminder of how to find my best self at work, and sometimes outside of work: Radical Candor by Kim Scott, The On-Time, On-Target Manager by Steve Gottry, and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
For my commute, I’m always on the lookout for a new podcast episode or topic to make the most of that travel time. To highlight one recent find, I’ve really been enjoying Adam Grant’s “WorkLife” podcast and his personal Instagram. Starting with a dose of open mindedness really sets a healthy tone for me to face the day (and helps me challenge my own thinking along the way).
What’s one thing you want clients to know?
I want our clients to know that we see them. We see the value they’re trying to bring to their customers. We see the challenges that they’re trying to overcome. We see that bringing an outside voice in to help face those challenges can be delicate and also feel daunting. If they know that we see them, then our clients can trust in the principles we will bring to their project.