Who does own it?

A colleague recommended the book Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seal Lead and Win by Willink and Babin. These veterans fought together, came home and started an executive consulting company. Then they wrote this book. The book reads more like a war movie than a business book. That’s probably what made it go so fun.

It starts off with a war story describing a nightmare scenario. So many things going wrong, his men dying and Willink has to give a report to the higherups. How could he isolate key misstep from all the chaos?

This is the linchpin:

He was the one in charge, and he hadn’t caught the problems as they happened. It was his fault.

I am not a veteran. I have not been in the military. But there are times when I have told my team “We are playing with live ammo.” It’s a figure of speech.

The authors use live ammo. And live ammo is used against them.

That clarifies things: every choice has a consequence. SOMEONE has to make a decision and keep things moving. That someone on a project is me: The Project Manager.

I’ve heard it said before, ‘The Project manager is the one who is ultimately responsible for the entire project.’ Me and my peers would hear that and roll our eyes to one another. If we are the ones ultimately responsible, why do we have so little influence on the work we are given?

Okay, I’ll play. Let me take the two toughest jobs of the last few years and re-examine them with this standard.

Project A was a job handed to me by the BEST office in the company. I had only been with this firm a few months and they told me this one was going to be a great experience for me. I’d see how it was supposed to be done. I also had a highly experienced local crew.

The first week was ok. Then customer came on hot, with requirements not identified in the contract.

Things degenerated into daily meetings between the customer and top brass from both offices.

It seemed that the other office missed a ton of stuff. The installers used their experience to find ways to get overtime instead of head off issues, and I was scrambling for ways to make it end.


But what if re-examined the project with Extreme Ownership?

I realized that I had let myself trust these other people, the designer and the installers. They presented themselves as the experts. I had not asked enough questions. If these guys were as hotshot as they claimed to be, it would not have been hard for them to review it with me.

If I gone over the design with them in greater detail, I likely would have caught the oversights sooner. We could have adjusted the plans. I didn’t follow my usual policy of asking ALL the questions beforehand regardless of how stupid I sounded.

I trusted when I had no proof. The rest of the project pushed me closer and closer to failure.

No wonder the customer didn’t trust me. I hadn’t trusted myself.

Project B was far more complicated. No one told me they had it figured out, but they did tell me that it had to be perfect. Night work, high ticket customer. Four rooms to be de-installed/installed every night and handed over in working condition to the customer to use when they arrived next morning.


Highest level of scrutiny in the company. All on no sleep. I planned this one out, and I was in on every moment of the project. We had three meetings a day. A crew meeting to kick off the work, a check-in at the end of every shift at 3 in the morning and a meeting at 9 AM with the customer to review status and punch list items.

This one had been designed better, but the customer was even more tightly wound.

I had grabbed onto it with both hands and all my toes. I EXTREMELY Owned this one.

Me and the lead tech are blood brothers now.

When I look clearly at what I did and didn’t do, without casting blame, I have a much better sense of closure. I know what should be done differently.

I’m a convert. Total ownership is the way to manage projects. Yes, there are things out of my control. But everything is under my influence. It helps to ask enough questions to identify those out-of-control-items. I can use the knowledge to mitigate risks.

There really is no downside to Extreme Ownership. Things would go better if everyone acted that way, but I’m the only one I can control.