Laura L. Wichlacz
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Assistant Program Executive Office for Corporate Information, Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems
TITLE: Web Applications Team lead; lead program analyst
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 11 years (including 2 as a contractor)
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management and in information technology; Army Acquisition Corps member
EDUCATION: M.S. in program management, Naval Postgraduate School; B.S. in management information systems, Oakland University
AWARDS: Commander’s Award for Civilian Service; Performance Awards (2); Certificate of Appreciation (2)
By Susan L. Follett
When it comes to leadership, Laura Wichlacz favors action over lip service. “Leadership is about results,” she said, “and people are more focused on what you do than what you say. Always have a plan and make sure you are moving toward it—don’t talk a good game, walk a great game. Follow through.”
Wichlacz is part of the Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems (PEO GCS), serving as the Web Applications Team lead in the Assistant PEO for Corporate Information. “I lead a team in developing and sustaining Army web applications and project management capabilities. These web applications take business processes and automate them into solutions that bring the warfighters’ vision to life.” Her team has deployed a variety of systems, including a task management system, a document staffing solution, a weekly significant activities reporting system and an application that manages contracts and deliverables after contract award.
She is also responsible for managing the tool that enables enterprise project management across PEO GCS, allowing the organization to better manage programs, products and projects: Microsoft Project Server is designed to assist program and project managers as they develop schedules, assign resources to tasks, track project progress, analyze workloads and create integrated master schedules. The Project Manager for Armored Fighting Vehicles uses Project Server to manage the process from initial planning to the final step of getting retrofitted vehicles to warfighters. “They decompose the overall process into manageable activities such as engineering, testing, documentation and fielding, and generate forecast reports for their teams,” said Wichlacz. “They manage dependencies between functional program teams and supplies and consolidate this information into an integrated master schedule.”
The Project Director for Main Battle Tank Systems used Project Server to develop a master fielding schedule that housed all of its fielding activities in one place. “The master schedule synchronizes planning, fielding, training, and reset of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance across the PEO,” said Wichlacz. “That provides the warfighter a single interface to the field, and provides transparency to mission-essential logistics, training and fielding information.”
Despite the software-oriented work she does, most of Wichlacz’ days are not spent staring into a screen. “People are often surprised how much interpersonal skills it takes to manage a web application team. Most think that you have to be highly technical, but research proves interpersonal skills are twice as important as technical competence in determining how successful someone will be in their career and in life,” she said. “Communication, teamwork, empathy and the ability to motivate are critical skills that often are overlooked.”
She noted that the biggest challenge she faces in her work is “establishing a team that’s empowered, with people who know that their ideas are heard and valued. I overcome that by communication: by encouraging open communication, by listening to the ideas and recommendations of others, and by telling my team that I trust them.”
Wichlacz’ project management experience dates back nearly 20 years, when she started working at General Motors Corp. as a scheduler and project planner in the Powertrain Division, responsible for creating and maintaining project plans. “My contribution resulted in an on-time launch and acceleration to full production in less than four months,” she said. “It was a great experience and required a lot of teamwork across the entire cross-functional program team.” Her work there caught the attention of a defense contractor supporting PEO GCS, and after working as a contractor for two years, she joined the organization as an Army civilian in 2010.
She recently earned her master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), and noted that the master’s program has been a turning point in her career. “This program helped me focus on problem-solving and decision-making within the acquisition environment by using case studies, team exercises and research,” she said. In a class on production and quality management, Wichlacz briefed the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt project she completed, which used the Agile software methodology to improve the software development life cycle in the Assistant PEO for Corporate Information. The project will now be a part of the NPS curriculum as an example of the successful use of lean methodology in the workforce. “The professor indicated that it was an excellent success story on how eliminating waste and redundancy can be efficient while cutting costs and will be included in future courses,” she said.
Her education continues with her involvement in the PEO GCS Emerging Leader Program, which matches participants with coaches from a leadership and organizational development company. “It provides challenges that help stretch me to my highest potential by examining habits and enhancing use of empowering language, engages me in self-awareness and behavioral exercises, and provides developmental strategies and practices. It doesn’t focus on analyzing the past, but on the actions I can take in the present to move toward my goals.”
She had this advice for newly minted acquisition professionals: Discuss career aspirations and development with a supervisor or team lead. “Be sure to take continued job training and education, as they are important for professional development,” she said, “and take advantage of developmental positions to gain new skills and become a more informed and well-rounded employee. Finally, find mentors you can trust: They are key to success and an important resource to help understand the organization and the way it works.”
This article is published in the Fall 2019 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.
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