By Hossein Maleknejad and Ava Milne-Epp

Few roles in AlbertaSat are as important or as comprehensive as that of the Project Manager. Our current Project Manager Thomas Ganley started his journey in 2018 on the Admin team. His first task within the admin team was aimed at advancing AlbertaSat’s website; since he had some basic web development experience. From there, Thomas decided to also work on the mission design and to gain the ability to see things from a broader perspective. He desired to gain a  high-level understanding of satellites; soon after he started working on STK simulation and signal processing.  In 2020, Thomas joined the software team and grew interested in working on the UHF radio and OBC due to the fact that he had prior knowledge of C programming. While Thomas was still an active member of the software team in Summer 2020, he transitioned into the project management team. Currently, Thomas is both a key member of the software team, as well as the Project Manager. 

For Thomas, project management is a way to both view, and interact with the Ex-Alta 2 mission on a systems level. This is a balance of many things: planning, problem-solving, risk management, teamwork, and acknowledging the needs of the many stakeholders involved with AlbertaSat (which is referred to as stakeholder stewardship). Project management requires a wide array of skills such as: decision making, forward-thinking, and an understanding of the science involved to be the best of one’s abilities in order to make the best decisions. However, this position is also about empathy and communication skills; to have a deep understanding of the human element necessary to make the satellites function.

One of the most important lessons that Thomas has learned during his time as Project Manager is the importance of having a good team, as formerly Thomas had a tendency to do everything himself. Project management is a role that is simply too large to take on alone. The AlbertaSat project can be compared to a puzzle. With so many detailed pieces and intricacies hidden within, each piece requires specific knowledge and often many hours of work. Therefore it is necessary to have a strong and reliable team that can share the load, and be able to work together to push things forward. 

Although being the Project Manager of AlbertaSat is rewarding, one must also face unique challenges. One of the most pressing challenges is student turnover. The very nature of University student groups is that the students that run them are only involved for the duration of their degree. For a group such as AlbertaSat,  the construction of a satellite takes several years to complete, which requires careful planning to mitigate. Another challenge arises when a lot of work needs to go into training each student, as there is a need to equip them with the skills necessary to work on the satellite. This is coupled with the fact that they have a limited amount of time to use that knowledge. With each new mission, it is everyone on the team’s first time. It is the role of the project management team to make sure that knowledge is being passed on from older members to newer ones, and also ensure that the team’s goals aren’t slowed down by the high turnover rate.

Thomas hopes to see more people joining the team in the future, and is looking forward to the missions that will be developed by AlbertaSat. As previously mentioned, one of the main challenges of AlbertaSat is the frequent member turnover. In order to prevent the loss of knowledge with members leaving, it is necessary for current members to pass on their knowledge from their experience. That way we have the potential to keep growing and developing, without using time re-educating new members to rebuild the foundation. In Thomas’ opinion, the missions should not necessarily be bigger or more complex but should keep improving in quality, as well as frequency. He also mentioned that our newest mission, the balloon mission is a great opportunity for improving tech skills on a smaller scale.

Thomas had to learn the skills necessary for successful project management in an entirely new world from any previous Project Manager. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way that we all interact with each other, and for a role that is as dependent on communication and collaboration as project management, this is certainly a challenge. However, Thomas did not have to learn the skills entirely from scratch. Callie Lissina, the previous Project Manager of AlbertaSat, is the one who initially inspired him to pursue project management, and also helped him learn the skills necessary to succeed. Thomas has also been inspired by the advisors that support AlbertaSat, as well as scientists and educators such as Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman, and tech CEOs such as Steve Jobs. 

The last message from Thomas for new members is just keep at it; the skills and understanding don’t come immediately and sometimes it takes time to feel like you are contributing. So just be patient, it takes time to get where you want to be.