WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Project 38 podcast marks 100 episodes

Three years ago, Washington Technology launched the Project 38 podcast. A few weeks ago, we released our 100th episode. (We are up to 102 as I write this.)

Producing a podcast has been one of the more fun and fulfilling things I’ve done in my career. One of the things I like is that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what the podcast can be. I more to learn and I know there are areas to improve. I look forward to that challenge.

The podcast's focus has evolved from its original intent. I had a very specific vision at the start that arose from a conversation with David Langstaff, former CEO of Veridian and of TASC. He is now the executive vice president for the leadership division of the Aspen Institute.

In our conversation, Langstaff talk about this idea of having a 100-year vision particularly for the government. The government will be here in 100 years so what should its roles and responsibilities be. With that as the lens, you should ask if the decisions you make today get you closer to that vision.

That idea got me thinking about contractors and how they fit into that equation. The question I wanted to explore with the podcast was, what will the contractor market look like in 20 years? It was 2018 and so I was looking at 2038 and that’s where the name came from -- Project 38.

The first podcast was with Stan Soloway, former president and CEO of the Professional Services Council. I knew from other conversations we’ve had that he saw the market as changing rapidly  because of technology and more commercial firms entering into the arena. And a host of other reasons.

The first episode was called A Market at the Crossroads.

Next was John Hillen, now the CEO of Everwatch. But in 2018, he was executive-in-residence and professor of practice at George Mason University. He had written some commentaries for us about whether the government market is really a market. Our conversation for the podcast focused on the maturity of the market.

David Kriegman, a former SRA International executive and author of Zero to a Billion (the story of SRA’s growth), and I talked about how you manage through disruption.

And it was the podcast with Kriegman that I learned a valuable lesson -- make sure you are recording. We had a great conversation and afterwards I realized the recording didn’t start. We had to go ahead a few days later. It was good, but it lacked the spontaneity of our first conversation.

As we continued to produce podcasts that first year -- John Wood, CEO of Telos Corp. on the innovation challenge; Steve Harris of Dell and the modernization challenge, Dan Helfrich of Deloitte and the end of traditional IT and the late Diana Gowen of MetTel and the telecom pivot – the original vision of that outlook to 2038 had changed considerably.

It was hard, if not impossible to get beyond broad generalities of what the market should look like in 20 years. Most CEOs are looking out two years at most. Some aren’t looking out much past a few quarters.

The interview with Helfrich marked a shift in my mind for the podcast. While he had a distinct vision of where he saw the business going, he also had a great story and lessons learned from Deloitte’s journey in the federal market.

For year two, we were focused more on the tactical as well as the strategic. So in early 2019, we talked to Tony Moraco, then the CEO of Science Applications International Corp., about what the completed Engility acquisition meant to SAIC.

We revisited SAIC in July when Moraco announced his retirement. We spoke with Nazzic Keene as she was about to step into the CEO role. If you listen to that one, yes, embarrassingly I mispronounce her name. Another lesson learned.

Senior Staff Writer Ross Wilkers also began co-producing the podcast and it’s been great to have his perspective shine through in the people he chooses to interview and the questions he asks. His podcasts on Leidos’ maritime business and Parsons Corp.'s initial public offering are our two most downloaded episodes.

Our podcasts primarily focus on interviews with CEOs and senior executives, but we’ve also talked with analysts and market experts and policy wonks. One of our more popular podcasts was with Lisa Pafe of Lohfeld Consulting. She gave advice on business development moves companies should take as the pandemic began.

We’ve also started doing a regular Reporters’ Roundtable featuring myself, WT Senior Staff Writer Ross Wilkers and a rotating group of reporters from our sibling publication FCW. We talk about stories we are covering and what we see on the horizon. We are overdue for one of those.

Episode number 100 went live on March 29 and was one of those roundtable discussions. We focused on the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, which along with COVID-19 has probably been one of more regular topics.

The podcast really took off in 2020, both the average downloads per episode and the frequency. We released 54 podcasts during the year. We’ll probably be close to that in 2021.

The format and production of the podcast is pretty simple and will likely stay that way. No music, just voices. Most have been one-on-one conversations but we are starting to do more panel-type discussions. Those panels work particularly well when we are discussing topics or issues as opposed to exploring a company strategy.

An area to work is making the podcasts shorter. Twenty minutes is probably ideal but that’s hard to do sometimes. We continue to be a work in progress and I’m fine with that.

I’d love to hear more about what you think of the podcast. What you like and what you don’t like. Drop me a line at nwakemanATwashingtontechnology.com or comment below.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Apr 20, 2021 at 12:00 PM

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