Get to know Pralad Rao, ICF Olson’s VP Delivery

From Project Management to Production, Programming to Creative Design, Pralad has made a serious impact on countless projects and people in his time in the digital MarComm arena.

Meet Pralad Rao, VP Delivery at ICF Olson Canada. From Project Management to Production, Programming to Creative Design, Pralad has made a serious impact on countless projects and people in his time in the digital MarComm arena. After spending a year in California, where he was the key point-person for ICF Olson’s engagement with the California State Lottery, Pralad is back in his old stomping grounds, where he’s responsible for the smooth functioning and careful resourcing of ICF Olson Canada’s solutions delivery. When he’s not travelling around the world on one of his annual expeditions, you’re likely to find Pralad trekking park grounds with his partner-in-crime, Obi the Beagle/Retriever mix.

Q: Let’s talk about your role at ICF Olson. What does your job entail?

Pralad Rao: Any number of things, and each day is different. As VP of Delivery, I manage three fairly big groups: Project Management, Business Analysis, and Quality Assurance. A lot of what I do is mentoring and coaching of those people, but I’m also brought in to resolve issues, whether it be personnel issues or client issues or process issues. And I’m often the first stop in the “can you help us fix this” process, which is one of the parts of my job that I really do enjoy.

Another one of my responsibilities is resourcing—making sure that the right people are assigned to projects, everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, what their hand-off points are, and that all the deliverables are fulfilled. It’s my job to make sure that no one works more than 40–50 hours a week, so everyone’s levelled out and not stressed out, or worse, burnt out. And it’s also my job to ensure we deliver all our projects on time, on budget, and with a high degree of quality. Balancing these things is quite challenging but also critical to our success.

Q: Walk me through a typical day in your life. I know you said each day is different…

PR: It’s really hard to predict what my days are going to look like, because a lot of it is ad hoc, solving problems as they come up. On any given day, I’ll walk in here at 9 a.m., and people are probably lined up at my desk already! In the morning I’m often dealing with the project managers and figuring out any resource issues they have. And I usually do a walk-around at the start of the day to go to each group and make sure that they’re taken care of. Then I’m often in back-to-back meetings throughout the day working with various teams and projects to provide guidance and support, working with the leadership team to make the right decisions for the organization, resolving client or internal issues, or supporting business development efforts.

Q: Tell me about your background: You have a Fine Arts degree and a certificate in Interactive Multimedia. So, quite an artistic side.

PR: Initially, I wanted to be a film-maker. I took an interdisciplinary Fine Arts degree, and I really gravitated to the computer aspect of it; it got me interested in digital, but from an artistic perspective. Then I went back to school and took a deep dive into multimedia, and I was able to learn programming, design, even a little bit of project management. Coming out of that, I worked as a programmer at a small, boutique design shop. But I really missed working on design. So I moved to a software shop, and worked as a designer, a business analyst and a project manager there for about five years. That was a good place for me to grow and learn different roles in the industry.

Once I got into project management, I found that certain aspects of my personality really line up with that field: I like to organize things; I like to know everything that’s going on. So I worked my way up the ranks in project management, then managed project management teams at different creative agencies, because even with the project management aspect, I missed being involved in the creative process—that’s where my roots are.

Q: It strikes me that as VP Delivery, you’re now dealing with your former ‘you’ in various roles.

That’s one of the things I love about what I do—I’ve been a Programmer, a Designer, a Business Analyst, a Project Manager, and my work at Olson allows me to bring all those threads of my experience together.

PR: Yeah, I’ve done these jobs before, so I understand all of the pain points. In a role like mine, where you’re solving problems, you need to be a good listener, a good sympathizer. I say to people that my job is part fire fighter, part cat herder, and part therapist. I like these aspects of the job; I have a lot of careers in one when I combine them all together.

Q: You’ve been with Olson for four years now. How would you say that Olson has changed over that time?

PR: When I joined the company, we were about thirty people in a little loft space. It felt like a close-knit start-up family. And even though we’ve changed a lot—we’re definitely a lot bigger; we’ve gone through multiple acquisitions and processes have had to adapt—a lot of the key people and the values have remained the same.

Q: And what would you say those values are?Proa

PR: Everyone here is willing to go above and beyond their job description. You never hear someone say, “Oh, that’s not my job,” which I think is key to working in a very collaborative environment. Everyone needs to pitch in to reach the end goal. We’re really one team, one dream here, and I think everyone feels that.

Q: Where do you see the industry going in the next two to five years?

PR: I think we’re increasingly moving away from building custom solution for clients. You’re not going to see a lot of clients who want one-off things. They want technology that’s tightly integrated into everything they do, a tried-and-true platform that exists that we’ll help them enable. That’s going to be huge.

Q: Have there been any clients or particular projects that you really loved working on?

PR: That’s a really tough question for me, because every project is so different. Technology is going to change year after year, and every year we’re doing something cool. But for me, it’s less about the technology or the project or the client and more about bringing people with a diverse set of skills together and making it work in order to produce something greater than each person could do by themselves.

Q: From a broader perspective, is there a technology out there that you’re really jazzed about?

PR: I’m waiting for the next really ground-breaking thing.

Part of what I do here—and something that really excites me—is managing the Innovation Challenge. The Challenge allows us to try out new technologies that we’ve never had experience with. It also helps us to visualize where those industries are going to go and how ICF Olson can be a part of that.

Q: There’s a common thread between your involvement in the Innovation Challenge and being an instructor (at the Institute of Communication Agencies [ICA]). It seems to me that you’re helping people to expand their minds about what’s possible.

PR: Yes, you hit the nail on the head. I enjoy teaching, whether it’s in a classroom or just interacting with people and teaching them new ways to think about innovation.

Q: And what inspires you?

PR: Everything inspires me, all day. I’m a bit of a sponge and there are a lot of really smart people here, across the company. Sometimes I don’t know enough about what they do, so I’m constantly asking questions, trying to go deeper, to absorb what they know.

Q: I have to ask about your dog Obi—he’s obviously an important part of your life.

PR: Yeah, he’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed and he’s curled up at my feet. I’ve had him for about six years now. I grew up with dogs my whole life, and I don’t think I’ll ever be without a dog.

Q: And now for the lightning round:

  1. DC or Marvel? Gotta go with DC. It’s darker, more intense. And a hero? I’ve been a fan of Batman since I was, like, three years old. Every Halloween, I dressed up as Batman.
  2. Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, or the Red Witch? Daenerys, mother of dragons. I have a dragon tattoo as well, so I gotta go with that.
  3. Star Wars or Star Trek? Hm, that’s a tough one. I did name my dog Obi Wan Kenobi, so I’m going to have to say Star Wars.
  4. Favourite travel destination? I always want to go everywhere all the time. I’ve got a big checklist of places that I want to see. I think I’ve done about 10% of the world. That’s my life’s goal, to see every single country in the world. I try to do a different continent every year, to see if I can conquer it all, and I’m always planning my next trip.
  5. What drives you absolutely crazy? Bad grammar. Sorry, I should say “poor grammar.” I’m driving myself crazy right now!