Project Management

Peerspective

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Peers sharing perspectives — that's the purpose of this blog. Here, we get to know our community members — how they got started, what they’ve learned along the way, and why they love what they do. We all can benefit from learning about each other’s experiences, challenges, achievements and insights.

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Aaron Smith
Cameron McGaughy

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Let’s Meet Dianna Belluscio…

Let’s Meet Paul Bruno…

Let’s Meet Eddy Vertil…

Let’s Meet James Lovell…

Let’s Meet Grace Willis…

Let’s Meet Dianna Belluscio…

Categories: communication, culture, team

New Jersey-based program manager Dianna Belluscio—aka “Data Queen”—manages validations, documentation and changes to life insurance models at financial services giant USAA’s Center of Excellence. She says project management is a balancing act—a tightrope walk with a “net” that is only as good as an organization’s PM maturity.

Dianna, how did you get into project management? By accident, not intention. I started my professional career in Reinsurance Underwriting as an underwriting assistant; when the company implemented a new software transaction processing system I gained a nickname “The Data Queen.” I knew the company's business [very well] and that helped me become an expert in the software. It was a gateway to project management in software development. I have stayed in the Insurance and Reinsurance industry, managing various types of projects for my entire career. Even way back at the start of my project management career I knew “data” was king.

What do you love most about the work? The variety and the pace —I am never bored. I am a planner and love to think ahead. When you are a project manager you need to keep many balls in the air, while knowing what was completed, what is in danger of slipping, what can be cut or postponed, and what is coming due.

I also love the diverse group of people that you can work with, from project sponsors to department representatives. You really learn the organization and what drives its success and—in some cases—it’s failures. I have truly learned how to become a team player. It’s all a learning experience that you can take with you to the next project. This all makes me a stronger project manager—the ability to take those experiences and use them as wisdom in the future.

What do you find most challenging or frustrating?  The greatest challenge is always adapting to the culture of the organization you are working within, and the level of project maturity. Project Sponsors who are not fully engaged are a great frustration. Forming new teams and getting into a rhythm is also a challenge. You need to learn everyone’s style and adjust accordingly to get the work done.

There is a great amount of nuanced perception needed to manage a project and teams successfully—when to compromise, when to push the envelope; it’s a balancing act. In some instances [you are a] tightrope walker with or without a net. The “net” depends on the organizational project maturity level and those project management processes and tenants that are used as a framework for success.

Does your approach change depending on the country you’re working in? Definitely. Cultural awareness is akin to emotional intelligence. You need to adapt your communication style based on the receiver, the cultural customs of the country, and the culture of the company. There could also be a language barrier that can cause miscommunication. You need to step lightly and be aware—not only to the country you are working in, but in everyday project management. I worked in Germany for some time, and you can pretty much be up front, but it’s all about the facts. The bottom line: It’s all about awareness.

What's your proudest professional achievement? There have been many. If I had to choose one, I have managed organizational transformation projects, working with very large teams and many stakeholders. It takes a certain amount of experience to feel comfortable in that role. I have managed projects with more than 100 team members. Those projects are some of my proudest, getting everyone to be in the right place at the right time is an achievement. Secondly, getting the work products delivered and signed-off on is the culmination of that achievement.

What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? Find something you are good at, that you enjoy, and stick with it. My advice: Learn to become a good team member. Learn the organizational quirks and culture. Establish relationships, get solid footing. In projects I have managed we had some mottos: “Just get it done”…“There is no I in team”…“Teamwork makes the dream work.” Some are not original, but all are worth living by when managing projects.

How has PM.com helped you in your work and career? The ability to get direct advice from your peers and experts is invaluable. If you have a specific issue you are dealing with you can post comments on the community and get responses. It gives you some thinking power around the issues—you may be able to see different sides of the issue that you haven’t been able to since you are in it. Also you are able to share your advice with peers to help them solve issues and that is a good feeling. The webinars are great for getting your needed PDUs and for learning new aspects of project management. 

What interests or hobbies do you have outside work? I paint abstracts with acrylics and collage.

Favorite TV show, artist or movie? My favorite TV show is I Love Lucy. What an artistic marvel Lucille Ball was—her delivery was flawless; her facial expressions are priceless. No matter how many times I watch the shows, they always make me laugh.

Best vacation? Florence, Italy—to see Michelangelo’s David and tour the Uffizi Museum to see the Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. The room was closed, and I cried, but overall the art experience on that trip will always be a highlight. The food was memorable.

Thank you Dianna!

To connect with Dianna Belluscio, visit her ProjectManagement.com profile.

Posted by Aaron Smith on: June 22, 2021 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Let’s Meet Paul Bruno…

From the making of the Jeep to the sinking of the Titanic, Paul Bruno shines a light on the past to find valuable lessons for today’s project leaders. “I love helping make the future happen,” the author, consultant and trainer says.

Paul, how did you get into project management? I transitioned into project management from an executive position in 2001 after holding various jobs in information technology, including personal computer support, systems programmer and information systems auditing.

What do you love most about the work? The ability to positively impact an organization and help that organization move forward through the implementation of projects.  Projects always represent change, and I love helping make the future happen.

What do you find most challenging or frustrating? Given projects represent change, the most challenging or frustrating aspect revolves around dealing with the “people issues” that always accompany these endeavors. However, these challenges and frustrations also represent an opportunity to help individuals, and I prefer to focus on that.

How has Covid-19 impacted your work? The fundamentals of project management have not changed, but executing those fundamentals remotely has required some adjustments, including quickly learning the nuances of being effective in virtual meetings.

What's your proudest professional achievement? The publication of my two books on early Jeep history, The Original Jeeps (2020) and Project Management in History: The First Jeep (2014).

What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? Two, from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. First, don’t criticize, condemn or complain. When followed we have more room for positive thoughts. Second, remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. I always try to call everyone I encounter by their name.

How has ProjectManagement.com helped you in your work and career? PM.com has proved an excellent resource to network with fellow project managers, and to keep up with the latest news and trends in the profession. It offers superb webinars and other resources to earn PDUs.

What interests or hobbies do you have outside work? History, of course, and in particular, United States, European, military and political.

Favorite TV show, artist, movie? Star Trek, Tom Hanks and Castaway.

Best vacation? Hawaii, and visits to U.S. National Parks dedicated to history and Presidential libraries.

Thanks you Paul!

To connect with Paul Bruno and find links to his PM History Lessons series on ProjectManagement.com, visit his profile.

 

Posted by Aaron Smith on: March 11, 2021 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Let’s Meet Eddy Vertil…

Eddy Vertil was told he wasn’t PMP ready, but his work and life experiences proved otherwise. Now he’s a member of the PMI Leadership Institute Master Class, VP of Business Strategy for PMI New Jersey Chapter, and a thriving project management consultant leading teams to achieve strategic benefits.

Eddy, how did you get into project management? My introduction to project management was not traditional at all. I owned a graphic and web design business serving minority owned businesses in the Greater New York Area. I would literally walk up and down streets asking business owners how I could help them succeed. As business began to grow, I hired offshore developers to take over all web development efforts. I would procure new business during the day, and around 1 a.m. start working with my offshore team to fulfill client orders. Over time, I wanted to refine my knowledge of value delivery by experiencing what it was like to manage larger projects.

In 2012, I officially shut down my business to work under contract at Lockheed Martin. I was responsible for the requirements gathering and implementation efforts for several new internal websites. My biggest “ah ha” moment was when I started working on a multi-million-dollar program at Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield alongside a senior project manager and senior management consultant from Accenture. The diversity and complexity of day-to-day issues and the ability to contribute toward remediation efforts got me hooked. It prompted me to pursue formal training on project management. The more I studied and applied the knowledge, the more it shaped how I handle problems not only within a professional setting but within personal life.

What do you love most about the work? Whether it is work within a nonprofit or a Fortune 200 company, I am addicted to working within teams to remediate complex problems. I need to see numbers, success stories, an impact from the work being done to feel content. I love the diversity of problems that can arise at any given time. I love being able to see what works within one organization, what doesn’t work within another, and to identify the variance within processes. “Best Practice” can be subjective. Understanding why certain processes don’t work can generate a unique opportunity to “build a new engine” to deliver the desired business value.

What do you find most challenging or frustrating? I would consider myself an introvert, meaning that extended conversations tend to feel physically and mentally draining. I find it difficult to translate this feeling to extroverts. I simply have to protect my peace sometimes. It can also be quite frustrating when someone prematurely attempts to sum you up within a category or persona that does not represent you at all. We are all uniquely different.

How has Covid-19 impacted your work? I was fortunate to be engaged within a contract in which working remotely was not an issue. However, my work-life balance took a significant hit. Between work, doctoral research, and volunteer efforts, I found myself sitting in one corner for 12-14 hours per day as often as 6-7 days a week. Everyone has their limits, and I really needed to find new ways to protect my personal time. When you’re working within your passion, none of it feels like “work.” It feels like an opportunity to grow and refine yourself craft. However, when passion becomes obsession, other aspects of your life begin to take a hit, and that is never a positive. It took time, but I have successfully achieved my version of work-life balance.  

What's your proudest professional achievement? When I would share my desire to obtain the PMP certification it was frequently greeted with comments such as, “Well, the PMP requires experience” or “maybe in a few years.” I second-guessed myself for years until I finally decided to just sit for the exam. To my surprise, almost every single scenario-based question on the exam was something that I had encountered once or multiple times before. When I passed the exam, I posted on a social media platform that I had proudly achieved my goal and was now a certified PMP.  Shortly after, one individual who had told me that I would never receive the PMP made a comment stating, “PMI must be making the PMP easier for the younger generation to obtain.” Achieving the PMP helped me recognize that I gave myself far too little credit for what I had already overcome, and that there will always be someone on the sidelines heckling your goals even after you have achieved them.

What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? Stop focusing on why you should have, and focus more on why you should not have. This principle has helped me obtain true ownership of my goals and shortcomings. It’s quite easy to blame your failures on some external factor. A real leader will ask themselves what they could have done to make a success story. That is key to rapid growth. Even if I am successful, I still ask myself why I should not have succeeded. This is not hypercritical, but a method to find opportunities for internal growth and to recognize when to show gratitude.

How has PM.com helped you in your work? Over the years, I have frequently visited the site to obtain perspective on certain PM-related topics. That diverse perspective is invaluable. I have also found the templates can be used without reinventing the wheel.

What interests do you have outside work? I enjoy hiking, traveling and reading.

Favorite TV show, artist, movie? I don’t really watch TV often, but I did find myself hooked on Game of Thrones and House. I don’t have a favorite movie, but I love the thriller and suspense genres. It’s all about the unpredictable ending for me.

Thank you Eddy!

To connect with Eddy Vertil, visit his ProjectManagement.com profile.

Posted by Aaron Smith on: October 21, 2020 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Let’s Meet James Lovell…

Categories: career development

Leading a project and directing a play have many similarities, says James Lovell, a senior project manager for Mercy Technology Services, a provider of healthcare IT solutions. And like great art, the Theater major says the most rewarding projects are transformative.

James, how did you get into project management?  I worked on a project at a print-and-mail company, and my boss at the time was the project manager. Watching how he worked with the teams and planned and tracked the project intrigued me, so I looked into project management positions at the company. Within a year I had a project management job.

I have a degree in Theater, and I’ve found that project management is similar to directing in several ways—there is a “go live” date that can’t be missed, you work with multiple groups to realize the objectives of the play/project, you obtain and manage resources, and you manage communication  

What do you love most about the work? Using project management processes to make an idea or goal on paper into reality. It’s always exciting to start a new project, especially one that is impactful to the organization. The most rewarding projects are those that help people and that transform an organization in meaningful ways.

What do you find most challenging or frustrating? In the waterfall world, my biggest frustration is with estimating. In my experience—and I’ve worked at six companies in two cities over the last 20 years—there is little organizational appetite to improve the accuracy of estimates, probably because it’s so hard to do. In many cases, the process of providing estimates isn’t defined, and people don’t have training.

My biggest frustration with Scrum/Agile is again largely organizational. Most companies are unwilling to invest the time to provide the business resources necessary for a true agile environment, so IT groups build their own stories, prioritize the sprints, and can’t review the sprints with business owners prior to delivery. This leads to quasi-Agile/Scrum methodologies or hybrids of Waterfall and Scrum.

How has Covid-19 impacted your work?  I’ve been working from home since mid-March, as have most of my colleagues. However, thanks to collaborative tools and conference call platforms, this has not heavily impacted my work. I did have some additional meetings and project work to help prepare Mercy hospitals to handle the influx of Covid cases.

Does your approach change depending on the country you’re working in? I have only worked in the United States, but managing projects with distributed teams that include international groups does require creativity with scheduling meetings to avoid meeting times that are in the middle of the overseas team’s nights. It’s also important to capture the holiday dates for all countries at the outset of the project to factor into the schedule. Doing research on the countries of the people I work with helps me provide a more inclusive environment too.  

What's your proudest professional achievement? I recently completed a project that will reduce patients’ hospital stays after colorectal surgery, speed the healing process, and improve surgical outcomes. This was a two-year effort that included changes and additions to surgery protocols and nursing procedures; enhancements to the medical record system; and training for patients and nursing staff. [The project addressed] every stage of the surgical process, from the patient’s initial visit to discuss the surgery through the procedure itself and post-surgery care.

What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? The old saying, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, is a great piece of advice. Large or complicated projects can seem daunting and impossible at times, and challenges often appear that seem insurmountable. But following a process to work through each thing incrementally, step by step, always yields the necessary results. Build a process you trust, tweak it when needed to fit the situation, and trust that process.

How has PM.com helped you in your work and career?  PM.com is a terrific resource for training to keep current on my PMP. Since it’s linked to PMI.org, I can monitor my PDU progress and it’s very handy to have PDUs automatically updated after I complete a video in PM.com. It’s also exciting to use the site to network with project managers around the globe, share information and keep in touch with the latest developments.

What interests or hobbies do you have outside work?  I like to exercise and travel. I’m on two committees at my church: the Sustainability Committee, and Peace and Justice. I’m a bit of an activist in my spare time. Since I’m a theater fan, I love to attend plays. My daughter is very into dance and theater, so supporting her shows and watching her recitals is a lot of fun too.

Favorite TV show, artist or movie? It’s a Wonderful Life gets me every time I watch it. I have many favorite artists, some are Michelangelo, Monet and Gustav Klimt. St. Louis, where I’m based, has a very good art museum and I discover new artists every time I go.

Best vacation? My honeymoon cruise to Spain, Italy, France and Malta. It was a nice introduction to these beautiful and culturally rich countries.  

Thank you James!

To connect with James, visit his ProjectManagement.com profile.

 

Posted by Aaron Smith on: August 28, 2020 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Let’s Meet Grace Willis…

Categories: culture, leadership, people

Grace Willis, PMP, says unconscious bias often “renders project leadership an endeavor in swimming upstream.” Such challenges represent symptoms of larger societal issues to be overcome, but underlying tenets hold true when it comes to good project outcomes—engage your teams, understand your stakeholders, and be authentic.

Grace, how did you get into project management? Since graduating college and entering the world of management consulting, elements of project management have been consistently integral to my job duties. However, if I had to select a turning point, it would be during an internship I held while pursuing my MBA. A mentor and supervisor suggested that I formally pursue PMI certification. He thought I'd make a great project manager based on my performance in the internship. I heeded his advice, pursued the official process, targeted my job search to roles with the official "Project Management" title, and took the exam. The rest is history; I've been a certified PMI-PMP since 2010.

What do you love most about the work? I was initially drawn to the ability to help achieve objectives whilst coordinating subject matter experts. The project management experience was akin to conducting an orchestra where each valuable specialist in unison with others created outcomes. 

However, as my professional acumen deepened in this space and dysfunction emerged from the woodwork, I became intrigued in understanding organizational dysfunction and uncovering its impacts, which include misalignment between projects and organizational strategy, poor vetting of stakeholders and suppliers, unmitigated risk, and waste. The latter led me to broaden my skills and pursue Lean Six Sigma under the tutelage of Six Sigma Blackbelts. This journey into lean was essentially my formal exposure to process improvement—an asset I leverage even today as an Agilist. 

What do you find most challenging or frustrating? What was most frustrating is the misuse of the title “Project Manager.” It has been used by employers to mean everything from glorified Executive Assistant to Systems Engineer, with a touch of project management capability. This is a disservice to candidates and represents a sort of “bait-and-switch” recruiting tactic. The discrepancy between title and function is what inspired my first contribution to PMI in which I discussed the many shades of meaning tagged to the "Project Manager" role and title.

An extension to this phenomenon was the inattention given to selection of project team members and suppliers. Most disappointing was senior leaders with organizational power but a comfortable ignorance of the Project Manager role—a dangerous cocktail.

Does your approach change with the environment in which you’re working? I’ve worked internationally in countries with a national language other than English. I have found, when it comes to project management, people are people. This is not to ignore certain cultural nuances such as hierarchy, labor laws, indices of respect, and of course, language. However, some underlying tenets hold true: 

  • Either the organization has good leadership, or it doesn’t
  • Either the project team members are engaged, or they aren’t
  • Either the stakeholders (positive and negative) and their interests were identified at the onset and continually re-evaluated or not

Where there are implications is how I am received when I show up. Specifically, there will be persons who have intrinsic challenges such as unconscious bias, preconceived notions, discomfort with change and so on, with the collective result being their struggle to respond professionally to someone fitting my profile. Their struggle then renders project leadership an endeavor in swimming upstream because these persons are resisting the project manager—not necessarily the work to be done. 

Some of the laundry list of challenges are at the forefront of conversations going on in our current environment and represent symptoms of larger societal issues that remain to be overcome. One can only come as far as the organization allows unproductive and disruptive organizational cultural behaviors to flourish or be minimally, if at all, addressed.

What's your proudest professional achievement? Contributing thought leadership to the community. I have had several articles published whose content touches on real-world experiences, which often diverge from theories laid out in bodies of knowledge. Being able to candidly share field experiences through various print and digital avenues—and having an excerpt of my articles be selected for publication in a compilation—makes me proud.

What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? Remain authentic. Being your true self comes with risk, especially when you must deliver tough messages. In my career, I’ve had to deliver recommendations to end a project or rethink an initiative. In these instances, leadership was holding on for dear life to make things work despite clear indices that the endeavor was failing due to deep-seated and systemic impediments. Sponsors were simply victims of the sunk cost fallacy—in a nutshell, the misguided belief in the approach to continue going because we've come this far and already spent so much money/time/resources.

In my current career as an Agile leader, I’ve had to deliver messages that an engagement was not viable, or that business leaders and team members involved in a transformation were ill-suited.

Support your authenticity by having your facts ready. Data points, data points, data points are essential. Make the connection between the data and the impact. Finally, come to the table with recommendations and possible next steps. If your authenticity is met with negativity, then evaluate if you really want to stay in the environment you're in.

How has ProjectManagement.com helped you in your work and career? It’s great to be able to get direct feedback via comments from community members—something that wouldn’t have been possible via the PM Network magazine alone. The community, reading what others are doing, and invitations to informative webinars, has been great.

Where are you from? Where are you based? I’m Jamaican, proud to be one, and very proud of our national motto "Out of Many, One People.” My second home is southeast Florida, which itself is home to a large contingent of the Jamaican diaspora.

What interests or hobbies do you have outside your day-to-day work? Decorating. I have a weakness for retailers that focus on home beautification and kitchen gadgets. Other than that, I like to discover new parks and trails, swim, go to the beach and travel.

What about a favorite TV show, artist, movie? Law and Order—all of them. Phil Collins, the Peters (Cetera and Gabriel), Bob Marley and Bon Jovi. For movie, it’s a three-way tie between Dancehall Queen, and the original releases of Back to the Future and The Terminator.

Best vacation? During the summer before my last year of college, backpacking across France and taking full advantage of my France Rail Pass encapsulated a blissful, adventurous, and precious era in my life that stays with me to this day.

Thank you Grace!

 

Posted by Aaron Smith on: June 23, 2020 05:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)
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