As a senior project manager for a global telecom giant, Paris-based Yasmina Khelifi has worked with international teams for 20 years, combining cultural awareness with communication agility. Parlez-vous francais? Sure. But also English, German, Spanish, Japanese, Italian and Arabic!
Yasmina, how did you get into project management? I always loved to organize things. I have a classic background for a project manager—I began as a telecom engineer. After a few years, thanks to the support of a manager, I applied to become a project manager. I wasn’t quite sure about it at the beginning because some technical colleagues told me it was boring and administrative. Fortunately, I didn’t listen to them, and I don’t regret it!
What do you love most about the work? I love the diversity of project teams and activities. I work with so many people around the globe—it is an invaluable source of growth and learning. I am also fortunate to be able to work virtually, which was a great advantage during the pandemic.
What do you find most challenging or frustrating? What I find frustrating is that project management is sometimes seen as a “paperwork” role. Project management is a life skill and a mandatory skill. It’s everywhere. We work in teams, and every time we build a team there are project management skills involved at work or in private projects.
You’re based in Paris. Does your approach change depending on the country you’re working in? Yes, of course, and that's what I love most: cultural awareness and communication agility. I’ve been working in an international environment for 20 years; since 2014 in the Middle East and Africa. I adapt the tools used and the communication approach. My knowledge of languages, which is one of my passions, helps me to build bridges. I’m a French native, and I can speak German, English, Spanish, a bit of Italian, a bit of Japanese and I’m learning Arabic.
It’s sometimes challenging and makes me think on how I can improve my communication or way of being. And that helps me in my private life.
What's your proudest professional achievement? When I joined a technical project team a few years ago, I didn’t know the topic very well. I replaced a technical expert, so it was intimidating at the beginning. I noted there was no team cooperation, and the information didn’t circulate well, so I went back to basics: project management skills. I revamped all the project processes, communication flows, and set ground rules. By doing this, I infused a strong team collaboration spirit that benefited the project.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? When I became a project manager, my manager pushed me to get training. I was not so convinced; I didn’t think I had the time. But he told me it was very important, and it proved true. Since then, I was lucky to continue training through my firm and I also paid for some. I’ve encouraged many colleagues to do the same, even if they think they don’t have time. It’s crucial to take time for yourself and to pave the way for the future; you’re the pilot in this plane.
Continuous learning is so rewarding and it’s even easier now with courses delivered online. Taking part in training is also a way to network and meet new people. And recently, I’ve discovered volunteering at Project Management Institute, and I love it! I’ve met incredible role models to guide me in my learning journey.
You are a monthly contributor to the Voice on Project Management blog, sharing your experiences and insights. How has PM.com helped you in your work and career? PM.com has helped me to gain new perspectives. It’s an open and supportive community for advice—for instance, when I was preparing for PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)®.
What interests or hobbies do you have outside work? I love learning languages, meeting international friends, and volunteering. I’ve just launched a podcast about global leadership. I didn’t know anything about podcasting, but I wanted to share my knowledge and the voices of leaders around the world. I love to try out new things, to learn and share.
Favorite TV show, artist, or movie? I love detective TV series.
Best vacation? It’s a question hard to answer—each place is rich in learning. Let’s mention my last travel before the pandemic: Dubai. I loved it.
Thank you Yasmina!
To connect with Yasmina Khelifi, visit her ProjectManagement.com profile.
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.