As IT project manager at Johns Hopkins University, Hanh Vu loves turning nebulous needs, wants and intentions into concrete deliverables. She succeeds by ensuring processes don’t stand in the way of the actual work, while tweaking her approach between each project.
Hanh, how did you get into project management? I got into project management around 2014. Our unit was in-between projects. There were a lot of frustration between the development team and other stakeholders in previous projects. Our contractor project manager/scrum master had left. The question arose of who would step into that role, which we all recognized was essential to our productivity and effectiveness. I put my name in the hat. I might have been the only one. I received two weeks of corporate training classes to start. It turns out much of what I do can be summoned intuitively.
What do you love most about the work? I love problem-solving, taking the nebulousness of needs/wants/intentions, and turning them into concrete deliverables, mapping out how to get from point A to point B in a project.
What do you find most challenging or frustrating? Because project management is a new thing where I work, people often mistake all kinds of things as project management. Operational management, workflow management, business analytics all get lumped into this vague catch all of project management in some minds. It’s frustrating at times to correct these assumptions and set the expectation where it should be. The most challenging for me has been to train others in my organization to perform project management duties. But it is a challenge I want to overcome.
Does your approach change depending on the country or organization you’re working in? I have only been with my current organization since switching to a PM career path. I would imagine approaches are to be changed to adapt to the environment in which a project takes place. I tweak my approaches between projects. The key goal for me is to ensure processes do not stand in the way of the actual work. So, I cater to the needs of the projects and people involved. The downside of this is consistency is a bit harder to achieved, although the more projects we go through, the easier it is to find consistency in some way.
What's your proudest professional achievement? In 2018, I led a software development project from conception to production launch in about six months. The result was a not-too-robust web application, but it was enough to satisfy high-level management, and got us a lot of visibility within relevant communities. The work was at a breakneck pace, with cross-functional teams and an abundance of personalities conflict. Requirements or use cases were non-existent. Somehow, we pulled off a proof-of-concept, and a production of the site. I don’t want to do that again, but it proved to me what I could do.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? Early on in my project management career, I was shy and nervous about making decisions with sweeping implications. My manager was encouraging me to bite the bullet and he said: You won’t always make the right decision. But you can always make thoughtful ones. That was good enough for my position. I am grateful to have a safe environment to learn and grow.
How has PM.com helped you in your work and career? Project Management Central has been very helpful. Being that I’m the only person of my kind in my organization and this is my first ever PM position, I don’t have a lot of reference points or institutional knowledge to lean on. Discussions and advice I get from the forum have been very enlightening, validating and informative when I need to make decisions that I was not so sure about.
What interests or hobbies do you have outside work? I garden in spring and summer, sew year around, and do woodwork occasionally. I make most of my children’s clothing, and some of my husband’s and mine.
What's your favorite TV show, artist or movie? I don’t watch much TV or movies; I don’t own a TV or cable service. In the past, I had enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it has been a while. I can be convinced to sit down for fantasy-type movies like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.
Best vacation? We spent one week in the French Alps. It was the best. We caught 2 stages of Tour de France while there, went hiking and stayed in a tiny little cabin with doors too small to walk straight in. The view was breathtaking.
Thank you, Hanh, for sharing your perspective with the community.
To connect with Hanh Vu, visit her ProjectManagement.com profile.
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.
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.
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.