As chief educator and principal consultant at The Ogaga Johnson Company, Ogaga Johnson, PMP, leads the design, development and facilitation of project management training courses and programs and drives change initiatives for business improvement and standardization. Originally from Nigeria, she now primarily works in Canada and the U.K. Here, Ogaga discusses her love of the profession — and her goal of helping others find their place in it.
Ogaga, how did you get into project management? After I finished my master’s sustainable energy engineering in 2013, I got into energy jobs, but found them boring because of how routine they were. I started searching for the right career and got introduced to project management in late 2014.
It was great to learn about a career where every day is different and where I can use my existing skills such as organization, planning, problem-solving, leadership and communication. I took a project management training course to better understand the technical project management knowledge. In May 2015, I transitioned into project management. I started off as a project coordinator, working on energy projects.
What do you love most about the work? I enjoy turning business ideas and strategy into reality by creating plans, structures and influencing people to get things done. It’s a great feeling seeing an idea or thought become real. I also enjoy how different each day is. It makes going into work something to look forward to. Finally, I love seeing our clients start and build successful and rewarding project management careers through our Transition to Project Management and Project Management Professional (PMP®) coaching programs.
What do you find most challenging? The most challenging thing about my work is seeing individuals who have so much potential think little about themselves or think they can’t start or build a career in project management because they lack experience. It makes me sad. Therefore, a vital part of my work is helping clients to have courage and transforming mindsets into one of a possibility mentality.
Does your approach change depending on the country or organization you’re working in? I have worked in various organizations across Nigeria, the United Kingdom and Canada. I have realized that it’s essential to understand the way things work and the value they expect the role to deliver, especially the politics of each organization. Once I know this, I adapt my skills and approach to deliver and contribute the value expected. I also ensure I bring a fresh perspective toward the way work is done.
What's your proudest professional achievement? Helping hundreds of professionals prepare, study and pass the PMP credential exam. Also, helping individuals, especially recent graduates and immigrants, to start and build rewarding careers in project management.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? You don’t have to be confident before starting anything, you only need to be courageous. Courage births confidence: Every project professional must be courageous and being courageous starts with a mindset. As project professionals, we must be confident in the value we bring to an organization. It’s vital we don’t doubt ourselves nor our abilities. Yes, we can.
How has PM.com helped you in your work and career? The PM.com community provides me the learning resources and network that helps me share knowledge as well as learn and connect with other professionals. This has helped me build my existing skills and to learn new project management skills, grow my thought leadership in project management and stay abreast of project management trends.
What interests do you have outside work? I enjoy traveling, watching movies, volunteering at church, and speaking on project management and productivity topics.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us!
To connect with Ogaga Johnson, visit her ProjectManagement.com profile.
This interview was conducted by Kelley Hunsberger.
Let’s Meet Stephen Robin…
Categories: career development
Drawn to project management because of his love of learning, Stephen Robin is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Project Management in Trinidad and Tobago. Here, he shares his thoughts on building a career in the profession.
Why have you decided to study project management? In 2018, after completing my A-levels, I chose Cipriani College for tertiary education after a rigorous process where I gathered information on every higher institute in the country. I was originally pursuing the Bachelor of Science in Occupational Health and Safety. What caused me to change career paths and pursue a Bachelor of Science in Project Management was an excellent mathematics tutor who was also an electrical engineer with project management experience. He presented a solid case to pursue the project management degree. I decided to enroll full-time in the four-year degree program. The high caliber of lecturers by the project management faculty ignited a fire in me, and I developed a passion for the field.
What do you love most about project management? The learning aspect. Project management is a good fit for a lifelong learner like me because every project is unique, and the field is continuously evolving and changing.
What do you find most challenging about starting your career? Currently, my biggest challenge is gaining work experience locally as the offering of project internships and project apprenticeships are severely lacking in comparison to other fields. This can also be attributed to the fact that the project management maturity model is low in both the private and public sectors.
Project management in my country is not as developed as the United States and Canada. I am too impatient to wait until the country catches up in sense. I am putting greater efforts to go above and beyond career-wise and be ahead of the curve. There is still so much to learn, experience to gain, and people to network with.
What's your proudest achievement in the world of project management so far? I was a key member of the first volunteer project undertaken by my local PMI chapter, which involved meeting with local secondary school students and introducing them to project management fundamentals and to the idea of project management as a career path. It was noted by the vice president of volunteerism and members of the project team — all mature project professionals — that my ideas and efforts were instrumental to the success of the project. I was extremely elated.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? There are many, but a simple tidbit I received, “Just keep on evolving, keep on growing, keep on chipping away, and take life by the horns.”
How has PM.com helped you in your career development? Too many ways to count, but the core areas in networking with like-minded people, the community aspect that fosters growth and development, building knowledge in the professional domain, and most importantly, aided in the development of my career goals.
What hobbies do you have outside work? Calisthenics, Pilates, gardening, reading and volunteering.
Thank you, Stephen, for sharing your journey. And good luck!
To connect with Stephen Robin, visit his ProjectManagement.com profile.
This interview was conducted by Kelley Hunsberger.
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.
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.
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.