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.
Based in Bangalore, India, Girish Kumar Dharan is a senior project manager for SAP Innovative Business Solutions. He believes that project success greatly depends on addressing the unknowns, which don’t have defined recipes for managing.
Girish, how did you get into project management? I started my career as a piping engineer with a construction company. Then I did my MBA and joined a pharmaceuticals company where I was part of the PMO formed for the implementation of ERP. Along with PMO activities, I played the role of functional consultant in the implementation of SAP modules. After the successful completion of the project, for the next few years I was a functional consultant with a leading technology company. At a certain point during this tenure, I had to decide whether to continue with functional consulting or move into the project management stream. I consciously took the decision to manage and drive projects.
What do you love most about the work? In general, there are two broad areas that need to be addressed by a project manager. The first area is “the known”—plans, schedules, estimations, reports—that have prescribed ways of doing them. The second area is “the unknown”—customer or partner behavior, organization and location culture, politics—that doesn’t have a defined recipe for management.In my experience, project success depends on how effectively the unknown is managed. I love shaping solutions by addressing the unknown.
What do you find most challenging or frustrating? Due to the geographical spread of expertise across the world, project teams operate globally and remotely. Great advancement in technology have enabled project teams to collaborate. However, even the best technologies are still not able to provide the effectiveness and efficiency attained by team members working out of a single location.
What's your proudest professional achievement? Last year, I was fortunate along with the team to [deliver] a project that was extremely complex technically, the first of its kind, with a high level of remote collaboration and resource challenges due to niche skill requirements.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? It is a quote that I refer quite often: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
How has ProjectManagement.com helped you in your work and career? PM.com has added a lot of value with its wide collection of webinars, templates, articles on various topics, and tools that help me perform my role. I also gain a lot by reading and participating in the community discussions and attending the [online] events.
What interests or hobbies do you have outside work? I am an avid reader. I also play tennis, badminton and cricket, and keep myself fit.
Favorite TV show, artist or movie? Quentin Tarantino movies.
Best vacation? Andaman and Nicobar Islands [in the Bay of Bengal].
Thank you Girish!
To connect with Girish, visit his ProjectManagement.com profile.