In our series, The Aha Moment, we chat with influencers in the PM & PPM space and get to know them better. We ask a bunch of questions, some biz related and some not so biz related, in order to understand what makes them tick and find their aha moment.
This month’s second feature is PMO expert, Kathleen Schwaber. Read on to discover her immense talents in the kitchen, and how change is a critical component for successful project work!
Q. What is your job title and in which industry are you working in?
A. I’m currently the manager of IT Strategy and Innovation with Nashville Electric Service, which is one of the 11th largest utilities in the U.S.
Q. What is something unique that most people don’t know about you?
A. It doesn’t matter what kind of food, but I love to cook. And I’m terrible at sharing the kitchen, so for my children who want to learn, I’m not a great candidate for teaching!
Q. What led you to this career?
A. In college I studied Criminal Justice and originally was headed into law enforcement. Hiring freezes at that time reset my path to the court system, where I landed a job as a court clerk in 2011. In 2014 the court undertook a major IT transformation project centered around replacing a mainframe case management system, which was owned and managed by the State, to a web-based COTS product that the court would own and manage itself. I took a role that would eventually lead me into the Business Analysis (BA) space. It was a perfect fit, and I haven’t looked back. These days I’m using what I know as a BA to lead a team focused on IT strategy development and execution, as well as investing in relationships with all business stakeholders.
Q. What is your biggest challenge in your profession? How do you overcome it?
A. In the BA space, I think my biggest challenge is a lack of understanding of what BAs can do or how they can offer benefit to a business. I spend a lot of time defining that work and speaking to what we can help accomplish or how we can support projects. Education is key, and finding ways to speak the language of your audience is really important. I try to leave my technical descriptions behind and use a lot of analogies to help influence understanding of BA work.
Q. If you had a magic wand, what’s the one thing you would change about Gantt?
A. To go from seeing the critical path drawn down the waterfall-type chart to being presented in a straight-line view, where it is easy to see all the dependent tasks on the critical path. Critical paths are the magic behind controlling project schedules. As a visual person, I love a chart or a table. Gantt charts are really great in laying out the long-term plan for a project, but I find myself wishing for a way to easily identify priorities and dependencies in that view. My magic wand would solve that issue somehow.
Q. Why should every organization have a PMO?
A. In my experience, centralized PM services have a couple key benefits. One is consistency – stakeholders who regularly interact in or with projects need consistency in expectations of service and delivery. A PMO can offer that consistency by way of standardized processes. Secondly, centralizing a PMO relieves the project management burden from stakeholders who have other “day jobs.” Projects fail in part to resources being over extended and having to manage special work along with their regular duties. Many people have the skillset to manage projects well but can’t do *everything* well at the same time. Passing project management to someone dedicated to that work will enable success.
Q. What’s the most difficult thing about managing stakeholder expectations?
A. Over promising because we think it makes people feel good. I find that saying “no” or “not yet” or “we will see what makes the most sense” is really important, and to do it early and consistently is critical. PMs and BAs are often service-oriented people, and that leads us to want to deliver satisfaction to our customers or consumers. But satisfaction doesn’t always mean saying “yes.” It requires evaluating a problem (and solution) wholistically and strategically to determine what the best outcome is. Sometimes the best outcome is “no.”
Q. What advice would you give to up-and-coming professionals like yourself?
A. Be a continuous learner. It’s easy to stick to what we are good at (a methodology, an elicitation tactic, etc.) but if we don’t afford ourselves opportunities to be uncomfortable and learn something new, we won’t get any better. Being stuck doesn’t help ourselves or our customers. Project work is centered around change, and we ask our stakeholders to come on the change journey with us. If we can’t face change ourselves, it becomes a hard thing to ask of others.
Q. If you were the host of a late night talk show, who would invite as your first guest?
A. This is going to be very cliche, but I’d have my husband on. One of my favorite things to do is talk to him – about everything. He’s really smart and analytical, and he challenges me to think differently. I most appreciate conversations where I’m learning or being asked to assess my own understanding, and he never disappoints.
Q. Which fictional place would you most like to live in?
A. It would have to be the set of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The colors, the décor. It makes me nostalgic for that period of time when life was simpler.
Q. If you had an unlimited supply of one thing what would it be?
A. New socks. There’s nothing quite as comfortable as a brand-new pair of socks. Once they get washed a few times I lose interest, which is probably why you won’t find me in them unless I’m also in athletic shoes.
Q. What three items would you choose if stranded on a desert island?
A. A cache of books to keep my wandering mind focused on something, sunscreen (because my Irish skin burns instantly) and some sort of salty snack.
Q. Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?
A. Perhaps Melissa Joan Hart. I grew up watching her in lots of things, and always wanted a bay window in my room like she had on Clarissa Explains it All. I like how she’s pretty low key but doesn’t waver from her values. I like to think the same could be said about me.
If you want to connect with Kathleen and gain key insights and expertise, look him up on LinkedIn. Thank you Ethan for hanging out with us and answering our questions!