Faculty Spotlight: Project Manager John Jones Shares Why You Should Never Stop Learning

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John Jones Jr.

Photo: John Jones Jr.

All jobs have their perks. For John Jones, his decades-long career in project management recently took him to a leadership conference in Hawaii, where he was a speaker.

“I gave a talk on leadership and using your people skills in project management,” Jones said. “I just love sharing. I don’t think we can ever stop learning.”

Jones is now turning his expertise toward USC Bovard College where he will be teaching Principles of Project Management, and Requirements Elicitation and Business Analysis for the MS in Project Management program.

Jones has spent the majority of his career in IT-based project management. He is currently based in the northern California city of Belmont, where he works as the city’s IT director, managing the infrastructure for the city’s hardware, software and networking environment.

“It’s a small town here and so folks have to wear many hats,” Jones said about the city of approximately 27,000 people. “As the director, one of the hats I wear is to put in the infrastructure around project management.”

“They really had very little when I came on board, in the form of repeatable, stable processes and templates and designs for project management,” he said. “People did projects but everybody did their own thing to achieve the goals that they need for their specific project, not really thinking about the bigger picture of being able to repeat something, make it more consistent.”

Jones got to work, supervising not only the city’s technology infrastructure, but working as an IT project manager for the Departments of Public Works, Public Safety and the city’s administration.

In his spare time, the self-described “Army brat” who spent most of his childhood in Germany, can be found working outside in his garden or walking the family’s two Pomeranians.

Jones spoke with USC Bovard College about why project management is critical to the IT industry and how a master’s degree will make any up-and-coming project manager stand out to prospective employers.

How did you get into project management?

I was working for a county, a local government here in California, as a network engineer, slowly working from entry level all the way up to designing the networks. Once you are a senior advisor, a network engineer, you’re also responsible for all these processes. That started me on the track [to project management] and then I transferred over to a social services agency where I was an IT project manager/supervisor so that became my full time job in project management. I started getting involved in different types of projects, not just networking — application development and business intelligence, data center redesigns and servers, anything related to IT.

What do you enjoy about IT project management?

I like the variety. There’s business intelligence, there’s hardware refresh projects, there’s application development. We’re implementing a security access control system right now and also an asset management system migration.

That’s what I love about project management, there’s always something different. Generally, you’re managing more than one project. The positions I’ve had allow me to do that. To have multiple projects keeps me … I don’t want to say entertained, (laughs) keeps me busy and keeps my mind active.

How have you seen project management grow and expand over the past 20 years?

I see a lot more people wanting to standardize and to have different types of tools available. It used to be that companies said, ‘Here do this thing,’ and they didn’t really call it a project. So putting structure around it lends itself to being able to manage all those resources, whether it’s people, financial, hardware assets, much better.

I’ve seen people really embrace the idea that, I now have a process and I have some tools and templates that allow me to be able to do that. I can see my return on investment. I can see where the tipping point is for me to maybe pull the plug on something.

Before, it was just part of operations. Many places have PMOs now, project management offices. I’ve set a couple of those up. So people can see the value of being able to identify what you need, reach what you need and know when you’re there. Then move it to operations.

What are the trends in project management, especially as the field has experienced exponential growth in the last several years?

Last year, D.C. passed a bill that mandates that the government specifically follow prescribed guidelines. I think it is about not just being fiscally responsible, but also being able to achieve the goals they’ve set forth in a timely manner within the allocated budget.

Now that it’s recognized at that level and they are starting to pass laws around it, that’s a real big win for project management in general, but it’s also a real big win for the public because now we’re really held accountable. We have to follow these specific guidelines that have been designed by professionals and report out on every project.

What are the benefits of a master’s degree in project management both for employees and their employers?

The employee, I think, is more well-rounded. The more you learn about your profession, the more you will be equipped to go out and do what your desire is, which is to be a project manager or program manager or portfolio manager. Getting this degree will put them in a much better position with the knowledge that they can go in and be successful.

From an employer’s perspective, I think the benefit is you know they have been educated in a way that they can come in and hit the ground running. There’s always that hands on [component], of course, that needs to be coupled with education. When you see a master’s in project management as an employer, I’m going to put them to the top of the list because I know they’ve gone through the rigorous training, research and education to achieve that degree.

What makes you excited to teach the next generation at USC Bovard College?

It is my passion. I want to share with them what I know in my 20 years of doing this and how I have been successful, and why I made it to where I have and they can too.

I’m also excited to hear what is going on out there in their respective fields and areas. That’s one of the things I like about speaking and teaching.

Again, I’m IT-based, so that’s really where my focus is, so it’s interesting to see what other folks are doing in IT, but it’s also interesting to see what else is going on out there whether it’s retail or manufacturing or construction — the different tactics that people are employing that might be able to relate to IT.

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