Ann spoke with us about her path to project management, what makes an MS in Project Management unique, and how investing in her education has helped her to advance her career.
How did you embark on a career in project management?
I truly believe that project management is a career you fall into, rather than plan to pursue. Moving from industry to industry — from government, to healthcare, to design and development, manufacturing, and now physical retail launches — I discovered that my strongest transferrable skills include high emotional intelligence, negotiation, communication, documentation, and planning amongst others. All of which are skills associated with the project management role.
Why are you passionate about project management?
I fell in love with the project management role because it is challenging, keeps me on my toes, varies from project to project, and allows for interaction with diverse people. I also see longevity in this profession because it continues to evolve and transform as the need for the role shifts, becoming an integral piece of project execution no matter the industry.
Do you see remote work changing the way a project manager operates?
Many companies are realizing the impact a project manager can make while businesses are running remotely. This new normal means project managers must find creative ways to connect with their project team members, whether it’s through group chats, video calls, or virtual meetings. We must learn how to influence and drive utilizing the tools that are available to us. And we still have to remember the human element, motivating and driving project teams to accomplish project work even if we cannot simply walk up to them and have hallway conversations like we used to.
Tell us about your experience as an Ambassador for the MS in Project Management program.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience as an Ambassador as I have met many diverse potential students who are pondering the same questions that I did before I entered the program. I have met potential students who have no experience in project management but want to pursue the degree to start a career in project management. I also have met folks who are just looking to make a dramatic shift that moves along with the goals of their company. It’s enlightening to hear that the candidate pool continues to grow because that means the interest in this industry is growing as well.
You have a PMP certification. What are the differences between a PMP and Master’s degree in Project Management?
It was important for me to obtain both the Master of Science in Project Management (MSPM) degree and the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification. The biggest difference I see is that the PMP® primarily focuses on the details within the PMI PMBOK® (Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge). It focuses on the individual knowledge areas, the various inputs and outputs, and is quite rigid.
However, USC’s MSPM program covers tactics and strategies for how to infuse the knowledge areas into real-life application. For example, case study reviews are common amongst the USC courses, which is great because you dive into real projects to understand their successes and failures. In turn, you learn how other project managers have handled projects and how to apply those lessons to your job. The MSPM is becoming more recognized by recruiters and to say you have a Master’s degree is always highly regarded.
How has the MS in Project Management program advanced your career?
My effectiveness as a PM grew stronger as a result of the program. I was given the opportunity to base my capstone project on a real issue my company was facing, which was how to integrate the various facets of our brand blueprint. I was able to apply my learnings and build skills in program management, connecting the brand blueprint to the organization’s 3 to 5-year goals. I built a full project management plan consisting of a charter, communication strategy, risk plan, stakeholder analysis, quality plan, and schedule.
The organization benefited through a new process for how to manage brands at a program level. Individual projects were tracked and unified into a larger program management schedule. This broke down the silos that all of the areas were operating in, thus affording a more streamlined project/program management process which ensured major milestones and deliverables were met. In fact, it is what catapulted me into my current position at Amazon, moving from a Senior Project Manager at Hasbro to a Senior Launch Program Manager at Amazon.
What advice do you have for someone who is considering pursuing a Master’s program?
Making the decision to pursue any Master’s program can be daunting. Both to those working full-time who have not been in a classroom for years and to those who are just out of college with no project management experience, I say ask yourself this question – “Why do I want this?” If your answer is anywhere along the lines of “This is an investment in myself and the future of my family” then I say it’s a leap of faith worth taking. I struggled with the idea, too. Thoughts of “How can I afford this?” and “When will I find the time to study?” made me nervous about the commitment a Master’s program requires.
Ultimately, I decided to gamble on myself and invest in the degree. Call it luck, circumstance, or the power of higher education, but I have already found the degree paying off for me for the long-term. I have advanced to a new position in my career and found part-time teaching and mentoring opportunities.
The Project Management Professional (PMP) is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
Learn more about the MS in Project Management Program.