The Project Manager in Me

Graduate J.P. Ouellette has been doing project management all along—he just didn't know it

Account executive at KVO Advertising & Public Relations (Portland, Ore.), 1993–1996

Freelance account executive, Merlin Freelancers Inc. (San Francisco Bay Area), 1996–1999

Producer, Web Design and Implementation, Studio Verso (San Francisco), 1999 Claim to fame: Part of team that built Office Depot’s first e-commerce platform

Dot-com bust, 2000

President of J.P.O. Enterprises, LLC (Vashon Island, Wash.), 2001–2011 Licensed, bonded and insured as general contractor for custom residential remodels

Transition to solar energy by completing a certificate in photovoltaic design from Shoreline University, 2010

Moved back to the Bay Area to get his foot in the door in the solar field, 2011

Only positions available: sales or electrical engineering. Desire increased to move into something more project management related

UC Berkeley Extension Certificate Program in Project Management, 2013-2014

Project manager, CBRE, 2014-2016

Moved back to the Pacific Northwest

Owner of project management consulting firm

 

 

From the Beginning

Photo of J.P. Ouellette in Seattle area
J.P. Ouellette is back in his native Seattle area, running his own project management consultancy
While J.P. Ouellette’s career path up until coming to UC Berkeley Extension’s project management certificate may seem a bit “nonlinear,” each position required him to manage a team to complete a project that was:

1. On scope.

2. On schedule.

3. On budget.

The three pillars of successful project managers.

“It dawned on me that when I went down the list of my past experiences,” Ouellette recalls, “there was a pattern of always managing a team of people to get something done according to a budget and a schedule. I knew I should take a look at project management as a career.”

Hearing about our Certificate Program in Project Management, Ouellette attended an information session to see what this program was all about. Seeing other professionals in a similar career-path quandary or those who were current project managers looking to refine their skills, Ouellette thought, “This is the right thing for me to do. Project management is a whole field unto itself that you can specialize in.”

It’s been a little more than two years since Ouellette finished the certificate and we recently caught up with him to find out how he’s wearing his new project management title.

Project management is a whole field unto itself that you can specialize in.

You brought a lot of project management–type experience to each of your classes. How did this complement what you learned in class?

Since I had been working as a “project manager” for some time, I found I was already familiar with many of the concepts being taught, but just didn’t know they had names. I remember taking the introductory course, listening to the instructor describe something, and thinking, “Oh, that’s what they call that.” Topics like risk analysis, scheduling and budget forecasting, for which it turns out there are formal techniques and methodologies that can be applied. As I progressed through the program, I continued to notice many connections between the concepts I was learning and things I had already been doing all along in my career.

For example, critical path analysis involves putting together a sequence of project activities based on dependencies and time durations, then determining the longest path through a project schedule based on this information. I had always intuitively known how to do that. But what I didn’t know was that I had actually been performing a key project scheduling activity called “critical path analysis.” So when I learned this concept, it was an “a-ha” moment for me.

You brought a lot of your experience to the class and the instructors brought their experience to the table. What was that dynamic like?

The instructors were great. These are people who have years of experience working in the field as project managers and can teach the subject with a more real-world, nitty-gritty, life-on-the-job perspective. I thought this was particularly valuable because this program is geared toward working professionals and the instructors can relate their subjects to real-life experiences that students are dealing with or have dealt with in their careers.

 

The instructors can relate their subjects to real-life experiences.

You graduated with distinction in 2014. What came next?

I went to work as a project manager for CBRE—the world’s largest commercial real estate company—working on the Google account. I managed capital real estate development and construction projects in Google’s home corporate territory. One of the higher-profile projects I worked on was YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California. Most of the projects I was responsible for were office tenant improvement–related projects, though I did work on a couple of laboratories, which were really interesting. It was super-fast-paced, super-dynamic work. Silicon Valley real estate development for Google is pretty high-stress, high-stakes business. Very challenging, but also very rewarding.

A lot of what I learned in the certificate program prepared me for that.

How so?

One example would be effective stakeholder management. Google projects have a lot of stakeholders. It’s pretty well known that the company provides numerous perks for their employees: massage rooms, fitness facilities, building cafes and micro-kitchens. Designing and constructing all of these specialty spaces within a particular building requires many different consultants and subject matter experts, which dramatically increases the number of project stakeholders. One of the things that I learned in the program was how to effectively manage stakeholders by performing stakeholder analysis, which involves organizing your stakeholders into different categories as far as the communication that needs to happen.

 

One of the things I learned in the program was how to effectively manage stakeholders.

I used a tool called a RACI chart to classify stakeholders in terms of those that need to be informed or consulted, or those who need to give absolute approval. That tool was really helpful with all of those stakeholders—which included everyone who was using the building and everyone in-between. It helped me identify, organize and prioritize all of those different people whose input was essential for the project to be successful. That came directly out of my program experience.

You’re back to the Pacific Northwest, working as a project management consultant. How is this business going?

I have a friend who has a startup business in solar thermal hot water and he’s developing a new technology and using grant money to fund that effort. He’s hired me to help him do the documentation to apply for grants; a lot of the grants require that you have a detailed project timeline, building in costs and schedules, and having a project manager named to the team.

CBRE recently reached out to me and asked if I was interested in project management opportunities.

 

Also, CBRE recently reached out to me and asked if I was interested in project management opportunities with the company now that I’m living here in the Pacific Northwest. CBRE has a global footprint and other big accounts in Washington state like Amazon, Starbucks and other big corporate names. Completing the program and then working on the Google account for a couple of years has been great for my resume. For CBRE to come back to me, and say “Hey, we’re not going to let you get away” is really a great compliment.