For 22 years, Vincent Scarlata had a successful career as a business analyst at a San Francisco financial services firm. But when a sudden staff reduction meant that he also had to assume the responsibilities of a project manager, Scarlata realized that he would need in-depth training to take on both roles effectively.
"I wanted to learn the right way of doing things instead of just dealing with challenges as they came up, so I started taking classes at Extension," says Scarlata. "I liked that the classes were longer, go in depth and had different delivery options. You learn a good amount of detail that you can actually put into use right away at the office."
Scarlata took his first course in 2011, and by 2013 graduated with distinction in both the Project Management and Project Human Resource Management certificates. And since then, Scarlata's role at work has shifted completely to a senior business systems analyst and a technical project manager. "Prior to completing the certificates, I was doing purely business analyst work and some quality-control testing," he recalls. "Now the majority of my role is technical project management with probably a quarter of it being business analysis. My boss was all for continuing education because we wouldn't need to bring in a technical project manager. My colleagues were supportive; they pointed out ways to improve and do things differently. I'm definitely grateful for going through the program."
Scarlata recently sat down with us at our San Francisco campus to talk about his work three years after graduating.
The class is a quick bonding experience—you have to trust one another, because if someone fails at something, the whole team suffers.
How were you bringing coursework to life in your new role at work?
I took a risk management class, and at the time I was working on a large project—moving from one vendor to another—so I had to do a lot of risk mitigation. On the very first day, I was asking questions about how to use the risk mitigation strategy that was presented in the classroom, and I was able to apply what I learned right away at work.
The project management tool I use most is risk mitigation. Financial services is so highly regulated that we don't want to do things without proper oversight; we want to make sure we get buy-in from everyone and that we're following the regulatory rules. At the beginning of the project, I put a process in place to track and minimize risk factors by having action items/steps that the team came up with to follow if they came to fruition. I put a lot more time into risk mitigation when I run larger projects that take several months to complete, as opposed to projects that take three months or less, which are pretty straightforward.
Another thing I learned was to break projects into smaller tasks and to prioritize them effectively by taking into consideration risk factors. For example, I was working on my firm's digital wealth management/robo-advisor product with a very tight timeline. My team came up with an alternative way to break out the project into smaller deliverables that were attainable, given the requirements we knew at the time. We would complete one piece of the business requirements, then my development team would start on the analysis/design and then coding would begin. While that was happening, I would start on the subsequent requirements. It was an iterative process, and I am proud to have been part of a team that created such a useful approach that had made management's deadline.
The instructors have years of experience and are good at connecting the dots in a useful way.
You initially started with the Project Management certificate. Why add the Project Human Resource Management certificate?
I really liked learning about how teams interact with one another and how human dynamics can make or break a project team, as well as how important and critical human interaction is. On the subject of human factors, there's a course that goes over emotional drivers and how you can change those behaviors to benefit your work style; it also brought in some of the theories of emotional intelligence.
You've performed duties for both project management and business analysis. How do these two roles interplay with each other?
They definitely have different objectives but several of the same skills. The business analyst role is detail-centric, focused on gathering business requirements and quality control testing to make sure that product changes are completed correctly. Also, part of the BA role is identifying and tracking risks and actions to mitigate them. The project manager owns the project schedule/timeline, resource allocation and budget and ensures project objectives are met. Having done both roles, I really like the combination: I enjoy helping to build a stellar product and also owning the resource-management perspective.
I understand you're continuing your learning with Extension.
After completing the certificates, I passed the Project Management Institute (