The Benefits of Studying Project Management

No matter your field or career trajectory, this toolkit will make you shine

Black female professional looking at project management calendars on computer monitors

You wouldn’t think it, but even a trip to the grocery store is a project. This is instructor Anthony Minstein’s take on it:

“Almost everything we do in business-and personal life-is a project. Something as simple as going to the grocery store is a ‘project,’” he explains, breaking it down as such:

Planning: What meals need to be prepared?
Analysis: What groceries are needed?
Scheduling: When can we go?
Execution: Going to the store, filling our cart and paying.
Project close: Oh, no-we forgot to get mustard!

“We may not create formal project management deliverables, other than a shopping list,” Anthony continues, “but we follow the definition of a project: a specific start and end culminating with a unique product or service.”

You may not realize it, but you’re flexing project-management skills every day-both at work and in your personal life.

Getting a new product to market? Check! Project management.

Planning a family vacation? Check! Project management.

So why take a project management course if you’re already doing this? I asked five of our esteemed project management instructors this very question and their answers jibe along the same line: The hard and soft skills you learn in our project management courses can take you from great to stellar!

But first:

Let’s Meet Our Project Management Panelists

Fabio De Martino, PMP, Global Head Quality Strategy and Operations, Kite Pharma
His main responsibilities are identifying, leading and delivering key company projects and programs, and driving organizational effectiveness.

Helena Weiss-Duman, PMP, Deputy Director of External Relations and Marketing Communications at UC Berkeley
Helena has lectured at UC Berkeley Extension since 2007 and was named an Honored Instructor.

Evelyn Launius, M.B.A., Ph.D., PMP
Evelyn has more than 25 years of project management expertise leading strategic initiatives for both public and private sectors. In her role as a global project manager, she has utilized project methodologies that include Waterfall and Agile to support implementation of technology and business solutions in industries such as health care, government and energy.

Catherine Pinkas, PMP
Catherine has been a project management professional for more than 20 years, managing projects in a variety of industries, including finance, construction, information technology, hospital management, business development and events management in the public and private sectors.

Anthony Minstein, PMP, SSMBB
Anthony is Solutions Delivery Principal for Technology Advance Partners. He has more than 40 years as program and project manager for IT and commercial software companies. Anthony began instructing with us in 1994, and has held instructional positions at University of San Francisco and Cal State Dominguez Hills.

There is not a business today that cannot use some aspect of project management in a very fluid way. It becomes part of your leadership and management skill set.
—Catherine Pinkas

What is the value of having project management skills on your résumé no matter the industry or position?

Evelyn: I relate to this question because I was that student-albeit it many years ago. Throughout my career, I randomly took project management classes to further skills in planning and executing work. I soon recognized improvements in my interpersonal skills, such as listening, flexing, motivating and patience. Decades later, I became motivated to attain PMIⓇcertifications. Having project-management skills enables individuals to improve their personal and/or professional effectiveness.

Catherine: I believe that project management is integrated into all business processes. I learned very early on in my business career-moving through different industries-that I had to be extremely well organized in terms of what I was trying to accomplish in order to be productive in an organization. A great deal of my work has been based on my ability to structure what I was doing to make sure that I had the resources, the money and the time frame to be able to complete the work. A systematic way of being able to track a project to success was also very important. Even today, up to 70 percent of projects fail because they did not meet their goals. Learning project management gives you the language, tools and techniques to be able to plan and successfully recognize obstacles when they appear and then successfully work through them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a large or a small project-the same mindset applies to what needs to be done. There is not a business today that cannot use some aspect of project management in a very fluid way. It becomes part of your leadership and management skill set.

Fabio: Maybe 20 years ago, it was a nice-to-have skill set. But today, as a hiring manager, if I see that there is this type of skill set or even a certification on a résumé, it is going to jump to the top of the stack. Having the certificate or even a single course gives a common vocabulary that somebody can utilize right away in the workplace. No matter the level at an organization-entry-level, seasoned executive-everybody is going to talk about a project start and end date. Do we have a project charter-a common understanding of what we are working on? Do we have a timeline? Where do we see risk? This is what students realize during the Project Management course: “I always faced this problem with scheduling. And I see that there’s another course about scheduling.” I see students get excited about the next course to go deeper into a certain area. When they talk with their employer, or whomever approves their budget, about taking other courses, they say, “Hey, this is a great value-add for the company.” And I think this is great to match to employer’s eagerness to develop their people and our eagerness to share best practices in each course.

Helena: In any business, there will be stretch assignments that will need project-management skills. By learning these tools, you will have the confidence and ability to take on those projects, which can make you more valuable to your team. Simple things like learning how to do a scope statement keeps you organized. For a project, if you don’t know where to start, putting it into a framework such as a scope statement can bring order to chaos and allow everyone to move forward together more quickly.

Project management incorporates both hard and soft skills. How would someone finishing the introductory Project Management course apply both sets of skills to their work?

Fabio: We are living in a world where the two are blending together and becoming core skills. You need to be a people person but also negotiate time and resources through a timeline. Merging the two and working together to help you achieve your goals-that makes the team successful.

Catherine: A project manager is just the hub of the wheel. You’re working with people who need a system to communicate what they need in order to be effective. If a scope has to change, if scheduling is a problem, if it looks like something is going to cost more or you don’t have enough resources, people on the team have to be able to recognize that. And the job of the project manager is to make sure that all of those requirements are available. So it’s not the project manager really doing everything, but it’s a project manager working with a high-performing team; when they see an obstacle, they bring it to the table and we all work together on whatever is needed. Learning the skills to always communicate with the sponsor of the work, with your team, support staff, customers and suppliers who may be involved, as well as stakeholders-people who are not necessarily very friendly to a project or who will be impacted negatively if the project doesn’t go well. Project management helps you identify those groups so that you don’t miss people. And then you develop a communication plan and a strategy to be able to inform them about what is going on and what needs to be done. That collaboration makes for better quality. As instructors, we bring examples to the fore. When we introduce the idea of scope-identifying what work needs to be done-that’s universally applicable. The Project Management class starts to identify the key elements to success.

Helena: For example, stakeholder analysis is the practice of understanding the project from multiple perspectives, which is a great soft skill. Project management is 90-percent communication so it’s always great to obtain more comms skills, meeting management and follow-up, and keeping people accountable in an empathetic way. People will be so happy because they know that you won’t let things fall through the cracks. I love coworking with a good project manager because I can relax and know that someone else is going to keep us on track. Someone’s got your back, holding the center.

Not only is the workforce global, but so are projects. Employers now embrace and seek candidates having project-management skills.
—Evelyn Launius

Are we living and working in a project economy?

Evelyn: Absolutely! When I began my career, project managers were viewed as expendable-a cost-overhead position that was often cut during budget review. Fast-forward to the present. Not only is the workforce global, but so are projects. Employers now embrace and seek candidates having project-management skills. Review job postings, and you’ll find job descriptions seeking candidates with project-management skills.

Fabio: Definitely. What’s interesting, in the Project Management introductory course, people started to realize that there are some aspects of project management that can be applied to operations. I always provide this example of a grocery story-because I love to go to the grocery store! [Laughs] Opening a new store is a project: You need to do the construction, hire and train people, buy inventory and so on. That’s a project that has a start and end date. And the end date is when you cut the ribbon and you’re open. At that point, it becomes operations-the day-to-day maintenance. In BUS ADM X470, students start to realize the differentiation, but also that some tools-like risk management and scheduling-may also be applicable for operations. So we are living in a project-oriented world, where everything becomes a project and then shifts to become operations.

Catherine: The reason why I really love the way our certificate program is set up is because somebody may come out of the basic course, and say, “I’m working in pharma and we’ve got quality problems.” They can go right into the quality class. The classes are structured to choose the tools and techniques that they can learn more in depth for their profession and will be fabulously helpful to them in the future.

From student feedback, after they completed the intro course, the project that they were planning to kick off was much better than the previous one because they took that simple step in having a project charter and leveraging some of the templates.
—Fabio De Martino

So working in a project-driven world, how would students take project-management skills to increase their own productivity?

Catherine: They can take all of those project constraints and then identify all the things that they need to meet them, which will make them more productive. They will also have less risk involved because they’ll be able to see what actually needs to get done and provide that information in order to get the resources needed. So people who take BUS ADM X470 often say-and we have a lot of people who say this-”I’ve been working on projects for 10 to 15 years. This class just brings together all of what I’ve lived through, but by making mistakes!” I almost never see someone stop at that course. They realize how this depth of knowledge can support them.

Fabio: Having and sharing in advance an agenda for your meetings-simple as that. Students are starting to implement that right away. Also, operationally speaking, when people are in meetings and they need to evaluate some risk, some of the things that we talk about is the risk register. We provide our students with templates that they can utilize right away at their work. From student feedback, after they completed the intro course, the project that they were planning to kick off was much better than the previous one because they took that simple step in having a project charter and leveraging some of the templates.

Anthony: Project management skills aren’t just about creating schedules. The foundation of project management is approaching an objective in a logical way. For instance, what is a checklist and when and how should it be used? What resources (people and machinery) are needed to execute a work plan and deliver a solution? Who is affected by an assigned task and how should we best communicate with them? How do we ensure we have management support for our defined approach? How do we avoid getting torpedoed by “political infighting” above our heads? Simple activities require simple solutions. Complex activities demand more sophisticated solutions and management oversight. Our productivity is highly dependent on our recognizing the difference.

Helena: Scope statement, schedule, risk register, budget, roles and responsibilities matrix-these give you clarity of thought and the vocabulary to have nuanced approaches to the work. When you have these frameworks, you can more easily bring focus to move you forward more efficiently.

Employers appreciate and weigh more heavily toward applicants who have an orderly, methodical approach to executing their work.
—Anthony Minstein

How could someone advance their career because they have project-management skills?

Catherine: Those management skills lead all the way to leadership. I always tell my students that these are life skills. Whatever your job-if you need to have better control of financial systems, physical systems, human resources, customer relationships-that is all part of the knowledge base that you take with you. If you can do something on time, on budget and with the resources allocated, you will show up as a star. I’ve seen many people move into management because they’ve been highlighted as someone who is effective.

Fabio: It’s never too late or too early to get those skills. If you’re a seasoned and experienced executive, it helps to drive the dialogue. And because people follow the leader, if a leader starts to speak about a project charter, agenda, risk mitigation, people will also start to do so. I see project management becoming very strong in 2022. From a career perspective, if somebody is at a certain level or talking seriously about salary, having a project-management certification can definitely have a positive impact on the conversation with your manager. I recommend-no matter what stage of your career- take the Project Management intro course because you can see the lay of the land, and then you can pick and choose what subjects you are interested in, what you need to develop based on strengths and weaknesses.

Anthony: The elements of project management may be specific to delivering a unique solution; however, those elements are part of the overall management canon. Planning, budgeting, staffing, directing, leading, monitoring, communicating, assessing what is working and what isn’t, and taking appropriate corrective action are the actions of an effective project manager. They are also the actions required of the successful manager. Advancement may be based on many factors, but the foundational skills are those that we learn and apply within the project context.

Evelyn: Begin with the project-management basics: organization, planning and communication. Having these three skills provides an immediate return on investment. I believe that project-management knowledge is integrated internally into professional identity, thought and behavior. While you may opt to not be a career project manager, the skills will always be of use irrespective of job role. Soft skills enable you to be effective when working with people. Organization and planning skills support execution of work. Embedded in execution are the elements of accountability and delivery.

Helena: Project management gives you leadership and organizational skills so that you can articulate with others the direction in which to go. People will then follow you with confidence as you take on important initiatives. Compared to other team members, having these project-management skills will give you confidence in how to effectively move forward.

From the employer side, what’s the value in having employees who can flex project-management skills?

Anthony: In business, employers appreciate and weigh more heavily toward applicants who have an orderly, methodical approach to executing their work. Even within a strictly operational space, projects arise and employers are more apt to engage employees who are capable of flexible work assignments. In project management, we learn about organizing work activities, planning the resources necessary to execute those work activities, and the varied techniques to oversee and execute those work activities, regardless of industry or discipline.

Fabio: We’re living in interesting times because, at least in the biotech field, it’s a tough job market. The project-management skills will help to enhance the current staff. I had a discussion with my manager, and he said, “We need to educate our staff across the board and across the region about basic project-management skills.” For example, let’s say somebody sets up a meeting for 10 people and this meeting is not set up properly-doesn’t drive any action or things like that. And those 10 people are working at, let’s say, $50 an hour, we are wasting $500 of our company’s money. Multiply this across big companies; it definitely has an impact on the company. In terms of employee development, having staff with project-management skills helps the company improve or upskill their employees. The employees feel appreciated and will definitely help them retain talent.

Evelyn: PMI published a white paper on this topic: PMI: Value of Project Management. Organizations use project-management methodology to address organizational initiatives and challenges. Employees having project-management skills may find themselves assigned to a valued team that is tasked with supporting a project that is tied to organizational strategy.

Helena: When you use a project management approach-clarity on scope and knowing how to involve the important stakeholders at the beginning-you are on the right track, faster. You avoid confusion and rework because you’ve done the upfront work of getting everyone on the same page before investing time and resources on the wrong thing.

Compared to other team members, having these project-management skills will give you confidence in how to effectively move forward.
—Helena Weiss-Duman

What about applying project-management skills to personal lives?

Catherine: Oh, you can ask my children about that! [Laughs] From day one, I would say to them, “You have a science project, so let’s write down the things you need to do and then let’s write down how much time you think it will take you to do each one” so that we aren’t doing it the night before the science project is due. I used risk management when teaching them how to buy a car. If we buy this kind of car, what is its safety record? What are the issues that are related to this car? Is there a maintenance issue? And then compare the cars and evaluate what is the best one for the money we have. Project management is just the system to get where we want to go by making these assessments.

Evelyn: Again, the top-three basic project-management skills surface: planning, organization and communication. Irrespective of the home project, having these skills contribute to a successful outcome. Examples include planning a purchase, painting, remodeling, gardening and life decisions to name a few.

Fabio: Have you ever organized a birthday party, a wedding or a vacation? Well, that’s a project and you may not realize that. You do stakeholder analysis, budgeting, scoping and risk mitigation. Everybody is a project manager without even knowing it! However, only those who want to improve their project management skills will be able to go from amateur to pro.

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UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education branch of the University of California, Berkeley. We empower learners to meet educational and career goals.

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