What brought you to Berkeley Lab?
Even when I was at PPPL, I always admired Berkeley Lab from a capabilities perspective. The Lab has a really strong presence and reputation throughout the DOE complex. So, when the opportunity came up to work in the Project Management Office (PMO) at Berkeley Lab, supporting a really wide variety of different projects, it was something I was really excited about and just seemed like the logical next step in my career.
Can you tell me a little bit about your career and how you got into project management for larger scale projects?
I was actually an English major in college. After college I bounced around a few different office jobs, but none of them really stuck until I eventually settled into an early career Project Controls position as a Project Scheduler for the ITER project in the South of France. Through that entry-level scheduling position, I was really able to learn about the nuances of projects and project management at the ground floor level. I was also able to develop my people skills, communication skills, and relationship-building skills to turn that Project Controls career into a larger Project Management career. One key skill I learned in my various Project Controls positions was how to “manage sideways”: leading individuals and project team members without having any authority over them. I think this has prepared me well for my role in the LBNL PMO and has become something I’m quite passionate about.
That said, if you had told me 15-20 years ago that this would be my passion I probably would not have believed you. But, to be able to contribute to these really forward-thinking, amazing science projects in some way has been really fun and really fulfilling. I love working with DOE projects because, at a really basic level, they are just really cool! I know that sounds a bit hokey, but it’s not lost on me how lucky I am to have this unique opportunity to contribute to these really forward-thinking science projects that have the real potential to make this world a better place. It’s exciting, invigorating, and rewarding to know we’re working on projects with the potential for such a positive impact on the nation and the world! I feel really lucky and am extremely proud to work at LBNL and the DOE Office of Science.
What is the role of a Project Management Office?
Emil: The role of a Project Management Office is to provide assurance and assistance to the lab’s portfolio mission critical projects. This means we provide assurance up the chain to Lab leadership that projects are performing and executing well, and we provide assistance sideways to the actual projects when appropriate. The two main things most people at the lab probably know that the PMO does is (a) facilitate our Project Management Advisory Board (PMAB) meetings and (b) facilitate Director’s Reviews to help our DOE Order 413.3B projects prepare for Independent Project Reviews (IPRs). But the PMO also has an important assistance function and we can help projects with things like cost estimate vettings, Basis of Estimate (BOE) reviews, CAM Drill Down practices, and more.
As of today, the PMO is a really small office. It's just me, Piper Kujac, Pat Jung, and another Deputy that I'm in the process of hiring. Since we’re so small, we need to be nimble and support each other to be effective. But, I personally feel really lucky to work with Piper and Pat who are both highly engaged and committed individuals who are doing their absolute best to support the lab and our projects. It’s really a pleasure to work with both of them.
One challenge we face is that there can be a sort of natural tension between our assurance function and our assistance function, but we strive to strike the right balance and are in a semi-constant state of self-assessment, always considering how we can do things better. One thing I’d like to make clear to everyone at the lab is that they should feel empowered to get in touch with any of us in the PMO by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if we are not the appropriate party to help with your particular problem, we can definitely guide you in the right direction. Ultimately, we are committed to being the best value-add partner we can be, and a goal I have as the new LPMO is to make sure that the PMO’s roles and responsibilities are really well understood across the lab so we can be as effective as possible.