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Ask the Experts: Project Management

By: Holly Benedetto12.02.21
Ask the Experts Project

In this series, we take a look at the inner workings of the Credit Union and meet some of the champions who help our members in every facet of their financial lives. This month, we met up with expert Fawn Martin, whose team organizes, tracks, and structures American Heritage's projects, both big and small.


Fawn Martin
Vice President of Project Management
Has been with American Heritage since July 2017

Fawn started her career in the mortgage industry, where she served over 10 years in multiple roles, including mortgage processor, secondary marketing analyst, and business analyst in PMO. It was during this time that she learned about Project Management, which led her to explore a career in that field. Fawn has also worked in the human resources industry and the financial industry.


Fawn has her MBA and is certified in the field of Project Management, obtaining her PMP certification from Project Management Institutes. At American Heritage, Fawn oversees the project management department. Her project management philosophy is "Teamwork makes the dream work."


How has the pandemic and remote work influenced the overall scope of large-scale projects?

The pandemic opened doors, showing that we can successfully complete a larger scale project, such as our recent merger, with some associates working remotely. Hybrid models, virtual meetings, and other social distancing initiatives are a culture change for some. Though we are used to all being in the same room when collaborating, technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams proved that we can still complete projects and tasks.



How do you adapt the different needs of the departments you collaborate with?

The first goal is to learn to adapt to the individuals, then follow up with the departments' needs. It's important to understand the people because departments are made of the people. Another important skill is learning how to manage up, which comes with experience. 



Where do you see yourself and your team in the next few years?

Ideally, the Project Management Department will be the central location for all the projects managed through the credit union, using a standardized structure in how projects are managed. Fawn also sees the team as being part of the shift that introduces change in the organization, such as managing projects remotely and improved communication.

With Fawn's arrival came the responsibility of showing the importance of actions' superiority to words. She performed tasks like making sure everyone was on the same page, performing follow-ups, and creating a central place for information — the organization of what is where. It is not the job of project management to know all the answers, but rather to know who to go to get the answers. 



How has American Heritage's project management structure changed since you first started?

Prior to Fawn, there was no specialized project management department at the Credit Union. Things were done in silos, not appropriately prioritized, and lacked thorough communication. Fawn believes she has made a good impact in the original goal of creating a formalized project management department, which was to have a centralized place for all projects, communication of what is being done, and to create structure in how projects are managed. 

There is still work to be done, and as the culture continues to evolve, the completion of these goals will be achieved.



What made you want to work in project management?

Fawn did not choose her path, it chose her. It naturally fell into place based on some of her stronger skills sets, such as communication, organizational skills, time management and people skills. After trying different positions, she started to research project management and found that the most critical skills were her strengths. 


Which skills do you think are most important for project management?

Skills that are most important for those serving in a project management role include communication, organization, time management, leadership, inclusive, problem solving, adaptability, and critical thinking. 

Technical skills involve knowing the tools of the organization. Successful tool selection is not just done by project management but done with multiple departments so that everyone can contribute, creating team buy-in.



Why do organizations need someone whose role is specifically project management?

Organizations need people in project management to help support both long- and short-term goals and efforts towards overall growth. While all departments and employees have daily objectives and responsibilities, it is helpful to have a group dedicated to supporting the organizational and logistical needs that are inherent with various large-scale projects.

Whether it involves facilitating communication, updating timelines, tracking information, or more, each of these contributions helps to support the progression of different departmental and organizational goals.

This also ensures organizations develop and enforce standards across the board, which leads to an improvement in project management expertise and uniformity across a project team.


How do your project management skills apply to everyday projects?

Project management skills are transferable across industries. The business knowledge gained is specific to an industry, but not the specific skill sets. Fawn’s project management skills have transferred between the various industries she has worked in.
"Your life is a project: everything you do throughout the day is a task."


What is the most important thing a project manager can do to keep a project on track?

Communicate: make sure that everyone is on the same page. Avoid sidebar decisions not shared with the entire team for awareness. Also, avoid several email exchanges on the same subject. Fawn was taught that if there are more than three email exchanges on the same topic, get those parties together to discuss. It can be as quick as a five-minute call followed-up with an email recap. 

It’s okay to make a decision, but make sure you communicate the decision to the whole team. Everyone should know what happened and what the results were. Don’t operate in silos because it impacts others. Confusion is eliminated when there is communication.  



What are the different types of obstacles that can interrupt a project?

  • Assumptions rather than facts
  • Making decisions on behalf of another department; there is generally a lack of awareness of the inside workings of that department
  • Too many competing priorities that project participants are working on
  • Project priorities change
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Too many people taking lead


Where do you learn about new trends in project management? What have you already seen?

Fawn and her team are members of the Project Management Institute's global and local chapter, a great resource to learn about various project management trends. Other good resources include LinkedIn, YouTube, Coursera, and Udemy for new and updated trainings.  

A continuing trend project managers are seeing is a hybrid approach of agile (several short delivery cycles) and waterfall (a longer linear rollout) methodologies for managing their projects. This blend allows for the end-client to continuously be engaged while keeping the overall larger project vision in mind.
"Small, steady wins."



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