In This Episode:
In this episode, I interviewed Shawn Kelly, a construction project manager assistant director from Charlotte, North Carolina, that works in the education sector.
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Walt Sparling, Shawn Kelly
Welcome to the PM-Mastery podcast. This podcast is all about helping you master your project management skills by sharing tips, tricks, tools and training to get you to the next level while sharing the stories of other project managers on their journey in project management. And now here's your host Walt Sparling.
Walt Sparling 00:35
Welcome to episode number three. And today we are interviewing Sean Kelly, project manager, and assistant director. But I'm gonna let you, Sean, tell me more about that. So let's start out with Where are you from?
Walt Sparling 00:51
Is it just you? is there more of you, you have a family?
Shawn Kelly 00:51
I'm originally from Michigan. And I moved down to Charlotte, North Carolina about 10 years ago, during the graduated in the recession, and Michigan's economy wasn't doing as great back then. And there's a little bit more opportunity down here in North Carolina and, and so I started chasing that opportunity and haven't looked back since. So that's, that's, how I got down here.
Shawn Kelly 01:19
I'm actually I'm a father of three boys. I got two twin three-year-olds and a newborn baby. And so my home life keeps me pretty busy. In my spare time, I enjoy the winters going down-hill Skying and trying to get outside whenever I can the rest of the year. But life with my sons keeps me pretty busy between that work these days.
Walt Sparling 01:45
I'll bet so now do you ski in North Carolina? Or do you go elsewhere?
Shawn Kelly 01:49
Yeah, yeah, we have a few little mountains here in the wintertime that get some snow. And then also, you know when I can travel out west and, and back home to Michigan every now and then. So we get around when we can.
Walt Sparling 02:03
I've always said I like to live in North Carolina. But every time I've ever visited it's always been during a summer break. And so I only get to see the kind of nice weather.
Shawn Kelly 02:13
Yeah, I give you a plug for Charlotte, you know, it's a, it's got in the center of the state. So you're about two hours from the mountains and about three, three and a half hours from the beach. And so you get a moderate climate most of the year other than the summers, they're pretty warm. And it's a great city and a lot of beautiful scenery and a pretty short driving distance. So it's a great place to live. Cool. I've been there one time to Charlotte, actually, a client has that's their headquarters. So maybe I'll get up there again, if I do I have to look. Yep. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Let me show you around. So tell me what it is you do. What's your title, job description as much as you can tell us about your kind of day today. So I am currently the assistant director of infrastructure at UNC Charlotte, which is a college campus here in Charlotte, North Carolina, we are the third-largest campus community in the UNC system. So in the state, the only colleges that are bigger than we are in the state system would be UNC Chapel Hill, which everybody is familiar with. And NC State. Those are both state schools as well. But we are the up and comer fast-growing University in North Carolina fastest-growing University in North Carolina. And we've enjoyed some, you know in we've enjoyed a lot of increases in student enrollment and growth year over the last 10 to 15 years. How does that affect my job from a campus perspective, we've seen a lot of construction over the last 10 to 15 years. And I've been with the University for about five. And we are now currently entering into more of a slowdown and big capital construction projects and focus more on our repair and renovation and kind of maintenance of our existing infrastructure. So we built so fast and so, so furiously, to keep up with the demand that we didn't have a lot of time to put in place some of the preventative maintenance measures and take the time to kind of care for the older buildings that they need. So this is a great time and exciting time for us to kind of refocus in on kind of the repair and renovation side of thing and taking all these great structures that we built and, and you know, making sure they stay that way for years to come. My role. I lead a team including myself and three other project managers, and we handle all of the civil exterior improvements on campus as well as a lot of the heavy utility, mechanical, electrical plumbing projects and and
Shawn Kelly 05:00
building envelope projects. So pretty much everything outside and anything to do with utilities and infrastructure that feed buildings. So high voltage power lines, transformers, generators, chillers, or roof leaks, doors, leaking foundations on buildings, roadways, landscape, exterior lighting, all those types of things, the job is interesting, the job is always you're always learning something new. And the projects are, are always different, even when you think they're going to be the same. And you know, we handle projects from $1 amount anywhere from thousand dollars in a small and formal project, helping some operations team all the way up to the 10s of millions of dollars of projects, it just depends on the need. So it's a little different every day, and it keeps me on my toes and keeps me growing as a professional.
Walt Sparling 05:51
Awesome. It's interesting because I just interviewed Brooks, who you are very familiar with. And he's the one that gave me your name. And he also works on a college campus. But he's in Texas, just so everybody out there. We're not only in to talk to PMS from colleges, but just so happens we have two in a row. It's interesting, and he's dealt with the same kind of stuff you do the older buildings and newer buildings maintenance, MEP the whole deal.
Shawn Kelly 06:17
Yeah, it's, you know, college campuses, much like Yeah, we got Brooks and I both belong to an association called COA, which is construction Owners Association of America. And you know, we have a lot of different industries that are plugged into that group, people from airports, the federal government, academic institutions, hospitals, healthcare systems, those types of things Netflix's has come for a while, you get a diversity of these companies, these owner companies, and but the one common thing that you find, whether it's an academic project manager you're talking to, or project manager at Netflix, is that we all have very similar problems. We're all dealing with very, very similar types of situations, tight budgets, or high expectations, or, you know, getting contractors or engineers and architects to deliver what you need on time and make sure your contracts are right. You know, name, your name, your poison, we all kind of find common ground in what we do as owner representatives, and project managers. Good deal.
Walt Sparling 07:21
All right, we kind of know what you do, and where you work. Now, as far as you got into this somehow, either through education or interest. So why is it that you do what you do?
Shawn Kelly 07:33
Well, I do what I do, I kind of talked about a little bit earlier, which is, you know, I love to be challenged, I love to learn new things, I love to continue to push myself and grow in my profession. And I really enjoy delivering a tangible product that has an impact on people's lives. In my case, you know, the buildings and the infrastructure we work on provides a great place for people to learn and live and enjoy. And I get a lot of gratification out of that I got into this role in kind of a strange way I graduated with a landscape architecture degree. And like I said, I moved down here about 10 years ago into Charlotte and started working for a residential design-build company. And at a young age when I was just hungry for any kind of work. So I got a lot of management experience, helping build a small business early on in my career. We took the company from a couple hundred thousand dollars a year and three employees to about 50 employees and $5 million a year and about 10, six years, six years we did that. So at a very young age, I got a lot of experience managing people and dealing with issues that most people don't have the fortune to, to get exposed to until later on in their careers, especially if you go to work for a large architecture engineering firm, those types of things. A lot of times you start out as a CAD jockey and wired from the ground up and then you know, you get get to one of the management lessons later on in your career in your mid to late 30s and 40s. And so I had the benefit of learning some of those, those management leadership techniques early on in my career. So yes,
Walt Sparling 09:15
you just described me
Walt Sparling 09:18
that's how I started as a CAD jockey.
Shawn Kelly 09:21
Yeah. And, and so it was a different experience. I learned how to build things from being in the field and learn how to manage guys with the shovel and, and you know, in getting the dirt got to figure things out instead of being in a computer in front of a computer reading a book telling me how to do it was a little different, a little different experience. So we moved from the private sector and got a job as a ground supervisor in our on our operations team at our campus and I managed about 16 guys and we got to about a 400-acre campus and I managed the Corps 9090 to 100 acres of campus that had to be It was the most visible part of campus. I did that for about two years until a project management position opened up. And I was able to do move into a role that fit my skill set a little bit better. I missed building things I loved I loved managing guys in the maintenance and the day to day improvement of campus, but I missed building projects. But it gave me another feather in my cap, it gave me another seeing that operational side of a larger company. And a larger facilities operation really gave me a unique experience that a lot of RPMs that I was going to work with, in our facilities group hadn't had either, I had a leadership experience from my first job and management, and then I got operational experience as a ground supervisor. And both of those served me very well in my project management role. And then I went down to managing just myself and running smaller informal civil projects. And then just recently, over the last year, a position opened up for our assistant director of infrastructure. And I was fortunate enough to to get that promotion and and so now I've learned a whole new set of challenges and taken out a whole new set of challenges and issues and the skills I'm learning now are just building on the foundation I've put forth over the last 10 years of my career,
Walt Sparling 11:22
a lot of hands-on experience learning that way, it sounds like it's helped you grow in your career. Also, where you started is not where you are. Things happen over a career things change. Now moving forward, obviously this new position, learning some new things there. How else do you stay on top of keeping up with the industry or with just general education and doing project management or project leadership?
Shawn Kelly 11:51
there, there are a couple of different things I would say. The first is, is to really network, it's to talk with your peers, we're at where you work, to talk with the consultants or the people that you work with on a day to day basis, your contractors, your subcontractors, your, your consultants that you bring in all these people have different perspectives on what you do. And they also have different contacts and connections. And you never know, the one person you meet today could give you your dream job or lead you to your dream job tomorrow. So don't discount your network, stand in touch with people from college, school, your professors, and never meet a stranger, you know, always introduce yourself and try and try and put yourself out there. Because you never know the information people have and that are willing to share with you and you never know that next person you're gonna meet that could, you know, take your life in a completely different direction. That's the first thing. The second thing I would say is that the construction Owners Association COA has been a huge part of my growth in project management. As I said, I was not I went to school to be a landscape architect, and landscape architecture school, they don't really teach you as much about project management, and contracts and schedules and budgets and those types of things. You focus more on design and in moving into a firm environment. So those are skills that I was weak at moving into my project manager, my first project management position, and needed to have more education on the lingo. And in just feel more confident when I walked into the room that I knew what people were talking about, I would say, you know, coal was a big, big help with that. And APA as well, which is also a, it's an I always butcher what APA actually stands for. But if you Google it, it'll come up. And what it is, is it's an owner Association for higher ed facilities and facilities professionals and Mako is focused more on the owner and project manager side app does focus more on overall facilities, staff, so your bs staff, your housekeeping staff, and your facility staff, and then also your project managers and kind of how everybody works together in one movement to accomplish your, you know, manager facilities, overall facilities. So that's another great resource in my career that's helped me get to where I am. And then I would also say just pushing myself to take on new projects. You know, I'm very comfortable laying side concrete sidewalk or paver walkways. But I asked to do an interior project, you know, I asked to take into an office renovation, or add order carpet, lighting and paint walls and I spend most of my career working outside. By doing those things. You not only learn new skills, but you also learn different perspectives what other people on your team go through on a daily basis and you develop a better respect for them and you also learn how to talk to them a little bit better and you were not asked better questions on the stuff you do all the time. Because you spent a lot of time you learn a little bit about something that, you know, you're going to pick up and be able to help somebody else out with. So I think asking for stretch projects, and, you know, stretch goals for setting stretch goals for yourself, and always be being open to new opportunities is a great way. Also to develop your, your skills, you don't always need to have a great mentor belongs to a great organization. You know, sometimes just making use of the people and opportunities that are around, can really help you grow, growing and stay on top of new skill sets.
Walt Sparling 15:37
Okay, definitely some organizations out there that can be helpful in growth and education, I'm going to add those into the show notes. And then networking sounded like a really big one, not only new but old connections, keeping them going, I can say that the job I'm in now was from someone I've known for 15 years, I actually hired her as an assistant project manager A long time ago. And over the years, we ended up at each other's companies. And then finally, this position opened up where she was at, and she sent, she asked me to send my resume in and now she's on my team. And again, after all these years, so it's it was because of that connection that I got the job for sure.
Shawn Kelly 16:21
And that's how it goes most of the time. It's it really is true, what they say it's more about who you know than what you know, and you got to know something. But you got to know people do a lot
Walt Sparling 16:33
of new stuff going on. Now you're taking on stretch projects, which is cool. What about challenges, which right now, I know, everybody's got the whole COVID-19 thing going on, in some form. But what would you say your biggest challenges are,
Shawn Kelly 16:50
I think, find enough time in the day. That's one of my biggest challenges. Right now, I'm the type of project manager who likes to be three steps ahead of you know, whatever the demands of my customer, my boss is going to be. And so as a, as I'm not going to say young dad, but a middle-aged guy that does guy, young kids at home, and, you know, kind of a third of his way through his career, you know, finding time to be the dad and the husband that you want to be as well as continued to achieve and succeed in the workplace, and then be on top of everything that's coming at you in order to do that time and the energy in the day, especially through the covid 19 pandemic, which just added a whole nother layer of stress to everything has been the challenge finding the balance. And I know everybody talks about work-life balance and those types of things. And it means something different to everybody, you're but finding the time and prioritizing what's most important to your customers and tear to your bosses and in you know, to your family. That's been something I've been putting working on. And then also change dealing with change. And there's been a lot of change in our workplace. We've been going through a big reorganization. And we have new leadership at the university. And we are doing all that prior to COVID. Though we've been doing it throughout COVID as well started about six months before COVID. And, you know, we've been doing a whole reorg while trying to work remotely dealing with the organizational change and constant ever-changing technology and expectations of customers. And this, what codes put on us has also been challenging as well.
Walt Sparling 18:34
Okay. Yeah, challenges are third challenge.
Walt Sparling 18:40
And everybody's different.
Shawn Kelly 18:40
I think the best thing that I can say it my advice did, you know, I always like to not just offer the challenges, but you know, some of the things I found effective to addressing those is, you know, as far as time goes, trying to put some time limits on your work, it's easy to work 24 hours a day, now that your office is pretty much in your bedroom. And also just taking breaks to you know, spend some time with the kids and take 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, get a breather from the emails, or the phone calls. And, and you know, remember why you're doing everything. As far as change goes, I think you just got to take I always say this one problem at a time. You know, take the first problem of the day that's coming at you and you know, you just take one problem at a time and eventually, you know, you'll get somewhere, but you can't be worried about all 55,000 of them that are coming at you and once you can, you can be overwhelmed pretty quick.
Walt Sparling 19:34
Yeah, that's one thing about one of my things I struggled with and I still struggle with a little bit is I get involved in starting a lot of stuff and the real benefit and the value is when you finish stuff. getting sidetracked on issues, like you said, doesn't help you finished off. You got to focus. Yeah, yeah tools. Everybody has Has something that helps them do their job, whether it be hardware or software, maybe paper, everyone's different. So what do you have any favorite tools?
Yeah, I mean, they're, they're not that exciting or cutting edge. I mean, I got to say my iPhone is probably my biggest tool that I use right now. And it, I use it for a lot of different things. It's the Swiss Army knife for my wife, job site photos, to video conferencing, to check-in emails, taking, you know, taking pictures being on zoom calls, or Google meet calls, or Microsoft team meetings, or just an average phone call these days, I find having that little computer in my pocket, helps keep me mobile, I can't tell you, I can't tell you how many times I am out physically walking a job site while on a conference call or driving home on a conference call these days. And that tool is probably my most valuable as far as staying productive. And, and you know, keeping in touch with everything. And then I would say the other one is, and this is going to sound cheesy, but it's just the Google search engine. In my line of work, I don't always know everything. And I've kind of come to the conclusion that I never will, the ability to kind of Google Search an acronym that I may not that came up four times in a meeting that I may not know yet, or Google search, specify a specific piece of equipment, a lot of times I'll be out and I'll see a cooling tower. And we don't have a spec manual on it. But I have it online if I can find the serial number. And so being able to instantly Look, look that information up that Google searches is a real, you know, key helper in what I do. There's a lot of project management, software, design software, and all that. But I would say those two tools on a daily basis are tools I use all the time. Yeah, it's
Walt Sparling 21:56
interesting Google search, I never would have. I mean, I know it's a tool. And I do I use the crap out of it. I mean, I use it to help me with my other tools. But it is it is awesome. There's a lot of people out there that solve problems only because of Google because they can find things.
Shawn Kelly 22:15
Yeah, I mean, it's just crazy. And, you know, in an age where we're expected to have an answer, two minutes, and a lot of times is you know, how you answered the question sometimes is how well you're educated, you know, being able to just prep for a meeting or whatever I mean, it using a million different ways. But yeah, don't underestimate that. The Google search. Awesome.
Walt Sparling 22:37
So I have one final question. And this is something that I I've decided to put at the end of all the podcast I do for my team, I do presentations, and at the end of them, I do what we call a Did you know, and it's something I started just to mix things up and did it two or three times and then stopped it? And then everybody was like, Hey, where's the Did you know? I'm like, I didn't do one. Oh, we like those. And I look around? everybody's like, yeah, we'd like this. So I said, Okay, so I started them up again. And sometimes I do two firms or three firms and, you know, or theme, but they're, they always love the Digi knows, I'm like, why is that? Because we learn something every time I learned something when I look them up. What I'm asking all the interviewees is what kind of did you know, could you share with the audience?
Shawn Kelly 23:29
So my dad, you know, is I believe that in no matter what profession you're in, you got to have, you can always use skill, these two skills, which is customer service skills, and sales skills. Even if you're the most introverted engineer out there, you're going to have to interview for a job at some point, and you're going to need to sell yourself, or you're going to need to sell a solution to a problem you've been tasked with. And to a group of people. Being able to convey your problem or your solution and get buy-in from a group of people is is a really important skill to have. I would encourage everybody if you have an opportunity to take a sales class or take sales training or all it really is all sales training really is communication, education. And sales skills are just learning or death to help you or help you learn how to communicate better with people how to clearly understand what their expectations are, and to define them and then also to help present and sell solutions to those problems and issues. So sales skills, and customer service skills, I think are also equally as important. At the end of the day. You may say well, I don't have a customer. Well, you do though. Your boss is your customer or you know architecture firms may be your client, or it may be the operations team that you're, you know, supporting. If you look carefully, and wherever you are working, you probably have a customer somewhere. So, being mindful of the tone in which you're communicating with them, how you're communicating with them, what you're doing to help make their lives easier. And, and, and better. And then also, you know, the product that you're delivering, and how that makes being aware how that makes them feel. And in assessing the job that you're doing, the more mindful you are of that customer service interaction on that, the better you're going to be at your job. And the more open your feedback is going to be on what you can do to improve and, and stay ahead of the curve on addressing whatever it is your weaknesses are.
Walt Sparling 25:56
No, I think that's both great recommendations, especially for those that are just getting started. The sooner you learn it, the better, better you are, like you said, getting a job. You got to sell yourself, you know getting promoted, you got to sell yourself so definitely to good skills. Shawn, I greatly appreciate the time that you have given us. Maybe down the road, we'll have you back to talk a little bit more about what you're up to, or maybe even get into the whole tools thing. Because I'm hoping to do expand on some of the tools that are out there and maybe have like a circle of VMs and having to go back and forth about what their favorite tools are. Yeah, sounds great. All right. Well, you enjoy the rest of your day. And thank you so much for joining.
Shawn Kelly 26:46
All right. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
Walt Sparling 26:48
Alright guys, and for everybody else. We'll see you on the next episode of pm mastery.