In This Episode:
In this episode, I interviewed Teresa O'hanlon, a construction project coordinator from Florida that works in the commercial construction sector. Apologies for the thumping sound at the end, I was unable to remove it and do not know where it came from.
Terminology - Acronyms mentioned in this episode:
PMI - Project Management Institute
PMP - Project Management Professional Certification
SOP - Standard Operating Procedure
project coordinator, project management, project manager, OneNote, projects, people, company, role, work, podcast, tasks, LinkedIn, PMO, PMP, construction, notes, dealing, scheduling, experience, bit
Walt Sparling and Teresa O'Hanlon
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, Sparling.
Walt Sparling 00:57
Welcome, everyone. Today we have on the show Teresa O'Hanlon, a project coordinator from St. Pete Teresa, tell us a little bit about who you are.
Teresa O'Hanlon 01:50
Thank you for having me, Walt. I, as Walt said, I am a project coordinator working in the construction industry. Just a little bit about me personally, I have a cat named CJ and a horse named Shrek. And in my spare time, I manage a small horse farm that's nearby. And my hobbies include competitive equestrian writing and sewing. And I also love to cook.
Walt Sparling 02:20
So is Shrek green?
Teresa O'Hanlon 02:22
He is not green. But he has he definitely has a mischievious side if you will.
Okay. Project Coordinator construction. All right, tell us a little bit about what you do in that role.
Teresa O'Hanlon 02:41
So as a project coordinator, I work very closely with the project managers, there are about nine in the Florida region. And that's the region I handle specifically for the company I work for we do financial related tasks, we assist with closing projects out within a certain timeline we are actually graded off of that. And it's also a client ask for us to get these projects closed on time and for the financials to be within a certain tolerance. So it's pretty important. And it definitely requires a person who's not necessarily in, in the project itself every day, hands-on to do some of these other tasks. So it's, we work hand in hand with the project managers when it comes to those things.
Walt Sparling 03:35
And one of the advantages of that is with you not being in the day to day, you can kind of have a more objective view and also be like checks and balances for the PM.
Teresa O'Hanlon 03:46
Exactly. It can get, I have actually started project managing a little bit, I have been given the opportunity to take on a couple of projects. So I'm now seeing just how much work it takes to keep a project going, make sure it stays on schedule, make sure it stays on budget, and to have somebody else take care of these tasks that require detail oriented or you need to sit down. Really figure it out. It's it's necessary.
Walt Sparling 04:27
Yes, it's... I respect both sides, although I haven't filled your role. I know a little bit about how you go about it. And it's a whole nother skill set for sure. I noticed in some of the notes that I have here that you're not only a project coordinator, and as you said you also have been managing some projects, but it looks like you're involved in a lot of other stuff that is not project related specifically, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Teresa O'Hanlon 04:57
Yes, I work closely with the PMO as well, I've been working to help streamline processes, build SOPs, which are basically what we use to do the day to day, building playbooks, which help project managers or project coordinators, especially right when they're onboarded to figure out exactly what their tasks are. And also communicate changes and process updates. So I've actually always known that I like working with the PMO. And as a project coordinator, you do, it's natural to want to gravitate towards that. But I feel without seeing project management hands-on, I would be more valuable having that hands-on experience. So that's why I decided to take on some projects really see what project management is about.
Walt Sparling 05:55
Good deal. We've heard a little bit about what you do. And is there something that drives you? So what like, what is your Why?
Teresa O'Hanlon 06:03
It's, you know, it's hard for me to really pinpoint my why, aside from the fact that I, I love to help other people, it brings me joy, to see other people happy, and to help them get through something. Maybe that's why I took on Project Coordinator because that's basically what we're doing all day long. We're helping project managers, make sure the projects are on track, and everything's moving forward with it. But I would be remiss not to say that I am motivated by recognition as well. So every day I'm thinking about what I can do to be better, or improve account processes, or improve, make something more streamlined or efficient for the project managers. So that's definitely something that drives me every day.
Walt Sparling 06:57
Cool. And I think that it's common that a project coordinator position is oftentimes an entry-level into project management, like in your case, maybe they go in the direction of the PMO, or maybe they get into project management. But I know multiple people that have gone from Project Coordinator into an APM, or a PM role, depending on some previous experience, and then move their way up. I've seen people that have gone up to senior VP level over time.
Teresa O'Hanlon 07:26
Walt Sparling 07:26
But it's a good starting point in organization, much like project management is key as a project coordinator, obviously, communication skills dealing with the finance group dealing with the project manager themselves. So very similar skill sets. And I think that's why it's kind of a natural progression.
Teresa O'Hanlon 07:48
Absolutely, I 100% agree. In fact, being a little bit new to construction and project management and the construction industry, the project coordinator role was perfect for me because it gave me some of that industry knowledge without being too hands-on, while also letting me see some of the back end work. So that allowed me to take on some projects that allowed me to really understand, okay, why, why do I need to fill out this document? What's the purpose? Who does it need to go to you learn all that stuff as a project coordinator? And if you're just thrown in as a project manager with no experience, it can get very overwhelming. If there's anyone out there looking to become a project manager, you might want to start in a project coordinator role, even if it's just for a year just to get your feet wet a little bit.
Walt Sparling 08:46
Yeah, I think that's good advice. That also, it gives you some insight into the project coordinator role as well. Because even when you like, I've never been a project coordinator. For me, it's always been on the project management side. But I work with coordinators regularly understanding how they do things, why they do things, what they have to do is good. So if you actually have the opportunity to start out as a project coordinator, and then you work your way into project management, a manager position, you have a view from both sides like you indicated.
Teresa O'Hanlon 09:22
Walt Sparling 09:23
As a project coordinator, or as this kind of internship type PM role, how do you keep up with or advance your learning?
Teresa O'Hanlon 09:39
It can be hard, it can be challenging. Time management is something that I'm constantly working on. Being as I have, you know, several different things I'm involved in. But thankfully the company I work for is very good about providing training to their employees, whether it's something that benefits you, it's a self-growth type opportunity. Or if it's project management-oriented, I, I rely heavily on my company for pushing out those trainings, which they're very good about doing. And thankfully, they also have decided, to utilize LinkedIn learning, which is, I think, is a very good platform as far as training goes. And so far, I've enjoyed most of the trainings I've taken on LinkedIn learning, it's actually available to anybody, I don't believe you have to work for a company that signs up for this. I believe anyone can benefit from LinkedIn learning. So that's something I highly recommend. But honestly, especially considering now you know, that I've taken on some projects, experience is probably how I learned best. I've always been a self-learner, I consider myself to be resourceful. And if I don't have the resource, I have a contact someone I can reach out to find the answer. So experience for me is my best form of learning. And then paired with what my company, the company I worked for what they provide and training has been very helpful.
Walt Sparling 11:32
LinkedIn training, I've mentioned that in multiple podcasts and blog posts as well, is a really good resource. LinkedIn training used to be lynda.com. They were then bought out and now are there under the LinkedIn banner. But although it is available to everyone, you have to have a premium level membership or higher to get the LinkedIn courses. Our company has a contract with LinkedIn, that allows us to use that as part of our training environment, and multiple companies do but if you're an individual and you want to get into it, I think the premium if you do an annual, it works out to be about ten bucks a month (Correction - $19.95/month), but is a good resource for sure. you'd mentioned that. It's a little tough to in the learning because of time, Time. I'd say time management or enough time in the day is always a struggle that people mentioned and work through. Do you have some specific challenges that you feel you've been dealing with recently - That are job-related?
Teresa O'Hanlon 12:45
Absolutely there's always a challenge, and work and I think that's a good thing, I think you need to be challenged to stay motivated. And to keep growing. Since I have to, I divide my day, based on the two different job responsibilities I've taken on. As a project coordinator, I would say time management can be a challenge simply because I find myself gravitating towards getting the project management stuff done first since a lot of it can be critical or requires immediate attention. Or maybe you're on the phone for an hour trying to sort something out. So some of my PC tasks may get put on the back burner. What I found to help me with that is calendar blocking is huge. I set aside an hour every day to complete anything PC related. And that's helped me quite a bit. As far as project management goes. I think the limited experience, as far as I'm concerned has been a challenge for me. But I am grateful to work with an awesome team. It seems like if I don't have the answer, I can find someone who can help me through it. But I would say for project management experience is something I need to grow.
Walt Sparling 14:06
Okay, and I love calendar blocking. That's one of my favorite tools and push that a lot. I am planning on doing probably both a podcast and a blog post on that topic alone though. That is a that's a good one.
Teresa O'Hanlon 14:21
Walt Sparling 14:22
Calendar blocking. I assume you do that in your corporate so probably Outlook. Do you have specific tools, whether they be software or hardware that you use that are like your favorites?
Teresa O'Hanlon 14:36
I do. It's hard for me to pick just one favorite only because I use quite a few throughout the day. But if I could pick a few Microsoft Teams; We just started using that in June I believe. We started using teams in place of Skype. I like it because you can integrate With other Microsoft software such as Excel, or OneNote, and you can create teams of people to collaborate, and all of your information and files and editing can stay in one place. So that's, that's one of, that's something I use every day. OneNote is another one, I also use it constantly, every day, I have a notebook for almost every little thing that I do, including my projects. And I'm, I'm always trying to find a good template, something that makes it easy to stay organized, take notes, take meeting minutes. OneNote is, I would say, probably my number one. And lastly, of course, the cell phone, I mean, I would be lost without it on the job site, it's great to have to jot down some notes or take pictures. Sometimes your pictures can be your notes for the day. That is my number two tool, I would say
Walt Sparling 16:07
okay, and these, I'm not sure that I've had other folks bring up Teams, I think we might have had one. But that is a useful tool, very flexible. OneNote comes up in nearly every single interview as a tool. And I've actually mentioned you in the past on the podcast about being the queen of OneNote. Because I've seen a lot of your OneNote work, when we do a, if we do a podcast about it, I might invite you back to maybe be a co-host when we do that,
Teresa O'Hanlon 16:39
That would be great. And I'm honored. Thank you.
Walt Sparling 16:42
Yeah, it's a OneNote I when I first got into it was a little daunting. And now I use it for everything personal and work. And it is extremely powerful. It's got some quirks. But for the most part, it's just flexible and powerful. And I love it. I think a lot of people if there are folks out there that aren't using it, and they keep hearing about it, once we do a little, maybe provide some handy links to some good videos, resources, and then talk about it on a podcast, maybe that'll get them to go in that direction as well.
Teresa O'Hanlon 17:17
Yeah, it can be very overwhelming, there's a lot you can do. But I think it's important to remember, you just have to start somewhere, just open it up and start taking notes. Maybe it's taking notes like you normally would in an outline format. And then you can build from there. But you have to really get your hands in it before you can make it more complex. Starting out simple is all you really need to get started.
Walt Sparling 17:47
Yeah, I tend to get a little too detail and sometimes get into stuff too deep. And it took me a little while to kind of take it easy because I saw some impressive OneNote notebooks. And I was like I know how to I want to know how to do that and started playing with it. And you know, you can do tables in there just like you can in Word. You can actually embed documents. So Express Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, which is great for like project management., storage, if you don't have dedicated, maybe a dedicated folder structure. You could use OneNote as a way to store all your documents. And then you can share, you can take notes from your meetings. Pretty, pretty cool stuff. Yeah. All right.
Walt Sparling 18:31
Now, before we get to our final question, we talked a little bit about you being a project coordinator. And that's often in a lot of companies. That's like the initial role. And I kind of want to talk about this a little bit because there's a lot of people out there that, I'm hoping are listening to this that are thinking about getting into project management, but they're not sure where to start. I belong to a lot of say a lot. I belong to multiple Facebook groups. And a lot of these people are in the process of getting their PMP. Many of them have never got in, or they've never done any project management. They just heard it's a good industry. They want to get in it. And they decide to go take the test. And I have some issues with that because I think you need to be experienced before you go and take the test. A lot of people are using it as a way to get into the industry because they say well, there's no other way to get in because I have no experience. Now I wouldn't say that would be the case with you. Because you came in in a project coordinator role. And were you a project manager or project coordinator before you came?
Teresa O'Hanlon 19:39
No, I was not I was a program manager at an electronic manufacturing company. So I was familiar with the management side but totally unfamiliar with the industry. So that's why the project coordinator role getting into construction was the perfect fit for me.
Walt Sparling 20:00
And just for clarity, a project coordinator, or a project manager can be in any industry. So you said you were in electronics, and you were a program manager. Now, did you start out - How did you get that job?
Teresa O'Hanlon 20:14
it is a long story. But basically, I, I took the job. In college, if I was the receptionist, it was a receptionist job at the time, I just needed something working full time to make money while I was in school, there were quite a few people that left the company. And it The timing was right to where I was able to learn what they did. So I filled several different roles scheduling, purchasing, it was a smaller company, which is that's pretty common, I would say, in a company that size for one person to take on different paths if you will. And eventually, I was given client accounts, to manage. They called it a program manager, I feel like it was more like an account manager. But that's beside the point. Basically, I made sure that the orders we received were processed and scheduled. And that the customer knew when they were getting their orders, I was the liaison between the customer and our production team. And I also put out the fires, if they were upset about something or they got a product that wasn't up to quality. I was the one that dealt with all that. So. So I did have some experience dealing with clients. I had some experience of dealing with scheduling. But this was manufacturing, which is I would say it's different. Definitely a different boat than construction, there are more moving parts with construction, I feel like electronics, as you're building a product, a little bit more straightforward construction is you're dealing with different trades, you're dealing with different systems, potentially different vendors all at once. So it was more time-consuming.
Walt Sparling 22:21
So I guess to kind of go back to where I was trying to go with this, as you started out as a receptionist, and you ended up, and it was a small company, a lot of flexible roles, there was some shifting, and you made your way into now working for a slightly larger company. Where and I say that sarcastically because the company you work for is very large.
Teresa O'Hanlon 22:44
Walt Sparling 22:46
You started out as a project coordinator. And I think primarily because of your, basically your personality and your organizational skills. And then somewhat also the most recent experience. But what I really want to get out is you don't have to be a project manager to get a project manager job. And you don't have to be PMP, to get a project manager job. And it's a lot of money and a lot of work to go out and get that for just for the idea of thinking it's going to get you a job because you really are going to come in and you're not going to know any more than what that test which is PMIs test. And they're only one of many groups out there that has standardization around project management. And a lot of companies have nothing like that organization level, and they're very successful. So I guess my point is, if you're starting out, don't think you got to get a PMP just to get a project manager position. So that being said, the last question is something that I do at work, where I do a little slide that's called a Did you know, and it was something I tried to break things up. Then I did it for a few weeks and then I stopped doing it and found out that it was super popular. So now, I do it on the podcast and basically asked every guest to come up with a Did you know something that people might not know that they could share? So do you have a did You know for us?
Teresa O'Hanlon 24:19
I do and being as the holidays, just past New Year's Day was not too long ago. I thought I would do it. Did you know that has to do with yours? So did you know that the first New Year celebration dates back 4000 years?
Teresa O'Hanlon 24:37
Julius Caesar the emperor of Rome was the first to declare January 1 a national holiday he named the month after Janice, the Roman god of doors and gates. Janis had it is actually and it makes sense. Janice had two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. Caesar felt That a month named after this god would be fitting.
Walt Sparling 25:04
Hmm. I like it forward and back. That's what we do at the beginning of every year.
Teresa O'Hanlon 25:09
It's true. Right? New Year's resolutions you look back at what you did. And then you put that aside and you look forward.
Walt Sparling 25:16
I wonder if they had a God of roofs and windows? Doors and gates? I've never heard of that. That is. That's an interesting point. Well, Teresa, I greatly appreciate you coming on. And I do look forward to possibly getting back with you. Maybe we can do something on OneNote. Maybe we can share some examples of things that you've done. And I think that would be very powerful. And then also, you mentioned calendar blocking, that might be another good topic to bring you back for.
Teresa O'Hanlon 25:48
Sounds great. Looking forward to it.
Walt Sparling 25:50
All right. Well Enjoy your new year, and everyone else out there. We'll see you on the next episode of pm-mastery!