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Expert Interview with Sanaz Sadeghian

Expert Interview with Sanaz Sadeghian

Expert Interview with Sanaz Sadeghian

Transcription

Gerald:

Welcome to the PPM Academy Podcast for project, program and portfolio managers where we will interview industry experts and discuss current and future trends on the world of project, program and portfolio management and how what we do impacts our company's execution culture. I'm Gerald Leonard.

Gerald:

Okay, so today we're speaking with Sanaz Sadeghian. She is a young professional with a master's degree in project management. She's also earned her PMP and her PMI-SP, which is the scheduling professional. She's done a lot just to be finishing up her master's. [inaudible 00:00:57] it's awesome. She is the president of the Project Management Club at Boston University and has published several articles in planning and scheduling. She has more than four years of experience in planning, programs, and projects in different industries as well as oil and gas and construction. Sanaz, welcome today. Thank you for joining us.

Sanaz:

Hi, Gerald. Thanks for inviting me.

Gerald:

Oh, so great to have you, especially during this time with the COVID virus and everything that's going on. Hopefully, you're being safe and staying inside.

Sanaz:

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. You too.

Gerald:

Good. Well, let's jump into this. Sanaz, how did you get started in the field of project management? Because most people end up in it by accident, but it looks like you're very purposeful about it. And what do you think has made you successful in your career so far?

Sanaz:

During my bachelor degree, I was an assistant to CFO in my father's company, and I knew from the beginning that accounting is not my dream job. My father was working on a new project, and he suggested that I go for project management and learn the project management software. So the first course I took in project management was Microsoft Project, and then I came to learn Primavera. In those classes, I started to learn about WPS, scope, time, cost, risk, and I began to like project management. I started the PEMBOK fifth edition, and I got my PMP degree in 2017, and I was the youngest person in my home country with a PMP degree back then.

Gerald:

Awesome.

Sanaz:

A year after I got my PMI-SP or PMI scheduling professional, then I applied for the master of project management at Boston University, and here I am.

Gerald:

Well, I'm sure at that point Boston university would not… It would be a bad decision on their part for them to say “No.”

Sanaz:

Thank you. You're so kind. Thank you.

Gerald:

If you think about it, I mean you've jumped out the gate at a very young age, and I'm not going to ask you your age because men don't do that to the young ladies, [crosstalk 00:03:20] but you have done really, it's very impressive. I mean, I'm thinking the different industries you're in and to be in the industry of oil and gas and construction and understanding Microsoft Project and Primavera. There are some seasoned project managers that are probably listening that don't understand Microsoft Project nor Primavera. Primavera, I can raise my hand on that one. I'm still a little young on that one. Project, that's my forte, if you will. So, Sanaz, help me understand here. What do you think is poorly understood or unresolved in this area, and why do you think that's so?

Sanaz:

For my profession as a scheduling and planning, so I'm going to speak in this field. There are some points, but to me, the most important thing is not forgetting the other activities that are not in the critical path. We know that the critical path is an important concept in scheduling, delay management claims, and we have to keep our eyes on its activities. But some folks think it is enough just to check these tasks. In my opinion, it is not a good practice. We have some tasks that are not on a critical path, but they are critical in nature. For example, we had a pipeline project that one task was renting the heavy machines. It wasn't on the critical path, but as you know, renting these machines cost a lot per day, and if they'd don't arrive at the site on time, it will impact the schedule and cost. Just focusing on task on the critical path sometimes misled project manager as well as risk manager.

Sanaz:

In the pipeline project, we faced on unknown risks. The heavy machines had to come from different city to the site, and the road, the height of the tunnels was shorter than the height of the heavy machines. So they had to change the path. Yeah. And so they had to change their path and arriving at this site took two days extra and it impacted the cost and the schedule a lot.

Gerald:

Okay.

Sanaz:

The other example is creating the engineering documents. It may have 120 days float, and most of the time, it is not in the critical path. But this task is crucial for my project. It shouldn't be delayed. So, we have to keep our eyes on the activities that are critical in nature but are not in the critical path.

Gerald:

Wow. For your level of experience and finishing your masters, you have a lot of good insight, and I think a lot of people will… especially because in our day and time, you have projects that are what we call the waterfall projects. Then you have agile projects, and actually, you can't build a building doing agile, right? You have to kind of lay the foundation. You can't lay part of the foundation. You don't want a minimal viable [inaudible 00:06:35] with foundation. You want a solid foundation. So you have to follow the waterfall process. But as you're saying, there are activities throughout projects that don't show up on the critical path, as you said, but are really key. And I think you gave some really good examples and also a really good example of the truck being too large and just the equipment and what it costs, especially in construction in oil and gas. I mean, the equipment is thousands of dollars or more per day usage. So, that can have a really big challenge. So let me ask you this other question. What challenges have you helped your customers with overcoming lately?

Sanaz:

I was given a Microsoft Project file with 1,000 activities to check, but when I highlighted the critical path, you just had 20 activities. It was a red flag for me because you cannot have a plan with 1,000 activities on only 20 critical tasks. It shows that the scheduler used a lot of start to start leads and lag, and some activities are not decomposed correctly. So, it made the software to show a wrong critical path. So, we have to be careful about this casual recreates in software. Sometimes it's looks great, but if you look closer, it's wrong. So, believing GIGO, I think that's for garbage in, garbage out. It means entering the incorrect data, results in having beautiful charts that can easily mislead the project manager and executives, and make delays in time and costs.

Gerald:

Yes. That's another great example because when you have a project that has over 1,000 activities in it, one, that can kind of become unyielding. It's almost like it's a program because it's broken into many sections, so [crosstalk 00:08:46] decomposed even further than that into probably multiple small projects so that it's a little bit more manageable from that standpoint and I don't think there's a great glory in having my project schedule has 1,000 projects, 1,000 tasks. It's like you really want to make sure that your project is well thought out and efficient. And probably in doing the WBS when they built it, they probably did a pretty thorough WBS, but when they went to build out the network diagram, and I remember taking a class with the goal [inaudible 00:09:25] and doing some training around the theory of constraints [crosstalk 00:09:28] movement, and one of the things that Dee Jacob taught us was that you want to do what we call a forward pass and a backward pass across the schedule.

Gerald:

In other words, you're looking at your dependencies, and you start from the end, and you go back to the beginning, but then you go from the beginning, and you go back to the end, and you're looking for integration points, and you're looking for those different constraints and the leads and lags that they may have in there that may be erroneous. By doing that, I know when working with my teams, I've been able to catch critical mistakes that we were assuming about the schedule, where… and this is even before really getting the data, even in Microsoft Projects, it's just doing it on the board and really thinking it through.

Gerald:

And then when you put it in Microsoft Project, obviously you can use all the automation and the tools to be able to highlight like you did that critical path was a problem because of that. And I think at your juncture in your career, you have a bright future in front of you because so many people, again, when it comes to using tools like Microsoft Project, they get intimidated by it because it has five scheduling engines or the way it moves tasks around. But when you can get comfortable with the technology, especially between Microsoft Project and Primavera, at this point in your career and really understand what the schedule is telling you, that's huge.

Sanaz:

Thank you.

Gerald:

That's a huge value to any company and anyone who's listening to know that you could do that. Now let me ask you this question. This is not something that we talked about beforehand on a question that you asked, but it's making me ask this question. What resources did you use besides the class that you took to help you become more efficient in using Microsoft Project and even Primavera to even think like that?

Sanaz:

When I started to go for scheduling and planning, after I started to learn PMBOK, I found out that this principle is, this framework is really good to understanding the scheduling and the logic behind the schedules. Because sometimes actually the path I went was not really a good practice. I think you have to first learn the knowledge and then the software. First, I went to the software and then I studied the knowledge. So, I think the most important thing is to first study the knowledge of and gaining the knowledge of scheduling and planning and then going for the softwares. So, I really like the project planning and project scheduling.

Sanaz:

So that's why I was talking to all of my professors, and I asked a lot of questions. I read many books, many, many books. I went to the classes of Microsoft Project with different professors to understand the point of view of all the professionals in this field. So, I think this is the thing that has really helped me in scheduling and planning. I actually, I love project management. I think this is the biggest thing that helped me in this career in this. Because when you love something you're don't get tired of reading, asking questions, learning and yeah, that's it.

Gerald:

No, and honestly, that rings true. And, basically, as you're going through and talking about what you've gained from the classes as well as the hands-on experience, your passion and your desire to keep growing in this field is very obvious and clear in the way you explain it and your enthusiasm. I know when I was… I first got into Microsoft Project because for about nine [crosstalk 00:13:50] at one point I was the president of the Microsoft Project User Group in the Washington, D.C. Area-

Sanaz:

Wow, that's great. Wow.

Gerald:

And yeah, and I had the same mindset that one, I fell in love with using the tool. I really didn't understand how the algorithms work and what you can do with it and the value that it would bring to people's lives by really understanding it. And I read everything I got my hands on. I bought as many… I mean, I probably threw away more books about project than I have right now, and I literally bought every book I could get my hands on.

Gerald:

I went to every webinar I could get my eyes on and I just… I love [crosstalk 00:14:30] watch videos, and I just figured out what are the tips and tricks and the ways to really use this tool and get the most out of it. So then when I started working with my clients and started working with companies and analyzing other people's projects, it was easy to go in and really see the shortcomings or the flaws or ways they could do it better because I had spent so many hours on my own, really, just studying and understanding the tool, the planning, and scheduling, but also really kind of getting into the tool and understanding all the shortcuts and how it really worked. And it sounds like you're kind of doing the same thing.

Sanaz:

Yeah. I did that, and I started from early, like I was 23 when I started to learn about project management. So yeah, the most important thing is I think that all of us have to find the field that we are passionate about. If we like what we do, you are going to learn a lot. We are going to see the videos, we are going to help other peoples to achieve their dreams, their goals. Yeah. I think it's important.

Gerald:

Excellent. So if you were given someone else's schedule, what kind of things would you do to go about analyzing it?

Sanaz:

That's a really good question. In projects at first, we have a master plan, which is general, and based on the progressive elaboration that is mentioned in PMBOK, we try to make it more detailed when accurate estimates become available. First, I will check the duration and the cost of the planning file with the contract to see they are the same or not. Based on a DCMA, which is a project, a schedule quality assessment, 90% of activities have to be connected with finish to start relationship. I will check this and the other relationships within the activities to see they are logical or not. If it's a Microsoft Project, I will check that summary tasks are not linked to each other, as is not a good practice. The duration of the tasks and the floats shouldn't be a significant number, as it may cause the critical path to be estimated wrong. And it also shows that those activities weren't decomposed correctly.

Gerald:

Got you.

Sanaz:

Then the constraints in the schedule are important to me. I want to know what is the logic behind putting constraints on some activities. For example, if we put the hard constraints, like must finish on or mandatory finish, it may cause a negative reflect, and as you know, the negative float is not acceptable. The other thing is the weight of the activities, and the logic behind it is also crucial because it has a significant impact on the progress of the project. So I asked this to schedule based on DCMA, which you have 14 metrics that provide the possibility to make a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the schedule.

Gerald:

Got you. No, this is really good. That's a really good way of looking at schedules, is a very thorough way. Have you developed a checklist that you go through?

Sanaz:

Yes, actually, I have an Excel file, which is like I coded it, and it shows that there's 14 principles, and it shows me that in which principle, in which metrics this file isn't working as much good as it should be.

Gerald:

Got you. No, that's a really good tool to have. And a really good way to look at it. And so I would definitely recommend, and I may do this as well, I probably will do this, is recommend to… there's a group that I write for called PMWorld 360, it's been voted like one of the top two project management magazines and they are constantly looking for a great content and I think you'd be a great fit too because you have the certifications to write about scheduling and some of the-

Sanaz:

Oh thanks.

Gerald:

… it'll get your a lot of your knowledge out there. Because it sounds like you have a depth of knowledge about what you're doing that is a little rare at your point in your career. So kudos to you. Really good, really good. So lastly, we got two more questions, and then one is what trends do you see in the industry since you've gotten involved?

Sanaz:

Actually, now I'm studying for a PMI-ACP, which is for agile project management. I think we have to accept that we cannot manage the projects like before, as you said, with just a waterfall approach. We have to accept agile and learn the HR mindset. Planning hybrid project, which is the combination of agile and predictive are different from the traditional way. So, I think it's better to learn more about how we can have a hybrid kind of a plan maybe in Microsoft Project or Primavera. I think in this fast-paced world, it is crucial to adapt to changes and accept this fact that maybe the old practices cannot resolve the problems without getting help from more modern ones.

Gerald:

Excellent. Well, let me ask you this question. I always ask my guests this question. If you listen to my other podcast, you know I ask it at the end. What's one thing that you could share with our listeners that would help them grow the way you've grown yourself in your field? What's one thing you could share that you've been doing or you've done to help you to grow?

Sanaz:

I think one thing was that I always tried to learn from anyone, from any videos, any books about project management. I listened to my professors really carefully. They teach me a lot, and when I was at classes, I always tried to learn as much as I can. And there are a lot of videos in YouTube, there is a lot of books and just use this facility to learn more to gain knowledge because I love the project management, so that's why this was the thing that I did. So I think upgrading the knowledge is also really important. We shouldn't get paused. For example, after I get my PMP degree, I went to a class for make-up projects, and the students there told me that, “Why are you taking this class? You already have PMP.” And I was like, “Okay, but having a PMP is not enough. It's good, but it's not enough.” So upgrading the knowledge and continuous learning, I think, is the key to success.

Gerald:

Yes it is. Yes. Very good answer. Well, folks today, we've had an amazing time to talk with Sanaz. I want to make sure I got your name correctly. She is the president of the Boston University Project Management Club, as well as finishing up her masters, and already as she's finishing up, she has already earned her PMP and her schedule professional certification. So thank you so much for joining us today. What a great conversation and such a bright future. Take care of yourself and be safe out there, especially during this time with the coronavirus and everything else that's going on. And I will definitely recommend that you become one of the writers for PMWorld 360.

Sanaz:

Sure, I will. I would love to.

Gerald:

Great. Well thanks so much guys. I really appreciate it, and we'll see you guys next time.

Gerald J. Leonard

Gerald J. Leonard is an international expert on the topics of Developing A Culture That Works, Strategy Implementation, and Project Portfolio Management. He is the author of Culture Is The Bass: 7 Principles for Developing A Culture That Works, and the upcoming book, Workplace Jazz: How Emotionally Connected Teams Thrive and Sustain Results. He is the CEO of Principles of Execution (PofE), a Certified Minority Business Enterprise with over 20+ years experiencing working with large Federal and State Governments and Multi-National Corporations. Gerald provides an insightful and unique way of combining his experience and expertise as a professional bassist and a certified Portfolio Management Professional consultant. Find out how you can work with Gerald as your business coach or attend one of his upcoming programs