Women in Project Management: Dulce Oliveira

2016-2017 Issue 1

Demand for project managers is growing faster than supply. The Project Management Institute’s (PMI) latest report found that through 2027, there’s expected to be nearly 22 million new jobs created worldwide in the Project Management field.

More and more, women are taking on leadership roles in project management. We caught up with Dulce Oliveira to discuss best practices and trends in the PM field, opportunities for women in project management, and the importance of mentorship and leadership. She’s a McGill instructor, experienced project manager and leadership development coach.

What advice do you have for those who might feel intimidated by PM?

Simply put, PM is about using common sense. You can apply project management to many things, including your personal projects. For example, renovating your house, planning your wedding or going on vacation. Everything that has a beginning and an end is a project. You can bring concepts that you learn in courses or lectures into your own projects, and then take it from there.

What should one keep in mind when setting goals for a project?

In my experience, people often confuse objectives and goals – a goal is really [what you want] at the end of the project. Say your old house is no longer viable, your goal might be to make the house liveable by a certain date. From there, you set specific objectives – by this time I want a kitchen, by this time I want a bedroom, and so on. You also need to manage everyone’s expectations along the way because you will have surprises, and surprises either increase the costs or move your completion date or what can be completed, or all of the above, so communication with all stakeholders throughout the project is very important.

Agile practices are now included in the latest PMBOK guide. What makes them increasingly important for today’s project manager?

Agile approaches really speak to me as a project manager because they reinforce my belief in prioritizing people over process. One of the stated values of the agile approach in its manifesto is: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” The process is not the end itself; it’s the people and the relationships that matter.

When I first started PM, companies had more money. Now there is a lot more competitiveness, so they have to be smarter about how they use their money. In the past, companies would maybe deliver things that in the end were not used very much, for example the bells and whistles in a car or sound system. This is why agile has become so popular. You deliver a smaller piece [of the product at a time], but because it is managed with a lot of customer involvement then you can use it right away. It doesn’t work for all projects, but these principles must be understood to be more effective.

What makes a good leader, specifically in project management?

It’s focusing on the people. You rarely get to pick your team. Whoever you are given as your team, you have to understand where they are coming from and what’s in it for them. Do they understand their role and think it’s important? You also have to back off and let people do their thing. That trust comes when you understand their skills and capabilities. Being open to feedback is also important, and that takes a lot of maturity. It’s not an easy thing to do. The first reaction is to be defensive. Asking for feedback is a sign of a good leader.

Are people born leaders? I’m not going to pretend to know the answer, but I truly believe you can develop your leadership if you develop your interpersonal skills. It is practicing what you want to develop. You have to take the information, from say a course, and practice.

What are advantages for women in project management?

Without generalizing, I find that women focus more on the people aspect of Project Management. There are men who also like this aspect, but in my experience, I can see that women often have a natural tendency to focus on leadership, stakeholders and the team as a whole. Of course, the people aspect is only one facet; the goal is to deliver! However, while you are delivering the project, you need to focus on the people delivering the project.

What advice do you have for those mid-career who want to switch gears into PM?

I say go for it! A lot of people have managed projects without even realizing it. I was managing a project when I first started, but I didn’t know how. I knew there had to be a better way. In our Project Management course at McGill, we have a lot of engineers, but they come to get that extra skill and competency in managing their projects. Their projects are different from say health services or construction, but it doesn’t matter which field you come from. [Project management] will help you become better at what it is you already do.

What’s your overall advice for those starting out in PM?

Just be bold – put yourself out there and don’t be scared. We are all just people. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake, but make sure you have a network, the training and learning that you need to get a good start in managing projects.

You can benefit from the experience of Oliveira and several other women leaders in Project Management on February 6th at the Women in Project Management Speaker Series.


2 Responses to “Women in Project Management: Dulce Oliveira”
  1. Lamia Ezzeddine says:

    Way to go Dolce! You are so natural at project management. This is a great article. Also, I really enjoyed your class.

    • Dulce Oliveira says:

      Thank you so much! It was great meeting so many women (and men) who are passionate about what they are doing!