Our PMO Spotlight blog series endeavors to uncover the person behind the use case. We ask them to share their unique project management backgrounds, strategies, and perspectives. In this latest edition, the spotlight shines on June Stewart, Head of Project & Resource Management at ITV.
Let us start with a bit of background into your formal education and early career.
I grew up in London, but my parents are from Jamaica and they moved the family back to the island around the time I started High School. It was quite idyllic really and look back at my time there fondly. I attended the University of the West Indies – Mona in Kingston, where I acquired a degree in Pure & Applied Chemistry.
Once out of school I worked for a while in Jamaica as a chemist. Some may not know this but in addition to tourism, one of Jamaica’s top industries is agriculture, which provided ample opportunities for me as a young chemist. I worked in the sugar industry and for the Jamaica Coffee Board, then spent a bit of time at a manufacturing and pharmaceutical company before ultimately moving back to London.
How did you transition from a career in Chemistry into Project Management?
Coming back to the UK, I was keen on continuing my career in Chemistry, because it truly was my passion. I took a few computer science courses at university but I must say that I didn’t enjoy it so much at the time. Part of that might have been because it was such a “macho” environment, the computer room felt like a “boys club” and there were only 2 of us girls in the class. So, at the time I didn’t much enjoy coding and working in the tech space.
However, while looking for a job in London, I came across an opportunity where my employer would teach me programming as part of that position. So, I took that opportunity, and this started my transition into IT PMO. I realized that I did in fact enjoy programming and working with computers. Aspects of that work such as working with formulas, creating, problem solving and learning a new language all appeal to me.
Looking back, I do see a shared experience between chemistry and project management. The excitement I get when I combine different pieces to come up with a new solution to a problem is evident in both lines of work. One of my first jobs as a chemist was working on developing new products, and the NPD process is a quintessential example of project management. That is a more direct example of how my chemistry background provided a solid foundation for a career in IT PMO.
In the IT world, I started out as a “techie”, creating/designing new workflows and internal systems. Once I had enough experience to move into management, I had a difficult decision to make. Do I stay technical or do I move into team management? I enjoyed the hands-on nature of the work, but I realized that I would not be able to keep up with the real technical enthusiasts, who had lots of time to spend perfecting their skills, particularly with a young family to take care of. So, I opted for my first management position in IT Project Management and found a fascinating new set of challenges to solve related to working with and managing people.
Tell us about your experience working for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. What kind of projects did you work on for them?
At the start of 2011 I was working in my first contract position and saw a PMO position for the 2012 Olympic Games. I quickly applied to it and could not sleep that night I was so excited. I had a lot of delivery assurance work and PM work under my belt, so I felt prepared for the position. After an initial phone interview (the Head of PMO team was still in Australia and had not moved to London yet) followed by a second interview at Canary Wharf, I was offered the job!
I was fortunate because they split up the PMO team into different “venues” or areas of operations and I was assigned to the Olympic Park, the heart of the Games. I was the PMO Lead supporting the venue team on getting the Park ready for the games, which was amazing. Every day was different and exciting, we were able to hear from the athletes directly to understand their needs, putting them at the heart of everything we did.
In my first week I was on a high thinking “I really want to do this!”, but then quickly had a drastic moment where I saw the sheer size and complexity of the work we had to execute in such a small timeframe. I was told that this overwhelming sensation is normal at the start, but it was still very shocking, and on top of that we were informed that it would be very unlikely that we would get tickets to see the games!
However, the Olympic teams are consummate professionals and hard working. So, like any big project we broke everything down into a sequence of pieces and got to work. Building the site’s infrastructure, working towards the test events and other rehearsals, gearing up for the opening ceremony itself and then executing the first day-of operations. The bulk of my work leading up to the games was building an integrated event plan, working with all with the various elements like concessions, sponsors, ticketing, accreditation, merchandising, transportation etc …the list goes on!
During the games I was assigned to work the Olympic Park as the Venue Communications Manager. I coordinated about 100 volunteers during the Olympic Games and Paralympics to make sure that any incidents or happenings at the park were handled quickly and safely, it was wild to say the least. Whether it was a visitor which required an ambulance or lost children (so many lost children), all those issues were coordinated through my team.
When you are not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
My family is where most of my time is spent. I have 3 sons and 2 grandsons and a very large extended family and we are all very close. My favorite thing is having everyone over and cooking/baking for them. Obviously, Covid has restricted the time we can spend together this year but we making up for it on FaceTime and zoom calls. There is my chemistry background coming through again. It is just a great feeling to see the family interact with each other and enjoy good food together.
I do like traveling as well, though these days it is hard to visit new places. We were often going back to Jamaica as a family for vacation before the lockdowns. I look forward to traveling again once things settle down too.
Please tell us about your journey at ITV these past 3 years, moving up the ladder from Manager up to Head of Portfolio & Resource Management.
“I believe, particularly in the PMO world, that you must deliver what you say you will.”
After the Olympics, I spent some time contracting again but very soon I saw the Delivery Assurance Manager opening at ITV. I spent some time with them in the interview process and I felt that the role was a perfect fit. The pace of change and creativity inherent in the Media & Entertainment industry make the role challenging and exciting. Having worked at ITV for 5 years, I can say that I love coming to work every day and continue to learn new things about the industry.
As I said, I started as a Delivery Assurance Manager working on a large variety of projects, some small and some large ones with executive visibility. I am now the Head of Portfolio & Resource Management, and my team is responsible for the working with the Senior Leadership to define our project priorities and then support the delivery of those projects.
I cannot honestly say that I had a master strategy in mind when it comes to a career path. However, my approach to work has always been simple, do the best work you can, wherever you can. One often hears the phrase, “Be at the right place at the right time, and the opportunities will present themselves.” I do believe, particularly in the PMO world, that “you must deliver what you say you will”, that’s how you build your reputation. If you do a good job and let your work speak for itself, people will notice. Now I will also add that it helps to be at an organization which rewards good work, because that is not always the case. So my advice for a young PM is to be selective in the company you work for whenever possible – try to ensure that their values match yours and it’s somewhere where you can thrive and develop. Then once you have found the right organization, deliver your best work and you will get your opportunities.
Values are important to me, and I have been particularly proud of ITV for their Social Purpose agenda. Some examples that come to mind are our ad packages built specifically for charity organizations, ITV’s positive support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and how ITV encourages all employees to take 3 working days each year to volunteer for charities. For my part, I contribute time to an organization called Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA). A fantastic organization which introduces young people to career paths in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM). One of my favorite days at work was volunteering for a Dementia Care Home last year where we were the waiters & waitresses for their annual Christmas dinner.
How has Covid-19 affected your team and/or the way you manage the portfolio & resources?
Prior to Covid-19, we would work at home in an ad-hoc basis, certainly not regularly. Then with the shutdowns literally the entire company was told not to come into the office unless absolutely necessary. Suddenly we had a whole new project to help support that transition to working from home. Special considerations or challenges around that is communication and tracking the status of everything in order to accurately report back to management where things stood at any given time and respond accordingly.
Regarding my team, it was certainly different to have everybody working from home all the time. I noticed that it effects people differently, some people love it and some you can tell are not as thrilled about working from home for various reasons. So as a manager, I try to check-in with everybody often and make myself available to them. It is a challenge to keep a team connected and keep that comradery in this scenario. To address this, we created a committee to explore and plan ideas for virtual gatherings and socialization outside of work. They have hosted things like regular wine & cheese evenings, pumpkin carving competition where the families can get involved and other things to keep morale and networking up.
What is your approach/strategy at ITV to effectively managing resources?
Part of my role is making sure we optimize our resources, everybody these days is constantly operating with limited time and budgets, so we are looking to get the most out of all our work. Delivering projects on schedule, within budget and delivering the outcomes which the business is expecting is obviously standard in a PMO’s role but these days it is a particular focus for the entire organization.
We’re looking at learning and development as well, so the PMO is taking on an expanded role within the organization and that’s exciting because employee development helps with retention and morale and it’s great that we are being more strategic about this. We are helping the business assess where there are knowledge & skill gaps, then helping fill those gaps with proper training & other resources. This was certainly being done before, however we are now bringing more structure to the process.
For me, it comes down to trust. You need to take time to get to know people and invest in them. It is a trait ITV has from the top-down in fact, at the start of lockdown our CEO started hosting weekly vodcasts for the staff to address their questions. I try to take that same open communication approach with my team, so that I am aware of their workload and their personal goals. As I said, we all have more work than we can handle so the prioritization of what work we take in is paramount to success.
With Clarizen, we are starting to bring the Capacity Planning module into play, so that when we share how busy we are, we will have the data to drive decision making. This will also help us optimize our team’s time and plan further ahead for future projects. We are only getting started on this part, so I’m looking forward to seeing the impact there.
What is your favorite Clarizen feature? Why?
When I just got Clarizen, my favorite feature was the “Widget Link”. It is a simple thing but the fact that I can share a quick link to any work item with anyone (whether or not they have a Clarizen license) has helped us quickly socialize and share our team’s work.
For example, my director would not necessarily need a full Clarizen license, and during meetings we would have Clarizen live on the big screen. Afterwards however, I could easily share the widget of what was discussed in the meeting with him and if he has any questions about what was discussed, he has the data readily available for further review.
Who are some of the influencers you follow, who inspires you?
For me, it is people who are courageous, I love the stories where people overcome their challenges, whatever those circumstances may be.
Last year, I had the opportunity to see Michelle Obama speak in London and she is one of my favorite people and a positive influence on me as an individual. It was inspiring to hear how, in her youth, she was always told “You can’t do that…don’t even think about going there…that’s not for people like you.” Yet she continued to work so hard to achieve her goals in spite of all that. I remember when I read Barack’s first book, he said (and I paraphrase) If Michelle ran for President, she would be unstoppable, she is much more qualified than I am. I got the sense that she is a no-nonsense person and approaches things with a positive can-do attitude that is inspiring.
It is also about people who want to make a difference, so it may seem cliché, but Bill Gates stands out here. With the money he made at Microsoft, he is asking himself what he can do to give back and help – particularly in the areas of healthcare and education, which should be available for everyone. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a model for how individuals can make a big impact, all the projects they run and funds they provide to help children and underprivileged communities are inspirational.
I love an underdog story. Despite everything, those that have that courage and conviction to rise above and stay true to what they believe and to who they are, they inspire me. Mohamed Ali is a great example of this. I once met him, completely by accident in fact. I was out to lunch in London one day and he happened to be doing a book signing in the area. Unfortunately, I did not have any money on me at the time, having not expected to attend a book signing that day. So, we queued up to see him without any intention of having a book signed! Luckily, he is good-natured and gave my friends and I a warm greeting and a lovely hug too!
Separate and distinct from Clarizen, if a peer were to approach you for advice about what to consider in buying a PPM solution, what would you tell them?
It is all about knowing your requirements. Ask yourself these questions at the start; What is it exactly that you need & want? What is the problem you are trying to solve? Because there are lots of tools out there with lots of features and it can get a bit noisy and complicated quickly if you do not have a clear picture of your problem and intended solution. I recently saw piece of research about how much money corporations waste on features they do not use, in the systems that they purchase, and the amount is staggering!
Also, make sure that you conduct thorough research. I was lucky that I started my search while Gartner was having their PPM Symposium in London. So, I looked at the Gartner Magic Quadrant and then spoke with the PPM vendors and signed-up for demonstrations. I would also suggest that others who are starting this journey use the tools available such as research firms and online review websites, as well as reference sites where possible, to see how the vendors stack up.