The Millennium Bug. The Year 2000 Problem. Y2K. These were all names for one of the most highly publicised IT problems of the 1990s. Back in the day, with computer memory at a premium, a year in data came to be represented as two digits instead of four. When the date clicked over to 01/01/00, would time rewind to 1900? Organisations worldwide didn’t wait to find out and sought programming solutions to the technical problem.
One person who entered the fray was Fiona Park, who in mid-1998 began running a systems remediation program for the financial organisation now known as GE Money Australia. Park had just returned from maternity leave, more or less ready for action. The catch was that tackling Y2K was her “first formal encounter with project management” and all the ‘training’ was on-the-job: “The CIO I worked for at the time served as a coach and mentor. The rest was just instinct.”
Y2K remediation allowed her to recognise the work as a series of projects. In time, she came to regard herself as a program manager. “Part of what I needed to do was to articulate all of the projects for which I was responsible. I was doing more of a program management role,” Park recalls.
It was a role with a steep learning curve, but Park took on advice from her mentor, peers, and various consultants in the company as she built her skills. She then encountered PMBoK, attended project management events and networked with project managers. The hard work paid off: within six months, GE Money asked her to help other GE Capital businesses in “understanding and leading others in their Y2K project delivery”.
Eventually, Park achieved her CPPD certification through the Australian Institute of Project MAnagement (AIPM) and attained an Advanced Diploma in Project Management. “Putting together the assessment material was a process in recognising what I’d done,” she says. “By the time I completed the qualification, I’d actually performed the role for seven years. There weren’t any gaps, it was more recognising and putting a structure around what I knew.” She also went on to teach Program Management at the Australian College of Project Management.
Park started with a technical background in the finance sector. Her career began in the IT department of the State Bank of Victoria (later merged with CBA) as a trainee analyst programmer, before she progressed to a senior analyst programmer and team leader level several years later. Even in those early days she handled projects, though they weren’t necessarily identified as such at the time: “I was basically coordinating the delivery of the applications development and testing, but it was not formally called project management.”
Park left a team leader role to go on maternity leave after starting at GE Money Australia. Asked whether she found the return to work difficult, she admits it was hard to balance family and work, despite the fact that “I do tend to project manage my life”.
Having balanced two young children and a baby with a demanding role, Park advises other project managers to really think about what’s important. “It’s very easy, particularly for people who are passionate about what they do, to let work overrun everything else: you actually become less effective at work and you lose sight of what’s really important,” she warns. “I would say to people to prioritise and to consider the old adage that from scope, budget, time, quality, choose two. When they’re thinking of the ‘project’ of their life, what choices are they making? For example are they choosing personal time over having discretionary budget available?”