Not that long ago, Megan Stilley knew very little about project management.
Stilley was working in customer service and logistics, and she had a bachelor’s degree in marketing and market research from Missouri State University. Project management as a profession wasn’t on the radar.
“But a rather urgent and immediate need came up in my company,” she says of a 2014 merger between her employer, DustShield, and Phoenix Kiosk.
A project manager position for the kiosk company was vacated in the middle of the companies’ combining.
“They told me if I thought I could do it, the opportunity was available,” Stilley recalls. “I hadn’t done any project management.”
Now, she’s leading a not-for-profit project management organization teaching others the trade. All because she said yes to an opportunity.
“It was one of those jump-right-in and sink-or-swim kind of a deal,” she says.
Stilley sure didn’t sink, and she thanks the Project Management Institute for assisting her. She’s currently board president for PMI’s Southwest Missouri Chapter, an association of over 100 members.
“We have this collective of lessons learned between all these local project managers to help each other out,” Stilley says. “It was really great in helping me succeed.”
She wants to do the same for others entering the field, whether it’s their chosen academic path or they’re taking a blind leap as she did.
PMI is international in scope, pushing over 600,000 global members and 300 local chapters. Others nearby are in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Jefferson City.
Fight for survival
The Springfield group almost didn’t survive 2020. A pandemic year that restricted networking and events made it especially difficult for associations.
The local PMI chapter is built on group training, networking and educational sessions. “We put out a lot of urgent notifications telling our members we needed people to volunteer or we wouldn’t be able to continue,” Stilley says.
She’s the only carryover board member from 2019, when she served as vice president of communications. With no executive vice president in line to take the presidency in 2020, Stilley seized another opportunity.
“Again, just thrown into the deep end,” she says. “With challenge comes change.”
Stilley again was joined by others.
“A lot of amazing, dedicated people who wanted to see the chapter survive really stepped up,” she says.
The board experienced a resurgence to start this year, and it’s fully functioning with nine members.
PMI’s membership is up over 100 now, says Tiffany Russell, the chapter’s vice president of membership.
Russell had set a personal goal to bring in 10 new members this year, and the chapter’s already hit it.
“We’ve only had two in-person events since things started opening back up. We were able to double our attendance in the second meeting,” she says, noting about a dozen attended the August gathering. “It’s been a slow start after the pandemic. We do hybrid meetings for now to give folks an option.”
David Dinius attended that meeting and became chapter member No. 108.
“I really want to become a project management professional,” says Dinius, a project management student in DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management. “I looked at it is an opportunity to know people on a similar path and hopefully to find a mentor – things you can’t always find in school or the workplace.”
Russell says professionals join for various reasons.
“Some want the professional development credits for certifications,” says Russell, who works for accounting firm BKD LLP as a senior project manager. “Others want the career advancement and seeking job opportunities, and yet others like the networking and community involvement.”
In simple terms, Stilley says a project manager oversees the resources, timeline and production for an identified task.
Some companies have an individual in the role to bounce around to different projects, while larger corporations might have project portfolio managers over multiple, overlapping jobs and even yet an entire project management office.
From what Dinius is learning, the techniques can apply to anyone in a work environment with teams and shared responsibilities. He’s observed people taking on the role of project manager but without the title and training.
“What they really do is provide a methodology – tools that are already curated and vetted,” says Dinius, a Kansas City native who’s newer to Springfield. “There are a lot of systems that a small business can really take advantage of.
“It’s really a critical-thinking process as much as it is a way to understand cost variance and scheduling and that kind of stuff. In a sense, it’s for everyone.”
Today, Stilley officially holds the project manager title. She works for The App Pros, a company that resulted from the aforementioned mergers.
Her experiences have shown her the biggest takeaways might be continuous improvement and effective communication. Then there’s risk management – the topic of PMI’s next training event in October, “21 Deadly Project Mistakes,” led by consultant Keith Mathis.
“If you don’t remember to look ahead or make any mitigating steps, all it takes is one misstep and you’re done,” Stilley says. “Not only in business but in life.”
Read the profiles of this year's honorees.