John Belt, MBA, has long been one of the most popular faculty mentors in CalSouthern’s School of Business. Students love his wit and irrepressibly positive attitude, and appreciate his responsiveness, as well as his famously extensive and personalized feedback.
But not only is Mr. Belt a gifted and dedicated educator, he also has developed the curriculum for the project management concentration in the Master of Business Administration program. (In his “spare time,” he is president of QuinLab Consulting, which develops geological models for natural gas prospects and provides geochemical analytical laboratory services for exploration and production clients.)
Amber Artiaga, an academic advisor in the School of Business, caught up with the busy Mr. Belt to learn more CalSouthern’s project management curriculum, as well as the field in general.
Amber Artiaga: What initially sparked your interest in project management?
John Belt: Around the time I was developing QuinLab, it occurred to me that since the age of five (when, believe it or not, I took an interest in my father’s home-building business) my entire life had been nothing more than a continuous series of projects in different organizations, including the military and a number of geochemical businesses. The assumption always was that if you were a good home builder, soldier, chemist, geologist or whatever, this automatically made you a good project manager without any formal and special training. This struck me as curious and, likely, erroneous
So I started my investigation into a more formal study of project management. Eventually, my wife Charlotte—a CalSouthern alumnus—and I both completed our MBAs in project management. Interestingly, Charlotte and I are now in totally different fields. I have my own company QuinLab and Charlotte works for a Big Four accounting firm. However, we both require—and regularly lean on—effective project management skills.
Looking back, I realize that, as I suspected, the assumption that if you are skilled in your work, you would make a competent project manager is utterly false—and it’s the reason many projects fail. It takes specialized skills and education to become an effective project manager, just like the specialized skills and education it takes to become a good scientist, engineer or accountant.
Artiaga: How would you define “project management”?
Belt: Simply stated, a project is a temporary endeavor to provide a specific or unique product or service. It has a beginning and an end. In addition, a project is defined by what it is designed to accomplish, its budgeted costs, and the time schedule for completing all of the tasks associated with the project. Typically, a project will move through seven basic stages: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, control, closing out and lessons learned.
Project management requires possessing all of the skills, talents and knowledge to bring the different components of the project together to accomplish its main or unique objective. All organizations—big and small—regularly undertake projects to improve company operations or to meet client requirements.
Artiaga: What do find most interesting or rewarding about the field?
Belt: It’s an independent discipline unto itself that must be coupled with a second profession or discipline. For example, in my line of work, I marry my project management expertise with my knowledge and experience in geochemical exploration. Also, it’s a rapidly growing area. Every industry and profession needs educated project managers that are experienced within that industry.
And, as I stress to my students, the MBA with a concentration in project management will be beneficial now and for the rest of their lives. They may change career paths 10 times, but they will always be involved in projects at some level. Additionally, we all do projects in our personal lives—at home, with our families and friends, at church or for our local charities. Our adult lives, in many respects, are essentially ongoing series of projects that keep us connected and moving forward until death.
Artiaga: Having developed CalSouthern’s project management curriculum, are there certain courses that you find particularly valuable?
Belt: I believe Project Management Strategic Design is extremely valuable. It’s one that’s very unique; it brings a critical and important difference to CalSouthern’s program when compared to those offered by other universities, and one that I find essential. During my decades of experience in project management, I observed that the strategic development and implementation of projects is often a crucial competitive advantage to business organizations across industries.
My students might answer this differently. They would probably point to the Project Management Capstone as both the most challenging and the most fulfilling. It’s the “icing on the cake” of the program, allowing students to choose a topic of particular interest to them, applying what they’ve learned in their prior classes to address the issue in an extensive, scholarly paper. Students can be intimidated at first by the sheer scope of the project, but they are invariably and pleasantly surprised with their ability to apply the concepts and skills they’ve learned in their prior courses to produce a high-quality, professional paper on the topic. Several of my students have even had these papers hardbound and have given me copies; I proudly display their work in my home library.
Artiaga: What’s the current job outlook in the field?
Belt: As I mentioned earlier, it’s a growing field, with opportunities across a multitude of industries, since developing successful, productive and efficient projects is extraordinarily valuable in virtually any sector. But something to keep in mind is that project management has a multidisciplinary, secondary function. I alluded to it above, but let me explain.
First, you must have a specific interest, skill and knowledge in a career such as medicine, construction, science, engineering, accounting, education or home building—you name it. Second, you need the project management knowledge and skills obtained from a quality program like CalSouthern’s.
So, simply stated, the multidisciplinary aspect might be construction supervision and project management, science and project management or engineering and project management. Your specific career interest comes first (like geochemistry did for me), and then your project management expertise provides the secondary path to a highly functional and successful career—and gives you a synergistic and competitive advantage over others in the industry.
So my advice for those interested in project management? First, become skilled in a field that you’re passionate about. Then, add your project management skills and knowledge to become more proficient—and marketable—at something you love doing for a living.
Artiaga: What are project management’s prospects for the future?
Belt: More and more organizations are recognizing the necessity of employing professionals with specific project management expertise. If you need evidence, just spend some time on LinkedIn and other job sites, as well as specific industry publications. You’ll see that more and more, employers insist on an MBA in project management—or at the very least, project management certification—as a prerequisite to apply for many jobs. I see this trend continuing to gain momentum into the future.
As I stress to my students, the MBA with a concentration in project management will be beneficial now and for the rest of their lives. They may change career paths 10 times, but they will always be involved in projects at some level.
Add project management expertise to your experience in a field that you’re passionate about to become more proficient—and marketable—at something you love doing for a living.
It’s a growing field, with opportunities across a multitude of industries, since developing successful, productive and efficient projects is extraordinarily valuable in virtually any sector.