An interview with Amanda Curran, who leads Project Management & Digital Implementation at AllianceBernstein
Tell us about your role at AllianceBernstein
I’m a project manager and fall under the digital project management team. What tends to happen is, if there’s any sort of technology implementation for our marketing team, I will lead that project. Day to day, it’s a lot of our client facing websites, such as the work we do with you guys, but if there’s a Salesforce or content management implementation, that tends to fall under my group. I will lead some of those bigger initiatives and then the project management team underneath me will keep all the client-facing web work moving forward.
If a project tends to go sideways, they pull me in! My manager calls me “the fixer”.
When my husband explains to people what I do, he says I’m a professional cat-herder. When people are running in a thousand different directions, I get people going in the same direction. That pretty much what I do.
So how long have you been at AB?
This October it will be 13 years. I always tell people I’ve been here 10 years and then remember that was nearly three years ago! Before AB I was working at a re-insurance company where I did business analysis and a little bit of project management. I probably now still do half project management half business analysis. You get so engrained in the business and what they’re looking to achieve that the two things blend together. But for bigger projects it’s really difficult to be a good BA and really good PM with these larger installations. Sometimes you have to divide it up and say: ‘you’re in charge of documenting all the different requirements’ and ‘you’re in charge of all the other players staying on track and moving things forward’.
How do you find working remotely?
I was in the New York office for 10 years before I moved with my family to south Florida, so working remotely is still pretty recent for me. I still go back and forth between the two places as projects require. It can be tough but I also enjoy it.
What kind of digital tools do you use in your work?
We’ve tried to implement a standard, but it usually depends on the size of the project. We work to key milestones and use a variety of tools. We use Application lifecycle management (ALM) to log bugs, when we’re in that portion of a project. Our development team uses Jira and they will log all the documentation, images and so on. We’ve also been using a platform called Smartsheet quite heavily recently, which is really nimble, has a bunch of different templates and you can share it easily. We used to use Sharepoint but found people were sharing email attachments around too much, and things were getting out of sync.
Do you log all time spent on projects across the team?
We’re a very lean team. We were doing a lot of that, but the big difference with us (compared to an agency for example), is most of the work is for internal facing projects. So now rather than put extra pressure on the team to track everything down to the nearest half hour spent, we look at projects holistically each quarter across all the SBUs (Strategic Business Units). Some management applications are too big for small teams, especially if people are saying “I’m spending more time in this system than doing the actual work”.
Do you undertake in any continuous training?
Early on my career I would train in things like how to use Microsoft Project better or some of the Adobe tools. I always look to see what’s out there in terms of digital marketing and project management, but I feel I have evolved in my career. You can’t really train a project manager. I feel you either have the skillset and you get better at it, as with each project you learn. At this stage in my career I am more interested in learning industry best practices, like what people are doing in the digital space within financial services.
I enjoy going to events, such as an EventApart. It’s all about UX and good design. There’s no product push behind it and it’s industry agnostic. If you’re a financial advisor or a plumber, people use the web in similar ways, regardless of their occupation. It’s all about how to make things more accessible, which I think is a really interesting lens. We’re always asking ‘what do financial advisors want to do online?’ and there’s a set of tasks they’re looking to accomplish online, but that’s no different from someone who’s going to buy something from Amazon. It should just be an easy experience.
Who inspires you, who do you follow online?
I guess if I’m being 100% honest, I follow a lot of people on LinkedIn and so on, but as a kind of running dialogue that’s not really industry specific. My true inspiration, what motivates me is music, or food, or travel. It’s not directly related to my job, but for me, I can set the tone of my day based on what music I have on in the morning for instance. It might sound weird, but these things inspire me through into the project management work I do. It’s less about this person or that person in the industry making me want to be a better project manager.
Have you read any inspirational books you would recommend?
I’m not a huge reader, but I enjoyed read something called Storyscaping, about advertising and brands. I’m recently reading Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, which I’m finding really interesting. The author came to our Hong Kong office and did a book signing. But mostly if I pick up a book, it’s not about the industry or work.
If you’re a project manager you’re a jack of all trades. If you’re a UX guy, your job is to do user experience. If you’re a designer your job is to design. I feel a project manager needs to have a little bit of knowledge in each field so you can talk to the UX person and talk to the designer. But it’s not something I need to read book upon book about.
Any advice for other women interested in a career in finance/tech?
I guess I would say this: there’s no such thing as a stupid question. And never assume that everyone in the room is on the same page. Most of my career has been built on being brave enough to sit in rooms that were male dominated (as its financial services and technology) and asking – what could be perceived as – a very obvious and simple question. The room goes silent, but then people say “oh we haven’t thought about that”. There’s value in being able to speak up and not be intimidated by the dynamic in the room, and assuming that you’re the only who’s not understanding what’s happening.