Inside UBC Sauder Executive Education: Leading project management educator Denise Holleran-Boswell talks about how managers can keep projects on track by playing to strengths

As lead instructor in the Professional Project Management Certificate Program at UBC Sauder and founder and managing partner of Collaborators in Knowledge Inc., Denise Holleran-Boswell brings more than 35 years of project management experience to the classroom. Her unique teaching style and knowledge base is shaped by her involvement with both national and international clients such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, CanFor, HSBC, SNC Lavelin, and Weyerhaeuser.


Describe your teaching style in Executive Education?

I would say that we use a lot of what we call experiential learning. The classes are highly interactive and we work to engage participants through simulated exercises. We want to emphasize how you actually do things by creating scenarios in the classroom. We give them a little bit of theory and then we have them work in teams and actually learn by doing.

What are the top three things to keep projects on track?


Develop the project plan and ensure that everyone understands it as well as the standards that are in place to monitor and control the progress and deliver the business benefits.


Make sure everyone understands what the project scope and deliverables are, the measurement criteria, and how they are expected to achieve them on time and on budget.


When you think there is something wrong, even if it’s just a gut feeling, take corrective action as soon as possible.

Risk is always a factor in every project. What is the most important thing to remember to mitigate problems and capitalize on opportunities?

I say take a proactive, not reactive, approach. Project managers need to understand that the predominant risks are where the unique components of the project exist. All projects have a unique component; the question is how unique is it? The uniqueness is where the risk exists, and you want to really figure that out up front.

What key strategies do you teach project managers to keep their teams motivated and on task?

Right away, they need to understand the environment in which they are working. How is that going to impact your ability to motivate your team? What are the factors that can either influence or hinder success? Most projects are stressful, dealing with a lack of resources and people who sometimes don’t always have a lot of experience. In this case, we need to figure out what their core competencies are as well as their individual preferences. They may not have the experience, but if they lean towards certain tasks it’s ultimately worth it to invest in training them in those areas they prefer.

Karen Obeck

How do you ensure participants are being equipped with strategies they can put to work the day they get back to the office?

Because we do experiential learning and run lots of simulated exercises; by the time participants graduate, they’ve done a little bit of everything in a project team environment. They’re learning by actually doing it. In some instances, they’re actually using their existing work projects, so it helps them jumpstart and lay the foundations for successful project completion once they return to work.

We also hold open discussions with the facilitator or one of my instructors where we encourage participants to talk about any issues they’re having with a particular project. Then we can give them immediate feedback based on our own experience.

Recently, we introduced a Jeopardy!-style quiz. It allows participants to refresh their minds on what we covered the previous day in a fun and interactive way and reinforces learning.

What is the most significant thing you've noticed about how your course transforms participants' abilities?

I receive lots of emails from graduates telling me how they are putting the tools we teach them in the course—like assessing project risk— into play at work and the positive progress and successful project delivery they’re experiencing. I also see a significant leap in confidence that participants gain during the course. They are confident to go back into their workplace and be in charge of a project knowing they can keep it on budget, on time and on scope.

Executive Education at the Sauder School of Business

Our professional development programs aim to transform your career and accelerate your organization’s business objectives. With more than one hundred open enrolment programs taught by top Sauder faculty and leading industry experts, we zero in on your goals and ensure you get results.

We have a broad range of programs, from short skill-building courses for managers who want to make their mark to intensive week-long programs in residence for senior leaders. Each is comprehensive and convenient, minimizing your time away from the office and family. All our programs can be customized to meet your organization’s business objectives and professional development needs.