Learning with impact | Asking the right questions before a project breaks ground

Karen Obeck refined her skills as a project leader through the Project Management Essentials course and says it gave her a better understanding of how to keep her team on budget and on time.



Two years ago Karen Obeck decided to make a shift towards a new career when an opportunity presented itself through workplace reorganization. But she needed to make certain upgrades to her employment education if she was to get the gig she really wanted.

“I knew it was time to make a change, but I realized that I needed more certificates on my resume if I wanted to attract the right future employer,” says Obeck.

Obeck decided to round out her career by adding project management to her other skillsets and while she had experience running projects in the past, she knew her resume didn’t properly showcase her skills.

“I thought project management was really going to be a benefit,” she explains. “And I knew that going into new opportunities I would need to have proper certification, a recognized certification.”

As an added bonus, Obeck explains that as part of her workforce adjustment package she was given some financial support to increase her education. “I could spend this money anywhere on anything for education and I recognized the reputation for professionalism that the Executive Education program has.” 

So she enrolled in the Project Management Essentials course through UBC’s Sauder School of Business Executive Education.


Obeck spent 30 years working for the federal government—the first 20 with Public Works and Government Services Canada and the last decade with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in real estate and facilities management.

She says she loved her worked and gained valuable experience there, but when an opportunity came up at the Fraser Health Authority it was time to put her past experience to work in a whole new environment. 

In her current position as Manager of Real Estate and Leasing, Obeck’s main client is Vancouver Coastal Health where she is responsible for looking after the health authority’s community-leased buildings. It requires drawing on her past real estate know-how with the Mounties, but there is a higher project management component as well.

“My current position was a huge change, a big shift in work after 30 years with the government, but it’s been really positive,” says Obeck. “I’m glad I took the leap and did it.”


For Obeck, it was the fun and honest style of the course instructor, Denise Holleran-Boswell, which made the Project Management Essentials course memorable and interesting.

“I found Denise really easy to learn from and follow,” says Obeck. “She definitely has a lot of experience and gives understandable, real-life examples and as a result you can imagine yourself in these situations.”

Denise Holleran-Boswell

Obeck admits that she was surprised by how candid Holleran-Boswell was about her past experiences—good and bad—and says it was easier to learn from someone who “tells it like it is.”

But the take-home aspect of the three-day course was learning how to effectively control the project management triangle: scope, budget and time.

“Denise really drilled into us the upfront work a project manager has to do to ensure these aspects are clearly laid out for all parties involved,” explains Obeck. “If one aspect of the triangle changes it influences the whole project and I think that was the important piece for me."


Not only has Obeck used the lessons she learned in the course in her daily work life, but also in her personal life as a member of two Strata committees in North Vancouver.

“Denise gave me the strategies to ask the right questions about budget, time and scope before a project even gets underway, often saving time and money down the road,” she explains.

“Much of the stuff I learned in the course was a refresher of what I already had in my toolkit,” she adds, “but rediscovering those tools and adding a few new ones has made a significant difference in the way I approach a project of any kind.”

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.