What it's Like Working for an MSP

By Scarlett Bate on 13 June 2019
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Giuliana is a passionate leader at Jacobs Australia. As the Program Manager responsible for the Jacobs Major Service Provider (MSP) contract with Aerospace Combat Systems (ACS) Branch and the Newcastle Operations Manager (Aero), she manages a large team across multiple locations to deliver high-level consulting services. Giuliana has completed degrees in both Electrical Engineering and Project Management. She has over ten years’ experience as a project manager, a background which has prepared her to understand the technical challenges her client faces in aerospace projects, delivery and sustainment.

We sat down with Giuliana to understand what life is like working at an MSP in the Australian Defence Industry.

1. Tell us a little bit about what you do at Jacobs Australia.

I am the Program Manager for Jacobs’ ACS Branch Integrated Work Package (IWP) under the MSP contract. I’m based in Williamtown, but the IWP also covers System Program Offices (SPOs) in Amberley and Canberra. My key role involves working with Jacobs accounts team, my team, the Commonwealth representative, and the task lead to getting the right people at the right time and finding creative solutions while also helping the Commonwealth define needs and requirements. I am also the Newcastle operations manager for 12 staff here at Jacobs.

2. What is your background, and how has this helped you in the role you now perform?

I did my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, then postgrad studies in project management. I was lucky enough to be offered a project management role with Defence early on, which was a great way to get a view from the other side. I was responsible for a $20 million project, received lots of training and got to understand how Defence does business; which has all helped in my current role. I don’t just get bums on seats; I influence and drive value. It also helped me realise I love a challenge, and enjoy solving problems that can add value to an organisation.

3. Having not come directly out of the ADF, what made you choose the Defence Industry?

I appreciated that Defence’s purpose is capability; a capability that is fit for purpose, of the best quality and with a high standard of safety. What we’re trying to achieve is the best capability. I believe my focus on capability delivery throughout my career from graduate to project manager to program manager has helped enable my success.

4. You previously worked for Jacobs then came back after some time away. Can you tell me why you’ve re-joined?

As a graduate, I was lucky enough to fall into a role at Jacobs and found I had a real interest in the work. I left for a great opportunity within Defence and then gained experience starting a software business after that. I intentionally went back to Jacobs to see what was happening because it was an environment I really enjoyed and work I found interesting. After I spoke to some of the team and had some informal meetings, I realised the people, work, and opportunities were great; I got that sense of “I fit here,” so I re-joined as a consultant in 2015.

5. What are the most critical problems faced by people in project management?

There are two types of project management; one is an informal type of skill that lots of people in our environment need to get work done effectively and efficiently. Whenever you break a project into smaller pieces, you have to actively manage it.

Then there is the regimented type of project management that is more mandated and structured, usually involving projects ranging from $5 million to several billion. In my space, they are mostly $25 to $250 million projects supported by a small team. However, some might be extremely complex and at the lower dollar end, but require a large team to run. The most critical problems I see for this type of project management are:

(A) Scheduling & Project Controls

It’s easy for scheduling and project controls to be done wrong. It is important to use scheduling to your advantage; It is a critical and essential management tool for large or complex projects. Some project managers think they have it all in their head…they don’t! Schedules are powerful and not just something to be used for reporting.

(B) Integrated Logistics Support (ILS)

It’s easy to buy shiny new toys without the foresight into how it’s going to run for the next 30+ years. When the budget gets tight (and it will!), ILS is easy to pull back on, but the effects of not doing it right are costly and long-lasting. Just about all the projects that are hard to close are because they haven’t had proper ILS implementation up front and can run 4 – 5 years over because of that. In the worst case, you might even have a capability you can’t use in the field. ILS should be valued equally with engineering – and this is coming from an engineer!

6. Has the introduction of MSPs changed your role at Jacobs? How?

No, my role has not changed a whole lot. The main difference for me is the stability, longevity, and the increased career development opportunities I can offer my team.

7. Are there any benefits or challenges working on an MSP?

The introduction of MSPs has given us a lot more certainty and access to continuous and interesting work. That certainty has created a few more levels of management, which means more opportunities for growth within Jacobs. People can now see career paths or steps for development. We at Jacobs want to help develop people and have interesting work five to 10 years from now, which makes it a great time to be part of the team.

It’s also allowed us to implement more value-add projects like mentoring, indigenous engagement, STEM in schools, community involvement, and much more. It’s become a greater priority from a business perspective; because it’s important to Defence, we now have permission to share this with our client.

From my perspective, there aren’t many downsides to the MSPs. It does create limited access for each MSP to the full range of Defence projects out there, since what we have is what we have (and it is not likely to change in the short term). Although I see it all as interesting work! In regional areas, it is important to be aware and interested in the work Jacobs currently has, though this is far less an issue in capital cities.

8. What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it all worthwhile?

Seeing the success of my team and other teams they are in with our client. I love seeing people achieve things they didn’t think they could while also enjoying their work. We are about people first and foremost.

I like solving problems, and there are loads of problems to address and plan for. Having multiple moving parts and challenges to solve while remaining strategic rather than reactive is exciting to me. I also really enjoy managing the money side of what I do. Helping the company run the program efficiently and in a financially viable way is a good challenge.

9. If you could give advice to others looking to get into project management, what would you tell them?

It’s fine if you want to grow your career and conversely, there is absolutely nothing wrong with turning up and doing a good job each day. You should know who you are and be comfortable in that.

However, if you do want a career beyond consulting, you need to be willing to do more and get involved, because this truly builds skills and opens doors. I think if you want to be successful, you should develop more facets and a hunger for learning and reading. Look around and see where you can add value, what your passion is, what your company is passionate about (even if it’s not a clear path to your career), and then be willing to roll up your sleeves and put in the effort.

 

Kinexus would like to say a huge thank you to Giuliana for taking the time to chat with us.

Giuliana Marshall
Jacobs Australia 
ACS Branch IWP Program Manager | Operations Manager – Newcastle – Aerospace

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