Patrick Mooney

Patrick Mooney, production manager, Propulsion Controls Engineering

As a full-service electro-mechanical and diesel repair contractor for the maritime market — Propulsion Controls Engineering is serious about their commitment to “versatile, reliable, and rapid response.” Which is why the family owned company recently sent several employees through San Diego State University’s Professional Certificate in Project Management  program.

Among them was production manager Patrick Mooney, who answered some questions about his experience in the program, which, he said, “Provides a nudge that can push a merely good or effective manager to the next level.”

Please give us a brief history of your education and career.
I have a bachelor’s degree in English and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Colorado. I was working as a bartender and some guys from PCE were regular customers. They hired me and I worked my way up through the air conditioning and refrigeration trade into production management.

What are your primary duties as production manager?
Right now I’m heavily engaged in managing projects for PCE in the Littoral Combat Ship program for our customers who serve the Navy. It’s a new type of ship that makes for a pretty dynamic repair project portfolio. We have served up to eight different customers on two platforms (totally different types of ships) and repaired everything from main propulsion equipment to stateroom showers.

What did you hope to gain by taking the program?
Any time you set aside three to six hours a week to focus on getting better at your job, it’s going to have a positive effect. I’m a believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hours-to-gain-expertise theory from his book Outliers. This class is getting me, and the rest of the team, there faster.

How many of your co-workers also participated, and how was that experience?
So far two from our executive management team have taken a couple of courses and it was their enthusiasm that pushed our production management team into taking the course. Five of us all took the class together and found it to be a great team-building experience.

What gems of wisdom did you come away with from courses such as Team Building, Procurement, and Scope, Time and Cost?
I really like Tuckman’s Ladder. I’m very self-aware now when I’m forming, storming, norming and performing at work. [Editor’s note: This is a model of group development first proposed by professor and researcher Bruce Tuckman in 1965.] When I can address something that moves me one direction or the other through the stages, I can get to the performing stage much faster. It’s a trickier dynamic to push teams through the stages but at least I can identify them and try to work for progress.

Can you give an example of where you directly applied something you learned?
I was recently given an infrastructure project at our shop. I was assigned to get our yard (shipyard speak for parking lot/outdoor areas) cleaned up and made more efficient for use. I went through all of the steps, writing a charter, analyzing risks, assembling a team, holding effective (short) meetings, building a WBS [work breakdown structure], HR management plan, the whole thing. We’re still planning the change and estimating it from the bottom up, but so far the project has benefited from the organization that PMI best practices have brought to the process. We’re showing our upper management the benefits of what they’re paying for in PMI training.

Did you take the entire program or just certain courses?
I went on a vacation and had to stop short of Procurement and Capstone. I also need one more elective. I have them all scheduled for the spring. I will be taking these classes without the rest of the group and look forward to getting out of the comfort zone of the familiar faces in class. I tend to be an introvert but the classes are forcing me out of my shell and into more networking situations.

How important was it that the instructors actually work as project managers in local companies?
Some of the résumés of the teachers were pretty impressive. I know I took at least one class from an executive with our biggest customer. The instructors were not just experienced but really diverse in their experience from working for the City of San Diego or IBM or SHARP Healthcare. We get to apply perspectives from other industries to help us adapt and improve our projects.

Many companies require key employees — and those of any organization they work with — to be certified project managers. Why do you think that is?
It think there’s definitely a language you learn to speak when going through this training and it helps to know that you’re being understood when those around you have the same training. I know we plan to put all of our project/production managers through this training and hopefully our executive management will get it too.

What do you think are the biggest strengths of SDSU’s Project Management program?
The team building opportunity. The camaraderie that gets built even when total strangers work on simulated projects with each other. I think if you’re the type of person that takes this course, you’re probably already a good employee wherever you work. This shows a commitment to getting better. I think the program provides a nudge that can push a merely good or effective manager to the next level.

How feasible is it for full-time employees to take the program? 
It is certainly not to be taken lightly if you want to get the most out of the program. There’s a time commitment of 3–6 hours per week. I not only have a demanding (50–60 hour/week) job, I have a 5-year-old and 1-year-old daughter; so if I can manage it, anybody can.

Did the program lead to any networking opportunities with fellow students or instructors?
It has been interesting talking to people from other industries and other companies to learn how they are structured and how they manage projects. Obviously the majority of the perspectives we have been exposed to have been through the instructors and their vast experience managing teams and projects.   We have made friends with some of the people in our class and have stayed in touch. We see other people in our industry that went through the class with and we know at least that they speak the same PMI language that we do.

Learn more about SDSU’s Project Management Professional Certificate program at