Ashley Greer ’20 MSL of Troutman, N.C. thinks constantly about time, budget and scope -- the three key elements of her work in project management at Wells Fargo.
Greer is a Business Support Consultant in the bank’s Enterprise Change Management division. She guides large teams to desired outcomes by a certain date and within strict financial parameters. And thanks to Pfeiffer University’s Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) program, which she completed last year, she’s taking her project management skills to the next level.
“I want to get into leadership roles,” she said. “I felt that the MSL program at Pfeiffer was going to fill a gap, to give me exposure to things that I didn’t have real world experience in.”
And indeed, during her MSL studies, Greer deepened her understanding in the areas of conflict resolution and negotiation, human resource management, employment law, governmental regulations, and diversity. She also learned more about how and why teams perform optimally.
On one level, project management can be quite simple. For example, imagine that you are tasked with arranging for travel from North Carolina to California. If the traveler must be there by the fall and only has enough money for food, you’d probably give him a backpack and map out a route for getting him to his destination on foot. If, however, the traveler has unlimited financial resources and must be in California tonight, you’d arrange for her to travel in a private jet.
At Wells Fargo, of course, project management becomes infinitely more complicated. Currently, Greer is managing a project aimed at reducing the time it takes the bank to make a hire, from 80 days to 30. The assignment began in January and is projected to last until the end of the year.
A hiring process that lasts 80 days “is a really long time that you’re overworked, that you’re over capacity, that you can’t do all the things you need to do,” Greer said. “That’s almost three months.”
To get to the magic number of 30 days, the bank is introducing a “singular technology platform” that everyone from the hiring manager to HR can access as they fill out the necessary paperwork and get approvals. The platform will replace “a web of emails going around” that can easily result in bottlenecks and confusion.
As any project she manages moves along, Greer may well have to draw on the negotiation skills she learned in Pfeiffer’s MSL program. The key to sound negotiation is to provide “context and detail” and to find a way to a compromise with which everyone can live.
For example, a manager wants new technology to be implemented by a certain date. But the amount he budgeted provides funding for three people -- not enough to finish the job within the manager’s desired timeframe.
“I understand why you want it by this date,” Greer might say to the manager. “Here’s what we can implement by that date, and it’s 30 percent.”
The bottom line: “He feels like he won, and you feel that you won for your team,” Greer said. “You didn’t commit your team to something unreasonable, but the manager doesn’t feel like you dismissed his concerns either.”
Greer’s pre-work background provided little indication of the career path she would ultimately pursue. A 2012 graduate of UNC Charlotte, where she majored in English and minored in psychology, she wanted to attend law school but decided to delay that for full-time employment.
When a family friend won a contract to install high-speed internet lines throughout central North Carolina, he hired her to manage the teams on the ground who did the work.
Greer did well, gaining enough general experience in project management to join Wells Fargo following a brief stint in merchandising at Lowe’s Companies, Inc.
Greer enrolled in Pfeiffer’s MSL program in 2018. By that time, she had a lot on her plate: She was married, had an 18-month-old daughter and was doing demanding work at Wells Fargo. If she was going to pursue a master’s degree, she needed a program that would a) not burden her with thousands of dollars of debt and b) afford her the flexibility needed for a workable family-work-school balance.
Financially, Pfeiffer’s program made sense. It offered Wells Fargo employees discounted tuition, most of which the company ended up reimbursing. And the MSL’s online format enabled Greer, with the help of her husband, to fulfill the program’s requirements in “sandwiches” of time. She’d do the course’s reading and research for two hours every morning beginning at 5 a.m., go to work, and return home, where she’d be a mom until about 8:30 p.m., the time her daughter went to bed. She’d then devote a few hours to listening to lectures, writing papers and completing assignments involving discussion boards.
“There were never any dull moments,” she said. “But, if I had to do it all over again, I would.”
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.