Ken Wong has spent a lot of his career making things—and teams—work better. Wong, who joined the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (Blusson QMI) in January, 2021, leads the Project Management Office (PMO) in his role as Research Program Manager. As an institute with big goals and Grand Challenges, the PMO plays an important role in the planning and management of—and reporting on—projects, from individual student research to multi-institute, international collaborations.
“We’re not here to swoop in and take over or tell you what to do,” he said.
“We’re really here to support our community, to make sure people have the resources and expertise that can benefit them, and to empower people to bring their ideas to life.”
“In the PMO, we’ve been talking a lot lately about what our mission is,” he said. “The challenges that people face are so different depending on a number of factors, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to project work, especially at Blusson QMI, where groups can be engaged in wildly different projects in an academic research environment. We are here to provide guidance and training in project management across the organization, but really customized.”
Wong grew up in a small farming community in Saskatchewan, and later moved to the “big city” (Saskatoon) to complete his undergraduate and Master’s degrees in physics at the University of Saskatchewan. He came to Vancouver to pursue his PhD at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
“Initially I had thought I would continue studying physics and pursue an academic career, but when I got here I made a right turn,” he said. He pivoted to computer science, before completing a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering at UBC. From there he went to work in the private sector, building a career in industries including aerospace, healthcare, and defense.
His background has given him a unique perspective, having spent time in both academia and industry, and one that really emphasizes the people in project management.
“If you’re a team lead or a project lead, you’re not just managing a project, you’re often also managing people,” said Wong. “But managing a project and managing people can be very different things, and there’s a potential conflict inherent in that. When managing a project, it’s all about accomplishing a goal and meeting a deadline. With people, when you manage them successfully, they grow and find their path, so what’s best for them, might not be what’s best for the project. I think a good project manager finds that balance, empowers their team, gives them the tools to get the work done but also to personally develop and pursue new challenges.”
At Blusson QMI, Wong leads a team of highly skilled project managers whose work ranges from research and reporting to industry spin-offs to the Grand Challenges.
“It’s about learning and building capacity to manage projects at the institute, not being a drill sergeant,” he said. “For these projects to succeed, we need to create an environment where people can succeed.”
The PMO team have been meeting regularly and conducting a needs assessment to better understand how they can serve the Blusson QMI community, and Wong looks forward to sharing the progress of the team as they begin to expand their offerings as people begin a more formal return to campus in the fall.
Speaking of returning to campus, Wong has picked up a bit of a walking habit over the past year and looks forward to adding walks to his day at UBC. Given that he started working remotely during a time when many of the operations staff at Blusson QMI were also working remotely, he has been very intentional about communication and connecting with colleagues, but has yet to meet most people in person. Want to connect with Ken? Starting in September, pop by his office (room 376) in the Brimacombe Building and ask Ken to join you on a walk.
“It was a bit odd at first being the new guy, but this team has been really inviting so it, in some ways, kind of feels like I’ve been here forever,” said Wong. “There’s just a lot of really brilliant people here, and I am excited to work with them all.”