Inside DELTA: 5 Questions with Merranie Zellweger

Director of Project Management Merranie Zellweger joined DELTA in 2011 and now leads a team providing agile and traditional project management, change management, conflict mediation, and leadership and communication coaching. Zellweger helped introduce Agile practices into DELTA operations, and her work has solidified NC State’s position as a leader in the implementation of Agile in higher education. Agile is a project management philosophy developed to enhance team processes and the customer experience. Zellweger and her team host the NC State Project Management and Agile Community – a place where anyone can join the conversation about all things project management, share best practices, tips and tricks of the trade and emerging trends. In 2016 and in 2021, Zellweger received the Pride of the Wolfpack award for her project management skills. 

How would you describe your position at DELTA?

Broadly, my position is to manage a small project management team. We work across and outside of DELTA to provide visibility, transparency, clarity and communication on anything that’s needed within projects or teams. Another central responsibility of my job is to enable agility across DELTA. My team started introducing agile principles, processes and ideas to DELTA about eight years ago. I coach teams and individuals on agile philosophy, various agile frameworks and different approaches to projects, prioritization, planning and work.

I spend much of my work time clarifying the space I’m in at that moment and connecting it back to broader efforts across the organization. “Connecting the dots” between different projects, people and ideas. A lot of my job can be to help figure out what challenges there are, how to address them and how to solve them. I believe that some degree of project management is a part of everybody’s job, but when you are a project manager there’s so much more to it. My job goes well beyond goal setting and task management. It often involves conflict mediation, a lot of process exploration and development and being able to look at both the broader picture and the details at the same time. 

Merranie and DELTA colleagues dressed as a Kanban board for Halloween 2019.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

I go to a lot of meetings! Part of that is because a significant part of my job is making connections and providing clarity, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. However, I also take that information and apply it elsewhere, because I’m looking at projects, initiatives and priorities across the organization. Sitting in a meeting lets me set one little piece of the puzzle into something larger. I feel like the project management team is the “invisible glue” of DELTA. If we do our jobs well, you may not notice, but our absence might have a significant impact on project success.

What is your favorite kind of work that you do at DELTA?

My favorite thing— that I haven’t been able to do for a couple of years since COVID— is to take all this knowledge and these ideas about project management, agile, coaching and leadership, absorb them, figure out how that might work for DELTA, and share that information with my colleagues. Before COVID, each year, my team and I would do a series of open presentations to DELTA staff. We would pull from conferences that we attended or books that we read. We’d pull it all together and say, “Hey, let’s talk about management styles or this particular agile principle or this really cool book we read and how it can change your concept of leadership.” I love learning and gathering information and then finding a way to communicate it back out to people in a way that is most useful to them. 

What do you love about DELTA?

I love that I get to do what I just described. I started here 10.5 years ago as DELTA’s first project manager. I feel I have a lot of freedom in exploring different ways to do things and trying them out. A lot of that is due to my managers and the people I work with. They’re brilliant, interesting, caring, innovative people, and they are very gracious and open to suggestions, ideas and collaboration. I love that my job is different pretty much every day, and I think part of that is because DELTA has so many functions and we provide so many critical services to the university. I laugh every single day. My colleagues and I make each other laugh, and I can’t think of a better way to spend 40+ hours a week. Life is too short to work with people you don’t like, and I love the people I work with. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend time with my husband, our two boys and our two cats. We’ve been living in downtown Raleigh for over 20 years, it’s a community I love and have loved to watch grow. I sing with the North Carolina Master Chorale, although I haven’t been able to for a couple of years due to COVID. I love to read, knit, cook and take photographs. I’ve worked as both a portrait photographer and event photographer, but I mostly do photography for myself, and I’ve done it all my adult life. It used to be with an old medium format Mamiya, then a digital camera and now it’s with my iPhone. I’m constantly taking pictures of whatever catches my eye. I started using Instagram about two months after it launched. It was still so small and an incredibly creative and supportive community, I made “friends” with photographers all over the world and still connect with them today. When I started shooting and throwing things up on Instagram, one of my challenges to myself— that I still do to this day— is that I rarely crop an image. Composition and light are everything, and when I take an image, I try to frame it exactly as I want it to be perceived. I’m always trying to refine my eye.

Merranie’s two sons.
Merranie with her husband and sons at Raven Rock State Park.