In this project and change centric world, project managers are often asked (and often told) to deliver an unreasonable result. How can a PM turn such a request from a certain lose-lose proposition to a win-win opportunity? Recognize that project patience is a virtue and act accordingly.
In this post, we’ll review a CIO’s reaction to extreme demands from a VP and how a measured response and pragmatic change management effort resulted in a successful project and happy stakeholders all around.
Thanks to reader P.A. for providing the details on this case.
This mid-sized financial institution’s customers could pay their utility bills, department store bills, and payments to most local and national businesses through their local branches. The company, in turn, used a third party payment processor to manage the processing of the payments on behalf of their clients.
Of course, there was a cost to this service, and it was escalating. The VP, Banking Operations was tired of paying in excess of $600,000 annually for the bill pay service. She contacted her company’s CIO and asked him to insource the service. And she wanted the change completed in two weeks. It seems she had had a run-in with the third party processor and wanted out of the relationship ASAP.
Fortunately, the CIO was a veteran executive who understood the challenge of change. He asked the VP what was more important, doing the change quickly or doing it well, with bullet proof processes and timely service. When challenged, the VP acknowledged that quality service was the priority.
The VP and the CIO agreed to move the bill paying service in house with quality and service at least as good as that provided by the third party. They also agreed to cap the cost of the change at $600,000 to ensure there was an economic return to the organization. If they couldn’t find a way to bring the function in house at or below that amount, they’d look at other outsourcing options. Their target time frame for the change was six months.
The VP and CIO took an initial cut at identifying the processes and functions that would be affected and the organizations that would need to be involved. The VP contacted the six executives involved and asked for their support and participation in getting the job done. All affected executives agreed to support the change and participate in the project.
The CIO assigned a seasoned project leader to the job, in part to help counter the VP’s still pressing need for urgency. She agreed to a six month target but everything she said and did reflected her impatience with the status quo and desire for a faster resolution.
The new PM met individually with each of the committed executives to get their views on a number of topics the PM thought pertinent to the project:
- How to wrap up the contract with the current payment processor and the risks associated with that process
- The new direct feed to the businesses or their banks and the associated standards, practices and controls needed to manage the exchange of information
- The impact of the planned change on other products and services, processes and functions, interfaces to other people and systems, technology infrastructure, information needs and organization structures, roles and responsibilities.
- Their expectations regarding project reporting and communication.
Using a decision framework, the PM also discussed the executives’ expectations around such things as organizational priorities, service level expectations, compliance with internal and external standards, security needs, audit trails, peak and average volumes and scalability of the solution.
Of the six executives involved, he found there were usually one or two who had a very good understanding of the issues and needs on a given topic. The other executives were typically vague or didn’t know. He also found that most topics were adequately addressed by at least one of the executives or their staff. There were a few critical gaps however.
The PM consolidated his finding and shared the results with the six executives, the sponsoring VP and the CIO in two 90 minute sessions. The reviews helped bring everybody up to speed on the key project needs, issues and assumptions. The unknowns were assigned to one of the executives to get answers and recommendations and report back.
While all this was going on, the CIO and PM met with the payment processor’s account manager to inform him of their intent to cancel the contract, ask for their help to achieve a smooth transition and confirm the legalities involved.
Based on this feedback, the PM developed a high level plan, identified the skills he’d need and started to pull his team together. He also developed a risk plan and a communication plan and produced an initial quality strategy and a release strategy that would involve staging the project rollout by individual branches and then by region.
With his team fully assembled, the PM brought the detail estimates and schedule together and finalized the quality and release plans. The result was a target implementation in 3 ½ months at a cost of $490,000 and a staged rollout over six weeks to manage risks. After endorsement from the six executives, the sponsoring VP and the CIO, the project was off and running.
The insourcing of the bill payer service was implemented in four months and fully rolled out in five months at a cost of $412,000. The quality of the delivered solution was superb. The stakeholders were thrilled. In fact, the sponsoring VP was so pleased, she booked a local restaurant and hosted a dinner for the PM, his team members and the other stakeholders, an unheard of occurrence. Even the account manager at the payment processor was complimentary in his comments about the effectiveness of the changeover.
This project is a great example of what can be achieved with a holistic, patient approach to managing change. Project patience is a virtue!
How a Great PM Succeeded
The PM was successful in part because he had a very insightful and supportive boss, the CIO. The CIO knew that the change involved a collection of competing interests that needed to be rationalized. That required agreement from the affected stakeholders for the project to have any chance of success. The PM tapped into and leveraged that support. He gained full stakeholder backing on all the vital questions that needed addressing to fully understand and shape the insourcing effort. In addition, the PM:
- Leveraged the wisdom and authority of the CIO to ward off excessive demands and deliver a reasoned, pragmatic response to the challenges at hand.
- Used a broadly based decision framework to help the executives understand and shape the scope of the change and its impact on their operations.
- Reviewed each stakeholder’s views with the entire group and used that group as a forum to increase overall understanding, resolve differences of opinion and address gaps in their collective wisdom. He created a fully informed, collaborative and activist stakeholder group and cemented their support and commitment to the project. When issues arose that needed their attention, their decisions were rapid and unanimous. When he needed help on staffing, his needs were met. That high performing stakeholder group was the primary reason he was able to deliver ahead of schedule and under budget.
- Developed and implemented a plan that delivered the solution a month earlier than targeted, significantly under budget while managing the risks involved. He responded to the sponsoring VP’s need for speed and was rewarded with her compliments and dinner for all.
- In spite of the need for urgency to respond to the sponsoring VP’s wishes, the PM took a calm, cool and collected approach to ensure all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed. He engaged the payment processor’s account manager early and often to solicit co-operation and critical information about volumes, peak and low periods and processing times. By confirming his organization’s expectations on service levels, he determined that the payment cycle did not have to happen on the same day the payment was received. The stakeholders agreed to a three day window which allowed the PM to avoid incremental operating expense that would have been required to handle the peak volume periods.
The project was a well-planned, well run and thoroughly appreciated response to an initial, emotional executive demand. If you find yourself in a similar situation, put these points on your checklist of things to do so you too can be a Great PM. And remember to use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks right up front so you don’t overlook the key success factors.
In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll present it for others to learn from and comment on. Thanks
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting, a senior consultant at Mapador Inc. and a blogger on Project Times. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.