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The power of two

The power of two

Mellon Financial Corp., once primarily a banking services provider, has increasingly become an outsourcer for other companies, handling in some cases all of their back-office operations. This new business focus has meant that Mellon's 3,000-member IT group now routinely juggles several projects worth roughly US$200 million per year. And that has created an increasingly urgent desire to truly master project management.

To that end, the Pittsburgh-based company has created a program that pairs an IT project manager with a line-of-business comrade, forming a two-member project management team. So far, Mellon has successfully piloted the new approach a number of times. And it's this success that has led the company to roll it out for use on 11 major projects. Mellon, which sold its retail banking operation in 2001, has an annual IT budget that tops half a billion dollars.

Mellon Financial CIO Allan Woods believes the dual-manager approach is making the company's project management more predictable and repeatable, with less dependence on individual heroism.

CIO and Vice Chairman Allan Woods believes the dual-manager approach is making Mellon's project management more predictable and repeatable, with less dependence on individual heroism. In pilots,

the duos have kept complex projects on schedule better than individuals could have. The manager from the IT side ensures discipline, and a focus on milestones and deliverables; business-side managers spend more time tending to customer needs and queries than a single project manager typically would, which keeps customers happy.

Project culture

In today's enterprise, business rules and processes are tightly intertwined with technology. As a result, the idea of project manager teams is gathering momentum. "These complex projects require a combination of business and technology savvy that's very difficult to find," says Gopal K. Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management in San Ramon, Calif.

The duo approach, which Mellon calls the project architect program, is the brainchild of Kevin Shearan, Mellon's executive vice president of technology. In this method, the IT-side representatives are project architects (project managers, that is), and the business-side counterparts are senior line-of-business executives who are already familiar with the client's people and processes (to date, all clients have been external). The business-side project manager has ultimate authority and responsibility for the project's success; if the duo cannot resolve a conflict, that person has the final say. Shearan says it's vital that a single person bear ultimate accountability for projects. (So far, all conflicts have been resolved by mutual agreement, according to Mellon IT execs.)

The project management team approach is particularly useful for complicated endeavors such as outsourcing projects, Mellon IT executives say, because of the unique characteristics of such work -- including longer time frames for project completion, heavy business process reengineering and loads of integration work.

The duos are selected by senior executives who are familiar with the work of both employees -- usually the CTO of the affected line of business, according to Chris O'Brien, Mellon's senior vice president and manager of technology strategic planning, who is leading the implementation of the project architect program.

Secrets to success

When selecting potential project architects from the IT organization, Mellon seeks individuals with the the following experience and personality attributes.

PMI certification. Shearan says project architects are more likely to succeed if they've learned formal skills at the Project Management Institute.

Experience. By nature, the tasks that are assigned to a project architect are large and complex.

Comfort with the brass. According to O'Brien, project architects must be confident, prepared and able to think on their feet when delivering unwelcome news to executives.

Team orientation. "Some people are good but not good at sharing," Shearan says, and "that won't work" for a project architect.

Once the project management duo is in place, their deliverables are similar to those of a traditional solo project manager. They track project status, create and distribute reports, run team meetings, and keep both the team and senior management up-to-date on progress and problems.

Birth of a system

Mellon first used its project architect method on a project involving Mellon Global Securities Services, one of the principal businesses in Mellon's Asset Servicing sector. Mellon declines to name the client, but Dave Rosenberg, a senior vice president and manager of Mellon's Asset Servicing project management office, says the project involved implementing a new operational model for the client that will take years to complete.

Marcie Heyl, a PMI-certified project manager with 19 years' experience, was named the IT-side project architect because of skills she had demonstrated on previous large-scale projects, according to Rosenberg. Heyl was teamed with Donna F. Moses, a vice president and relationship manager in the Global Securities Services group. Moses was selected because she was familiar with the client's staff and business processes, and Rosenberg and other executives believed she would work well with Heyl.

Moses says she welcomed the dual-manager approach. "We realized this initiative was likely to span a greater time frame [than most projects] and also required greater technology know-how," she says. Heyl supplies that know-how, as well as formal project management skills. Moses is the primary contact point for the client; Heyl is charged with imposing IT-style project management discipline -- formal risk assessment, milestones, deadlines, reports and the like -- where it had been lacking before.

Under Heyl's direction, team members began using an existing tool -- already used by many IT project managers -- called a CAIR (Constraints, Action items, Issues, Risks) Log. Each department with a hand in the project keeps its own CAIR Log, usually in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. Issues are recorded and tracked in the log, and an owner is assigned to troubleshoot each entry.

When a department is unable to resolve a CAIR Log issue, it is bumped up to the Heyl-Moses team. At that point, Heyl says, "We go across the organization, bringing in as many people as necessary to reach consensus."

Moses and Heyl work closely together to resolve these potentially fractious CAIR Log escalations, and they believe this is an area in which the dual-manager program is valuable. The reason: When they tackle problems together, all aspects of a problem can be analyzed at once, and the solution is more likely to work on both the business and technology sides.

Next steps

The early teams learned lessons that have been incorporated into the program. For example, some teams found themselves spending too much time on administrative tasks such as updating project plans and creating reports. So a project administrator was added to the team.

The approach has posed some challenges. For instance, Laura McGortey, senior project manager in Mellon's Global Cash Management division, says the sheer number of details that IT-style project management introduces can be overwhelming and frustrating for businesspeople. Will the company's senior business executives continue to enthusiastically support project management teams when the newness of the program fades? If they do, the payoff could be a higher rate of project implementation successes and greater IT-business alignment.

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