HSO has been working with companies for decades on implementing technology like a banking technology solution with Microsoft products like Dynamics 365 at the core. The complexion of our world has evolved significantly over the years, partly because the technology itself has changed, partly because we’ve found better ways to do things. But some facets of our have never changed because they work … namely, project management and program management.
You might wonder where this article is headed since it is aimed at financial services firms. Why am I suddenly interested in extolling the virtues of project and program management? Because a recent engagement with one of our clients represents one of the best examples of project and program management done right and the resulting benefits. NOTE: If you’re wondering what “program management” is and how it’s different from project management, read on.
A high-profile start-up bank challenged HSO with an aggressive, high-visibility timeline for implementing their banking technology solution
A start-up bank that is poised to be very high-profile and fast-growing saw a window of opportunity and is going after it aggressively—with funders who are expecting results fast—which meant an aggressive timeline for its technology infrastructure. This online-only bank will provide banking and other related services, including mortgages, credit cards, property-casualty insurance, and auto insurance, to a very targeted but large audience.
The bank decided on a Microsoft platform for their banking technology solution, and after interviewing multiple potential partners (including KPMG), decided on HSO. While it might be assumed that a high-profile business with major financial backing would go with a big-name consulting organization, this bank saw in HSO the creativity they needed to execute on their vision by building an infrastructure from the ground up, but with nimbleness to mobilize and things up and running quickly and without all the overhead.
The first concern: The major concern was satisfying the investors by accelerating time to market with at least one line of business to get revenue coming in. Our first task, then, was to get the insurance LOB up and running because the time to revenue between writing policies and collecting premiums would be the fastest. Later, they said, we would roll in banking, mortgage, and brokerage LOBs using the insurance phase as a turnkey solution for going to market.
The goal: Go live with the insurance LOB in less than four months. This is the chaos that “rational” project management helped us calm successfully.
At the time this article was written, we had completed the “insurance” phase of the banking technology solution implementation. Of the 10-15 vendor relationships this bank is dealing with, HSO has been the only one that has delivered on time and on budget—even under budget. In fact, we delivered more than what was requested initially, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The reason I bring up this fact is that it is a testament to the team that delivered. It’s a great story about what I call “rational” project and program management.
Many companies don’t appreciate the importance of project and program management, assuming they don’t need it, and they cut it to save costs. Many years ago, we (HSO) discovered the importance of having both a project manager and a program manager on every single project because, quite frankly, if you don’t, you get into trouble. You can quickly lose sight of your goals as well as your deadlines, budgets…and outcomes. This is NOT the place to cut costs!
Project manager vs. program (engagement) manager: Who’s who?
Before I talk about how rational project and program management were key to the success of this banking technology solution engagement, let’s clarify those roles.
The project manager (PM) is the day-to-day person in charge of the development team, managing them and the client on a daily basis, whereas the program manager—we call ours Engagement Managers, which I’ll use here so I can refer to them as the EM—is in charge of general oversight, helping ensure the team is following the best practices and they’re being met to avoid escalations, but also to make what needs to be escalated is done so quickly and resolved quickly. The EM also has the task of meeting with the executive team on a weekly basis at least, both from our internal side and from the client side to keep us on track with their vision.
So, where the PM is the first line, focused on getting the project across the finish line and keeping it in scope, the EM is looking at the bigger picture with others to make sure we are staying on course, even looking ahead to keep us aligned with the client on their needs now and down the road. If we understand the vision, we can better prepare for what’s coming, including ensuring that what we’re doing now fits in with the bigger plan. The EM also makes sure Managed Services is ready and waiting when the engagement is done and we turn the keys over to the client.
However, the PM and EM work together, too. The PM is the person called if anything goes wrong, but the EM is there to help escalate and resolve as needed. If the client has concerns or if they just have an idea they want to discuss, the EM gets the right people together in a room to strategize on a response and/or solution. The EM and PM also work together to manage the client’s expectations. While the PM watches the progress of HSO’s part of the project, the EM keeps track of the big picture, including what other vendors are doing, to make sure all the dependencies are there when they need to be—and to notify the client if we did not feel comfortable committing to something. A good EM knows how to say “no” and offer another option rather than just taking orders and putting the project in jeopardy.
To facilitate this collaborative relationship, it’s important that both the PM and the EM are technically savvy. Both need to understand what they’re looking at to be effective. Every issue needs to be viewed from both a technical and a strategic, relational perspective. Contrary to what some thing, the EM is just as experienced in the technical side as the PM; in fact, most of our EMs at HSO have been PMs before and have at least 15 years of experience with Dynamics and bring best practices to the engagements they manage.
The advantage of this dynamic duo is that one person keeps the project moving on the ground while the other clears the way at other levels. Without one, the other could not do both jobs.
How the EM and the PM brought a rapidly changing banking technology solution implementation across the finish line
Our EM, Melanie Brooks, and our PM, Taylor Pineda, say that the key to success with this client and this project was being nimble and adaptive and by having confidence in HSO’s methodology as well as the technology that support it. This was not the type of project with a scope carved in stone. As is typical with a startup, things change quickly, so Melanie and Taylor had to be able to pivot while protecting the end goal and target date.
As an example, insurance was the original LOB the client wanted to go live by the due date, but shortly into the project, the team realized that banking could be implemented at the same time, without impacting the go-live goal.
Another area where the HSO team added value was as advisors. This is something we foster at HSO. We are experienced and knowledgeable about the technology and financial services, so we want to be more than just order takers or coders. We advise and guide our clients wherever possible to keep their entire strategy on track—not just the part we’re working on. And from the perspective of this client, this is an area where we really shone. We’ll call it “unassigned responsibilities.” More than once, we became aware of areas outside our scope that needed to be addressed, or the entire effort would be compromised. Where other vendors weren’t stepping up, we did—to help the client manage those situations. We believe this is another big reason why this client has continued to expand their work with us, adding more projects.
Preparing for what’s next while buttoning up the first phase of a banking technology solution implementation
For Melanie and Taylor, this is where their roles really work in concert to ensure success and a smooth transition from project to project. As Taylor worked with his team to put the finishing touches on the insurance/banking phase, Melanie was already sitting down with the client to talk about the next phase and even the next, keeping the pipeline full but manageable and making sure we know how to prepare on our side. She basically helps determine the roadmap for future work and prioritize the projects while Taylor is finishing up, so there are no gaps in service. And for a startup with investors watching closely, this is a must.
Don’t underestimate the value of rational project management
The moral of this story is that you can’t have it all. If you have a big job with an aggressive timeline, you can’t cut corners on the way it’s managed. Otherwise, you will have unmanaged chaos. Having the right partner with the right people, including a project and a program (engagement) manager, will bring the order you need to bring any project to a successful conclusion.