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Project Management Made Simpler Through Prioritization

By Tim Langley-Hawthorne, VP, Technology Governance, Global Operations and Technology, Western Union

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Tim Langley-Hawthorne, VP, Technology Governance, Global Operations and Technology, Western Union

Biggest Challenges in Project Management:

Project managers today are challenged to do more than manage the triple constraint – scope, schedule and budget. Delivery demands continue to increase and the time frames in which projects need to be completed continue to decrease. Project managers must manage stakeholders as well.   

At Western Union, a huge part of what our PMO teams are working on is updating our technology and processes in response to new regulatory and compliance requirements around the world.  We’re also consolidating our data centers and enhancing our core processing  systems for money transfers and bill payments.  

"We have a defined list, and we’ve worked closely with our CEO and his team to ensure they truly understand which projects are the most critical and our capacity as far as resources to complete those projects”

It’s more important than ever for project managers to work with all stakeholders involved in every project to create realistic expectations.  They need a seat at the table; they can’t just sit in the background and manage projects from afar. They must keep a constant pulse on every project: where each individual stakeholder is with a particular issue or resource plan.

In order to prepare our project managers for these challenges, we are planning more training in soft skills: critical thinking, communications skills, conflict resolution. We leverage the local chapter of the Project Management Institute to help with this type of training.

Balancing Competing Stakeholder Interests against the Constraints of Limited Resources and Time, and Ever-Changing Technologies:

Prioritization is probably the most important step we’ve taken this year.  We’ve worked hard to align our executive team around the company’s most important strategic projects. We have a defined list, and we’ve worked closely with our CEO and his team to ensure they truly understand which projects are the most critical and our capacity as far as resources to complete those projects.

We’re also ramping up our resource capacity planning.  We can’t deliver everything in the first six months of the year. Resource management is critical. When priorities change, or the scope of a project changes, we now have a systematic way of reacting. We have multiple priorities from across the company: changes to comply with regulations, projects for individual regions or countries.  We want to be able to support all of these, but we can’t do it all. Some of the projects we’ll start next year but finish the following year. We’re open and honest with our executive team about the realities, and they realize we will need to make some tradeoffs.

So we went back to the team and asked them to focus on projects that have the most impact from a revenue standpoint. One example is our point of sale system.  The better the technology, the quicker and easier it is for our agents (the people who offer our services around the globe) to process transactions, which benefits them (simpler interface), benefits the customer (shorter wait times and faster transactions), and benefits us (happier customers and agents, more transactions in less time).   

Bridging the Gap between Project Management and Technology in Business:

At one point, our company implemented an enterprise PMO. This group was responsible for all business and technology projects. We tried it, but it requires a very high level of maturity in project management and makes it difficult for any one project manager to specialize in  a particular discipline. We weren’t successful with this approach because it was like going from a crawl to a run with nothing in between.   

It’s hard to find project managers who have an equal balance of business and technology project management capabilities. They do exist, and we have some. But that ability to be all things to all people is quite rare. So we settled on a model where we have “umbrella” program managers working with functional project managers from technology, a particular business line or region, compliance and other functional areas.  It’s a federated model. Some groups might have multiple project managers in just one area – technology, for example – for a very large program.  

It makes sense for us. A project manager from Latin America has relationship with people in that region, our agents in the region, and knows the dynamics and challenges in the local market. Our technology PMs has relationships with developers and engineers.    

Advice for Fellow Project Management Officers:  

I cannot overemphasize communication and transparency.  If you can’t get the facts on the table and have a frank discussion with your leadership team, it ends up being a political discussion, with agendas being pushed.   

The sooner you can have a difficult discussion the better. And if things start to go awry, you should be updating your executive leaders as soon as possible so you can discuss prioritization and the conflict for resources.   

Also, don’t be afraid to escalate issues that may need executive resolution as quickly as possible. When difficult decisions must be made, it’s vital to move them up the chain as quickly as possible.

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