IT project management must focus on corporate intention 

Antony D’Cruz, CIO / Senior VP – IT & PMO at HSA Bank

Management of business transformative projects is a complex job for an IT leader, from determining the value of a project to its outcome.

Antony D’Cruz is the chief information officer (CIO) and senior vice president of IT & PMO at HSA Bank, a division of Webster Bank, N.A. He is an executive IT leader with over 20 years of global experience in managing business transformation projects and IT teams in complex global environments. We spoke to him about his role as the IT team lead for project management and the challenges he sees.

Where do you see today’s most critical IT challenges during project management and why?

D’Cruz: Today, almost all projects have some technology in them. So the lines of IT-specific project management tend to blur. General project managers are often managing in a waterfall approach, whereas software team leaders are expecting to be delivering in an agile way. IT people try to fit agile into waterfall methodology, so project conception phases do not spend enough time in planning or strategy. When you push right away to execution, you end up having to go back.

So, my counsel is always to do good work in the initiation and conception phase. You must determine the value and outcomes of the project—what is it intended to deliver—beyond just a list of features and functions.

In the software upgrade and update cycle, what are some of the integration issues your teams are up against in today’s environment?

D’Cruz: It’s not just implementing the software tool, you have to be clear about how to achieve the anticipated outcomes. This goes beyond use cases, into what key performance indicators (KPIs) and key risk indicators (KRIs) are needed.

Let’s take an implementation of Salesforce—what measure will you see if the value is delivered? Likely it will be increased sales. Again, project managers must do the initial planning to achieve the outcomes in order to see if it can tie back to customer engagement, stronger leads and so on. Ultimately, in project management leadership, we should be asking if this software is even the right decision. We should begin with a pilot and see if we need a multi-mission system.

Organizations as a whole must figure out what we are achieving. Is it efficiency? Is it increased sales? Is it profitability or productivity? The C-suite can say ‘We are not seeing the results,’ because the returns they sought are not there.

In technical integrations, there is a sense that some items will be done later—that we will return and find out the right issues over the next five years. We expect that we will discover, for example, that someone is still keying from the old system to what was the new system a while back. Process integrations are really required, so you need to work differently to be successful. For true organizational integration, the IT upgrade may require yet another important step: re-training.

Entire groups of people may find their jobs have fundamentally changed after an upgrade. Re-training is the real challenge. Tomorrow never comes for going back. We can’t expect that we will go back. So if the technical integrations do not track with the organizational integrations, then there are many issues that evolve.

How do you combat scope creep?

D’Cruz: We use a variety of different tools, such as Microsoft Project and a ServiceNow project management tool. However, the best tool for managing scope creep is a project manager with a keen eye to call it out. It’s the people on the team that add the value. The project manager must have the original scope document for the life of the project, and if necessary, he or she must go back to the stakeholders or the steering committee and be in communication.

If someone is asking for a new feature or module, then that must be called out for good discussion to determine the real value. We know it’s hard for an IT team member to say no. Every software project management tool is good at documenting the scope change and its impact of the budget and resources, but it only gives you back the ‘what.’ We’ve all heard it at the end of a project: ‘IT overspent on this!’ Those of us in IT management need to really manage that conversation with a solid project manager.

How can time and talent make or break a project, and can you describe a recent team win from this type of coordination?

D’Cruz: Here’s an example of a smaller win. About a year ago, we determined that we needed to move into Office 365 company-wide, affecting approximately 600 people. This appeared to the IT team as fairly routine. However, we realized it required end-user communication.

We had an assigned project manager and that team caught this need early in the pilot phase. End users were saying that email looked different, and it appeared as a huge change to many. We received lots of good feedback and then enrolled the marketing and communications team to tap into communication resources. We crafted a communications plan for the rollout and used existing templates that we generally use for external communication, internally for this.

We had to address how to do some basic training, so we sent out quick tips, which managers were able to use those as talking points. We generated short videos to show how you get started, done by IT support folks. Yes, the videos were scrappy and turned out quickly, yet we knew that would avoid getting a lot of calls directly into IT support. We needed that end-user lens in the pilot to see that this was a pretty big deal for many people, and we had to address that communication need. It was a win all the way around.