The Value of Project Management to the CIO
By Dave Cornelius, MBA, PMP, PMI-ACP
PMI-OC Vice President of Communications, Marketing, and Outreach
With 15 years of experience as chief information officer (CIO), Mark Sarago serves as a strategist for VMware’s Accelerate Advisory Services team, helping enterprise customers define and communicate their information technology (IT) strategy as they build cloud solutions that ensure strong alignment to business goals and key measures.
Mark has more than 30 years of experience in the IT field, having led large IT organizations in financial services, international shipping and logistics, money management, and the insurance industries. He also has advised leading companies in financial services, healthcare, power utilities, and retail Internet sectors on a variety of subjects, including IT effectiveness and performance improvement, enterprise architecture, project management, data warehousing/analytics, document imaging, balanced scorecards, software development, budgeting, system integration, and information security.
Prior to joining VMware, Mark was a senior director with the business consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal. He also previously served as CIO at Toyota Financial Services (TFS), where he was responsible for information technology in the United States and the Americas region (Canada through Argentina). At TFS, Mark restructured the IT Department, while ensuring financial discipline, operational metric transparency, and healthy project execution through an effective Project Management Office (PMO).
Mark, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, also has held senior leadership positions at:
- Citi Residential Lending
- ACC Capital Holdings (Ameriquest Mortgage, Argent Mortgage, AMC Mortgage Services)
- Tavant Technologies
- Fisher Investments
- Cendant Financial Services
- Fritz Companies
I recently caught up with Mark to discuss the value of project management to the CIO. Mark was the CIO of Citi Residential Lending and ACC Capital Holdings and I worked as a senior manager in his organization. His vision and belief in project management supported my pursuit of the PMP, ITIL v3 Foundation, and Six Sigma Black Belt certifications. I call Mark the leader-maker because he has positioned so many people to achieve success. I hope you enjoy Mark’s perspective as much as I have.
During your career you were once a project manager. What steps led you to become a CIO?
Yes, I came up through the ranks. I started in the business application software development area writing code. From there, it was on to project management, then to department management, and finally ending with management of the overall IT organization.
How would you describe the value of project management to the CIO organization?
Almost everything that occurs in an IT organization is a project of some sort. Certainly, the day-to-day operations of a service desk or a network operations center are ongoing activities and not exactly projects, but most everything else has a beginning, middle, and an outcome that results in a deliverable. As a result, project management is critical to an IT organization, and by inference, to the CIO. Without effective project management, the operation of an IT organization would be more ad hoc and would probably result in anarchy.
How do you identify the right talent to lead your project management organization, and what are the expectations required to support CIO success?
Leaders of a project management organization need to know the basics of the project management craft and its techniques. What separates good project managers from mediocre ones, however, are inquisitiveness (an interest in meeting the customer’s envisioned outcome and an ability to handle surprises) and a focus on solutions. It’s a given that most projects do not run smoothly; something is bound to arise, be it the unavailability of key team members, scope creep, or a lack of promised funding. It is important that project managers with the appropriate attitude and aptitude be on hand to navigate through issues without collapsing and failing.
The PMO is frequently the first organizations to be disbanded during an organization’s financial downturn. What steps should the PMO take to increase the value proposition of the services it provides to an organization?
It’s simple. Deliver successful projects, practice constant communication, and be as transparent as possible with important project-related information. In addition, be solvers and delivery agents who partner with all internal and external customers (project requestors). Finally, learn the business and be committed to embody the attributes of a solutions agent.
The PMO is frequently aligned with the CIO office. Would the PMO be better positioned to deliver increased value to an organization if aligned with the COO or CEO?
A PMO naturally works well within an IT organization, however, its scope is usually limited to IT activities. Ideally, every company should have a PMO organization that is established at the highest level to oversee horizontally integrated projects across departments. Often, when launching a major company initiative, there are just as many marketing or organizational change management activities to be managed, as there are IT activities to be managed. It makes sense for PMOs to be established at the chief operating officer or chief executive officer level. In my experience, organizations featuring PMOs with company-level oversight usually were successful, well-run companies.
How would you use project management practices to enable IT transformation as a business competitive advantage?
Information technology transformation is a big focus area as more private, public, and hybrid cloud solutions arise. In fact, technologies that are facilitating the rise of the software-defined data center are starting to pressure organizations to alter their make up. IT organizations must transform themselves from being “order takers” to becoming “service brokers.” Good project management is necessary to drive this transformation. Often, organizational transformational activities are critical and deal with entrenched methods and strong egos, making them very complex projects. You must create a new organizational structure, implement new processes, and install new technologies. None of these activities is easy. Without good project management and an agreed upon roadmap, IT transformation will be fraught with missteps. Mark Sarago – Project Leadership Circle-Response Dfin