About the Customer:
Publicly traded regional financial services company
Washington, D.C. and Charleston, WV
211 full-service banking locations
19 loan origination offices
Advizex Customer Since:
For this bank, the pandemic could not have come at a worse time.
Through mergers and acquisitions, this bank had grown from a $10 billion to a $25 billion bank in the three years Advizex has worked with them. When the pandemic struck, they had just acquired a 62-branch bank.
As their in-house team pivoted to take care of pandemic-related needs, planning the integration and conversion of those new branches received less-than-adequate attention. Their conversion deadline was approaching when they realized just how unprepared they were. Because Advizex had been a trusted technology partner, they reached out to us and asked for help.
The Business Challenge.
The bank faced a significant challenge. Several teams, including a handful of various vendors, needed to complete an incredible number of tasks in unison within seven weeks in order to migrate this newly acquired bank into the customer’s already established IT ecosystem. This feat included physically going into each of the 62 individual branches to swap out various pieces of equipment and finalize conversion activities.
The customer had a Project Management Office (PMO). While they excelled at tracking project activities, they were not proficient at leading a technically complex project — especially one of this size and scope against such an aggressive deadline. More than technology, what the bank really needed was a Program Manager, someone to orchestrate the activities of all their internal workgroups, business units, and external vendors.
In addition, they needed a cost-effective solution to get several technical resources to the 62 new locations, many of which were in outlying areas.
The customer discussed the project with a few technology partners, and the competition was stiff. Advizex came out on top, because we connected with the customer during our first in-depth discussion. We had what they referred to as technical project management. We had a cost-effective staffing solution to reach all their 62 new sites. And most importantly, we had experience in completing this same type of bank conversion project. We talked the client through the project, asked the right questions, displayed our understanding of such projects, and then presented a thorough proposal that left no detail undocumented. We were ready to go.
Client Pain Points.
To say this was a massive undertaking is an understatement. With the acquisition of this new bank, our customer was nearly doubling their footprint. Physically getting people to the new branches wasn’t going to be easy, because many sites were not in major metro areas. Plus, the customer’s in-house IT staff was already over-worked trying to juggle this conversion project while still handling their pandemic response.
In addition to the various internal workgroups and business units, five different external vendors were involved. Communication had to be tight, because every task had dependencies, and the sequence of tasks was critical to success. Every functional area of the IT organization was affected. Every workflow had to be considered. This all had to align with the business units’ active role, and senior executives needed to be kept informed of progress against the aggressive deadline.
The COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of complexity, because now every resource was working remotely. In a normal situation, the Advizex team would go to the customer’s location, but that wasn’t possible. In-person meetings couldn’t be held.
The deadline for project completion was fixed, and several weeks of planning had been lost to the pandemic response. As the deadline approached, new complexities were uncovered, requiring constant updates to a project plan, budgets, schedules, and reports. Tasks and dependent tasks were realigned continuously. Every movement affected something else. Ensuring every detail, every change was right, and then effectively communicating those changes to various people was paramount to success.
Advizex Program Managers are more than Project Managers. Their expertise and skillset go well beyond basic project management methodologies. First, they understand that technology is critically important. Second, our PM’s have an integral understanding of IT organizations and how to navigate them: IT budgets, operating expenses (OPEX) and capital expenditures (CAPEX), IT department interconnectedness, and so on. At Advizex, we have an entire department devoted to this specialized field. We’re prepared to handle every project detail from plans and budgets to personnel and schedules, from technical reporting to executive dashboards.
Given the number of workgroups and technologies involved, keeping track of everything was a largely manual process undertaken by the Advizex lead program manager. He and his team identified each task, its interconnectedness and dependencies. We identified each department and each person who needed to be involved — no small undertaking.
About eight internal and five external departments handled different components of the migration. Each did different things at different times. He pulled everyone into one master schedule so that he could manage the project holistically. He managed the schedule daily. There were numerous recurring meetings, at least three per day. He ensured that the bank’s executives were kept informed of the progress, translating the technical when necessary through status reports customized for the customer. And, of course, he tracked all the project’s finances as a weekly routine.
Because of the tight timeline and simultaneous pandemic response, this was a fluid endeavor. As we approached documented tasks, new tasks arose. Constant adaptation was vital. Every time something was added, it affected everything else. This chain reaction management could not be automated, and it relied on human control.
The individual locations of the acquired bank were often in remote areas. We needed to physically go into each bank twice, first to swap hardware in preparation for the migrations, then to finish conversion activities. Conversion weekend started Friday afternoon and wrapped up Sunday. Those efforts involved several technicians traveling to a branch location, completing conversion activities, and then going to another until all sites were completed. To make this happen, Advizex used a just-in-time (JIT) resource model. Tapping into a well-established national staffing partner, we were able to engage technicians to go into each bank and perform the required tasks. Because this represented a sizable amount of work, these individuals were outsourced, and schedules were highly orchestrated, we had another project manager engaged in micromanaging this work and these JIT resources. While normally “micromanaging” has a negative connotation, in this case, it was part of the plan, and it worked well. The key to this staffing approach is that it can be highly customized per project, and it is very cost effective.
The software used to manage the project was Microsoft: Project, Excel, SharePoint, Outlook, Teams, and Word. We also developed a dashboard to give executives real-time insight into the project’s status and budget. But it wasn’t technology that kept the project on track. It was the technical program manager. You might say this project is an excellent reminder that, at the end of the day, only the right people can make things happen.
Because of our technical Project and Program Management expertise, stamina, and all-around passion for the process, the project was successful. The customer appreciated that we were able to continually adapt. Twice as new project complexities arose, the customer asked Advizex to fill the gaps and take on additional work. As the deadline was met and conversions completed, the customer realized that Advizex could also help with post-support activities, and they extended our scope again. In fact, what started as a nearly $140,000 budget was increased to $205,000 to allow Advizex to take on increased responsibility.
The customer expressed a desire for us to craft a methodology, so they could replicate this process in the future. This bank is growing with no plans of slowing down. On top of completing the actual project, we produced this documentation.
Our lead Program Manager proved himself quickly, gaining the trust and confidence from the various customer teams and vendors. Because of the pandemic, he didn’t have the benefit of in-person meetings to discuss tasks or have lunches to get to know people on a more personal level. Anyone in a leadership role will tell you that these things are typically vital. His communication style and presence had to overcome these limitations, and they did.
The Advizex Project Management team is highly adaptable and skilled at doing what it takes to ensure large projects are successful. This one was one of our more complex: it included the integration of multiple technologies, oversight of multiple customer IT workgroups and their business units, vendors spread out across multiple locations, and a tight timeframe. And a pandemic. As much as this project was about technology, it was more about people.
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While the technology often gets the spotlight, it’s technical Project Managers — people — that truly get the job done.