A Key Ingredient in a Modern CIO Shop

By Mira Lalovic Hand, CIO & VP, Rowan University

Mira Lalovic Hand, CIO & VP, Rowan University

Project managers guide nearly every major technology initiative in Rowan University’s Division of Information Resources & Technology. Their vital role ensures that projects are executed effectively by following a structured process that balances resources, costs and time constraints.

That was not the case just several years ago. Prior to the implementation of project management techniques, changing demands and shifting boundaries often slowed or even failed the delivery of complex technical projects. The absence of project managers to oversee timely delivery of projects within the budget and original scope presented significant challenges.

The establishment of a project management office within Information Resources & Technology has allowed the Division to overcome those challenges on its largest endeavors, beginning with the successful rollout of an online time-tracking program for the entire University system. Without the stewardship of a project manager, progress is easily impeded on technology projects that involve delegating responsibilities, administering budgets and maintaining proper documentation among multiple divisions. This wastes valuable time and resources.

"Without the guidance and leadership of project managers, IT organizations put limited resources in peril"

Project managers help set realistic goals, identify potential risks and coordinate with technicians, subject-matter experts, vendors and high-level executives. The value of that methodical approach to project management was put on full display during the launch of the University’s Web Time Entry system project.

When the University began transforming its employee time-tracking system into a digital operation in 2014, a project manager had not yet been utilized to oversee a critical project from start to finish on the main campus in Glassboro, N.J.

Working with a cross-functional team that included the Division of Finance and the Office of Human Resources, a project manager from Information Resources & Technology facilitated the implementation of a secure, online system that changed the process of tracking time from cumbersome and costly to easy and economical. The project manager shepherded the process from beginning to end, coordinating with various stakeholders along the way to deliver a final product that met the wide-ranging needs of a comprehensive research institution with two medical schools.

The project team experienced many stressful situations along the way. The project manager took over other managers’ teams for significant periods of time, which impacted other operations in the process. Budgets were threatened as time delays occurred. Rowan community members did not openly welcome the change in responsibilities that the project brought, and the project manager needed to work with top leadership at the University.

Despite the conflicts, the project ultimately was successful. The key to the success was the project manager, who possessed the necessary skills and tools for managing those difficult situations and worked across multifunctional teams with clear goals and lots of patience.

The implementation of that system demonstrated the vital role a professional project manager plays in successfully delivering complicated systems and programs, and it marked the start of a new era in project management at Rowan University.

The expansive growth in the complexity of technology nowadays and the integrated world that most professionals find themselves part of means projects always will exceed the boundaries of one department. Operating within that technology ecosystem requires cooperation and communication among multiple divisions and organizations. This makes project management in an IT environment necessary in order to provide effective solutions to complicated problems.

Project managers from Information Resources & Technology have overseen many other far-reaching and complex efforts, including a high-risk operation involving financial aid programs, an infrastructure upgrade of the University’s network core and installation of network and security systems in two new buildings on campus.

A project manager recently supervised the complete overhaul of the network and phone systems at the University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, NJ, a critical project in a clinical environment that required collaborating with a wide range of executives, technicians, vendors, faculty and staff. The project was delivered in an astonishingly short 13 months.  

The project manager steered that major effort away from potential pitfalls by establishing an open line of communication among the project team, the project steering committee and the campus community, which included creating a situation room on campus to quickly respond to concerns. The project manager also developed a detailed schedule, set realistic expectations and regularly evaluated progress. The project manager was also not hesitant in dismissing a vendor’s project manager when the initiative experienced unacceptable delays.

The project manager delivered the project on time and under budget, while drastically reducing downtime, giving the University the means to tackle additional infrastructure improvements on campus.

The structure a project manager creates is crucial when embarking on large-scale technology initiatives, many of which present complex challenges that require multifaceted solutions.

Successful IT organizations use detailed policies and procedures to effectively guide their day-to-day operations. A methodical approach also must be applied to project implementation to ensure initiatives aren’t derailed by cost overruns and delays.

Without the guidance and leadership of project managers, IT organizations put limited resources in peril.

For the CIO office, the organized and structured techniques delivered by a project manager have been–and will continue to be–essential for the effective operation of the organization.

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