Red Light, Green Light

Red Light, Green Light

How one CIO used project management discipline and the Traffic Light Report to align her IT department with her company's business goals

When I joined Pacific Blue Cross in 2003 as VP of IT, the CEO and I agreed on two foundational principles: 1. Technology has no value by itself, and 2. Technology management must switch its focus from operational to business enabler. These principles may seem self-evident, but the truth is, when there's a flurry of projects, all of them important to some aspect of the business, technology management can all too easily get swept away in putting out fires. This seemed to be what was happening at Pacific Blue Cross when I arrived. With nearly 2 million members covered, Pacific Blue Cross is the market leader in providing health-care and dental coverage to residents of British Columbia. Our subsidiary, Blue Cross Life, also offers life insurance and disability income protection.

While I understood my mission - turning the IT department into an enabler of business - the journey has been far from straightforward. It's been a long road with many bends and even a few dead-ends. Even so, there's no doubt we're making progress. How did we do it?

Project Management to the Rescue

First and foremost, we began to align every project to Pacific Blue Cross's Balanced Scorecard. The Scorecard shows and measures the organization's performance from six perspectives: qualitative, quantitative, infrastructure, clients, people and community-related goals. Every project is now justified in terms of how it supports the goals described in the Scorecard. That keeps the company's goals clearly in sight for all and shows how technology relates to and enables the business.

After assembling a list of all the projects we were working on, I introduced the project management office (PMO) function. This office oversees all projects of more than one month's effort - from the business case to a post-implementation review. We fashioned this as a corporate-wide PMO, because all projects require disciplined management and almost all projects at Pacific Blue Cross have a technology component.

The business welcomed the PMO, since it gave it an overall view of all projects (in the planning, execution or close-out stages) as well as monthly updates on their status.

To ensure the success of this new process, the PMO (a manager, three project managers and two to five contract project managers, depending on the project mix) conducted three half-day workshops for personnel who would be managing or sponsoring projects. These sessions helped to obtain buy-in. But as theory is nothing without practice, the workshops were followed by individual coaching sessions for the project managers. Finally, we put all the project management-related processes online so that everyone has a shared knowledge base.

The PMO regularly reports project status to IT management, the executive committee and the board of directors through the aptly named Traffic Light Report. This report lists each project along with a short description, its schedule, the stage it is at and a status comment. Next to the project is a red, yellow or green symbol that quickly identifies whether the project is on time, on budget and on scope. The report is also posted on our intranet so that all employees can follow a particular project's progress. The Traffic Light Report has become a critical tool for demonstrating technology's value to the business.

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