Start your holidays with the Project Pancake…


In our SAS Hartford regional office, there is an annual tradition – the holiday breakfast. This will be my first breakfast with my office mates and I’m looking forward to the famous conference room waffles cooked up by a certain insurance account executive. Thinking about those waffles reminded me of a crazy engagement model we had to cook up a couple of years ago when we were building out a new business intelligence team: We called it the Project Pancake and it is a tale of three project management organizations.

Many companies are in various stages of maturity with their project and program management capabilities. I’m a certified project manager myself, and I wholeheartedly endorse the discipline that good project management brings to key initiatives. However, many companies are also slow to recognize that different types of projects require different project management methodologies – especially when executing on business intelligence and information delivery initiatives. We successfully made the case to the business that BI initiatives tied to larger programs (such as implementing an operational system) needed special consideration and would be subcontracted to the new BI project team.

As we built out our new BI organization, we put our own small project management team in place specifically to work in this space. We developed a project management, business analysis and requirements methodology unique to BI delivery. Here’s the problem: there was already a project management organization (PMO) within the business and the IT department had their own project managers. For any given project with a BI deliverable, there would be three separate project managers, all with their own responsibilities and accountabilities. As you can imagine, it was chaos.

Hence the “pancake”: we had the bright idea that we could draft an engagement model that detailed the interactions and individual responsibilities across the PMO, BI team and IT. We represented the engagement model in a one page diagram that highlighted the project management lifecycle and BI deliverables in layers between the three teams. It looked like a colossal stack of pancakes, and it was so complicated that we could barely try to explain it. Being good people, we sat down and had a good laugh about it. It forever became known as the Project Pancake.

Even though our engagement model seemed silly and complex, it was necessary. We needed to educate the PMO and IT groups on the importance of our BI project methodology and how it fit into their project processes. (Key message: just because your team changes your process, it doesn’t mean that everyone else is going to change theirs.) It took a long time to change the culture, but after a couple of successful small wins, we were all headed down the right path.


About Author

Rachel Alt-Simmons

Business Transformation Lead - Customer Intelligence Practice

Rachel Alt-Simmons is a business transformation practitioner whose expertise extends to operationalizing analytic capabilities vertically and horizontally through organizations. As the Business Transformation Lead for customer analytics at SAS Institute, she is responsible for redesign and optimization of operational analytic workflow, business process redesign, training/knowledge transfer, and change management strategies for customers. Prior to SAS, Rachel served as Assistant Vice President, Center of Excellence, Enterprise Business Intelligence & Analytics at Travelers, and as Director, BI & Analytics, Global Wealth Management at The Hartford. Rachel Alt-Simmons is a certified Project Management Professional, certified Agile Practitioner, Six Sigma Black Belt, certified Lean Master, and holds a post as adjunct professor of computer science at Boston University’s Metropolitan College. She received her master’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Boston University.

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