Project Management Institute

Flying high

Joe Eng, JetBlue Airways, Forest Hills, New York, USA


Joe Eng refuses to settle for the status quo—even if it means a bit of turbulence. JetBlue's new executive vice president and CIO is revamping the way the airline chooses and manages IT projects as it transitions from a fledgling upstart to a leading player in an industry marked by cutthroat competition.

“JetBlue is growing fast, and it has had to scale up quickly as the business has changed,” he says.

With a history managing IT in the financial and telecom sectors, Mr. Eng says it comes down to delivering results.

“It's not about the technology. It's about enabling the business,” he says. “We don't talk about IT projects. We talk about business projects. We focus a lot on alignment of scope requirements with the business. If a project doesn't have a strong business owner and driver, we won't execute it. We know that without that leadership support, it's less likely to succeed.”

What role does JetBlue's IT project management office (PMO) play?

We constantly strive to nail down the scope and direction of projects. As with any IT department, there is always more to do than we have resources to accomplish. So the biggest challenge the PMO faces is to bring senior business leaders together to assess the portfolio of opportunities and to align our priorities so we can pursue the projects that will best achieve corporate goals.

If a project doesn't have a strong business owner and driver, we won't execute it. We know that without that leadership support, it's less likely to succeed.

Sometimes that means we have to make tough choices. Maybe there are not enough resources to do a project or we can't get financing, or maybe the business can't absorb all the change. The PMO provides a mechanism for understanding what's in the pipeline.

What's a tough choice you had to make in your project portfolio?

Recently, we decided to launch a new customer sales and reservation system, which is the heart and soul of an airline company. The change is part of a new business strategy, and it's a massive undertaking. As part of that decision, we also had to freeze all projects relating to the current reservation system. If we didn't have an explicit statement of goals, people in different areas of the organization might think we should continue to invest in projects to squeeze incremental improvements out of the old system.

Would you change anything about JetBlue's approach to project management?

We continue to evolve our processes on an ongoing basis. We regularly bring together our people to talk about what's going right and wrong with our projects and processes, and what needs improving.

We pride ourselves on being an innovative company, which means looking for ideas throughout the organization. But at the same time, I'm a big proponent of consistency when it comes to the way projects are managed. When your IT group is predictable and transparent, you can count on them to deliver greater efficiencies and foster more credibility. And when project managers manage projects in a consistent way, you can move them around the company and into different roles and you know they will be successful. That adds real value to any organization. PM

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