Project Management Institute

Mission accomplished

the world's largest credit union launch a PMO to bring order to its IT portfolio -- and gave U. S. military members better access to their money



From left to right: Bill Hills, CIO; Kristin Earley, PMP, assistant vice president, PMO; Anthony Gallardy, deputy CIO; Justin Brooks, assistant vice president, IT performance and optimization; Cindy Moore, vice president, PMO



Whether they're deployed overseas or training close to home,

U.S. military members need convenient and reliable access to financial services. With 256 branches near military bases around the world, Navy Federal Credit Union aims to make it easier for its members to manage their money—wherever their next assignment might take them.

With the proliferation of mobile technologies and a fast-growing membership, the organization knew it had to invest in IT projects to meet members’ evolving needs. In order to do so, it had to upgrade how projects were managed.

“We needed to be able to handle more complex projects,” says Bill Hills, CIO, Navy Federal Credit Union, Vienna, Virginia, USA. “And we needed to be able to deliver them with a frequency and consistency that inspired ongoing confidence that we would get products out the door when our business and members needed them.”

But that was going to take some work.


Navy Federal had no clear method for prioritizing projects or ensuring they were in sync with strategy. Project execution processes were decentralized and ad hoc. Delivery metrics weren't being tracked. Doomed projects lingered, with no one willing to hit the kill switch.



So in 2010, Navy Federal began developing a team of project practitioners that could advocate for standardized, centralized project delivery, as well as strategic alignment practices. In 2014, the IT department launched its project management office (PMO).

From boosting on-time deliveries to delivering more projects according to plan, the PMO has transformed Navy Federal's project environment. Its staff—which has grown to 120 practitioners from just five in 2010—has spearheaded change while the portfolio reached US$205 million in 2015.

“With its integrated capabilities of project management, analysis and planning, the PMO really enables us to deliver on time, very precisely, on a regular basis,” Mr. Hills says. The PMO's expertise is “just critical in the information age for financial institutions.” Yet, not everyone initially saw it that way. When the PMO was formed, the team had to work to avoid the perception that it was a documentation engine or a needless bureaucracy.

“Throughout our journey, we've certainly faced some challenges in terms of buy-in and acceptance of project management,” says Kristin Earley, PMP, assistant vice president of the PMO. “We started with small wins. We had to highlight the demonstrated value that we brought in terms of consistent, repeatable delivery of projects.”

“We needed to be able to handle more complex projects, and we needed to be able to deliver them with a frequency and consistency that inspired ongoing confidence.”

—Bill Hills, Navy Federal Credit Union


“Every project has been approved from a cross-organizational representation of executive management. Every business unit has a project on our list of corporate priorities.”

—Cindy Moore, Navy Federal Credit Union


From its inception, the PMO's mission has encompassed more than just project and program delivery optimization. The PMO also provides reporting and data to drive decisions and trade-offs across multiple portfolios, including the enterprise strategic portfolio. PMO leaders are part of the project prioritization team, which feeds into the IT governance and strategic planning committees. Together, they translate the organization's five-year strategic plan into the optimal IT portfolio. The prioritization team sets the IT project agenda annually, oversees portfolio analysis and meets biweekly to approve scope changes.

The PMO's ongoing monitoring of projects’ health, emerging risks and benefits realization has a direct line to senior management.

“Once a project's been activated, we work with our business partners to help understand what the benefits are. We track cost, quality and schedule to understand how the project is keeping pace when different benefits and values were supposed to be delivered,” says Cindy Moore, vice president of the PMO. “And then we report on those outcomes to the two governing bodies.”

The process also helps build buy-in across the enterprise. Business unit heads now understand all projects must flow out of strategy to be approved.

“Every project has been approved from a cross-organizational representation of executive management,” Ms. Moore says. “Every business unit has a project on our list of corporate priorities. So they all have a vested interest in the success of the projects.”

The PMO also enables flexibility in the portfolio. In the IT world, new compliance concerns and technologies emerge all the time. It's the PMO's job to figure out whether teams have the ability to handle new requirements—and help the organization make tough decisions.


“We evaluate [requirements] from a skills perspective, a resource perspective and a capacity perspective,” Ms. Moore says. “And then we bring that analysis back to the project prioritization team so that they can make an evaluation and consider it in the context of the other projects.”

From the Ground Up

Assets: US$39.6 billion
Membership: 3.4 million
Projects in portfolio: 20
Project staff: 5

Assets: US$71 billion
Membership: 5.8 million
Projects in portfolio: 153
Project staff: 120


Navy Federal's membership has skyrocketed from 3.4 million in 2009 to 5.8 million members in 2015. And the IT portfolio has followed suit, growing from about 20 projects in 2010 to more than 150 today. PMO leaders know successful execution in such a dynamic environment takes mature project management practices and processes, as well as a keen understanding of each project's business value.

“The PMO has helped improve project performance specifically around consistent, repeatable delivery,” says Ms. Earley. “Previously we had a lot of challenges with bringing the right people together on the projects, understanding which processes we needed to follow and not having a clear understanding of the business objectives.”

PMO leaders rely on standardized processes drawn from PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). And to ensure the PMO's team of practitioners has the right skills, the PMO built a four-step career ladder that either recommends or requires PMI credentials at each stage.

“More than 95 percent of our team has PMI credentials,” Ms. Earley says. “That reduces the need to focus on how we deliver the projects, and lets us concentrate on the value that the project will deliver.”

With a common project planning and execution vocabulary in place, the PMO ramped up its monitoring efforts to increase accountability. It rolled out a reporting framework with weekly, monthly and quarterly updates designed to keep projects on track.


Navy Federal's IT projects included mobile applications, debit-card usage and access at branches around the world.

From a monitoring and controlling perspective, “the project management group has really become the backbone,” Ms. Earley says. “What we've seen is very open dialogue with our business partners. This helps us address issues as they surface so that we can get ahead of them before they impact project schedules, budgets or different factors.”

The effort is paying off. In 2014 and 2015, 95 percent of projects had a green status, with the proportion of red-status projects tumbling to just 1 percent of the portfolio—a drop of 65 percent from 2014 to 2015. Reflecting the PMO's thorough resource and estimation management efforts, the percentage of projects that closed according to plan jumped from 55 percent in 2014 to 88 percent in 2015.

Reflecting the PMO's thorough resource and estimation management efforts, the percentage of projects that closed according to plan jumped from 55 percent in 2014 to 88% in 2015.


Even with a push to standardization, the Navy Federal PMO understands not all projects are alike—and some may benefit from less traditional delivery methods.

“The PMO started with a one-size fits all approach to project delivery. We realized this really wasn't the most effective way to work with our business partners to deliver value frequently throughout the project life cycle,” Ms. Earley says. “We've since tailored our delivery practices to introduce both agile and incremental delivery practices, and that's really helped us improve our delivery within the portfolio.”

The PMO relied on alternative delivery approaches for 35 percent of the entire project portfolio, which is a key driver to the 200 deployments slated to close by the end of 2015. PMO leaders aim to increase that figure in coming years.

Other areas of focus going forward include a skills inventory initiative to help improve talent management, and a more robust focus on benefits tracking and delivery.

Mr. Hills, the PMO's sponsor, says he's most proud of how staff across Navy Federal accept the PMO as an integral part of the organization and rely on its capabilities.

“Time and time again, this organization has demonstrated its value, to the point where people are asking for the PMO. They will not start projects unless there's somebody from the PMO actively engaged in the delivery of their project.” PM



Instant Handoff

A major win for both Navy Federal Credit Union and its project management office was the worldwide release in 2014 of an instant access debit card. Navy Federal customers can walk out of their local branch with a debit card in hand—no need to wait for it to arrive in the mail.

“This was a huge benefit to our members, those who are being deployed and those who have already been deployed,” says Kristin Earley, PMP, Navy Federal Credit Union. “They were able to get these cards at the times they needed them.”

But before the new system could go live, the PMO had to reach deep into its toolbox. The project called for introducing new hardware at more than 250 Navy Federal branches worldwide and training over 3,000 branch employees on its use. Rather than dive straight in and risk glitches on launch day, the PMO's project lead opted for a different approach.

“We had a pilot that deployed the system to only nine branches so that we mitigated the risks before we sent it out to all of the branches,” Ms. Earley says. “This allowed us to address issues with the [branch] integration and rollout activities.”

With lessons learned from the pilot phase in hand, the PMO supported the sixmonth full deployment phase, acting as the glue that brought vendors and business units together. That took some serious collaboration and communication.

“We had stakeholders across the world,” Ms. Earley says. “We needed to get them the right information at the right time so they were prepared not only to train their staffs, but also to receive everything necessary for the deployment to be successful.”

Standardized processes, a detailed organizational change management plan and clearly communicated business requirements all helped keep logistical, technical and training activities on schedule.

Since the project was completed in December 2014, over 1 million cards have been issued around the world. And the benefits are clear: Members receiving instantly issued cards at branches tend to use them five days faster—and seven times more often in a month, says Cindy Moore, vice president of the PMO.

“There have been some solid business benefits. We like to think of the project as a strategic differentiator.”

“This organization has demonstrated its value to the point where people are asking for the PMO. They will not start projects unless there's somebody from the PMO actively engaged in the delivery of their project.”

—Bill Hills


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