From good to great

Cintia Otero, PMP, process improvement and program manager, Exiros, Buenos Aires, Argentina




Cintia Otero, PMP, process improvement and program manager, Exiros, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Exiros had forged a reputation for procuring raw materials and equipment for steel manufacturers around the world. But during the last five years, the organization's CEO saw performance plateau. His solution for taking it to the next level? Get a better handle on the organization's processes—procurement, strategic alignment with client needs, and vendor relationships—and then improve them. And that's where Cintia Otero came in.

“We realized that to carry out the improvements we needed, we had to run projects, and those projects had to be guided,” Ms. Otero says. “When your performance indicators are 95 percent okay, getting to 98 percent is a huge effort.”

With a bachelor's degree in systems analysis, an MBA in international business and years of experience managing IT projects, Ms. Otero was well positioned to step into her current program management role in 2011.

In my position, cost and efficiency are very important drivers. My job is to review and optimize processes, and with that comes the management of programs, including organizational transformation projects, in line with the company's strategic agenda.

Can you describe an organizational transformation project?

As specialized buyers, we used to be organized according to the market—as specialists in raw materials or pumps or parts. But this wasn't the way our customers needed us to be organized. So the Exiros To Customers program, or E2C, involves an organizational alignment with our customers.

We conducted a major reorganization over six to eight months in one of our biggest offices in Mexico to provide our customers a more personalized service. For instance, let's say you're a maintenance engineer working at one of our customers’ steel mills, and you have to execute a work order involving three categories of goods: parts, personal protection and fuel. Those requirements used to land on three different desks at Exiros. Now, that engineer speaks with just one person. It makes more sense for them.

How do you ensure this kind of change is truly adopted?

Changing an organization and its roles is always a big challenge, but the most important thing is communication. The goals were clearly communicated by top management. Otherwise, it would've been a struggle for us to convince everyone that this change was important.

We developed a very thorough communication strategy for the various stakeholders, and we kept communication flowing with emails, flyers and even videos we developed and posted on our intranet. So everyone is on the same page.

How did you introduce project management culture to the organization?

Exiros is an operation-driven company full of engineers, and engineers usually see things as processes, not projects. Project management is sometimes seen as bureaucracy. So I had to convince them that projects need to be managed. When you're installing something new, people need to be able to trust you, to tell you their problems. You need to let them know you're able to walk in their shoes.

So my team and I started to convince the engineers by showing them how we manage projects. Instead of giving my stakeholders tons of documents and spreadsheets, we focused on a few important aspects. For example, having every project listed on a shared site, documenting the objectives and having a clear governance structure defined for every project.

When our employees saw that projects were organized and the goals were clear, they started to see that it was worth it.

The work of a project manager is to make things happen, not to point fingers.

What was an early project that showed them its worth?

During 2013, we conducted a review of the imports process, which is very complicated in Argentina. Together with the IT team, we developed a new set of tools to monitor every shipment and we defined internal processes for the imports department. Then we had to get the imports people on board.

We held a lot of meetings where they brainstormed ideas so that they felt like they owned this change and it wasn't something imposed on them. This project showed that not only do you need resources to get things done, you need to manage them properly. I think they felt very proud of the results.

What are you most proud of doing at Exiros?

Installing project and program culture in the company. Whenever senior leadership has to undertake a transformation, they come to the projects team. That didn't happen before. Also, I'm very proud of my team. We're not afraid to share what we know. PM


Small Talk

What's the one skill every project manager should have?

The ability to communicate at different levels. Whether it's for the C-suite, the board, your team or your customers, the message and the way you convey it should be different.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?

Know yourself, don't try to be anyone else and look for people who complement your vision and highlight your blind spots. You don't want to work with people who think exactly like you.

What's been a valuable lesson you've learned from traveling?

I travel a lot for my work—Romania, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, the United States. Getting to know new people from completely different cultures has been a revelation for me. It's changed the way I see projects because I realized there's more than one good way of doing things.




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