Project Management Institute

Strategic Balance

Susana Molina, PMP, CIO, Veolia Ecuador, Guayaquil, Ecuador





ORGANIZATION: Veolia Ecuador

LOCATION: Guayaquil, Ecuador

Global organizations also have to act locally, which creates a challenge to keep all teams on the same page. As CIO of a regional business unit for a company with projects around the world, Susana Molina has to strategically balance all initiatives. Headquartered in France, Veolia provides water, waste and energy management solutions to public and private clients around the world. Last year, it provided drinking water to 95 million people. The company has business units in nearly 40 countries and employs over 170,000 people.

As Veolia's CIO in Ecuador since 2017, Ms. Molina oversees an IT team of about 40 people working on more than 20 projects at a time.

How does Veolia maintain strategic alignment across business units in so many countries?

Before 2015, each business unit had its own strategy. Since then, Veolia has been evolving, implementing a global vision with a digital roadmap and creating a more collaborative culture.

How do you and the other CIOs help ensure alignment?

Veolia is a huge global organization, but we have to have a common vision and align with it. All the regional CIOs meet once a year and share their strategy and projects. Like the other CIOs, I also report directly to my country's executive committee once a month to discuss our projects, how they're serving our digital roadmap and how we're innovating.

How do you help realize Veolia's digital roadmap?

Veolia's IT department, which has more than 2,000 team members around the world, implements the digital strategy for all of the organization's business units. Veolia's CIOs function as the organization's digital partner. We work closely with the business to identify its needs and requirements and deliver services to our internal and external clients. The CIOs work collaboratively with the executive team and the business units to provide solutions in an agile way that improve operations. But the CIOs don't just provide solutions. We work as evangelizers of innovation and change, and we help the business translate its ideas into reality.

Can you describe how agile is helping Veolia's evolution?

The difference between the Veolia of old and new is agile. We're creating a new organization with new ways of working oriented around agile. Ten or 20 years ago, products had more time. Now, we need to deliver projects in months, not years, and we have to work closely and flexibly with our clients to deliver more quickly and more efficiently. We work in small squads made up of integrated, multidisciplinary team members to provide solutions. It would be impossible to execute projects successfully without a good project management methodology in place.

Has it been difficult driving the organization toward agile?

Breaking down silos and breaking from an organization's traditional culture is always difficult. Communication is vital. We have a lot of communities of practice at Veolia that share their knowledge and experience so we can take advantage of local experience globally. We use those communities to break down the silos and remain strategically aligned. Now agile is part of our DNA.

How do you balance the global strategy with your own country's needs?

Sometimes the corporate vision differs from the reality of a country's needs and requirements. We have to strike a balance between the corporate and local needs. It's a two-way street: We have to use global knowledge to improve local projects, and we have to share local experience with the rest of the world.

Human capital is an enormous asset at Veolia. We take solutions from other countries and adapt them for our own location. We leverage the expertise and knowledge of our people from around the world. We collaborate with one another in real time. For example, we're working on a big data enterprise resource planning solution for South American countries, and we use a dashboard to document our experiences, key performance indicators and metrics so we can share them with other countries.

What's the primary challenge you face?

One of the biggest challenges is demonstrating the real value of our solutions. That can be difficult for IT because it's not like construction where you present an architectural plan to clients and then they can see the house being built. Software isn't tangible, so our clients can't always perceive its value. That's why we use an agile approach that involves the clients. We need them to be part of the process. So we create user groups—small teams made up of a commercial team member, a technical team member and a product owner—and they're involved in the development phase so they can see and understand the solution's progress. We give them a minimum viable product in a very short amount of time. They can test it, and we can incrementally improve it. At Veolia, there's no project that's purely IT. We can't create anything of value without our users. We're digital partners with the business. PM


Small Talk

What one skill should every project manager have?

Emotional intelligence. When managing a project, you're dealing mostly with people. A project's outcome is the outcome of people working together.

If not your current career, what would you do?

I would be a psychologist. While I'm a technical person, I always have to understand my team members’ motivations.

What's your biggest pet peeve?

Laziness. For me, it's important that people do all they can, even if they fail.

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