Kirk or Picard as Project Manager?

Kirk or Picard as Project Manager?

With Star Trek: Discovery’s television debut rapidly approaching, I can’t help but reflect on the many valuable lessons on project management I took away from the original series, Star Trek, and its successor, Star Trek: the Next Generation. Those two TV series counted on the strengths of their ships’ captains, James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, respectively, not only to help entertain viewers, but to provide fascinating insights into the characteristics of leadership. In so doing, the shows created timeless archetypes of starkly contrasting project management styles.

Kirk and Picard both had the title “Captain,” yet could not have been more different.  In project terms, both series featured a Starship Captain operating as Project Manager, Project Sponsor and Project Governance all rolled into one.  Yet despite common responsibilities, they were very different in how they carried them out, each with different strengths and weaknesses; one would often succeed in roles where the other would fail, and vice versa.  Each episode was like a project, but on the show, thanks to their writers, each ship’s captain seemed to always get a “project” that they were well-suited for.  But that only happens in real life if someone makes it happen, and most real-life projects don’t have writers working on the scripts.

Kirk and Picard were polar opposites in management style in many ways, and most people involved with project execution have common traits with each. Suppose you are like one of them – are you a Kirk or a Picard? – what should you do to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses?  Suppose one is on your project – how do you ensure they are put to their best use?  How should you be using them and what role should they play?  What would they be good at and not so good at?

To get down to basics, the biggest difference between the two is Kirk is “hands on” versus Picard is “hands off.”

Kirk is clever and energetic.  Because he is “hands on,” he is always part of the “away team” – the group of people who “beam down” to the whatever this week’s show is.  The senior management here is typically the project team.  When additional work was found, he did it himself, or with the existing team.

Picard is visionary and a delegator.  He is more of a leader than a manager.  He set objectives, made decisions and, obviously “hands off,” told Number One to “make it so.” Number One led the project team; Picard rarely went himself.

The best use of a Kirk is as a project manager with delegated authority on a short-term project with a fixed deadline, like a due diligence effort requiring the current situation to be assessed and a longer-term plan of action defined to address deficiencies.  Kirk’s style and authority allows the team to move quickly; if additional tasks appear, Kirk will summon enough energy to get himself and the team through it.  When decisions need to be made, he makes them.  He will shine.  But on a long-term project, if there is additional scope discovered (and there always is), Kirk will become a martyr, skipping vacations and asking his team to do the same.  He will fail at some of his primary tasks – staffing the project properly, as example – and will inadvertently overestimate the current state of the project to his stakeholders, and underestimate the risks.  Here again, it only works on TV.

The best use of Picard is as a project sponsor – he has the vision and needs you to implement it.  The trick will be keeping him involved.  On a short-term project he wouldn’t be your first choice for a PM – unless it was a subject that he cared deeply about – because he might delegate without being very involved.

If Number One got into trouble, but didn’t know it (e.g., the boiling frog parable: as the water heats up, the frog never notices until it is too late), Picard wouldn’t be providing enough oversight to know it either.  Or, if his insight was needed, then there might be a delay while waiting for him to decide.  On a long-term project, the project will need strong oversight to monitor progress and ensure engagement.  That way Picard can keep the team focused on the right things.  Picard could also be a PM on a long-term project like a process transformation.  If there was a new requirement, it would never occur to him to try and do it himself – he would go to the sponsor to explain the tradeoffs of doing or skipping the new requirement, and get the right additional staff to do it.  His management style is great for delegation and building a team, as well as developing the people on that team.

I know that both Kirk and Picard have their fans, and their project management skills both work on TV and in movies – but because there they always the type of project to work on that suits them, as the writer made it be so.  In real life you need to be more flexible in how you use them, and apply the right one, or at least the right traits, to meet your business objective. Understanding this, and acting accordingly, may be as close to having a script writer for our projects as most of us will ever get.

A startling statistic that often gets overlooked is that 70% of projects world-wide fail. Each year, more than one trillion dollars are lost to failed projects. Most importantly, statistics show that these failures are frequently not the result of a lack of technical, hardware or software capabilities. Instead, these failures are typically due to a lack of adequate attention being paid to program management.

After seventeen years working in program management―implementing enterprise business strategies and technology solutions―I continue to be surprised by business leaders who misunderstand the differences between project management and program management, or simply think them to be two terms that refer to the same thing. Fact is,  program management and project management are distinct but complementary disciplines, each equally important to ensuring the success of any large-scale initiative.

Let’s take just a minute to level-set the roles of both. Project management is responsible for managing the delivery of a ‘singular’ project, one that has defined start and end dates and is accompanied by a schedule with a pre-defined set of tasks that must be completed to ensure successful delivery. Project management is focused on ‘output’. Program management, on the other hand, takes a more holistic approach to leading and coordinating a ‘group’ of related projects to ensure successful business alignment and organizational end-to-end execution. A program doesn’t always have start and end dates, a pre-defined schedule or tasks to define delivery. Program management is primarily responsible for driving specific ‘outcomes’, such as ensuring the targeted ROI of an initiative is achieved. Put another way, program management is basically the ‘insurance policy’ of a project, the discipline needed to make sure all the right things are done to ensure the likelihood of success.

One analogy I often use to help differentiate the roles of a program manager and project manager is that of a restaurant. The executive chef (project manager) works within a defined budget, makes certain the kitchen is adequality staffed and creates the menu. The executive chef will provide defined tasks, processes, tools and strategies that ensure efficient and consistent delivery of meals. The meals are a tangible delivery (output). Overseeing the chef, the restaurant owner (program manager) will provide the executive chef with a budget to work from and will closely monitor the output of the kitchen. The owner will make sure each delivery and support role is adequately staffed, trained and paid (e.g., wait staff, hostess desk, dishwasher, bussers and bartender). The owner will also make certain all the details like music and lighting are in place and establish an appropriate ambiance. The owner will make sure the right tools are in place for flawless execution (such as utensils, glasses, napkins, water pitchers, pens and computers), while making sure expected standards and key performance indicators are being met to achieve overall profitability targets and a great end-to-end customer experience (outcomes). The restaurant owner’s primary responsibility is to focus on merging the tangibles with the intangibles to support successful business strategy execution.

When it comes to mortgage banking, an industry that’s known more than its fair share of failed implementations, it is critical that we start giving program management a greater priority, and ensuring that those commissioned to perform the role are equipped with the requisite skills and tools. Whether it’s adding a new imaging platform, bolting on new CRM or POS technology, or something as expansive as replacing an LOS, every enterprise initiative requires a project manager to be leading the implementation effort and a program manager focused on change management and roll-out. Consider the addition of an end-to-end imaging system. A program manager’s tool box should include strategies and frameworks to effectively manage the roadmap for each critical impact point. This would include things like training, updating policies and procedures, executing an internal change management strategy, synchronizing marketing communications, and updating key performance indicators. In some instances, the project may require staff analysis, skills assessments, compensation analysis and adjustments, or even right-sizing of the organization. All of these are key components of the program manager’s toolbox, and not generally covered within the role of a project manager.

Bringing this dialog back full-circle, program management helps reduce project failure rates by maintaining a holistic approach to guiding an organization’s successful adoption of the impending change, leaving the nuts and bolts of build-out in the hands of project management. By addressing the myriad of intangibles required to orchestrate successful adoption and acceptance of change by an organization’s personnel, program management also helps ensure that business strategies and projects remain in full alignment and ROI objectives are achievable. Preparing management and staff for the impending changes defuses fears that can send adoption off the rails and eases the transitions and realignment of resources and roles that often accompany larger initiatives.

In closing, it’s not surprising to find the lines between project and program management will easily get blurred. Our experience is that it is often difficult to identify a really good project manager that is proven capable of undertaking a large-scale effort, but even more so to find someone truly adept at managing all the moving parts of the program. This difficulty is even more apparent in organizations where undertaking significant projects is a relatively rare occurrence and these skills are simply not found among existing staff. While it may seem adequate to budget for a singular project manager and hope that the program elements will be attended, managed and executed, unfortunately, “hope” is not a viable strategy when it comes to business-critical initiatives. The assignment of a skilled program manager, whether sourced internally or externally, will ultimately prove to serve as an effective insurance policy to your project investment. In an industry where failure cannot be afforded, it’s time to stop gambling on project execution and begin implementing program management

Pulling from our considerable experience with the unique aspects of implementing a mortgage loan origination system (LOS), CC Pace has recently published a new white paper on the topic, “The Art of Planning an LOS Implementation Budget.”  The information covered in the white paper, while essentially specific to LOS implementations, is broadly applicable for any product implementation project.

Best practices indicate that thorough project planning is the most critical step for a successful system implementation, and we concur wholeheartedly.  One of the key activities that should be performed during the planning phase is the development of a detailed implementation budget.  The budget is particularly important when establishing expectations with Senior Management and gaining support for the effort. Too often, planners fail to consider the costs beyond those of the software, vendor configuration and any vendor-provided customizations when in fact the all-in cost of an implementation includes much more.

We hope that readers see the importance of taking a more comprehensive perspective when planning their next project and we welcome your feedback. What other line items do you include in your budget preparation process?

As a continuation of our blog series on system selection, it’s time to discuss helpful tips to facilitate a successful product demonstration. The organization and management of the entire process requires upfront preparation. If you drive the process, your demo evaluations will be far more effective.

Demonstrations are one of the most critical components of the software selection process. Seeing a system in action can be a great learning experience. But not all demos are created equal. Let’s talk about how you can level the playing field. To make the most of everyone’s time, CC Pace recommends the following best practices for product evaluations.

Tip One – Keep your process manageable by evaluating no more than five systems. If you evaluate too many vendors, it becomes difficult to drill down deep enough into each offering. You will inevitably suffer from memory loss and start asking questions like, “which system was it that had that cool fee functionality that would be really helpful?”

Tip Two – For each software vendor, set a well thought out date and time for the on-site demo. Depending on your team’s travel schedule, try to space out the demos a few days apart so that you have time to prepare and properly analyze between sessions.

Tip Three – Logistics play a big role in understanding how a system looks and functions, so do your part to help your vendors present well. Whenever possible, arrange for a high-quality projector or large HD screen for the attendees in the room. Hard-wired internet connections are always better. There’s nothing worse than being told, “the screen issues are because of a resolution problem” or “it’s running slow because the air card only has one bar.” Providing these two items can easily remove doubts about external factors causing appearance and performance issues.

Tip Four – Involve the right people from your organization. It’s important to have executive sponsorship as well as hands-on managers involved to assess the software modules. This is also the best opportunity to get “buy-in” from all parts of your organization.

Tip Five – Be sure to head into these demonstrations knowing your key requirements. Visualize it as a day in the life of a loan and follow a natural progression from initial lead into funding. Jumping around causes confusion and can be difficult on the vendor.

Build a list of requirements based on the bulk of your business. Asking to see how the software handles the most complicated scenarios can send the demo down needless paths. No one wants to watch a sales person jump through a bunch of unnecessary hoops for a low-volume loan product.

If you highlight which functional capabilities are most important to your organization, the vendors can spend more time demonstrating those capabilities in their software. Communicate how you think their software can help. But be careful not to justify why something is done a certain way today, but rather focus on how it should be done in the future.

Tip Six – The easiest way to take control of the demo process is to draft demo scripts for your vendors. Start by identifying the ‘must-have’ processes that the software should automate. Don’t worry about seeing everything during this demo. Set the expectation that if the demo goes well, the vendor will likely be called back again for a deeper dive. Provide a brief description of each process and send it to the vendor participants so they can show how their software automates each process. The best vendor partners will have innovative ways to automate your processes, so give them a chance to show their approach.

As you watch the demos, keep track of how many screens are navigated to accomplish a specific task. The fewer clicks and screens, the better. Third-party integrations can significantly help with the data collection and approval process. Always have an open mind regarding different ways to accomplish tasks and don’t expect your new software to look or act just like your legacy system.

Simple scorecards should be completed immediately following each demonstration. This will make it easier to remember what you liked and disliked and prove invaluable when comparing all the systems side-by-side when your demos are complete.

One final suggestion: always request copies of the presentations. Not only will this help you remember what each system offers, it’s useful when the time comes to create presentations for senior management.

 

photo credit: http://www.freepik.com/free-vector/business-presentation_792712.htm Designed by Freepik

Is the RFP dead? As a tool for helping guide the selection of the best possible loan origination software, the traditional Request for Proposal seems to be increasingly viewed as an optional, and not particularly helpful, part of the selection process these days. And for good reason.

We at CC Pace have been questioning the value of a formal RFP for LOS selection, at least as typically applied, for some time now. Traditionally, the RFP is used to serve two primary functions: 1) to provide an apples-to-apples comparison of features and functionality among a group of worthy competing systems and vendors, and 2) to provide helpful documentation to the selection decision. But in today’s origination software market, the functionality included with competitive systems is more alike than ever before. LOSs have matured such that the differentiating factors are most often “how” they do things, not “what” they do. The RFP is simply not well suited to “how” distinctions, as “yes or no” questions are geared more for “what” and seldom shed light on the more nuanced distinctions of the candidate systems. In short, why bother asking detailed functionality questions when what is really needed is a better understanding of how each system handles those features that are “make-or-break” factors in your search?

The big problem for many lenders trying to navigate the software selection process is getting too caught up on debating the merits of a plethora of “bells and whistles,” while largely ignoring the bigger questions of whether the system meets their most important criteria and can they be successful in implementing it? In most situations there are only a relatively small number of things that really define what is absolutely critical, so why not limit the RFP to a short list of things you want the vendors to provide detailed answers on? Beyond that, well-orchestrated, in-depth system demonstrations typically do a better job of telling you whether a given system will meet your functional needs in a way that will fit well with your company’s organizational culture and processes.

Once having used detailed demonstrations to narrow the field to a small number of seemingly suitable candidate systems, the most important things a lender should want to focus on are 1) which of the systems can be successfully deployed in my shop and 2) will we be happy with the results afterwards? As simple as they may seem, these questions are exactly what you should strive to figure out in the process of selecting a system. And surprisingly they are often left out of the selection process entirely.

Too often lenders try to answer the first question (can we successfully deploy the system?) by looking at who the vendor has sold the system to recently. Many attempt to shorten the selection cycle simply by accepting that if Company ABC and XYZ bought the system, it must be good, without regard as to whether ABC or XYZ have successfully deployed it as yet, or if they’ve even begun that process. The truth is that not every LOS implementation goes all that smoothly, with something like a quarter of them failing outright. Rather than asking the vendor about their track record for successful implementation, it is far better to speak to as many customers of that vendor as possible and ask them directly. Probe into how their implementation efforts went, how happy were they with the vendor through that process, what kind of attention they received, and whether everything went as planned. Most of your lending brethren will be remarkably candid about this process when asked, even if the response doesn’t reflect all that well on them or the vendor. Use that candor to your advantage and learn from it.

Then ask how similar ABC and the others are to your company. When it comes to an LOS, one size does not fit all, so success with one company may not mean that much if they aren’t very similar to your company. Do they have the same operational model, offer the same products, and leverage the same channels? Ask them what level of effort was required of their own resources and how well prepared they were to meet those demands. Make sure you are ready to hold up your end of the implementation bargain, so listen carefully to what those that have succeeded tell you. Don’t over-reach by choosing a system that demands in-house analytical, configuration or development skills that you aren’t well-suited to provide, as those are critical factors when assessing suitability of organizational fit and common contributors to implementation struggles.

When it comes to being happy with the resulting system post-deployment, once again we strongly suggest doing your homework by talking to the vendors’ customers. Speak to as many current clients of the system as possible and ask probing questions about their satisfaction. Be honest with them about your expectations and goals and solicit their feedback on whether the system, in their opinion, can deliver. Here again the real trick is to not set yourself up to fail. Take the time to document your expectations up front, then carefully vet whether the system under consideration is truly aligned with those expectations.

The goals you are trying to achieve by replacing an existing LOS should be your north star guiding the process from start to finish. The desired outcomes should be things far more substantial than just successfully implementing a system. Clearly defining those desired outcomes at the outset is critical to guiding the implementation process, and to measuring your success at completion. Focusing the selection process on how to meet your critical needs while increasing the likelihood of successful deployment and roll-out is the right approach and one that relies very little on the traditional RFP.

So, should the RFP be laid to rest? My vote would be “no.” The RFP can provide important value, but skip the lengthy laundry list of functionality check boxes. Keep it short, ask open ended questions and focus on those critical things that are the real “make or break” factors in your search. But more importantly, the RFP should only be the start of your due diligence, used to help narrow the field before launching into asking the really big questions of whether you can succeed and by happy with your choice.

Still a bit overwhelmed with the selection process? Let’s talk.

Meet Bill Lehman, CMB, the Director of our Mortgage Strategy Practice.  Bill, a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, joined CC Pace in 1982 right after graduation.  A visionary and creative process and technology consultant with a proven track record, Bill is an invaluable resource for CC Pace.

Learn more about Bill in the interview below, and, if you are attending the MBA’s Annual Conference in Boston this month, be sure to connect with him there. To reach out to Bill beforehand and/or arrange a meeting at the conference, feel free to contact him: blehman@ccpace.com.

What was your first client project? 
I was a programmer on Fannie Mae’s first securitization system.  A few years later, when that system needed to be redeveloped to accommodate the tremendous success of securitization, I was brought back as chief architect for the redevelopment.

What do you feel was one of your most successful client projects and why?
It is hard to narrow it to just one, so I will pick two.

The first was a client where we were really successful leading a business transformation effort that integrated process, technology and organizational changes to align all facets of the operation with an important business strategy change.  Afterwards, the client thanked our team by saying “You saved our company.”

The second was with AmTrust, now NYCB Mortgage Banking, where we designed a path for them to increase their emortgage production from 20 per month to 5,000 per month.  Our work outlined significant changes that were needed to process and policy and was ultimately very successful because what we were doing had strong support from the client’s business leadership.

In 2011 you earned your Certified Mortgage Banking (CMB) Designation from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Can you tell us about that experience and what it has meant to your work?
I am embarrassed that I waited that long to get my CMB.  A career in consulting, working with everything from broker origination to Wall Street securitization gave me a broader background than most people have to become a CMB, so I think it was easier for me than for some.

There aren’t many CMB’s, so it distinguishes you at a client as “this is someone who can help me with my business.”

The CMB program isn’t something that is “one and done.” I continue to be very involved in the program, including participating in evaluating new candidates. This ongoing engagement helps you keep up with changes going on in the industry, and provides insights into different perspectives on those changes.

Finally, especially since I live in the Washington, DC area, a CMB gives you the opportunity to give back to the industry by educating legislators.

In your 30-plus years in the mortgage industry, what have been the three biggest changes?
The first change was the switch to the agency securitization model and the rise of the mortgage banking model over the S&L (Savings and Loan) model.  This was happening just as I started and drove CC Pace’s initial growth.

The second has been the adoption of technology, where I think automated underwriting really paved the way, and the shift in thinking from being an expense to being part of a business strategy.  This trend was our bread and butter for years.

Finally, right now, the intense regulation of the industry that has resulted from the meltdown and the abrupt shift from consolidation to deconsolidation.  Lenders are still processing what TRID means, and now HMDA and the new 1003 are coming, and what it means to them in their consumer channel.

What is one of you favorite memories from your time here at CC Pace?
A major highlight was about 10 years ago when we had the good fortune to work with Rob Thomsett to advance leadership in Agile Project and Program Management.  Rob is an Australian Agile guru whose approach to how we should think about defining, managing and measuring the success of projects has been a game changer for me and many of us at CC Pace.

In addition, since I mainly work at client sites, my fondest memories are compliments from those clients about how we have helped them to solve their business problems and improve their processes.

What do you see as the next major technology advancement in the mortgage industry?
I don’t think the next advancement is a new technology – I think that there is plenty of exciting technologies that aren’t fully utilized.  I think the next advancement will be to integrate the existing technologies into the overall value proposition of the business, to improve the customer and user experience, and better address the cyclical nature of the business.

Bill is not all business either, he and his wife have been known to cut the rug with great enthusiasm as competitive swing dancers.  Maybe he can show you a move or two if you run into him in Boston later this month at the MBA’s Annual Conference.

“There I was on assignment for a month in the Sahara Desert of Northern Africa during a time of the year that was supposed to be fairly mild. Unfortunately, there was a heat wave during most of that month, which drove temperatures into the mid 120’s. With little to no shade, relentless flying and crawling insects, and sparse meals that caused me to lose 20 pounds, I continued to work toward getting that ‘perfect shot’, at the perfect time. This assignment proved to be the most physically demanding I ever endured. Nonetheless, I’d choose that job every day over an unstimulating project.”

So goes the story of a high school friend and renowned photographer, Don Holtz, whose impressive work includes the likes of Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Steven Spielberg, Time Magazine and chronicling the Foo Fighters. Yet despite his amazing success, Don humbly shared with me (when asked) that there is no perfect time for taking the perfect shot. Instead, he explained, it is by the continued effort of working ‘toward’ perfection that he is able to achieve the highest level of success.

Similar to Don’s challenges in Africa, mortgage bankers continue to maneuver stringent regulations, weak GDP growth, and persistently low interest rates that limit their ability to help grow the local or national economy. As a result, most lenders are content to maintain a conservative approach to lending while instructing their IT departments to tweak or revamp old and disparate technologies in order to keep management, maintenance and overall IT project costs down rather than pursue innovation and rethink how business could be done better. Basically, most are waiting for the ‘perfect time’ to rebuild, reengineer and transform their business.

Conversely though, there are nearly 80 million millennials (18 to 34 years old) in the US who are actively shifting from renting to home buying as their family’s needs grow. In a recent study by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), millennials were the largest share of home buyers in 2015, at 31%. All evidence points to this trend actually increasing throughout 2016.

Just consider that the millennial generation, who has maximized the use of Snapchat, Facebook, Facetime and texting to such an extent they do not know of any other way to live, communicate or do business, is now the greatest force driving home buying. This should put pressure directly on the backs of mortgage bankers to re-think and rebuild century-old banking and lending practices in order to successfully support this new generation of borrowers. Millennials are first and foremost a tech-savvy generation of borrowers who are fiercely brand loyal (think Apple) and seeking to do business with firms that speak their language of fast, easy and friendly, supported by best-in-class technology platforms.

Over the last thirty-six years, CC Pace has helped implement scores of mortgage banking technology platforms supporting strategic initiatives and business transformation projects, but never have we seen a greater need than exists today for business transformation in mortgage banking. Business transformation is desperately needed that will successfully help to attract and support the new generation of home buyers. Such projects require lenders to challenge their organization’s own institutionalized thinking in order to evaluate all aspects of the firm’s strategy, its lending process, its technology and equally importantly, how they provide the service levels this generation requires. Business transformation is needed not just to entice the millennial generation, but to earn their loyalty for return business as well.

Certainly embarking on new large-scale business transformation projects is stressful and risky (which is why firms hire CC Pace). But the alternative of risking alienation of the millennial borrower generation by failing to meet their needs and expectations will prove to be devastating to lenders who choose to continue a conservative approach to facing the future of mortgage lending.

When I asked Don what he thinks it means when people indicate they are waiting for the perfect time to take the perfect shot, he said, ”The idea of perfection is more dependent on a state of mind than on external conditions that we can’t always control.” He went on to highlight how he takes responsibility for how he will respond to changing conditions, spending his energy planning, as best he can, to arrive at a shoot prepared to adapt his game plan for both the existing and changing conditions to ensure the best possible outcome. As Don put it, “There is no perfect time, but that doesn’t mean you don’t continue to work ‘toward’ perfection.” This is as true for mortgage bankers as it is for world-class photographers. If you aren’t working toward transforming to meet the demands of the market, you will never achieve greater success. So as lenders continue to expect mild temperatures, they may soon find themselves in the middle of a heat wave. There is no perfect time; there is no perfect shot. Success can only be achieved by actively working toward the goal of perfection.

Don Holtz is the owner of Don Holtz photography services. If you are interested in Don’s services he can be reached at here.

CC Pace is proud to welcome Chris Gill as the newest member of our Financial Services team, a group that has been recognized as among the premier consulting practices in the mortgage banking industry. Chris’s knowledge, skills, expertise and overall commitment to helping lenders solve their challenges makes him a great addition to the team. During Chris’s nearly thirty-years in mortgage banking he has spent significant time as a lender, working at both Washington Mutual and JP Morgan Chase, before transitioning to the software side of the industry, where he spent nearly ten years at a leading mortgage software firm. This collective experience serves to make Chris a valuable asset to our clients, someone they can trust to help chart a course for success with their most complex challenges. Chris recently sat down for a Q&A session to discuss his background, his vision for the industry and his purpose in joining CC Pace.

How did you get into the mortgage banking business?
CG: My first exposure to the mortgage banking industry was with the Sheltered Lending group at Chemical Bank in Jericho, NY. While still in college as a temporary employee, I worked in the Closing department faxing out packages from the mailroom to attorneys and settlement agents. I was hired not because of my knowledge or experience but rather my ability to turn a double play. Not only am I proud to still be part of this tight knit industry, you can also find me on the baseball diamond trying to hurt myself.

What sort of things have you done during your time in the industry?
CG: I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to lots of different areas within the mortgage banking industry. Started in the backend end of the business as part of a Portfolio Administration group, worked my way into Secondary Marketing, ran a rogue IT shop, and eventually became a licensed Mortgage Banker, Broker and Secondary Lender. One of my most valuable experiences was the time I spent working on a trading desk building a conduit. Interesting to note, these various positions spanned across both the business and IT sides of the house. My new role with CC Pace will allow me to accomplish so much more and better service our clients.

What would you say are some of the greatest challenges the industry is facing today?
CG: Whether it’s customer demand, changes in the market or new regulations, the ability to adapt is the greatest challenge facing financial institutions. Understanding, reacting, and potentially leading is the true definition of an innovator. This can be accomplished with solid forward thinking strategy which most likely includes process and technology refreshes. The famous quote by General George Patton, “Lead, follow or get out of the way!” is still relevant today. Mobile devices, portals, automated workflows, imaging, e-notes are no longer the wave of the future. They are essential building blocks to keep pace with our real-time, on-demand society.

So you’ve transitioned from lender to technologist, and now consulting. Why the recent decision to join CC Pace?
CG: Right people, right time, right situation…. While I’ve been in the industry a few decades, I’ve only worked at a handful of institutions. Every organization strives for excellence. I firmly believe the most effective way to be successful is to work with the best professionals. In my opinion, CC Pace offers something not found at other consulting firms. Deep real-life experience with complete focus on the client’s best interest. At the end of the day, we’re all in this business to originate loans. For me, this opportunity represents a unique chance to work with more than one lender.  Servicing clients while driving industry innovation excites me.

What will be your primary focus be at CC Pace?
CG: My role at CC Pace will be a little departure from the traditional business development function. CC Pace has done so much in the industry that no one knows about. I’m here to start meaningful conversations and share our valuable experience. “Been there, done that” is a great mantra when it can be said about defining strategy, improving efficiency, reducing risk and ensuring success.

What makes for a successful lender/consulting partnership?
CG: This could really be a one-word answer: ‘trust’. Trusting our experience, our knowledge and our skills to help solve your most complex of challenges or projects. Our end goal is to help you operate more efficiently, effectively and successfully. A great partner can be the difference in making a struggling, meandering project with marginal success into a timely, smooth-running project with significant success.

When should lenders be calling you?
CG: Call me anytime, even if you’re not sure what you need. CC Pace is the premier financial services consulting firm. Our seasoned staff of consultants have an average of over 25 years of experience managing highly complex multi-faceted projects. Together, we can accomplish great things.

As Wall Street analysts predict smartphone sales will continue to level off due to varying levels of market saturation, does that actually mean smartphone utilization is set to follow? Is the smartphone honeymoon over? Is the saying ‘there is an app for that’ dead? Perhaps the sales of new smartphones are in fact tapering off, but I am a firm believer that ‘utilization’ is just getting started.

Since the turn of the Century, each new generation of trains, planes and automobiles continues to be enhanced in order to increase consumer satisfaction and society’s overall productivity. With each new generation they become faster, easier, and cheaper to run and maintain, and lighter, smaller and in many cases even more luxurious. Why should the smartphone be any different? It has revolutionized how we store, manage and transport information. In the short term, the smartphone has allowed people to immediately ditch the bulky briefcase loaded down with a calendar, address book, calculator, plane tickets, a newspaper and manila folders to that of just a handheld device which simply fits into a shirt pocket.

The invention of the smartphone is on par to that of the automobile. Society’s overall successful adoption of the smartphone has been in an effort to help increase one’s ‘quality of life’. With that said, it’s quickly becoming high noon in the world of business where the lack of an effective smartphone strategy for both customers and employees will likely seal the fate of said business. Most at risk may in fact be the financial services industry, given the volume of legacy systems built and now required to support some of the most comprehensive of services and investment products. The up and coming millennial generation has made it blatantly clear they will adopt those who have successfully adapted. Moving forward it’s incumbent on a business that their success, let alone their survival will be dependent on their smartphone e-strategy. So in reading the following article, it confirmed my belief that the smartphone generation is just getting started.  Read more about it in Strategy+Business, “Radical Intimacy and the Smartphone”.

CC Pace remains committed to helping guide organizations in the development, deployment and adoption of their e-strategies.

Are you attending MBA’s Tech Conference in Los Angeles? While you’re in LA, we invite you to schedule a 30-minute meeting with Managing Consultant, Keith Kemph, who will be in attendance and available to discuss how CC Pace’s TRID Rapid Review Program may be helpful to your organization. TRID is currently the mortgage banking industry’s #1 challenge to navigate. Our program is designed to drive down lender cost to cures, reduce closing time and minimize frustrations associated with TRID compliance. Keith will be available to share how CC Pace can help solve your greatest challenges with TRID. Keith will be available to meet April 3rd – 6th.   You can find out more about our ‘TRID Rapid Review’ program here, or reach out to Keith directly to schedule time with him at kkemph@ccpace.com.

While TRID didn’t necessarily result in a ‘housing apocalypse’ as I jested it might in a blog piece posted in the fall of 2015, it does in fact continue to wreak havoc on mortgage bankers nationwide―havoc that won’t end any time soon.

Mortgage bankers have worked vigorously to cobble their people, process and technology together to ensure the forms and data would be correct in order to meet regulatory scrutiny. While there is room for error (as lenders only need to demonstrate a concerted effort to comply), the struggle continues. Lenders are challenged to overcome the operational impacts and impairments that have resulted in dramatically increased cost to produce.

CC Pace conducted a survey of a wide variety of lenders recently, and found that 2 out of 3 are struggling ‘significantly’ with meeting the new TRID regulation. Lenders indicated they have had to ‘throw bodies at it’, temporarily re-structuring processes and other facets of their organization to keep up with the workload. They’ve had to hammer their technology providers for immediate enhancements and implement additional manual steps and work arounds to ensure compliance. Yet despite these proactive steps, some lenders continue to conduct emergency meetings daily to put out the fires at hand in an effort to remain out of hot water with the CFPB while moving loans to close. Cost to produce has sky rocketed due to staff increases in closing and significantly increased tolerance cures, and customer service has been impacted, often with numerous days added to the closing process, negatively impacting lenders’ efficiency, productivity, profitability and reputation. As a result, recent headlines show several top banks and mortgage lenders are either getting out of the lending business or significantly reducing their appetite for production. This should be a clear and distinct message that the dust of TRID has far from settled.

Unfortunately, most mortgage bankers see no end in sight to their struggles. Many focused originally on getting documents correct but less so on their processes, and this is what is now driving their cost and customer service issues.  A continued investment of time and energy is required as lenders to conduct on-going evaluations of their existing processes―knowing that any changes can send ripple effects throughout the end-to-end process. As a result, CC Pace recently launched a targeted service called ―TRID Rapid Relief―to help our customers cope.

In my blog post on October 8, 2015, The Value of Looking Back while Looking Ahead, I posted the question, “What’s next for lenders after TRID goes live?”  The short answer turns out to be “clean up.” But once the aftermath of TRID gets laid to rest and the struggle subsides, what does come next?

During the last several years lenders nationwide have understandably put off large-scale projects due to TRID. It is now time for lenders to start reconsidering those large-scale projects in order to effectively reduce cost to produce, increase return on investment and position themselves to move forward successfully and profitably in the new age of mortgage banking.

Moving forward, it will be imperative that lenders start to take a long-term, strategic approach to their process, people and technology―a long-term strategic approach that will eliminate the rubber bands, glue, Band-Aids and manual steps they have come to rely upon. As technology, regulations and customer needs have evolved―and with the coming of the millennial home buyer and homeowner―lenders need to start re-thinking their long-term approach, recognizing that the technology and the process strategy they employed to get through the financial crisis may not be the scalable, long-term solution that will allow them to successfully grow as the housing markets continue to recover. CC Pace has been successfully orchestrating the design and implementation of large-scale, business transformation projects for mortgage bankers for over 35 years. We are currently in the final stages of helping implement a Business Transformation project for one of the nation’s largest and most respected regional banks. This has been one such transformative project, where fair lending and the customer experience has been at the forefront of the bank’s requirements. CC Pace facilitated the ground-breaking merger of the mortgage and home equity business units while helping move them onto a shared technology platform. While some industry colleagues have considered this concept “bleeding edge” and others say it’s “cutting edge”, most industry executives will recognize this as representing the new age of lending, one that truly represents fair lending at its best due to the bank’s ability to now offer all the home lending products a customer is qualified for at point of sale, Mortgage AND Home Equity products. Rather than the traditional approach of a loan originator only being able to represent and sell the home lending product their particular origination channel represents, Mortgage OR Home Equity loan products.

Executives are recognizing that in this new era of mortgage banking, walls need to be torn down and operational efficiencies gained throughout to drive the ultimate customer experience, while still mitigating risk across the board.  Now more than ever, it is important for mortgage banking leaders to stop looking down and to start looking up―scanning the horizon and moving their organizations towards the future of mortgage banking. It’s time to start transitioning from survival to transformational.

Development of your business strategy requires a long and hard look ahead to the future. Anticipating what the industry may look like, what your customer profile may be and what technology might be available is critical.  Yet as important as looking forward is, it is equally critical for an organization to look back and analyze how you got here, what has made your company great and how you’ve managed to retain and build your customer base over the years.  The combination of these views will play a significant role in designing a powerful ‘move forward’ strategy for your organization.

In recent years the financial services industry has been heads down focused on navigating the regulatory environment, including the most widely recognized and intrusive regulation of TRID. As a result, any vision for long-term strategic planning has taken a back seat. As TRID begins its final march toward implementation, it’s high time for the industry to begin looking beyond the recent strains of compliance and begin to recall the lessons learned from the past and imagine what the future might be with the development of an effective business strategy.  Adidas learned this lesson by regaining control of their future after taking a long, hard look at their past to ensure they break the chains of recent history.  Read more about it in Strategy+Business, who wrote “How Adidas Found Its Second Wind”. It’s now time for the financial services industry to get its “Second Wind”.

The Missing Piece: Standardized Test Data

The mortgage industry has invested heavily in standardizing the exchange of information, primarily under the auspices of MISMO.  This has made it easier for lenders to switch service providers providing the same or similar services, for technology providers to expand their connectivity and integration offerings to their customer base with limited effort, and for service providers to have a standard approach to communication with their customers.  All this standardization should be and is helpful, reducing technology costs among other things, but it stopped short of the goal by not addressing a key piece: the standardization of testing.

The missing standardization is not related to the process of testing, but rather the data used to verify and validate the process.  Today, each service provider defines their own test cases to be used against their systems.  This has left the testers of the various connections with the unenviable task of constantly adjusting the test criteria to meet those defined for the respective service provider being tested.  Due to the many points of integration and service providers involved with the origination process, end to end testing of an LOS cannot be completed “cleanly” due to the data changes needed to interface with the respective service providers.

The LOS can include upwards of 20 separate data exchange transactions with external service providers.  In lieu of actually testing the system in an end to end fashion, the system testers must constantly adjust the data (usually through system administration functions) to meet the terms of each service providers’ test samples, or create multiple loans that are only testing specific streams of the process to validate selected transactions.  Even something as simple as defining “Joe Homeowner” at “123 Main Street, Fairfax, VA  22030” as the information with which services can be ordered through the test environments, becomes a time saver.

Although standardizing this information, is very different from standardizing the transaction, it is no less important when discussing introducing efficiencies and streamlining the exchange of information.  Standardization of the test data includes defining multiple test names, property addresses, social security numbers, and other common fields to be used in the test transactions.  While each service may require a different set of data, some standardization will go a very long way, particularly when attempting to complete end to end testing of the technology.

Each service provider maintains a different approach to testing.  In some instances, the test data is sent to a production environment, where the specific test data is recognized and treated differently from a production request, e.g., not charging the lender for the transaction. Other providers open their production environment for a limited period, allowing queries to be run without any charges being incurred during the verification process. Still others support a testing environment that includes sufficient information to respond to the transactions submitted with the test data.  The standardization being discussed would not inhibit the selected service provider’s testing methodology, rather it would define, and possibly expand, the data used during the testing activities.

What do you think?  Have you experienced this issue?  Is it time to standardize the testing data across services and providers?

When speaking with leaders in the mortgage banking industry of late, the chorus always remains the same, “we are heads down on TRID.” Despite the CFPB’s recent announcement regarding leniency on enforcement of this new regulation, industry executives know full well that there is no delay. Only firms who make a “good faith effort” to comply with the new regulation will experience leniency on enforcement. The theme at lenders nationwide therefore remains “stay the course” for hitting the August 1st deadline.

TRID has been widely recognized as one of the single most impactful regulations to befall the mortgage banking industry in recent memory. The real significance of this regulation goes well beyond the requirement to change an already comprehensive and sophisticated consumer disclosure document. By shifting the burden for the consumer closing document three days prior to close from the title company to the lender, it also forces both the lender and title companies to rethink a hundred year old workflow and business relationship, engaging in a more collaborative partnership. To accomplish this effectively, TRID requires lender reconfiguration of business rules, workflows and processes, which has a direct impact on business strategy, technology requirements and system configurations while making certain audit trails go deeper and wider. Amidst it all, lenders are having to work overtime to protect the customer experience by reengineering the loan closing process and better setting expectations with consumer to ensure a positive customer experience and to avoid multiple reschedulings of loan closings. Ultimately putting added pressure on each lender’s cost to produce, not to mention potentially increasing housing costs for consumers.

With less than 60 days remaining to implementation, lenders continue to break the glass and retrieve their proverbial Mortgage Bankers First Aid Kit in order to swiftly bandage together the disparate impact points of TRID, not only to ensure compliance, but for self-preservation. With almost two years to prepare and most vendor organizations fully focused on developing various document solutions and workflow assistance, it’s unfortunate there has been little offered in the way of a universal “one size fits all solution” that lenders can simply plug in and safely implement to help ensure compliance, workflow efficiency and a winning customer experience. Yet after twenty-seven years in the mortgage banking industry, I remain confident mortgage bankers will once again be resourceful, agile and pliable to ensuring successful adoption of the new TRID regulations to ensure consumer satisfaction. After all, it’s in our DNA. We will do what it takes, even if it means throwing bodies at it (similar to days gone by) or adding new layers of manual processes and procedures or quality control checks. I am convinced most will be ready to meet the industry’s new requirements.  But at a cost.

So the question remains, “What’s next? Where do mortgage bankers focus after August 1st?”.

As with many disruptive changes, focus before the deadline is on complying with the regulation. Afterwards the focus must shift to actually making it work effectively and efficiently. This could mean that lenders need to take a pause, step back and get back to the basics by conducting an end-to-end full-scale process assessment. A business process assessment serves to help ensure lenders are originating loans at the lowest possible cost to produce by looking to remove redundancies, maximize technology configurations, better integrate appropriate vendor solutions and new business rules, or by simply amending a series of processes and procedures in light of new ones.

Veteran mortgage banking executive, A.W. Pickel, President and CEO at Leader One Financial, is very concerned about the impact of TRID regulation on consumers. “My concern is, what happens to customers with a moving van in the driveway and due to circumstances beyond their control they now have to wait three more days to close. Regulations meant to do good may cause further harm. Will this regulation then cause realtors and loan officers to do off balance sheet items?” In regards to how to how to mitigate the risk, Mr. Pickel goes on to say, “The only way to offset this risk is through the adoption of additional procedures. In the end, however, additional procedures can equate to increased cost to produce a loan.”

Pete Lansing, former President of Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association and President of Universal Lending for over thirty-four years, feels TRID really isn’t any different than any other regulation. “Post August 1st we will be in full force compliance evaluation and review, looking for any holes left over that were not covered before the implementation date. Every organization must keep their eye on regulatory compliance at the same time keeping customer service as its number one objective. The balance between these two objectives has always been the mortgage banker’s concern and goal. I believe these new changes are no more difficult than those previously issued by the regulatory forces.”

Taking it one step further, Gellert Dornay, President & CEO of Axia Home Loans, when speaking of his TRID implementation strategy, put it this way, “Post TRID implementation, lenders should be auditing compliance with the new rule and identifying any areas that require further training or process tweaks. However, if you’re not doing a full-scale operational assessment until after the rule has gone into effect, you’ve missed the boat.”

While the mortgage banking apocalypse is not likely to take place on August 1st, what is more likely is that lenders are going to need to take time post-TRID implementation to conduct a full-scale audit of their end-to-end origination process in order to lower cost to produce and ensure consumer satisfaction. Based on CC Pace’s experience in conducting business process assessments in the mortgage banking industry, we encourage lenders to keep three key components in mind when conducting their post TRID operational assessments. First, be honest in asking yourself if your recently amended TRID process is actually economically “scalable”―is it scalable enough to support what is anticipated to be a growth market if secondary liquidity truly returns due to a rising interest rate environment? Second, when reviewing the operational assessment, challenge yourself with this question, “Is the right long-term answer to take the temporary bandages off and look at full-scale reconstructive surgery of processes, systems and organizational structures in order to successfully implement long-term, scalable growth strategies?” Lastly, decide on a strategy and move forward. Meaningful operational assessments that end up sitting idle on the shelf collecting dust are generally reflective of an overly conservative approach and commitment to long-term failure. Such efforts are best defined as exercises in futility.

After August 1st there is no better time to stop, rebuild the origination’s foundation and prepare for the new mode of lending.

An important part of any system selection process is when the vendor is asked to demonstrate their products. This is a pivotal time, when the dry responses to the RFP become something that is seen and the staff can begin to visualize themselves using the system in their daily work.  Selection Team members walk out of a demonstration with their preconceptions turned into expectations of what the product can or cannot do, and what benefits it may bring to the organization.  These impressions stick with the audience; it is hard to move someone away from what they’ve seen or heard during a demonstration.

I’ve always considered the demonstration, as well as the set-up and coordination activities around this meeting, as where I earn most of my fee for managing a selection process.  It is important not to view this as a one-off meeting, or standalone activity, but to view it as integral to the overall selection process using information already collected and providing output to the next steps, as well as the final decision.

Steps prior to the demonstration including defining and prioritizing the business requirements, creating a potential product list, developing/distributing an RFP and assessing the vendor responses.  That assessment should narrow down the field to those 2-4 vendors that best meet your baseline requirements and are most worthy of being invited in for a demonstration.

Recommended activities to surround the demonstration, include:

Schedule:  I try to group the demonstrations within a 1-2 week time period, without significant time gaps between sessions.  This is rough on the individual calendars of those attending the meetings, but worth it to keep the purpose, critical requirements and comparisons top of mind throughout.

Agenda: Using the most critical requirements identified previously, the agenda is set to walk through all key aspects of the functionality, with a focus on any particular area where the selection committee is particularly concerned.  The agenda is also set up to allow users to manage their time, so they are only present when the demo is covering their functional areas, without tying them up for the full session. Importantly, a well thought out agenda ensures the vendor spends adequate time on all the aspects of the system the team is interested in, with little opportunity to gloss over areas of weakness.

Scorecard:  Any attendee in the demonstration should complete a scorecard for the parts of the demo they participated in.  The scorecards must be completed before the participant exits the room, as their thoughts quickly get mixed between systems, and other priorities occur that take attention and time away from completing the scorecard.  The scorecard is never overly long, but serves to provide a quantitative view of the participant’s impression of specific functionality in the system, and to capture any comments or questions that may be pending at the end of the demo.  To avoid skewing the quantitative results, participants should only score those sections with which they have expertise.  Entries on the scorecard are aligned with the agenda for easy following, and are weighted based on priority for quantitative comparison across products.

Attendees:  I discourage the selection team members from looking at the systems early in the process, before their requirements are known and prioritized, to avoid any preset leanings in one direction or another.  The size of the group varies on the size of the organization, breadth of functionality for the system being selected and amount of time devoted to the selection.  The preference is to keep the participating audience at a manageable size and consistent across all systems being considered.  All audience members should be prepped beforehand, as to how the meeting will run, the agenda and the scorecard.

FacilitationThe facilitator role is an active one, ensuring the focus remains on the agenda and covers all the topics in the scorecard.  Questions may be tabled, conversations cut short (particularly those that serve a small part of the audience present at that time), and information prompted out of the audience or the vendor.  Another role is that of translator and interpreter.  It always stuns me how we all say the same things in entirely different ways within and across financial sectors.  It is important that the vendor’s presentation is translated into the audience’s terminology whenever possible for maximum appreciation of what is being presented.  It is equally important to also interpret what the vendor says into how the audience members think.  The facilitator’s knowledge of the industry, the available products, implementation, maintenance, etc. are all leveraged to steer the discussion such that the audience will appreciate not only what they are seeing, but what they will need to contribute for configuration and maintenance and whether the system has the flexibility to meet their needs in different ways.  This leads to a more mutually fulfilling discussion between the vendor and the audience, as everyone speaks from the same page.

Post-Meeting Roundtable:  A facilitated session of key audience members should quickly follow each demonstration (to mitigate crossover confusion with what functionality went where or when a particular comment came up).  A review of the scorecards should be completed prior to this session, so disparities can be addressed.  This meeting is the opportunity to discuss the demo, questions raised, and establish a general consensus about where the product stands and that the functionality represents similar things to everyone.  It is not unknown to find a score of 1 and a score of 5 (using a 1-5 range) for the same functionality line item on the scorecards of two different participants.  There is no expectation that everyone will score things the same, rather that scores should be in a similar ballpark.  Large disparities like this one indicate misunderstandings by one or both team members, and those need to be put on the table for clarification as soon as possible, before perceptions are cemented and expectations set in one’s mind that cannot be met.

I know companies who failed to follow one or more of the steps above during their selection process and the result was typically missed expectations and buyer’s regret.  Allowing the vendors free roam for their demonstrations causes confusion when comparing products, as the vendors may approach the discussion from totally disparate functional areas.  Lack of a schedule requires a larger investment of time, as people with only a small area of functionality to observe are sitting in for much longer time periods (or the meeting is stopping and starting, while new people are called in and others leave). Most importantly, what someone hears versus what was intended may be completely different messages that were not caught prior to a final recommendation.  That “results in not getting what you thought you were getting”.

While key to the overall selection process, the demonstration is not the final task in the process.  A quantitative comparison of RFP responses and demo results can be used to further reduce the short list of potential candidates prior to moving into an in-depth due diligence process.  Targeted system demonstrations, or question/answer sessions with the vendor may occur during this period to collect additional information or clarify any points.

Once the due diligence is completed, the qualitative and quantitative results are assessed to identify the final recommendation from the selection process.

Are you competing on price?

Economists and finance executives world-wide acknowledge that being the low-price leader can be a viable short-term strategy that may help boost bottom-line profits but warn this is an extremely risky long-term strategy. Within the financial services industry margins are already squeezed and products continue to be distinctly vanilla. So what’s left when it comes to high-impact business strategies? Perhaps it’s time for business transformation by way of customer-focused differentiators.

Sometimes one doesn’t have to look beyond their local hotdog cart for inspiration.

Check out the accompanying photo. How is it that in downtown Denver while one hotdog vendor who charges $3.50 for a hotdog, chips and soda has no people at his cart, when a competing hotdog vendor less than 100 feet away has a line of people who are willing to pay $4.75 for virtually the same hotdog, chips and soda, everyday? Simply said, it’s called customer experience.

Meet Biker Jim. Jim Pittenger, a former repo man from Anchorage, Alaska, moved to Denver looking to open his own hotdog cart. Jim knew it wasn’t going to be easy. He was an unknown in the area and opened up several blocks from the main street, where competition was already entrenched. Jim recognized at the time that Denver’s most successful cart owner was occupying the premier location of cart real estate and essentially just had to ‘show up’ each day. If Jim was going to be successful, he knew he had to do things differently.

When I first met Jim, I shared how I had been analyzing his business and asked him to come down to the office to share his story. There, Jim explained, “I knew I had to set myself apart. I challenged myself to think about all the things I could do differently. Ultimately, I knew it would come down to focusing on the customer and the customer experience, and frankly, when I put my mind to it, it wasn’t hard. I sat down and made a list of the things I could do to make for a better customer experience. I studied not only what my competition was doing, I studied what they weren’t doing. I knew I wanted to build great relationships with my customers while making sure I created a great experience. Some of the things that made my list included cranking up some music that people could tap their foot to, and setting up a big umbrella that screams ‘something good is happening.’ I rigged my cart with some nice size exhaust pipes that would send the smell of my grill up and down the city streets. I added condiments that others didn’t, like grilled onions, sauerkraut and cream cheese. Giving the customer more options rather than just a plain hotdog with ketchup or mustard.” Jim went on to say, “Honestly, it’s really not about the hotdog, it’s about the experience.”

Joel Horn of Horn Funding Corp, a client of mine at the time put it this way, “The perceived value of buying a hotdog from Biker Jim is far greater than buying from his competition.” It wasn’t long after my interview with him that Jim’s chief competition was out of business and Jim was invited to take over the premier cart location in downtown Denver, the coveted corner of 16th and Court Place. At the time he was still working the cart each day come rain, snow or sleet, but since then Jim has gone on to international acclaim and even greater success. Biker Jim has expanded his menu, been praised by the world’s foremost food critics and successfully launched into several retail locations.

What are you doing to re-vitalize your business in today’s demanding markets and vanilla products? What kind of customer experience are you building to spark the neural network like Biker Jim? Are you creating a customer experience like I experienced when I was in line for my dog and the guy in front of me called his buddy on his cell phone to make sure he was at the right place? What’s your customer-focused business transformation strategy? Joel Horn summarized it best, “Regardless how bad things are or the amount of fear inspired by the media, if you have your customers’ best interest in mind when creating your long-term vision, you will succeed!”

I was recently reminded of a column I wrote back in February 2008 titled “Maintaining a Vendor Relationship”, for Mortgage Banking Magazine (available here).  I’ve been working on multiple system selection efforts of late being driven by proactive customer decisions to look at options available in the marketplace. These efforts have been driven by dissatisfaction with the current vendor but without pressure of a looming deadline or need for immediate change.  In most cases, the dissatisfaction came after the vendor/product was acquired by a larger organization changing the dynamic between client and vendor.

The recommendations I outlined in that well-aged column included:

  1. Identify your vendors
  2. Know the contractual highlights
  3. Maintain open communication
  4. Leverage the partnership
  5. Maintain documentation
  6. Validate escrow
  7. Increase internal resources
  8. Do market research

And while these recommendations are still valid today, they don’t fully reflect the new landscape of the consolidated marketplace where there are few independent vendors with a single, focused product offering.  Most vendors these days are part of larger conglomerates, with seemingly deeper pockets to support innovation, who have created through acquisition a portfolio of offerings to their financial services clients.  In some cases this includes multiple solutions addressing the exact same (or very similar) functionality, possibly, but not always, targeted at different customer segments.

So what does this mean and how does it change things?

In today’s market, there are additional recommendations needed to manage the vendor relationship.  These address the more complex organizational structure, the focus of those organization (and where those deep pockets may be utilized) and looking further ahead, not only for the product you’re using, but for the overall vendor objective.   Let’s face it, your vendor’s move from a sole product offering to being a small fish in a larger pond is a culture shock not only to your relationship, but to the staff supporting the product, as well.  There is a lot of change to be managed and it’s important to stay on top of it.

  • More layers of communication: While open communication is still important, there are more options for who you might communicate with.  Obviously the product support team is key to the upkeep of service levels and current enhancement plans, but there should be connections maintained up the ladder.  This group may not be fully in the know on the long-term strategic plan for the product or the organization.  Do not wait until there is an issue to figure out who the contacts outside the product group are, and do not let the relationship languish in order to avoid reaching out, only to find out that they have left the company or moved to another position.  Within a large organization, much can happen without direct communication, so keeping these lines open increases the likelihood you will begin to hear murmurs and can make plans, prior to announcements being fully communicated or distributed.
  • Networking: It is more important than ever to keep your connections alive.  These can include other users of the platform, or people who developed or supported the product.  It is always good to have someone to share stories with, and ensure things are progressing in similar patterns for everyone. Working in concert with other users can help to influence the vendor towards a particular direction or implement needed enhancements.  Knowing the people who really “know” the system, provides a possible back door to address critical issues that the current support organization may be struggling with.
  • Awareness of where the organization is making investments:  If the consolidated company claims four LOS’ within their portfolio, it is extremely unlikely that each LOS is receiving similar investments for future improvements.  Identify which product and/or customer segment has the focus, and determine the implications for support of your solution when it is not the focal product.
  • Be modular: It is more important than ever to retain your flexibility when it comes to the ability to switch products.  Vendors being acquired and the direction new owners take a product are outside your control.  What is within the control, is the level of effort and ability to switch vendors when needed.  Within the mortgage industry, MISMO for services was lauded as a tool lenders can use to more easily switch between providers.  Similarly, the recommendation is to standardize the requirements for any feeds to your systems via a connector-based process.  Products would feed/receive data to/from the connector, rather than directly into the internal system.  This allows the system on either side to be exchanged, without a direct impact on the other system or the resources supporting it.  This reduces the risk and effort when replacing systems, as they only need to connect to the connector; the programming which directly impacts that system is unaffected.  In addition, should the vendor make a change that could impact your systems without realizing it, the data would be likely stopped at the connector and not impact your internal systems.  Today, much of the integration is directly system to system, requiring a full re-development every time either system changes.   The connector approach reduces the level of effort needed and resulting testing that will need to be completed.  The connectors also offer re-usability for different purposes.  Internal resources to develop and support the connectors are needed, but in most instances the long term peace of mind and time savings will balance that investment.
  • Be Diligent:  A vendor with a wide portfolio has a lot to offer, but it is important that additional offerings are approached wisely.  With a lot of growth coming from consolidation and not organic expansion, it is important to complete a thorough due diligence of all offerings.  Do not assume anything!  Do not assume that because the same vendor offers both products, the products are tightly integrated.  Growth through acquisition results in potentially disparate solutions carrying the product name.  Don’t assume because products have same or complementary names, they are connected. Product name changes are marketing ploys to create the feel of a suite of offerings, whether the connectivity between products is in place or not.  Do not assume that because your product is well supported, that any additional platform has similar support.  Each product may have separate support staffs, with different levels of competencies and knowledge.  Do your homework and complete a due diligence exercise extending into the marketplace with competing solutions to determine if the vendor solution represents the best solution for your organization.

There can be significant benefit to you through acquisition of your vendor by a larger organization, or not.  It is a matter of what that organization’s plans are, how they are managed and where their investment is being placed. Stay informed and be proactive is the best advice.

 

CC Pace uses the Organizational Component Model as a framework for ensuring optimal results are achieved in our projects.  The model highlights the inter-dependencies of process, technology, and organizational roles and responsibilities, and how that interaction is critical for optimizing the benefits of change within the enterprise.

Ideally, these three components work in harmony to support achievement of the strategic plan and in reaction to the business environment. The critical point of viewing business structure in terms of these three components is the realization that you can’t introduce change in one component without affecting the others. Importantly, the realization of the intended positive benefits of introducing change into any aspect of the business can in fact only be realized by considering the resulting effects on the three components and adjusting each to embrace the change. A brief discussion of the individual pieces of the model is helpful to understanding this paradigm.

A company’s business environment is best understood as those external influences whose very existence requires the company to operate in a certain way to succeed.  Unable to change or control the environment in which it operates, a company must find ways to operate within its parameters. This is typically done in the context of a Strategic Plan, the documented direction and goals of the firm that take into consideration both the corporate vision and the effects of the environment within which it operates.

The operational processes the company employs serve to establish an effective and efficient means to accomplish the operating needs expressed in the plan.  These processes are typically designed by analyzing inputs and desired outputs, and mapping out the process logic and business rules, initially with only limited consideration of supporting technologies or the people in the organization.

With the optimal operational structure documented, the next consideration—the second component of the model—is to develop suitable technological solutions that serve to enable the operating processes.  The objective of this component is typically to automate those processes that rely on a “do” mentality (versus a human “think” mentality).   In some cases, companies can utilize existing technology solutions already in place to accomplish this objective.  In other instances, technology solutions need to be developed and implemented over time to enable achievement of the desired operational results.

The final component of the model is the company’s organizational structure, along with the roles and responsibilities of management and staff.   Bringing the operation to “life” depends on creating the necessary structure and hiring and training the right people to make the organization run effectively.

Successfully effecting operational change of any magnitude requires that companies understand the inter-dependencies intrinsic in this model.  Attempting to introduce meaningful change by revising only one of the components is too often viewed as an easy means to an end, but this approach more often yields a high level of disappointment or outright failure.  Understanding that all the components need to work together to support change, and taking the appropriate steps to address the needs of each, increases an organization’s chances of being successful.

This model provides the framework for a rational and effective approach to change. By understanding the company’s environment and desired strategic direction, the interlocking components of Operations, Technology and Organization can be developed to work effectively together to accomplish the corporate objectives.

 

During the last thirty three years CC Pace has served our clients in a wide range of business and technology projects. While clients generally bring us in at the beginning of a project, others find a need for our expertise mid-stream. At times we have also been called into a project after considerable amounts of time and dollars have already been invested, only for the client to find the project nearing collapse and help is needed to try to turn the project around and salvage their hopes for ROI.

In the following article in the Harvard Business Review Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull have done an exceptional job of debunking the common myths behind why projects fail and the reality of what is required in order to ensure effective execution. Based on our experience, the Harvard Business Review has done a great job summarizing the key to project execution: successful coordination.

https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it

Grounded in how it’s always been done while continuing to live on razor-thin margins?

Perhaps it is time to take a chapter out of the airline industry’s book of survival and profitability.

Sitting on the tarmac of Denver International, I reflect for a moment and begin to quantify the amount of changes I’ve endured as a top-tier frequent flyer the last twenty years (most obviously, gone are the days of blankets, pillows and peanuts). Subtly here to stay is a culture of continuous change for the airlines that carefully balances increased consumer satisfaction while driving operating costs down.

During the last twenty years, the airline industry has successfully adopted and deployed paperless tickets, on-line check in, self-service kiosks, and texting customers to provide flight updates and gate changes. Less successful has been shifting from cloth seats to some unrefined and uncomfortable blend of plastic and leather while slowly changing seat backs from solid pockets to nets (where my ear buds are continually snagged). So why all the changes? The airline industry is simply leveraging all aspects of technology and process reengineering to reduce operating expenses. The airline industry has effectively reduced cleaning times for planes to increase on-time departure rates. They have trimmed call center volumes and customer complaints while successfully driving a self-service customer model, a self-service freedom that fliers like myself embrace as it helps off-set other cost-saving features that are often difficult to digest. For instance, smaller seats and lower arm rests or having to fly a small and cramped regional jet for flights over two hours (a plane historically reserved for shorter flights). Not to mention the highly publicized baggage fees. While baggage fees are painful, it’s genius if a company wants to force consumers to reengineer packing habits in order to help reduce baggage load time and employee disability claims.

These gains in efficiency have certainly come with some trial and error risk, such as the famed boarding of window seats first and then aisle, but risks were taken and ROI was eventually achieved with the projects that succeeded. Simply said, the airline industry lives in a perpetual state of change. Change is never easy for either employees or customers, however it is ultimately required to ensure the long-term success of any organization. The airline industry has successfully adopted a culture of continual improvement that strikes a careful balance between convenience and inconvenience in order to lower operating expenses while increasing customer satisfaction.

In order to develop a culture of continual process improvement, organizations first have to take a ‘philosophical’ stance that this is the direction they will be moving in. Second, the organization needs to design and implement a ‘strategy’ to achieve and maintain a culture of continuous process improvement. Finally, it’s all about ‘execution’. My dad always told me that nothing is worth thinking, complaining or talking about unless you’re going to do something about it. Carefully plot out and define what improvements in process, technology or tools will be implemented year over year to achieve increased customer satisfaction, lower operating expenses while potentially risking a little customer inconvenience. Now execute!

In today’s new banking reality, a commitment to increasing productivity, service and profitability while reducing cost will be imperative to a firm reaching its destination of long-term success. Does your organization need to take a hard look at itself and ask if it is truly paperless or allows customers to boldly self-serve? Is the organization providing tools or changes in process that require consumers to reengineer the way they operate in order to help lower costs and reduce disability claims? What perpetual state is your organization living in? More poignantly, what is your organization going to do to develop and drive a culture of continuous change and improvement? Is your organization ready to take the bold step and board a non-stop flight to efficiency and ongoing process improvement?

During a recent family driving expedition, my teenagers were surprised at a rest stop along I-95 when an attendant began filling our gas tank. “Why is that guy pumping our gas?” After providing the short answer (“New Jersey is a rare state that prohibits consumers from servicing their own vehicles”), I reminisced about “the good old days” when gas station attendants not only filled your tank, but checked the oil level, put air in your tires and washed your windshield—all at no additional cost! “Why would they do that?” “Customer service. That’s how they competed for your business.” Those days really do seem so far away, don’t they?

In the early 1990s I did a project for Richmond, VA-based Crestar Mortgage (pre-SunTrust merger). I was helping to define the business requirements critical to replacing their loan origination software and a question that came up early in the discussions with their executive team was “why don’t mortgage systems interact with the bank’s customer information file?” That was a good question then, as it still is today. Most consumer banking systems are predicated on a customer information file (CIF) to connect all the various banking products and services the customer might use. Consumer banking systems are generally customer centric, thanks to that CIF, which is critical to good customer service and, not coincidentally, cross-selling and retention. Marc Smith, CEO of Crestar Mortgage at the time, promoted customer focus as a key aspect of company culture, so much so that his organizational chart was inverted—his role was at the bottom of an up-side-down pyramid, supporting the management team, who supported the staff, who served the customer. In short, Marc felt that everyone should act as if they worked for the customer.

Mortgage systems, unlike their consumer lending brethren, and for reasons I still cannot understand, are loan-centric by nature. Sure, they deal with borrower and property data, but at their core, they are all about the loan. They deal with the details of this one loan, no matter how many times the property has been bought and sold, how many times this particular borrower has refinanced the same property, or what other banking services they may use. Is it any wonder that customers have such limited sense of loyalty to their lenders or servicers when there is no reciprocation?

It was a great pleasure to be back in the Richmond area a few years ago (nearly twenty years after my Crestar engagement) working with Jeff Coward, SVP of Mortgage Lending at Virginia Credit Union, and his management team on an LOS selection. While defining the business requirements for crafting an RFP for our vendors, Jeff made one thing very clear: “Whatever system we implement has to allow us to pull member information from the CIF into the loan app. They are members; we can’t sit there and ask them to tell us information we should already know.” No commercial system provided that capability out of the box, so Jeff paid dearly for customizations to make it happen. For a state-chartered credit union, customer loyalty—or member loyalty, more accurately—was paramount. Accepting anything short of respecting that relationship was simply out of the question. The real question is why haven’t more lenders pushed their system vendors to do the same?

More recently I’ve been working with the Export-Import Bank of the United States to help find opportunities for making business processes more effective. Improving the customer experience is one of Ex-Im Bank’s strategic goals, so we are continually looking for opportunities to improve both process efficiency and customer experience. Ex-Im Bank takes this goal seriously, so much so that they have a Vice President of Customer Experience, Stephanie Thum, who I often have the pleasure of working with. Stephanie’s efforts include significant amounts of customer interaction, directly and through focus groups, to gather input on their experiences in working with Ex-Im Bank, their impressions on the levels of effort required to transact with the Bank, and ideas they have for making the process a better one.

Creating a senior management role focused directly on the customer and the experience they have with doing business with your organization is a very powerful statement, and an effective means to measure your success in meeting your customers’ expectations. More companies need to take that step like Ex-Im Bank, insist that technology systems support the customer relationship like Virginia Credit Union, or simply challenge conventional modes of operation by the symbolic gesture of inverting the org chart like Crestar.

Sometimes we should just wash a few windshields. It could serve to remind us who we really work for.