Project Management

The Million Dollar Email: How Haste, Expediency and a Rush to Impress Led to a Project Breakdown

Umberto D’Alessandro is a director of finance transformation for Sodexo, Inc. He is a member of the Healthcare Innovation faculty at Arizona State University and serves on the University of Phoenix Advisory Council for the School of Healthcare Services Administration. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Long Island University, and is a Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification holder and a Six Sigma Black Belt. A speaker at various Quality symposiums, his most recent publication is the feature article “Life After Disruption” for the American Society for Quality’s Quality Progress journal.

“I have to take a haircut.”

This came to me in an email from a finance director I had worked with at an insurance company. He was referring to a savings forecast he made for a process improvement project he was leading. The focus of his work was the postage expenses that remote agencies incurred when they mailed insurance documents to a processing center.

Based on the analysis he had done, it was a genuine opportunity. But things were not going as planned.

The Recession of 2009
The project had its origin in the 2009 recession. As with many sectors, the economic downturn presented challenges to the insurance industry. In response to the pressures our organization was facing, a leadership council—made up of cross-functional and division leaders—convened to lay out a strategy to improve administrative and operational effectiveness. Part of that strategy included plans to have functional leaders visit remote agencies and collaborate on ideas to inspire projects that the leadership council could endorse.

There was a Project Management Office (PMO), but because of the organization’s matrixed environment, the PMO had varying degrees of control over project activity (PMI, 2013). They typically managed projects that required capital investment and focused on infrastructure. For other projects, however, functional managers—…

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- Mark Twain