Careers: Interviews
Dennis McPeak: Technical Architect, RBC Financial Group

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., DF/NPA, CNP, MVP has an exclusive interview with Dennis McPeak.

Dennis McPeak graduated with a BSC in Applied Mathematics and is currently a Project Manager and Technical Specialist with 20 years experience in Financial Information Systems application development and maintenance. Dennis is currently with the Finance Solutions team at the RBC Financial Group. In 2005, Dennis and his team were the recipients of the 2005 Computing Canada IT Leadership Awards: Project Team of the Year Award. This is a significant achievement as the Computing Canada IT Leadership Awards represent the highest of honours for the industry with an estimated size of 500,000 to 800,000 professionals:

http://www.itbusiness.ca/it/client/en/home/News.asp?id=37899&cid=12

Dennis can be reached at dennis.mcpeak@rbc.com

The latest blog on the interview can be found the week of May 22-26, 2006 in the Canadian IT Managers (CIM) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
http://blogs.technet.com/cdnitmanagers/

Index and links to Questions
Q1   When working on projects, how do you address a resistance to change
Q2   What are your top five recommendations for keeping a lid on scope creep?
Q3   When a project occupies a significant time period, how do you handle the natural transitioning of team members to other duties?
Q4   As a leading front-line technical architect and project manager, can you profile three challenges, how you solved them, and lessons learned that you want to share?
Q5   What are the five biggest issues facing the banking industry in 2006 and in 2007? How can they be addressed?
Q6   What are the five biggest issues facing corporations today and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?
Q7   How would you define your job as a technical architect? What do you see as the critical skills required by technical architects?
Q8   How do you see your work evolving into the future and why?
Q9   Provide your five predictions of future trends, their implications and business opportunities?
Q10   For the future, which specific new internet technologies do you find will have the greatest impact on history?
Q11   What are your views on IT Governance?
Q12   Can you talk about the challenges around compliance?
Q13   What are the critical issues facing IT managers today?
Q14   Which are your top five recommended resources?
Q15   Provide commentary on three topics of your choosing.
Q16   Now for some lighter questions: What is your favorite passion? What is your favorite gadget?

Discussion:

Q: Dennis, congratulations on your fine achievement and that of your team for your Computing Canada, Project Team of the Year Award! We thank you for taking time out of your demanding schedule to do this interview.

A: Stephen, thank you for your kind words and may I also extend my congratulations on your lifetime achievement award.

Q1: When working on projects, how do you address a resistance to change?

A: Resistance to change presents itself in many forms; two come to mind immediately. One is the inherent resistance to changing a process that is perceived to be working well and the players are familiar with the procedures. In this case, what is required is a presentation and, (if possible), a demonstration to the players involved of the increased value the new process will provide. Two, is the personal resistance to change in terms of “how will my mandate change with the implementation of the new project” – it borders on job security. In this case, a level of trust is required. Trust needs to be fostered among the project participants; that the players are a valuable part of the new project and most likely the new processes. Publicize that training on any new processes will be provided and an open line of communication is always available to address any ongoing concerns. I speak from experience on this second example – after the completion of the Enterprise General Ledger project my role changed from Technical Architect to PeopleSoft Programmer/Analyst and Project Manager.

Q2: What are your top five recommendations for keeping a lid on scope creep?

A: For any reader not yet familiar with scope creep – beware! In my estimation, this is the death knell for all large projects. Born out of my experience on this recent project, my recommendations for keeping a lid on scope creep (or change requests) are as follows:

  1. Capture important information related to the impact on:
    • Business Cases
    • Functional Designs
    • Technical Designs
    • Plans and Schedules

  2. Create a formal process to manage scope creep that includes the following step-wise approach to the change requests:
    • Initiation
    • Analysis
    • Review
    • Approval
    • Implementation

  3. Determine the impact of each change request to the requirements in terms of design, cost and schedule. Review the impact among a representative counsel of project participants. Broad representation is important as a significant change request may affect multiple or all participants and sponsors.


  4. For significant deferrable change requests, consider a Phase 2 and Phase 3 approach. As each phase will require a separate design, cost and schedule, it will keep the original project on track.


  5. Make the process very public. A public process compels any individual that makes a change request to champion the change, defend its impact and take responsibility for the impact on the overall project.

Q3: When a project occupies a significant time period, how do you handle the natural transitioning of team members to other duties?

A: Large projects typically start with a small core development team, builds up to a critical mass including a significant number of consultants, and then scales down to an operational and/or maintenance team. The eGL project started with approximately 20 individuals (myself included), scaled up to 180 individuals with a large number of developers, and then scaled down to about 30 individuals (myself included) that represent the operational and maintenance teams. In order to retain the project knowledge that resides in all that cranium space, mandate the transition task to each project leader and project manager on the project. Create a project specific template to capture the project knowledge that will otherwise walk out the door. Formally allocate time to each individual so that they may record the project knowledge that will be needed by the operational and maintenance teams. Have the project leader or project manager sign off on the project knowledge document.

Q4: As a leading front-line technical architect and project manager, can you profile three challenges, how you solved them, and lessons learned that you want to share?

A:
Challenge one: Significantly complex designs that needed to be built in a relatively short period of time.

Solution: Break up the design. Isolate the core pieces from the non-core or deferrable pieces and identify any reusable components that may already be available, or can be built to be re-usable by other parts of the project; for example, a report module or a data access module.

Lessons: Apply this solution to all of the individual project designs in order to standardize the use of any re-usable modules.

Challenge two: Assigning team members to various project tasks.

Solution: Match individual skill sets to the skills required for a given task, weigh your choice in favor of those team members with previous successes on similar tasks, and as required, consider the need for interpersonal skills for a given task and the suitability of the chosen candidate in that regard.

Lessons: When the chosen candidate does not work out, cut your losses. Take your medicine, (figuratively speaking), and start the selection process over. In general, continuously work to assign the most suitable people to each task.

Challenge three: Saying no to the seemingly endless change requests.

Solution: Create a formal structure to process the requests.

Lessons: It’s not a personal “no” it’s a project “no”. As we all know there is only so much allocated time, money and resources for this project. The “no” may be reincarnated into a Phase 2 project.

Q5: What are the five biggest issues facing the banking industry in 2006 and in 2007? How can they be addressed?

A: This question is best put to one of the big accounting firms as they specialize in the analysis of trends affecting various industries including the banking industry. Nonetheless, I will say from my vantage point the following challenges stand out (in no particular order):

  1. Staying current with the best industry practices, such as the Capability Maturity Model (CMM).
  2. Maintaining an evolving company specific Project Life Cycle and when appropriate a central Project Office.
  3. Retaining talented individuals
  4. Managing aging software solutions
  5. As an industry, the financial community needs to continue to show itself relevant to the local communities they serve.

In terms of addressing these issues there is no point in time solution as the solutions to each of these issues exist on a continuum. Here are some behaviors that will assist in addressing these issues.

  1. Periodically apply for certification and assessments to gauge one’s position with respect to the best industry practices.
  2. Periodically revisit the Project Life Cycle processes, including gathering input from all stake holders.
  3. Keep an eye on the intangible rewards as they make a lasting impression.
  4. Create an inventory of software solutions and label each with a best before date.
  5. Give back to the community whenever possible though sponsorships, donations of money, equipment and employees’ time on behalf of the organization. Create a respectful public awareness of the industry’s commitment to the community. 

Q6: What are the five biggest issues facing corporations today and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?

A: In light of the recent accounting scandals, the number one issue facing all corporations today dwarfs all the others – namely accountability and corporate governance. This really boils down to trust – that is the marketplace’s trust in the corporation. By marketplace I mean all the consumers, entrepreneurs, business owners and corporations, each doing business with a corporation in one form or another. Whereas in the past it was expected but not necessarily demonstrated that the great majority of business dealings were honest, respectable and certainly within the letter of the law, now this trust is broken and we are all stating “show me the proof”: publish the records, the processes, the owners, the dealings, the conflicts of interest, and the insider information. The trust is most certainly broken and corporations will need to work hard to regain some level of trust in the marketplace.

Q7: How would you define your job as a technical architect? What do you see as the critical skills required by technical architects?

A: The technical architect has the responsibility to define solutions that are broadly encompassing and then supervise the solution such that it is implemented as defined.

Successful technical architects are able to switch between the big picture solution and the finer technical details with little effort; they often hold the “blue sky” ideas and understand the nuts and bolts of the technical assembly.

Q8: How do you see your work evolving into the future and why?

A: As my role has changed with the completion of the recent project, I am no longer a technical architect. This is a normal course of business, as large projects come and go.

Q9: Provide your five predictions of future trends, their implications and business opportunities?

A:
Trend 1: Internet Everywhere

Implication: With the pervasiveness of the internet there are more connections being made every day. Not only connections between people, but connections between processes, systems and monitoring devices are proliferating by leaps and bounds.

Business Opportunity: This connectivity or connectiveness will be the catalyst for unlimited new ideas and growth in business, education and communities at large.

Trend 2: Planned Escapism

Implication: As a result of the “Internet Everywhere” phenomenon a segment of the population will seek to periodically escape and be disconnected.

Business Opportunity: The travel industry may be able to capitalize on people’s desire to escape, albeit for a brief period, from one’s connection to technology.

Trend 3: A realization that each resource of our planet has a consumable limit

Implication: With this trend, there will be a greater focus on waste. That is, a greater focus will be placed on waste of all kinds, human waste, consumer waste, manufacturing waste and resource waste to name but a few.

Business Opportunity: If this trend (or realization) takes hold, it will be imperative for businesses to demonstrate that they are successfully managing all forms of waste.

Trend 4: An obvious and continuing trend is the greening of the planet

Implication: Consumers will insist on “greener” choices in their purchases.

Business Opportunity: Business will need to monitor this trend and be ready to step in with greener choices, or remain at a competitive disadvantage. Business leaders have an opportunity to lead in this trend by proposing “greener” choices in the marketplace. By “greener” choices I mean products that are environmentally friendly in all aspects of their creation, consumption and final disposal or preferable reuse.

Trend 5: Environmental Fashion

Implication: With the slow but steady greening of the planet and its businesses, people will make personal, political, and environmental statements through the fashions they consume. For example, wearing biodegradable man-made garments, driving eco-friendly cars and participating in sustainable consumerism will become a fashion statement.

Business Opportunity: The business opportunity is very broad as it touches all aspects of the consumer society and the business built to support and feed each consumer. Those businesses that re-invent themselves according to the sustainable model will benefit significantly. This change will require long term thinking and less focus on quarterly results.

Q10: For the future, which specific new internet technologies do you find will have the greatest impact on history?

A: It is not the internet technologies themselves, but the connections that the internet technologies provide that will have the greatest impact on history. For instance, the ability to communicate from the smallest village in the Australian outback to the smallest village in the Darfur region of Africa – now that is powerful.

Q11: What are your views on IT Governance?

A: IT governance is best formulated at the same table as corporate governance. IT holds the enabling tools and processes to provide the agreed upon Corporate Governance. The Corporate Governance model should extend to the IT practices and procedures used to deliver products and services to the business. In the case of the RBC Enterprise General Ledger project, it was broken down into a number of smaller projects or sub projects. I led one of those sub projects and co-managed another. The project leadership role was established with a strong governance model. The project’s Steering Committee and the project’s Business Advisory Board, consisting of representatives from all areas affected, guided the project. They met weekly to review the project status and facilitate staying on track. A weekly executive status summary was their key communication tool to all project members.

Q12: Can you talk about the challenges around compliance?

A: Compliance appears to be straight forward … read the business rules … create the practices and procedures to follow the rules … train the people in the practices and procedures … create a mechanism to self-monitor the process … periodically report to the governing body. The challenge is cost. Do what was previously outlined for as little cost, both initial cost and on-going cost, as possible.

Q13: What are the critical issues facing IT managers today?

A: The critical issues vary depending on the maturity of the given IT shop. But for a relatively mature IT shop that has put in place an IT model and structure with the necessary practices and procedures to support its business model and structure, (often accomplished through iterative attempts), the critical issue is sticking to your model and fine tuning the details.

Q14: Which are your top five recommended resources?

A:

  1. A good online dictionary - you can make your own choice as there are many to choose from. This is indispensable for clear, effective written communications.
  2. A link to your most used software – whatever it may be, as any small improvement in the use of that software will be compounded in value given its repeated use.
  3. A link to your second most used software. If it worked for the most used software it will surely work for the second most used software.
  4. A good professional network as they are a source of knowledge and inspiration.
  5. A passion for something other than IT as it will be a source of distraction; a means to cross-train in terms of creativity and a place of refection for those eureka moments we all require.

Q15: Provide commentary on three topics of your choosing.

A:
Topic 1: On leading large projects: large projects are inherently difficult to manage; thus, strive to break them down into smaller, more manageable components.

Topic 2: On technology solutions: better technical solutions are always just around the corner; thus, spend more time on the design and delay your build until as late as reasonably possible.

Topic 3: On having fun: always remember there appears to be no greater motivator then the possibility of having fun; thus, make your project experience as fun as possible.

Q16: Now for some lighter questions: What is your favorite passion?

A) I love skiing as it gets me away from IT and out of doors into the fresh air. It also allows for some reflective moments and I get to spend some fun time with my family.

What is your favorite gadget?

A) My laptop. In my most recent project I was inseparable from my laptop as it was the well-spring of project knowledge that I constantly needed.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. We wish you continued success for the future.

A: You are welcome and thank you for requesting this interview as I am honored to be able to provide some insight into this successful project and share some of our lessons learned and best practices.

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