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CIO Jerry Hodge: Hamilton Beach sets IT agenda with PPM

When Jerry Hodge took the reins at Hamilton Beach Brands, the IT agenda was a matter of which user screamed loudest. Hodge looked at people, process and technology to get rid of the noise and focus on results.

When Jerry Hodge took over IT at appliance maker Hamilton Beach Brands Inc. three years ago, his priority was making sense of the IT agenda. Too often the "squeaky wheel" determined IT workflow for his 30-person staff, Hodge said. "Our resources are limited. We needed to look at how we did the whole business of IS."

In this podcast, Hodge talks to senior news writer Linda Tucci about setting an IT governance strategy at Hamilton Beach, starting with his people and processes. "My primary objective was to get us to deliver on our projects consistently, even if that meant poorly," he said. Two years and some ruffled feathers later, Hodge went with Innotas' on-demand project portfolio management product to help automate how the business of IT gets done.

SPEAKER'S BIOGRAPHY: Hodge joined Hamilton Beach Brands six years ago as director of supply chain planning. Since March 2005, he has served as the appliance maker's senior director of information services, where he oversees a staff of 30. He describes his leadership style as "situational," playing the authoritarian, delegating or encouraging participation from his staff, as needed. Prior to joining Hamilton Beach, he worked at manufacturing companies including TRW and Reynolds Metals Co. He has an Associate of Science degree in computer science, a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial management from Purdue University and an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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Read the full transcript from this podcast below:

CIO Jerry Hodge: Hamilton Beach sets IT agenda with PPM

Linda Tucci:   Hi. This is Linda Tucci, Senior Newswriter for SearchCIO.com. Today I'm talking to Jerry Hodge, Senior Director of Information Services at Hamilton Beach Brands, the appliance maker. Jerry is a 2008 Search CIO Mid-Market Leadership Award winner. He's being recognized for a project and portfolio management initiative he undertook at Hamilton Beach last year. Jerry, welcome and congratulations on your award.

Jerry Hodge:   Oh, thank you very much. We're very excited around here.

Linda Tucci:   Jerry, I wonder if you could begin by describing the project that won this award.

Jerry Hodge:   Actually we've been working on it for several years. It was part of the I.S. Governance overhaul that I did when I overtook the I.S. Organization, roughly three years ago. I took a look at everything, a combination of the people, the process, and the tools, and I started along the first path of taking a look at the people, and did I have the right people in place? Did we have the right methodology in place? And we just started from there.

What was really driving us is that certainly the demands on the I.S. Organization, they continue to increase, and unfortunately, our resources are limited, so we have to be very smart with what we do. We were trying to make sure that we were getting the right things through the pipeline. We needed to take a look at how we did the whole business of I.S. and try to address those challenges head-on.

We're a global organization, but we are centrally located here in, just outside of Richmond, VA. We have, roughly, 30 IT professionals on staff, with about a dozen of them or so are on the business solutions application side of the house. We've got five or six on the clients services help desk, as well as other things in that area. And then about eight to ten in the infrastructure area.

We've standardized on three platforms if you will. We've been in the I series for many years. And then applications started coming out in the Windows areas, and we've recently seen some uptick and some good opportunities in the Linux area. Ideally, you'd like to support as few as possible, but we found some good opportunities in each area.

Linda Tucci:   So, why was this project and portfolio management implementation so important?

Jerry Hodge:   When I took over, the perception out in the businesses that we, we really didn't do a good job of delivering our projects on time. We really didn't do a good job of project management itself, and communicating to the customers. When I first took over, there was a feeling that I.S. is a bit of a black hole. I throw something over the wall and I don't see it until something shows up on the other end, and in many cases we miss the mark. So we had to go back to basics and say, "Okay guys, we're really going to focus on the delivery. Let's be consistent with our methodology, knowing the basics of our project management. Let's make sure we've identified the risks, and let's take it from there." I went back to ground zero.

Linda Tucci:   Can you talk about the methods that you had used even before the software came into play?

Jerry Hodge:   Sure. We were using the usual suspects. We had Excel and Word and PowerPoint, but again, we didn't have the formalized processes in place. So one of the first places I took a look at was, "Okay, what are the processes? What sort of project management methodology do I want to have in place?"

And having put together a project management office in a previous employer, we used the project management institute's body of knowledge, commonly known as ProdBOK. And we adopted that, because I have all our projects go through a similar processes, as far as project planning, project initiating, to closing, control for processes. And then the only thing that's really unique is what the execution is. Because if I’m putting in a server, it's different than if I'm putting together a CRM type application.

So I wanted to make sure that we had tried and true business processes. Let's go out and get the people appropriately trained, because a lot of my folks had not been through formalized project management. So we didn't have a common language to share. So I felt it important to start there with the people, focus on the process, and then we finished up with the tools.

Linda Tucci:   How long did it take to work on the people and the process portion of this?

Jerry Hodge:   I probably spent the first year, year and a half, getting the processes that I wanted in place put together, making sure I had them identified. That was everything from, we didn't sit down with the individual business units. I have four project managers in the business solutions team, and I had to get them paired up with some key managers in the various business units, whether it was engineering or finance. And let's make sure we have all the projects identified, that they think we should have identified. And then get them involved in proactively managing their backlogs, so that we can make sure that we're working on the right stuff for them.

So it was part that, and it was part putting together a steering committee. We, frankly, had a priority process that was who screamed the loudest got... the squeaky wheel got the grease. So we had to put a little more discipline into that approach as well.

Linda Tucci:   And who did you end up having on your steering committee?

Jerry Hodge:   I have, not the executive committee, but I have some of the VP's underneath of them. I have a VP of sales, a VP of logistics, a VP of quality. I actually have the CFO is on the team, as well as our HR director.

Linda Tucci:   And how important is sponsorship for a project like this?

Jerry Hodge:   It's absolutely critical. I always challenge my guys to make sure that the sponsor they have, that they're really motivated, they're actively engaged with the project. And in fact, we changed the way that we even collected requirements. Before it was just, maybe, a quick email, and then my guys would go off and do things. And I'm saying, I'm a picture guy so I wanted to make sure that we had a clear understanding, and actually a joint understanding, of what we were trying to accomplish, and why we were going to accomplish it.

Linda Tucci:   So Jerry, you went with the solution from I.S. Can you describe what it is, and why you decided to go with this firm?

Jerry Hodge:   Coming to the process of what tools are we going to look at, I looked at three things. Certainly, we could have done a home-grown integration between some tools that we had in house, Excel, Microsoft Project, as well as some others. And then you've got the, what I would call the larger PPM vendors out there. And then the SAS model, which seemed to be gaining some momentum about the time I was looking to pull the trigger on making a purchase.

So I ended up selecting SAS because I felt that they were the right size for us, is that the functionality that they have, I was going to be using a good portion of it, three quarters of the functionality they had available versus having 75 percent of the capabilities sitting idle. So I was able to really use what they had.

Another thing that I thought was important is that I wanted to have something I could get some quick value, quick turn-around, on during my implementation. And I was able to get that because within the first week, we identified what data they needed to have in the system, and we were able to get that put in. And in week two, I was migrated off of my existing spreadsheet. So week three, I had my team. We were starting to capture their time on their project, and we've just taken it from there, as far as enhancing reporting capabilities. And of course, some of the decisions that I've made up front, we've turned around and we've simplified some things, so it wasn't a big administrative task for my team.

Linda Tucci:   I understand you've been a very vocal customer of Innotas.

Jerry Hodge:   We have a very great relationship. I think, another thing I wanted to be able to do is, I didn't want to be a very small fish in the large pond. I wanted to be able to have the ability to influence where the product was going, based on what things I was going to need. That was another key determining factor, in addition to the financial aspects. Obviously it was the lower upfront requirement, and I was able to put that into my operating budget versus a capital expenditure. So that was pretty important for me as well. 

Linda Tucci:   Were there any drawbacks to using the SAS model?

Jerry Hodge:   I have not seen any thus far. In fact, this is our first foray into the SAS world, and certainly wanted to find where there would be a low risk opportunity that we could get familiar with that type of application delivery. And who knows where that's going to take us in the future, whether it's into CRM, or ERP, or email, or where any of those other things are. So certainly, this is a low risk, get your foot in the water, without getting yourself in trouble.

Linda Tucci:   So, we've talked about the people issues, the process issues, and your choice of Innotas software. What were the major hurdles of really getting this to work?

Jerry Hodge:   A relatively minor one was, there was, obviously, a pocket of staff resistance, because of the time sheet issue. I had to address the, "Oh, now got I've big brother keeping a tab on me," and so I had to really, I steadfast to this over the last year and change, is that I'm not there to make sure that they're working their 40 or 50 hours a week. I want to make sure that we are correctly and appropriately capturing our time for the investments that we're making on behalf of our business units. Because I want to be able to communicate back to the execs and say we spent X amount of time in this area for you. Are you seeing the benefits?

Linda Tucci:   Have you noticed a change in the way the business regards IT, since you've been working with this approach?

Jerry Hodge:   Absolutely. I see now that we're more of a partner when we're working on projects versus things being tossed over the wall, and then we do things, as I said, behind the curtain. So I definitely get the feel that it's more of a partnership. I won't say we're perfectly aligned with the business, but we have a good sense of where they're headed, and what things are important to them. And we're trying to bring those tools to them to do their work.

Linda Tucci:   Jerry, can you talk a little bit about why having IT, or IS operate as a business is so important to a company like Hamilton Beach?

Jerry Hodge:   I would say we're in a very competitive environment, and we have to be really smart with those, and efficient with the investments that we make. So when our business partners come to us with a potential application, I'd like to make sure that we got the flexibility and capabilities to be able to deliver that in a timely fashion.

Linda Tucci:   Project and portfolio management is fairly common at very big companies, not so common at mid-market companies. Any words of advice, you can give to CIO's who may want to do the hard work of implementing a formal project and portfolio management process?

Jerry Hodge:   Sure. Right now, for better or worse, I'm the head of the project office, so again, I bit off as much as I felt that I was able to handle and still do a reasonably good job of driving the changes forward that I felt we need to make to provide better service to our customer, so yes.

Linda Tucci:   Jerry thanks so much. We look forward to seeing you at the conference. 

Jerry Hodge:   I'm looking forward to it, Linda.


Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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