September 24, 2020

Building a Virtual Mindset: Agile Project Planning for Financial Service Leaders

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Building a Virtual Mindset: Agile Project Planning for Financial Service Leaders

What does it take to roll out an optimization project or new process in a virtual working environment? LiveVox dives in in this episode of Thoughtline. 

Full Transcript

Boris Grinshpun: [00:00:00] Good morning. Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome again to our weekly podcast show. And today we’re lucky enough to have James Cisneros from Metre22 joining us. Uh, this of course is, uh, being hosted to you by LiveVox. Again, thank you for coming to our weekly show, James, it’s a pleasure to have you.

James Cisneros: Yeah, pleasure to be here. Thank you very much for the invitation. 

Boris Grinshpun: [00:00:31] So James, you and I have had the pleasure of interacting quite a bit on a variety of topics. Um, but maybe some folks are not as familiar with you and your background as well as Metre22. Would you mind giving a bit of an introduction in terms of what brought you to Metre22, but also, uh, really your, your, um, experience in the contact center and the financial services industry prior to this point?.

James Cisneros: [00:00:56] 

[00:00:58] Got it. Yeah. So Metre22. I’ve been here for two years as of April. Uh, we are a strategy consulting firm and it has an arm that I’m under, which is the technology implementation and process improvement arm. Uh, before that I was the senior vice president of strategy and analytics for financial services companies.

[00:01:18] So this financial services company had call centers. They would do, uh, loan servicing. So, uh, part of that role was involved, uh, organizing and designing the architecture for the technology. Uh, it involved kind of a mini internal consulting group. So people would come to the group and say, look, we have to do things, uh, like a modification plan.

[00:01:41] How do we do that? Given the. Technology that we have the systems that we have, you know, who needs to do that? What does that process look like? That would kind of reside there. Um, and then there was more of the reporting team, uh, so generating the analytics around it. Uh, so everything kind of rolled up into that.

[00:01:59] So it was call centers. We, uh, part of that group opened up a near shore call center, uh, in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Um, so it, then that did that for a long time and, uh, which is kind of looking for something new to do. And, uh, this was exciting because it would get to do those same things. I was excited about doing problem solving with technology and helping people design and implement.

[00:02:24] Um, and you know, that problem exists for everybody. Uh, so this opportunity, what Metre22 gets hired to do is help, you know, different companies, financial services, health care, uh, we have some retail manufacturing and everybody kind of runs into the same kind of problem because of the tools that you have.

[00:02:43] Here’s the thing that we’re trying to accomplish. Uh, and what’s the best way to get that done. Um, and sometimes they need help with that either through just. Capacity constraint, you know, we’re we’re, we have our full time jobs and we don’t have somebody who can just pay attention to this. And sometimes it’s a knowledge constraint.

[00:03:00] Hey, somebody can somebody who’s done this before, help us out. And, uh, and so that’s what we get called in and that’s why we get called to hell. So we work with LiveVox. There’s a project. Well, we worked with them in my prior life, but then even just on the consulting side, you and I met. Morris with a financial services company here in Dallas, Texas that was using LIveVox, um, and just needed some help with the configuration.

[00:03:26] And how does this fit with just the rest of the tools that we have here, uh, you know, for the client. And, uh, I think you and I, you know, your team work, they were great. And we got them up. In fact, they, I think they upgraded two times within the next four months after that. Uh, after that project, once everything was configured, they were up and running.

[00:03:44] And so, um, yeah, so that kind of project is what we’ve been helping with. Um, and we work with your team to get that done. 

Boris Grinshpun: [00:03:51] Yeah. So like some pretty exciting times, some pretty challenging times for a lot of people in the financial services industry. I think James, as you mentioned, and I think you guys are working on a lot of optimization projects, but you know, James, to be frank, that’s gotta be very good in an environment like that. You know, I think, you know, your model is a nicely sort of proven, tried and true model. Uh, you go onsite, you understand the business process and flows, um, of, of people in an operation center. Um, you could document those processes that have now fundamentally changed.

[00:04:31] I mean, nobody’s going in, the people in the contact center are not on site. The people that are doing fulfillment are no longer on site. How do you deliver or how did you think about the delivery of a project now in a remote setting? 

James Cisneros: [00:04:45] Yep. So we’ll use a very specific case here. So we finished a project I’m involved with the PPP program. So the payment Protection Program went live April 3rd. So a local bank here in Texas called this up, uh, the COO called us up and said, look, we’re about to roll out this PPP program launch, and it’s going to be very popular, uh, um, we didn’t know it, but that first wave ran out in 13 days and the SBA processed 14 years worth of loans and those 13 days.

[00:05:20] So, this is a company that says, look, we’re going to have to get really good at what we do. Right. We’re going to go 14 years worth of 14 days in two weeks. We’re gonna to, they make everything very, very fast, very efficient with the same amount of people we have and nobody can come onsite. 

[00:05:37] IUm, so what we started with and what we try to typically do with any project is at the very top, the, the leadership has to be on board. Um, so what we’ve just started to spin up and said, look, we’re going to need, uh, you know, it’s going to be a little painful at first, but we’re going to need everybody to just get on a phone call and make sure we’re all on the same page here.

[00:05:59] Uh, because with the remote comes, you know, there’s, there’s no, you don’t, you lose the ability to kind of pop in which sometimes can drain on you. But, um, so you lose that ability. So. We just needed to make sure that everybody was on the same page. So the communication channel is kind of the biggest one. How do we communicate and how often?

[00:06:19] Uh, and hopefully the answer is you communicate almost every single day and in those cases where things are spinning up fast. So, uh, we typically try to make sure that we nailed down, uh, communication, how often, and who’s it with and make sure that we hold everybody accountable to that. Um, and it really starts with the leadership within the client.

[00:06:39] So if we can get that locked down, that really makes things a little easier going forward.

Boris Grinshpun: [00:06:44] Yeah. Uh, I, I love that your notion of sort of establishing that cadence, um, and also establishing that buy-in because as you know, and, and you guys know very well, having an executive level support for an initiative, I think is really, really important, kind of going down the path though, of change.

[00:07:05] I mean, I think it’s one thing to get the executive team on board, but how do you really find out what is actually happening within the operations portion of the financial services institution when you’re not there on site? So how did you guys actually find out what these people were? We’re doing an actuality versus on a piece of paper.

James Cisneros: [00:07:25] We had a couple of constraints that were happening at this time. So one, you couldn’t be there and two, you couldn’t take up a lot of time. So the SME that subject matter expert is actually doing the work. Because again, we’re kind of in this crisis mode, everybody he’s doing a lot of things. You couldn’t take a lot of their time.

[00:07:43] So it was not only can you not sit behind them, it’s you can’t really bother them for that amount of work. A good amount of time. So what we ended up doing is we would start using video recording. So we would just say, okay, you’re going to do a screen share with us, and you’re just going to do the thing that you’re doing and we’re going to record it.

[00:08:02] And we’re just from time to time, we try not to ask too many questions while they’re doing it. Just have them clean, run through a, and then a second time where we kind of ask questions, a video recording, and then we take that back. Uh, in our internal team and we watch it over and over again, uh, structure the questions.

[00:08:20] So they’re not piecemeal and then go back. But we did that with, um, every single one of the SMEs that we did so that we didn’t have to take up a lot of their time. So asked that took 30 minutes, you know, we just say, Hey, we’re just going to take this 30 minutes. Uh, it’s going to be running in the background anyways.

[00:08:35] You’re kind of doing a share screen, uh, thing. Uh, and so we did that over and over and over again. Um, with our, with just our normal presentation tool, like that’s how we did it. And that ended up just being, uh, very helpful because it didn’t take up any of their time. It allowed us to kind of vet the process out.

[00:08:54] A couple of, we didn’t lose, you know, the notes. Uh, there was, we can go back and use it as a reference. So the video recording was huge. 

Boris Grinshpun: [00:09:03] How do you find that that sort of compared like maybe from a, from a I’ll call it the pros versus the cons of doing things, the more traditional ones where you would have been on site and would have been shattering this employee versus doing the recording and then not asking as many I’ll call it ad hoc questions.

[00:09:19] So there must have been some good, good things that came out of that. And there’s some things that you’ve probably, well, um, well, I don’t want to say miss, uh, more, more from the standpoint that that didn’t translate. Well, any, any feedback you could share with our audience? 

James Cisneros: [00:09:34] Yeah. Perfect. So, on the pro side, uh, we were able to capture all the kinds of little details for a process.

[00:09:43] Uh, and again, our internal team was all remote too. So it allowed us to kind of rehash, everybody can go watch it on their own and then come back and we would meet and go over it, uh, that way. So. Uh, that was nice because within that process, nothing was missed. Uh, for that. What, what does get hard to track is generally, uh, the, the person that’s doing the job, they’re going to pick a case that’s kind of the ideal case.

[00:10:09] So what you miss are the exceptions. And that’s really hard if you’re, if you’re spending a general, you’re going to sit behind somebody. If you’re on site for a day or for that. Um, you get to see a lot of cases, a lot of iterations that come up that say, well, something, you know, this happens 10% of the time, and I do this this way, and this is what I look for.

[00:10:29] If you’re just kind of popping in and out, it’s very hard to catch those. You’re  kind of just up in the luck of that, that does that. And so usually what you’re trying to do is try to have them think through that, but it’s very hard. Uh, to kind of think through all those things. So I think that’s the thing that we try to make sure we capture as best as we can is either let the video run a little longer, which may be a distraction, but, uh, or as we start to implement things in tests, you’ll start to find these exceptions and you can come back to them.

[00:10:58] So I’ll say that the real challenge is making sure that you capture those exceptions to the normal process. We’ll have to do remotely, especially just popping in with a video of going through it once or maybe even twice. 

Boris Grinshpun: [00:11:12] Yeah. I mean, I think, I think that, I think that’s fair and I think, you know, getting two exceptions I think is, is also hard, even when you’re there in person.

[00:11:19] I think everybody wants to paint the picture that things are sort of working well. But my next question really for you is though. Okay. So we, we’ve kind of seen the process we’ve seen where it breaks down. We see where it works well, but now you’re remotely and you’re having to propose organizational changes, um, you know, remotely and it’s, I think it’s one thing to have a very personal conversation and to say, Hey, look, these are some things that are fundamentally broken here.

[00:11:47] How do you propose those changes? To an operations organization where we are not sort of now sitting side by side side with, with them. How do you get that buy-in? 

James Cisneros: [00:11:58] So what we [00:12:00] requested, and this will happen for anybody doing remote. Um, you know, part of the big thing is ahead of time, just making sure you’re working with the IT person.

[00:12:08] And you say, look, we’re going to need a here’s the access we need and when we need it, but tried it, we tried to replicate a test environment there, all of these things. And then we did was we just created a run through of the improved process and recorded that. Uh, and so instead of just, you know, maybe sitting there and answering questions, uh, if you’re sitting with somebody it’s, you can have that communication, maybe you’re going through slides or whatever it is, a process.

[00:12:38] Um, we thought it was just much more effective if we can just show them what’s happening. And then we can talk through that. That was just much more effective of a place because then you can actually get their attention because they’re now they’re watching something actually happen and they’re taking notes, but that’s what we would do is we would create, we run through the process.

[00:12:58] We would build exactly what we needed to do. We would record it, uh, happening. And then we would show that, and that’s what the meeting would be going over. So, uh, instead of going through discussions, we had to kind of get a little bit faster, uh, you know, turn around that kind of test environment and development time so that we could actually show it.

[00:13:18] Um, and I think that was one of the keys of being able to move forward is we had something we could show them and then we can make, we can tinker with it along the way. But, um, I think we just had to be fast turnaround, so that that’s what we were showing versus walking through flow diagrams or diagrams.Um, you just had to actually show it in action. 

[00:13:37] Boris Grinshpun: [00:13:37] No,  that’s great. I think that’s, I think that’s really smart. I think I always react to a new process or, you know, visual stimulus is such a big thing. Um, that, that is really, really smart. But now I think, you know, like, as, as I think about that a little bit now down the line, now you have to get to the point of implementing that particular process.

[00:13:56] And I can only think of a couple of the challenges because we’re always used to functioning in the centralized environment where you go out, you train  20 people, they’re all in the same spot. Something worked, something doesn’t, you’re right there. You’re helping them out. Every one of those 20 people are now remote.

[00:14:12] How do you implement the new process and how do you train them as a new employee? Like what, what tools or what, or better yet? Like what processes did you use to ensure that your implementation of the new process went well? 

James Cisneros: [00:14:26] Yeah. So the videos again are a big step in documentation for good, for anything, but the videos really of what it’s going to take because, um, people need to just see it over and over again.

[00:14:40] Um, and I think giving access to that development side too, because there’s kind of, if you, if somebody’s sitting over the shoulder, they can kind of pick it up. But you’re really just do it. And I think that’s just true across any kind of training implementation. You need them to just do it over and over again.

[00:14:57] Uh, and that’s really what they, how people get trained and get a little bit better at the things that they need to do. Um, and so that’s what we would do. So we also chunked it up a little bit by, we had just teams. Uh, so one team will continue to do it the old way. And then we would parse it out and say, okay, this group here, which is a little smaller group, we’re going to train them and then they would start to do it.

[00:15:19] And then as they got comfortable, they would, you know, they can help get on, on board. So that way, instead of having to have a classroom with 30 people, we had a classroom of 8. That way they caught on, we can ask questions a little bit more effectively, uh, and then rolled out, um, across the board. That’s how we did that. For them. And I think that that worked for that particular case.

Boris Grinshpun: [00:15:42] Interesting. Interesting. Anything that you found out that, that you would love to share with our audience in terms of how do you train or, you know, how people adapted to this and given the fact that they were remote now?

James Cisneros [00:15:54] Yeah, I think the biggest, the biggest thing was, was the buy-in piece of it, making sure people understand the why. And that’s, that’s a big part for any of the implementations that we do is, is why are we doing this? You know, we were doing it the old way. It always works. Why are we doing and showing them, this is why we’re doing this.

[00:16:14] Um, and getting them comfortable. Uh, and then also trying to be as upfront as possible of, you know, here are your things that are going to be harder, uh, and maybe a little bit more frustrating at first it will take time. I think if you can get those up ahead of time, like this is going to be the part that’s a little sticky for you, uh, because it’s new, but once you get over that, we’re, we’re, we’ll be fine.

[00:16:38] I think that giving them that heads up. Uh, acknowledging that things are gonna be a little bit, you know, just don’t sugarcoat everything. Just let them know, Hey, this is the hard part. So let’s spend a little bit more time on it. Um, I think people appreciate, you know, giving them that heads up and, uh, making sure that you understood that you’re about to create some interruption.Those are the big pieces. 

Boris Grinshpun: [00:17:00] Got it. Got it. And so, and so I think what you’re saying, and I’m kind of reading between the lines, correct me if I’m wrong, change where you’re really saying is that traditionally a sort of buy-in is more often than not achieved at the executive level. But then it doesn’t trickle down to the people actually doing the work.

[00:17:17] And so what you’re proposing is that more so now than ever, you really need to ensure that buy-in is, is all the way from the top level of the organization, down to the people that are doing the work and that they understand all of the pros and the cons in the process of maybe some cons more so than pros that they’re going to have to get over, or they’re going to have to work around it, you know?

[00:17:39] And then that’s commonly, that’s a point that I think the reason I’m highlighting that is I think that’s the point that people missed based on what you’re saying.

James Cisneros: [00:17:47] Yes. People only give the pros because that’s the selling point. And then generally your, you know, the executive team is they’re smart, the knowledgeable.

[00:17:55] So they made the decision because the pros outweigh the cons, but don’t deny that there are these downsides or just these hurdles that are needed, that will, you can overcome them, but they’re going to be there and just, people need to be. Just point them out and people will generally be okay with it. Um, you know, we run into this a lot and as long as you point them out there, people say, okay, well we’ll handle it when we get to that one.

Boris Grinshpun: [00:18:19] Yeah, what I find pretty interesting is that we’re kind of getting into this, I’ll call it this new normal, just because, um, you know, people were returning, you know, people were of course working remotely. Some people were starting to return back to the office. Maybe we won’t be all returning back to the office.

[00:18:38] As early as we thought, given the latest news and, and, and, um, how things are generally going. But I think what’s gonna, what’s, what’s important about your particular topic and what you guys are doing. There’s the fact that many organizations are going to need to essentially learn how to roll out optimization projects, um, in a non-centralized fashion, meaning with people working remotely, whether they’re project managers, executives, or actually people in operation centers.

[00:19:07] And so people are going to be about to get started with that because everybody’s adjusting to this. You can’t, you can’t put your, your operations on hold for too much longer. And so as people think about this, they’re going to need pointers for how to think. And so maybe some, some recommendations from you, James, of what does it take to roll out an optimization project or process for change in this new remote working environment?

[00:19:36] So maybe I’ll ask you, I’ll kind of a loaded question are some recommendations that you would give to people who are just looking to get started with something like that today. 

James Cisneros: [00:19:45] Yeah. So on the remote remote piece, I think one of the big pieces is having somebody and generally it’s going to be somebody in it.

[00:19:54] That’s kind of the go-to remote systems czar, somebody who, [00:20:00] how these pieces are working together. Um, you know, because you’re going to run into access to certain products you didn’t have access to. So if you only had, it’s important to kind of have somebody who understands the grand scale of this is how people are connecting and they can, they can, uh, essentially be on call because you’re going to have these.

[00:20:23] They’re going to have pieces and times where your connectivity is lost or AI, I’m supposed to have connectivity to this thing over here, and I can’t find it. Um, so having that person, having a person who’s kind of overseas, they obviously can have a team, but somebody has to have that in mind. Um, you know, going back to that older project, what would happen is.

[00:20:46] And everybody’s going to have their own information security setups, not to kind of give guidance on that, but just more on approach. Um, we would have multiple people being connected remotely, uh, and from time to [00:21:00] time, if that person who set us up initially wasn’t there, uh, it was harder to get, there was a longer iteration time because somebody didn’t know, okay, well, what folders didn’t you have access to?

[00:21:12] And what machines are you connecting to? Those kinds of questions. So just have that as somebody just aware of that. Um, and, you know, as anything you want to just document, document that. So I think having somebody there who’s just has some full awareness of that is, is huge. Um, the next piece is just the communication cadence, just always sending out, uh, You know, sending out communication, even if there’s no update, even if the communication is nothing has changed.

[00:21:38] I think that’s big. Um, because again, you know, w these, it depends, you know, when you’re in the office, people pop in and out, cause generally what you were like, Hey, I just need to figure something out really quick. I’ll just pop in over there. It’d be, if we can find it distracting from time to time, but there are little values there of just being able to quickly turn something around. Uh, so just making sure that somebody is held accountable, hold yourself accountable to those communications. Um, either it’s an email or we would do it sometimes again with just sending out a video, a recording of, Hey, this is what’s happened.

[00:22:11] Send your notes if you have anything, but here’s what’s happening. Um, and, and go from there. So I think those are the two big, two big pieces there. And, uh, and just have a detailed schedule of, of who has access to what and when, um, you know, so we had access to that project. We’re going all the time. And so we just needed to coordinate with them saying, you know, are we giving people access 24 hours a day?

[00:22:38] Uh, are we doing that? And just being aware you know, what the needs are. So, um, a lot is going to fall on those IT teams to make sure that they’re, they understand what’s going on. So I think as long as they’re brought in, you know, the CIO, whoever’s the head of the, it, uh, is on board with the project and sitting in on those meetings.Um, that would be, uh, uh, a big, big, big boost. 

Boris Grinshpun: [00:23:03] Okay. Great. So, you kind of gave me a couple of, you said, okay, make sure that everybody has the proper app and there’s proper controls. And then you really have like go-to  person from an IT perspective that can help ensure that the project is going to go well.

[00:23:20] Uh, you talked about cadence communication. I couldn’t agree with you more on this one, James, of course. Uh, it was always important. What you’re saying is it’s even more important. I love your video idea. Like just sending an update. I just took that even as a note for myself, sending an update to a team and saying, Hey, this is where we’ve achieved things.

[00:23:38] People’s obviously schedules are impacted.

[00:23:46] What the kids are doing. So I think that’s a brilliant idea. And then, you know, you talked about a very important one, which is insured buy-in. I think that’s always important more so now than ever it’s important. And I think what you talked about earlier in terms of achieving buy in from, from top down, Of any organizations is super, super critical.

[00:24:06] I love those. I love those three pointers. I think our audience will as well. Uh, and, and hopefully, uh, they’re ready to jump in and hopefully they’re ready to take a look at their business and continue to optimize it. Even though the environment has changed tremendously. 

James Cisneros: [00:24:21] Yes, absolutely. I agree. And, um, you know, from TA you know, it seems more and more, and most, most companies are getting to this point, but the IT, uh, group, um, especially right now, there’s generally somebody we go to even on the operation.

[00:24:37] So even when we’re talking to the SMEs and we’re. Go into multiple silos, right? Multiple departments. The  IT generally there’ll be somebody, uh, somebody in the back office there who understands, Hey, we did this project, you know, we just gave somebody access to that same system over here. Or we just set something up over there.

[00:24:56] Uh, and that’s generally helpful too, is just go back to [00:25:00] them. But, uh, in general, I would think that I think you’re seeing this trend now and it hopefully continues where the IT group used to be seen as kind of a back office function. Just make sure our computers are working now, especially now, because it becomes much more fundamental to the way business is done.

[00:25:20] They need to be in the room. Uh, when, you know, just the strategy is being discussed. Because they’re going to have solutions now that are, are not just support, but actually just, this is how we’re facilitating just day to day work, how, how work’s going to get done. So, um, yeah, that’s, that’s important that they’re in there that buy down all also through the IT structure.

Boris Grinshpun: [00:25:43] Yeah, that’s super, super important. Well, James, this has been a great conversation. I think our listeners have a lot of takeaways, have a lot of good pointers that they can peel back for themselves. So I certainly appreciate you coming on the show. Hopefully it will get to have a beverage at some point in the future, actually in person versus remote.

[00:26:02] Uh, but again from the team at LiveVox. Uh, thank you. And thank you to our audience and listeners today. 

James: [00:26:08] It was a pleasure, take care.

About LiveVox

LiveVox is a next-generation contact center platform that powers more than 14 Billion interactions a year. We seamlessly integrate omnichannel communications, CRM, and WFO capabilities to deliver an exceptional agent and customer experience, while reducing compliance risk. Our reliable, easy-to-use technology enables effective engagement strategies on communication channels of choice to drive performance in your contact center. Our battle-tested risk mitigation and security tools help clients maximize their potential in an ever-changing business environment. With 20 years of pure cloud expertise LiveVox is at the forefront of cloud contact center innovation. Our more than 450 global employees are headquartered in San Francisco; with offices in Atlanta, Denver, New York City, St. Louis, Medellin, Colombia, and Bangalore, India.

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About LiveVox

LiveVox (Nasdaq: LVOX) is a next generation contact center platform that powers more than 14 billion omnichannel interactions a year. By seamlessly unifying blended omnichannel communications, CRM, AI, and WEM capabilities, the Company’s technology delivers exceptional agent and customer experiences, while helping to mitigate compliance risk. With 20 years of cloud experience and expertise, LiveVox’s CCaaS 2.0 platform is at the forefront of cloud contact center innovation. The Company has more than 650 global employees and is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Atlanta; Columbus; Denver; New York City; St. Louis; Medellin, Colombia; and Bangalore, India. To stay up to date with everything LiveVox, follow us at @LiveVox or visit

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