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Letter from the CEO: Navigating Payment Projects Through Your Organization (MAG Quarterly- Volume Eight, Issue One)

By John Drechny, CEO, Merchant Advisory Group

March 5, 2020

Many of you likely have significant projects which you are responsible to complete, especially as we start the new year. I thought it might be helpful to share effective ways to approach, prioritize and accomplish strategic projects.

As most of you know, I spent a large portion of my career working for a small retail outfit located in Bentonville, Arkansas. Throughout the years, I heard comments from many on how it would be great to have unlimited resources in order to get projects completed. I would usually smile without commenting. When you work for a retailer whose goal is to be the lowest price in the market, it means the lowest cost basis in the market was critical. Hence it wasn’t easy to get projects completed, and it took considerable planning and communication to ensure our projects made the cut.

Many of you likely have significant projects in which you are responsible to complete, especially as we start the new year. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the strategies which were successful in navigating my projects in order to guarantee the resources required to carry projects to the finish line.

Let’s start with the basics. Have you clearly identified the benefit to the organization for completing this project? This may seem simple, but I can’t tell you how many projects I saw eliminated because the owner could not answer this question.

There are many ways in which this question can be answered, but the key is to be concise without a lot of industry jargon. For example, if you work for a Petro station and you need to implement EMV the answer could be, “We currently are able to pass the cost of fraud back to the issuers; however if we don’t upgrade our terminals to the new security standard by October 2020, we will be responsible for losses estimated to be $XX annually. In addition, we expect those numbers to escalate as we become one of the few stations where fraudsters can use counterfeit mag stripe cards.” In this example, I mention both the current cost and escalating cost to paint the picture that a delay will only increase the pain until we implement.

Of course, cost is not the only reason you can seek to get a project completed. In the past, one of the hardest projects I had to get approval for was one in which we could reduce operating risk. However, there wasn’t a clear cost savings. An example of this type of project is adding links to reach out to your processors. In these cases, I relied on painting a picture of the risk if we were not able to process transactions compared to the cost required to maintain the extra links. For example, “We currently have only one link with one telecom reaching out to our payment processor. If the link were to be severed by construction, we would have no way to approve electronic payment transactions which our customers have become dependent upon.”

Attaching projects to other strategic company goals can be an effective way to ensure projects are prioritized. If your organization is trying to streamline the customer experience, identifying how your project supports this corporate initiative will increase its position in the priority chain. Alternatively, if there is a concern on the security of personal data, identifying how your project ties into this corporate goal could enable more support for your project.

I also suggest you review all other projects which have been prioritized to see if your project can enhance another already approved project. For example, if your terminals are at end of life, this is a good time to consider adding end to end encryption or installing EMVs quick chip process. The value of this strategy is more room may be available to support on your other key projects.

Another effective strategy to get projects prioritized is identifying an executive champion. In my experience, once you have the right person supporting the project, resources get aligned although this may take more effort. For this strategy to work it is important to understand the value the project delivers and sell it to a key executive. I worked with the team to institute the largest pay card program in the industry which included multiple IT teams and objectives in record time because our CEO saw the value for our associates.

My final suggestion is to build a positive trust-filled relationship within your organization by delivering on what you promised and sharing the rewards. Many people helped me get projects done in my career because we took a team approach. We spread the recognition of the project’s success not just with those who lead the project but also with those who executed on deliverables. On many occasions we would show up for other departments’ meetings to recognize the work of someone on their team. In addition, we could point back to our projects projections and show how we succeeded in achieving the promised outcomes. People are more willing to work with you if you make the effort to ensure they are part of the team and thank them for their contributions.

Good luck on your efforts at moving your projects forward in your organization. The MAG is here to help and support your efforts.