SMU Staff Spotlight – Teena Newman

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations. Read more SMU staff spotlights

At any given moment, SMU’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) has some 50 to 70 significant projects underway across campus, each one requiring 40 or more hours to complete, or involving multiple teams. However, until recently, no organized department existed to oversee those projects. That changed in September 2015 as part of the OE2C initiative when a new Project Management Office was created, led by director Teena Newman.

Newman established and now supports a project management framework based on industry best practices. She oversees the development, implementation and continuous improvement of OIT projects to align with SMU’s vision and strategy. She has also hired her first official project manager, and hopes to hire more.

Projects run the gamut from phone replacements to security upgrades, from website migrations to electronic catalog implementation. Previously, managing them fell to the technical staff and other OIT managers, on top of their other duties.

“Do you know 90 percent of what a project manager does? Communication!” says Newman. “Asking our technical staff who are busy creating and supporting solutions – our network engineers, PeopleSoft developers, database administrators, desktop support crew, etc. – to also effectively manage projects, is setting them up for failure. How can we expect them to spend 90 percent of their time in project communication?”

Under the new system, project requests are submitted through a Portfolio Project Management tool and are reviewed by the IT Leadership Team on a weekly basis, prioritized by a scoring system and then scheduled.

The new system offers distinct advantages, says Newman. “Almost all of SMU’s strategic initiatives have an IT component. Having a Project Management Office that reports directly to the CIO provides an unbiased approach to project selection. It creates checks and balances at the right level to enable an environment of accountability and visibility.”

Newman, who earned both B.B.A. (’01) and M.B.A. (’10) degrees from Cox, joined SMU in 2007 as a business analyst in OIT, after six years of working in the energy industry. She says her new role as director of project management brought a new perspective. “I spent my first few months in the role studying the OIT culture, and SMU’s culture,” she says. “Although I had been on staff at SMU for eight years, this leadership position meant new opportunities and challenges. I learned the importance of aligning my pace with that of the current culture. It’s crucial to find a balance between being too disruptive and being too stagnant.

“What guides me in making decisions is to ask myself daily, ‘Do my actions and decisions reflect SMU’s best long-term interest?’ If they do not, I either abandon or modify my approach.”

Newman says the University’s commitment to efficiency in new projects extends beyond her department. “In partnership with HR, OIT provided project management training to all OIT staff who either manage projects or serve as a key resource for projects,” says Newman. “The training has allowed our organization to speak a common language, and helps each person understand the importance of their role in projects. Mary Stall from HR provides an excellent course, Project Management Essentials for the Unofficial Project Manager. I highly recommend this course to all SMU staff and faculty, as it provides great tools to avoid project failure.”

Newman especially enjoys monitoring the progress OIT is making on campus projects and says, “Seeing us choose the right projects and delivering on expectations is one of my favorite parts of this role! If you would like to see what OIT is working on, you can now access this information on the OIT website.”