Employee to Contractor, Karen Forristal

Employee to Contractor, Karen Forristal

From Employee to ContractorKaren Forristal is an IT professional with over 20 years of business and leadership experience as well as an MBA from Xavier University. After Karen’s Vice President position was eliminated in a corporate downsizing, she earned her Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (LSSBB) from BPG and her certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI) after taking the PMP Prep course from BPG.

When Karen was presented with a contract opportunity to become a Program / Project Manager for the integration of the merger between First Financial Bank and MainSource Bank, she accepted the challenge.  With no prior banking or consulting experience, how did Karen “land” the position?

    • Karen’s previous experience with mergers and acquisitions – and her focus on the impact of the transition on employees – was a plus.  
    • A personal recommendation from a networking contact got Karen an interview.
    • PMP Certification, a prerequisite because of the size and complexity of the project.  


Karen was one of eight contractors in the bank’s Integration Management Office (IMO), which functioned as a Project Management Office (PMO). Their job was to integrate the people, products, policies & procedures, tools, and client relationships for over 60 functional areas.  Karen says that “From the beginning, we applied concepts and techniques presented in the PMI PMBOK ® Guide and Agile Practice Guide.”

The schedule was a constraint. While the merger was announced in July 2017, the IMO was staffed with full-time associates and contractors starting in December 2017. Two critical dates drove their work:  

  • April 1: Banking regulations restricted the amount of information sharing between the two banks until “Legal Day 1” when client information could be shared between the two banks.  
  • May 29: The complete integration of systems and infrastructure, including but not limited to core banking, email, loans, network, and payroll.

The first task for the IMO was completing the Project Plan.  Karen found that getting stakeholders to think about risk factors for the Risk Registry was a challenge. Having stakeholders develop “what if” scenarios helped them focus.

Much of Karen’s day-to-day work involved managing communications and project scope. She facilitated daily stand-up meetings, checked in on project progress, and reported to management. She also consolidated, analyzed, and presented data to the project team and stakeholders on a regular basis. (The image behind Karen in her photo hints at the complexity and scope of the project. While it may look like a circuit board, it’s a Visio chart the team created and managed. It shows all the work packages tracked during the project.)


The conversion weekend was a success and as the IMO officially closes out the project and records their lessons learned, Karen took time to reflect upon why this was such a positive consulting experience.  She points to:

  • The bank’s onboarding process that included:
    • training on industry standards and regulations
    • facilitating “forming / storming / norming / performing” stages of group development between the contractors, internal team members, and stakeholders.
    • partnerships with key stakeholders whose sponsorship and engagement supported the initiative.
  • The PMP framework provided a common language and tools:
    • The Project Scope plan was referenced when new features were requested.
    • The Risk Register was maintained throughout the project.
    • The Project Schedule and an Agile approach to Roadmaps provided visibility of the

dependencies across more than 60 areas to the IMO members and Executives.

    • The Communication Plan kept the team apprised of risks and fostered cross-functional collaboration.

For BPG alumni interested in consulting work, Karen advises:

    • Be open-minded. Understand your strengths and adapt those to the current job market.
    • Stay current with changes to PMBOK® Guide.* Recognize where and how you can apply the concepts to real-world situations and a fluid environment.
    • Don’t assume IT project management jobs require highly technical skills. If a job description lacks technical terms and the project is aligned with a functional area you know, you may be right for the job.
    • Check out YouTube. Keep learning! There is a lot of content to expand your skills out there – from using Visio to advanced Excel functions, and project and information management tools.
    • Network, network, network.  Find a group and regularly attend meetings. Karen enjoys PMI Southwest Ohio events, including open networking, dinners, and technology forums. She finds them valuable because the membership is so diverse.  Karen also checks out free networking opportunities on Eventbrite. Click here to find your local PMI chapter: www.pmiswohio.org. Click here to find out about Eventbrite events in Cincinnati:


Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Holder, Patricia BoiesThis post was contributed By Breakthrough Performance Group Graduate, Tricia Boies. Tricia holds her Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification. She is a freelance business writer, a project manager, and a process manager. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.