Data and Design Analytics Impact on Productivity
by Derek O’Brien, Director | Business Analytics
Anyone who has managed projects understands that project schedule management is mission critical. Schedule development typically starts with enthusiasm and optimism that what is scheduled today, will execute in the future as anticipated. Unfortunately, because of the complexities associated with scheduling multiple tasks and providers, standardizing formats, prioritizing task and effectively distributing information to team members, schedule failures are often the outcome. As a result of difficulty managing these complexities, schedule management can become more of a nuisance rather than a useful tool for effectively planning project tasks.
Using the LEAN practices of Continuous Improvement and Eliminating Waste; Vestal Corporation transformed it’s project scheduling approach through the adoption of scheduling tools that allowed the distribution of critical project schedule information enterprise-wide, the centralization of company data, standardization of processes, and the ability to tie it all together in to a highly effective schedule management tool using analytics.
Like many organizations, Vestal Corporation used Microsoft Project scheduling software. One of the draw backs of Microsoft Project is its limited number of projects and team members it can support. Being a file based software every schedule within the company was saved as an individual file in multiple project directory making it nearly impossible for team members to plan and execute projects without duplicating data or combining the data by other means. To overcome Microsoft project’s limitations and eliminate the high probability of schedule failure, Vestal migrated to Microsoft Project Online. Microsoft Project Online is Microsoft’s enterprise-level scheduling, and portfolio management platform which allows Vestal’s project schedules to be stored in a single database remedying the problem of multiple schedule files scattered across the network.
In addition to centralizing schedule data, Microsoft Project Online has powerful administrative tools to manage all information to assist with standardizing processes across the organization. Through Microsoft Project Online’s administrative portal, custom fields are created to increases data entry accuracy and allow the system to be modified to meet the ever-changing needs of projects. Permissions can also be controlled, ensuring the appropriate team members are allowed to create and or modify schedules at a very granular level as required. Through ongoing collaboration, the steps required to create and maintain Vestal’s project schedules are documented and all users trained throughout the company. Training includes the use of custom fields, task management, managing baselines, and the overall use of Microsoft Project Online. Proper training is critical to ensuring information going into the system will be accurate and useful when distributed to the project team.
While implementing Microsoft Project Online overcame the challenges of fragmented and siloed data, it did not present a solution to efficiently distribute schedules to team members. This is where analytics steps in to fill the need of distributing scheduling information in near real-time to the entire organization. Power BI, Microsoft’s premier Business Intelligence analytical platform, allows Vestal to access the Project Online database to aggregate the organization’s schedules into user-friendly project dashboards for internal and external users removing the barrier of requiring knowing how to use Microsoft Project and not require a significant investment in MS Project licenses to access the data. Utilizing Microsoft Teams, the project dashboards are seamlessly integrated into every project team, which keeps this vital information in the same area where team members collaborate throughout the day. Allowing access to this information enables managers to plan their department’s work while also allowing front-line workers to access the same information, which reduces information bottlenecks between them and their managers. In addition to internal access, external users can also be granted the same access, which promotes transparency and accountability across the project.
While project schedules are only a part of proper project management, it provides the perfect opportunity to leverage data and analytics to streamline efforts, provide transparency and accountability on Vestal’s projects. Following the same approach, Vestal continues to expand its use of data and analytics in areas such as RFIs, Submittals, and other essential areas of the business, with more to come. Vestal Corporation is excited to continue the application of these techniques to remove waste from our processes as Lean practitioners and continue to provide value to our partners and clients for years to come.