- MFI Software, CH2M Hill and Farmers Insurance Group each used scheduling software to their unique advantage.
- MFI Software planned the 2000 Summer Olympics strategically, using the software to run contingency plans and optimize resources.
- CH2M Hill implemented an updated application that could manage large amounts of information from multiple sources in the O'Hare International Airport Modernization Program.
- Farmers Insurance Group used a tool to help IT project managers relate better to overall costs, improve the planning process and enable mid-project adjustments.
Put away your crystal ball, toss your tarot cards, and get out the map.
Advances in scheduling software have simplified the process of allotting a project's resources, making the planning stage less of a guessing game and more of a guided tour of what's to come.
Project managers can see just how to allocate resources, chief executive officers (CEOs) can visualize the direction of a project and how it relates to organizational strategy, and team members can better understand their tasks. With projects ranging from software creation to airport construction, three case studies show how scheduling software limits unpredictability and enhances on-target execution.
Going for the Gold
To keep the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, sailing smoothly, project manager Sergio Coronado, then working at MFI Software in Madrid, Spain, took nearly three years to create a system that would become obsolete after the 15-day sporting event closed.
Coronado created a software program that was entirely responsible for the Games' operations. The strict schedule demanded by the set date of the Games meant there was no wiggle room in the deadline, so using a scheduling tool was absolutely necessary for Coronado to complete the project on time.
This tool allowed Coronado and his team to plan strategically, using the software to run contingency plans and prepare for glitches depending on the amount of resources available at any one time. “The software was able to look at where we are now and come up with many different final outcomes, and we could then go and try to fix the problems before they even happened,” Coronado says.
More valuably, the tool helped reflect reality. With so many people working to ensure the software was completed on time, it often was difficult to visualize the overarching plan. The scheduling tool enabled team members to see solid proof of progress or setbacks at any given time. “The tool showed the reality of the project,” Coronado says. “It showed the resources we needed and the time it would take to get each task done.”
Because of the tight schedule, Coronado and his team took extra precautions to ensure that the operational software would add the highest possible value. “We had increased meetings [in the schedule] to go over where we were headed, and we built some of our own software to increase the functionality of the software package,” Coronado says.
In the end, Coronado and his team completed the software on time, and the Games went off without a hitch. The key to success was ensuring the scheduling software provided a degree of comfort to team members. “People must understand the value of the software itself,” he says. “It's difficult to get people to use something they don't understand.”
CH2M Hill, headquartered in Englewood, Colo., USA, is a wide-ranging construction company that works across myriad industries, from energy to water to sustainable design. Every project, no matter its milieu, must be delivered according to a set schedule.
In early 2003, CH2M Hill was selected for the O'Hare International Airport Modernization Program, a $6.6 billion project in Chicago, Ill., USA, that involved the relocation of three commercial runways and the creation of a new runway for freight aircraft.
Scheduling software was a greater necessity than ever before, so the team brought in an updated application that could manage the large amounts of information from the many sources involved in the project. “With this software we are able to report to all involved parties with one database,” says Rene Mendoza, a regional project controls manager at CH2M Hill. “The information becomes more congruent and more accurate.”
Due to the large scale of the project, the CH2M Hill team took liberties with the software, even bringing in information technology (IT) personnel to ensure the program would function across knowledge areas, from city and county officials to the Federal Aviation Administration to the various team members and subcontractors.
“We made an effort to implement the software on different levels at once: for the client, for the team, for the subcontractors,” Mendoza says. “It's usually more efficient to start with the highest level and work down, but we don't always have the luxury of using the most efficient method.”
Diversifying access to the system has paid off well. “The team works better, more effectively and efficiently, because the information is there for everyone to look at,” he says. The software allows the team to track the many funding sources, and the wealth of information in a central location facilitates decision-making.
At Farmers Insurance Group, based in Los Angeles, Calif., USA, executives couldn't see clearly. “We needed to start tracking time and cost and see what our projects were really costing us,” says Claude Trincale, then manager of Farmers' program management office.
Farmers executives decided to implement scheduling software to standardize the IT programs across the enterprise in late 2001. “Project managers [can] select predetermined models, customize them and set up projects correctly the first time, saving time and effort,” says Trincale, who now is acting director of quality management for IT support at Farmers.
The tool also helps project managers relate better to overall costs, ultimately benefiting the planning process and enabling superior mid-project adjustments. When a project gets out of hand, for example, the team can see the problem and react accordingly, whether that means canceling the project or requesting more funding. Managers can see the scope of ongoing IT projects and determine if the project is coming in on schedule and within budget.
In addition, Farmers often employs outside contractors. The scheduling tool enhances the company's relations with its outsourcing partners. Both in-house IT personnel and contractors use the same models, ensuring that all projects are completed in a similar, standardized fashion.
The tool also helps control expenses. “We tell them, ‘Hey, we're only going to be paying you for what's on the [software].' It helps us control what goes into the bill because it goes through all the right approval levels, so we don't get bills with discrepancies we weren't expecting,” Trincale says. “There's no debate with hours between contractors and the company.”
Implementing scheduling software immediately showed a return on Farmers' investment: Expenditures significantly dropped in the first year of software utilization.
Scheduling software is an application that will paint the bigger picture while detailing daily tasks for individual team members, but managers and executives alike must remember: The software is just a tool, not a solution.
In each of these cases, scheduling software was implemented in conjunction with regular team meetings and was adapted to meet the individual needs of the company. The software requires the careful input and planning of a project manager and team. “Software isn't a magical answer,” Mendoza says, “but it will help your team make better decisions.” PM
PM NETWORK | JULY 2004 | WWW.PMI.ORG
JULY 2004 | PM NETWORK