Implementing an EPM solution in a large public water utility

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Introduction

The Las Vegas Valley Water District is a large public water utility that serves the City of Las Vegas and portions of unincorporated Clark County. The Engineering Department manages approximately 75 active and 65 planned projects within the Major Construction Program through the year 2010. These projects require close coordination with several internal departments and external agencies to minimize construction conflicts and meet project completion dates. With this high number of large and complex projects an integrated enterprise project management system is essential to successfully carry out the District's goals.

The District evaluated various project scheduling applications to enhance functionality from the existing scheduling system and selected a best-in-class project scheduling software application. The current system at the time was a stand-alone application that required manual data transfers and created limited accessibility. The migration to the new platform was planned, tested, and then the data migrated from the existing platform. The responsibility for updating and maintaining the project schedule data has been transferred from one Project Management Coordinator to the project team members. Various controls and compliance audits became the main role of the Coordinator. The project teams use the scheduling application as a management tool. The project scheduling data is integrated with the District's custom web application called “ProjectVIEW.” The project team members use this application to run conflict reports and at-risk reports across the project portfolio. ProjectVIEW integrates the District's project data into one user-friendly application. Palm and PocketPC based PDA applications were created for the District's mobile work force. In addition, the data is shared with a multi-government agency and utility external project coordination application called UCCPCA. These applications and programs have lead to increased project coordination, minimizing construction conflicts, disruption to the public, and increased project success as a whole.

Drivers for Change

The District utilized a project management application that was a stand-alone application and was often unstable. The software was an antiquated 16 bit windows client. Project schedule updates were posted by a central project management professional. The data was submitted by only the project manager by various and inconsistent means such as e-mail, copies of project correspondence, extracted from other project status reports, etc. The schedule update process was very rudimentary, it required completing schedule update hand mark-ups, entering data into the scheduling application, and then checking for conflicts. This was an iterative process to attain complete and accurate updates that were not in conflict with other projects in the portfolio. Further, this process was labor intensive for the Project Management Coordinator to make accurate and complete project schedule updates. In addition, project schedule data was converted and manually transferred to the Oracle database so that it would be utilized in the District's custom ProjectVIEW application. The District project management business rules were established with this system and were used as a platform to build the new system. The business rules and structured framework was the basis for designing the new system. Some processes and controls were restructured and built upon to integrate the changes to enable a new enterprise project management structure.

The Enterprise Project Management System

In addition to the above stated drivers for change, it was critical for the District to migrate to a new scheduling platform to address the need to support the centralized data store paradigm that the District had embarked on. It was key for the project schedule data to coexist in Oracle with payroll, work management, construction management and financial data. The District chose to leverage Primavera Project Planner Enterprise (P3E®) to serve this need.

The new system allows for a decentralized approach for schedule updates. With this new system, additional controls and compliance tracking systems were imperative to ensure timely, consistent and accurate project portfolio management. The leveraging of scheduling data within the business systems lead to deriving more meaningful business intelligence. The system now provides a project management tool in addition to status reporting.

Schedule Data Integration

Project Portfolio Calendar

Exhibit 1 – Project Portfolio Calendar

The functional use of the P3E sourced schedule data spans across departmental and organizational boundaries and serves in coordinating public works projects through out the city and county jurisdictions. The primary integration of scheduled data is with ProjectVIEW. This application serves as a reporting, control and compliance platform for P3E. Individual project schedules, that are updated by Project Managers on a regular basis, serve to populate a project portfolio calendar. (Exhibit 1) The calendar function illustrates how actionable business intelligence can be derived from arcane project schedules, which in turn could be consumed and acted upon by the casual business user. Construction or Design milestones for all projects in the portfolio for any month of the portfolio schedule are available at the click of a button. In addition, the integration affords the ability to report on all projects that are behind schedule, project activities that have planned finish dates outside the float window and show activities that are currently active for each project. Further, to address the presentation needs of the project schedules, this data was integrated with Microsoft Excel 2000. This allows the Design and Construction Engineers to print the schedules of projects that are specifically assigned to them. (Exhibit 2) The schedule data is also integrated with a Palm based PDA application called H2Opalm and a PocketPC based PDA application called MobilePV. These serve as the mobile components of the ProjectVIEW application suite.

Printing Macro

Exhibit 2 – Printing Macro

To cater to the needs of the city and countywide coordination of public works projects, a dynamic Oracle VIEW was created, which sources data to a GIS application called UCCPCA. This in turn coordinates key milestones of District projects with those of other municipal agencies in the jurisdiction. The UCCPCA application is used by the local governmental agencies and utility companies to share key project data that is used to coordinate large construction projects.

Architechtural and Database Foundation

ProjectVIEW is designed as a project centric application, which dynamically manages a multitude of project specific information in a easily navigable, intuitive interface. The application design allows access to all key project data within three “clicks.” Deeper data drilldown is provided where necessary. ProjectVIEW serves as a container for the following information for each project managed within its envelope :

  • Design
  • Construction Management
  • Contacts
  • Scheduling
  • Costs
  • Board Agendas
  • Permits and Environmental
  • Drawings and Specifications
  • Shop Drawings
  • Document Library (Project Correspondence, reports, calculations, etc.)

The agglomerated project data is stored in Oracle, which in turn serves as a data warehouse by housing the project data store. This historic information serves as an extremely valuable business tool for budgeting and, developing and refining forecasting algorithms. This application has been a harbinger of change within the Department and has helped the District achieve business agility. The Engineering Department's process cycle times have improved significantly and the District has been successful in completing numerous projects on time and within budget. The web centricity of ProjectVIEW has helped the Department in reaching a wide audience.

Challenges/Solutions

Work Flow Process

The challenges faced in developing the new enterprise project management system was in decentralizing the schedule update process. The enterprise structure was designed to mirror the District's functional departmental organization. A project, during it's life, passes through various Departments within the organization and is “handed off” to various lead project managers through the phases. In the old system, one Department held the responsibility and assumed the workload to create, update and maintain the project data relying on input and cooperation from the other departments. The new system, like the old, centralizes the controls, audit, and coordination functions to ensure consistency and accountability. The project team members now perform their updates directly within the live project enterprise database. The change in work flow process has provided more efficiency and accurate updates. However, the decentralization required additional audit checks and close coordination with team members in other functional departments employing services of a Project Management Coordinator and other technical staff. Communication between the departments has been essential to ensure this system is effective. Conceptualization of specific processes, training in new tasks, and negotiation to assume new responsibilities are frequent interdepartmental topics of discussion.

Control

In the centralized environment, project control resided with a coordinator who was the only one to interact with a secure database. The coordinator translated the information received into schedule updates, generating about 125 monthly schedules for timely, complete and accurate progress reports. The coordinator created new projects, retired inactive ones, produced standard and custom reports, and interpreted operating procedures into working practices for the schedule application. Schedule end date commitments for facilities in service, and interim commitments for transfer of project responsibility between divisions, were also in the control of the Coordinator. Maintaining the data dictionary and standard codes, formatting individual schedules with limited customization, creating the baseline schedule, and modeling scheduling practices into the template schedules were the Coordinator's responsibility as well.

In the decentralized enterprise system, all elements of the scheduling application once controlled and contained within one position, are distributed. The upgraded software offers more powerful features and precise functions not previously available. The accuracy, reliability and consistency of the schedules became more vulnerable.

The creativity and curiosity of the user who now has direct access to the master database must often be balanced with the need for data consistency, with keeping schedule commitments, with maintaining task durations allotted to other divisions, with keeping tasks standardized for large-scale analysis, and with simply keeping the schedules current and accurate. Meanwhile, the appetite to try new things raises expectations that challenge standard reporting. The District has been creating new guidelines to ensure security with critical data, consistency where needed, while allowing customization for “real world” events. The District is developing numerous Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to address the essential procedures at a detailed level; and plans to consolidate the SOPs to standardize the system and stabilize project controls.

Compliance

Business rules remained essentially the same for the new system. However, additional control reports were developed to check compliance to the business rules and standards. The main function of the Project Management Coordinator transitioned from performing all production tasks with status updates, auditing the status updates, customizing schedules, analyzing data, identifying non-compliance scenarios, and developing operating guidelines. Audit reports were developed to be self-serve query reports so that the project team member could update the schedule and run a self-check against other projects in the portfolio. Rounds of iterations occur after a set monthly deadline for completing project updates. The final updated schedules are then submitted as part of a project status report. The Manager then reviews this package as a whole and if any conflicts or errors remain they are returned to the Team Leader to coordinate with the project team member responsible for making the update. This series of self-checks and balances creates a further awareness of the controls, rules and guidelines necessary for consistent and complete reporting and eliminates the need for the Project Management Coordinator to work in a direct enforcement mode.

User Knowledge

User knowledge with a scheduling system typically involves two components: frequently utilized software features, and operating procedures. In order to replace the existing system with the enterprise software, the District had to develop the client knowledge in both components. The in-class training translated the most familiar features of the previous software to its newer methods, and also demonstrated the enhanced and more detailed features. These classes raised numerous questions of how to apply the upgraded and new features in the client environment, with the added complexity of decentralized project scheduling. Inevitably these same discussions led to questions about system integration and compatibility with other databases while employing the enterprise system specifications. Several months and numerous weekly meetings after the initial classroom training, the clients successfully transitioned to the enterprise system, at the basic progress reporting level. Replacing the customized application of the previous system required a review from “ground up” of the day-to-day practices of the entire scheduling process.

Stakeholder Participation

The District's Major Construction Program is accomplished by the efforts of cross-functional project teams from the impacted Departments. The structure is close to a Balanced Matrix Organization (Project Management Institute, 2000). With the change to the enterprise scheduling system and the decentralized responsibility for schedule updates, it was critical to obtain stakeholder buy-in from all the impacted departments. Project team members directly report to other Division Managers not within the Engineering Department where the initial scheduling system was developed and maintained for the past seven years. To gain buy-in it took several meetings to demonstrate the value of the one-time update, to illustrate shared system benefits to the new users, and to show why it was more effective and efficient to store data in Oracle, where all the other business data and project attribute data is maintained. This resulted in the elimination of duplicate data entry and more reliable data. The Managers of these other departments have supported the implementation, and the District is currently in a transition period where some of the functions are still centralized with the Project Management Coordinator role for data security purposes, but will be transferred as user knowledge and more automated routine functions within that Division increases. Some Divisions have already completed this transition and are currently performing their own updates and generating “what if” scenarios. The coordinator role continues to expand as new uses of the schedule data emerges and the enhanced system features present better project management tools across the enterprise.

Operational Transparency

The Engineering function is key to the successful expansion of the District's water infrastructure. It is imperative that such functions be transparent to foster trust and enhance operational efficiency. To this end, the Department has always supported transparent work processes in principle. Implementing ProjectVIEW, has taken this transparency to the individual user's desktop. Consequently, the District's Engineering function enjoys greater visibility and recognition within the organization.

Project Management Institute. (2000) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) (2000 ed.). Newton Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of PMI® Global Congress 2003 – North America
Baltimore, Maryland, USA ● 20-23 September 2003

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