For close to two years he had overseen system implementations for University Hospitals ("UH") as a senior project manager at CSC. Then UH decided to bring Andy and several of his CSC colleagues in-house. They went from having a "relatively robust" project portfolio management system to not having a budget for a portfolio solution.
"And like any good IT group," says Andy, "we decided we would build one. We built it on an MS Access platform, and there were obviously some limitations we ran into. It did do an admirable job of providing some consistency. We did status reporting out of the database, and it was somewhat of a repository. It allowed us to keep some rudimentary dates: start, end, and percent complete. Things had to be manually updated by the project managers with this tool, and the PMs were the only individuals who has access to the database."
Andy and his team at UH continued to have "some trials and tribulations" with the MS Access database that they developed. While they could manage projects with basic statistics and key performance indicators, they had to manually update the tool. Andy would regularly send a note to PMs two days before reporting, to remind them to get all the data entered so that senior management could have the most current information.
"I've got a portfolio manager on staff here," explains Andy, "and I said to him: 'We need a new solution. We've got to go out and find something.' We had people who could not access the database, and also had people who could access it, but couldn't update anything. As a result we didn't have a good handle on what changes needed to be made and how to go about making those changes. We then made the decision that it was time to switch to something and we went through a selection process."
Functionality and value in an enterprise-wide solution
Andy describes how they chose AtTask as their solution within two months. "We investigated MS Project Server as a potential solution, since UH is a Microsoft customer. We looked at some more rudimentary applications, realizing that cost was a driver for us. That was one of the selection criteria that was critical for us, because we didn't have a significant budget—it was something that we were going to have to fit within what we had available."
The UH Project Management Office grasped the value that AtTask could bring to their organization. "As we looked at true value," says Andy, "from the three or four applications that we considered, AtTask quickly rose to the top. Although it was more expensive than a few of the applications that we considered, and as we looked to the future, the functionality within the application far outweighed the pricing difference."
Another driver was that they had to have an enterprise-wide application to promote performance improvement. Two years ago Andy began leading a project titled "UH Transformation." This was a $150 million cost-down effort with 219 separate initiatives. "We created a group in the operations project management office," says Andy, "that would be aligned with Lean 6 Sigma and push performance improvement across the health system."
With the UH Transformation project Andy had 16 PMs and 10 operations managers, but didn't have a unified system to create visibility, ensure collaboration and boost productivity.
"The Access database was specifically built for IT projects," explains Andy. "And so without having a developer come in and revamp it in order to handle performance improvement projects, we realized that we needed something else for that book of business." With the AtTask Enterprise Work Management solution, they have managed their project managers and operations managers as two distinct portfolios for the past year.
"We went looking for a solution," Andy says, "with a broad application in mind. We wanted something that would encompass performance improvement efforts, and also mergers and acquisitions. We recognized that IT was not the only group that needed project management assistance, and wanted something that supported project management as a function, not just project management as a group within a department."
UH initially signed up with AtTask for 25 licenses, and recently has renewed for 500. Says Andy: "We've now got eight portfolios in the application supporting everything from marketing to home care to obviously the IT and performance improvement side."
Results of AtTask solution
Here were some of the advantages Andy started to see after putting AtTask to work:
"I really started utilizing the tool as I would present," says Andy. "We've got a leadership team with four vice presidents, and as I would present project updates, I would just utilize the tool, because it's all real-time data with a dashboard that allows them to see how many projects there are, what programs these projects are sitting in, which ones are in trouble or at risk, and then which ones are on target. So I would just utilize them on the dashboard as I presented updates to that group."
"When we started with AtTask," adds Andy, "we probably had about 90 projects. We are up to 170 now."
Collaboration and productivity
"I can talk to the fact that AtTask has really standardized the way the we work," says Andy. "Before we would have one PM who would really like to use Excel as their plan, one that would really like to use MS Project, and one that may not have a plan written down at all—it's on a napkin. Now we've got a standard format that we're leveraging as we go to work with those resources. The learning curve on the staff side is much, much quicker, because it's a standard, they've seen it before, they know what the look and feel is.
"We've been able to standardize plans and tasks," says Andy, "we've been able to increase the visibility and the accountability with these efforts within UH for the prioritization criteria that we've built within the application. We can give a project an objective view when it comes in. We score it on eight criteria, and then on its alignment score with regard to what we feel are the key drivers within the organization. I think there are things outside of those eight criteria that may factor in, but at least it provides a view of, if all things are equal, which of these projects would go first in order of priority from the organization's perspective. That's been a big win for us as well, to be able to incorporate that into some of our senior leadership discussions."
"From a project management perspective," says Andy, "we've seen a significant amount of adoption within the tool. The operations engineers, although they have project management backgrounds, took a little while longer to gain that adoption. But we're there now, we're using it for all those performance improvement efforts as well."
"We've got about 170 projects," explains Andy, "just within the project portfolio that we are managing. The other thing we are setting up right now is an operations portfolio that will allow total time tracking—that's for about a year from now. And we just renewed with AtTask), so the impetus there is really complete resource tracking. Where are we spending our time, not only looking backward, but sometime next year we'll implement the resource utilization and we'll start to look forward as well."
"The next evolution within the tool," says Andy, "will be to get all those resources on, understanding where that time is being spent, and then really having the tool drive the speed with which we implement.
Brian will do client work for AtTask.
Brian Taylor is a contributing writer for TechRepublic. He covers the tech trends, solutions, risks, and research that IT leaders need to know about, from startups to the enterprise. Technology is creating a new world, and he loves to report on it.