Specialized Engineering Organization
Resource and Schedule Management.
The client organization is a dedicated engineering team, building sophisticated pilot plants for petrochemical research organizations. Work includes mechanical, structural, and electrical build out, and highly skilled craftsmanship designing and building scaled chemical plants.
Highly specialized engineering organizations with variable demand, and very skilled resources pools face unique resource and schedule management challenges.
Managing the flow of work such that resource pools are appropriately utilized on an ongoing basis is a fine balance between disenfranchising clients, and driving critical resources to find employment elsewhere when workload demands become excessive.
Structuring and understanding work flow and execution to achieve that balance requires a blend of multiple project management, resource management and project portfolio management skills and processes, at all levels of an organization, combined with effective and focused operational processes.
Other key challenges included:
- No regular operating processes existed to review total demand on the organization and prioritize appropriately. As a result, the person shouting loudest got the resources, regardless of impact to other clients.
- Critical skilled resources were lost to the organization because of unsmoothed work flow (resources either left because of overwork, or were released because of under-work). Such resources are in high demand in the market place, and replacement is costly, very time consuming, and sometimes not possible.
- The organization serves multiple clients, each with their own project priorities. Although all are part of an over-arching corporate organization, all acted is independent businesses, with no vested interest in optimizing the resource demands on the engineering organization.
- Smart client staff had learnt to persuade the resources performing work to focus on their projects, effectively undermining overall priorities. Individuals had no understanding of overall priorities so could not push back on the client demands. Other projects discovered that resources had been reallocated when their activities fell behind plan, sometimes catastrophically.
- Client organizations were highly critical of the engineering organization, but because of the long record of poor performance were unwilling to discuss process changes to lead to improvements.
- Multiple work types were executed by the organization, including projects, repairs, and scheduled maintenance. The pilot plants work with critical temperatures and pressures, and dangerous chemicals. As such, repair work often takes priority over all other work types as safety concerns are an overriding priority.
- The organization hierarchy had accountability gaps such that key resource pools were not effectively managed, directed or held accountable.
The Pcubed Solution
- Established operational processes that review all demand on a regular basis
- Established visibility of all work across the organization
- Implemented schedule and resource management processes for projects
Key elements of the solution included:
- A regular weekly meeting was established, reviewing all new work since the prior meeting, and the status of all work in flight. Attendees include the senior staff of the organization, and the head of the organization. Prior to instituting this process, organizational changes were required to ensure all resource groups were appropriately represented in the meeting, with leads who were empowered to make decisions for the resource groups, and who would be held accountable for meeting those commitments.
The meeting collectively reviewed ALL work. Initially perceived as tedious, the attendees rapidly saw benefits as conflicts in priorities became apparent, primarily because of their collective attendance. Where previously they would have had to address such conflicts in isolation, with all resource owners in the room, resolutions were reached more rapidly, and much more effective outcomes were achieved.
Priorities were collectively addressed and agreed in the weekly session, ensuring that all organization leads understood which client projects were a priority. These priorities were communicated down the organization and supported individual resources when they needed to push back against client demands.
- To support the operational meeting, a tool holding all work requests across the organization was required. Such a tool was already in place, but not used consistently or for all resource groups and all work. Agreement was reached to use the single tool for all activities. It was then used as the source of information for the weekly review meetings. Any work not represented in it was not considered for resourcing needs. This approach led to rapid adoption. Reviewing the information in the tool collectively in the operating meeting applied strong peer pressure to those individuals who were procrastinating in their adoption, speeding a change in their behaviors!
- A significant amount of the work executed by the organization is in projects to build new pilot plants. Microsoft Project Server 2007 was implemented with Schedule and Resource management processes built and implemented to support both the project managers and the resource managers in the organization.
Visibility of the in-flight portfolio of projects helped support overall resource demand across the organization, and supported prioritization decision making in the weekly operations meeting.
The organization now has the fundamental operational and project management processes in place to be able to adequately plan, prioritize and execute work. The information now available on total demand allows them to provide feedback to their clients that supports accurate forecasting of cost and time for project delivery. As historical data builds on the volume of unanticipated repair activities such that the variability of work load becomes more predictable, schedule variances can be forecasted with greater accuracy. Concurrently the management team can make effective planning decisions around resource capacity and appropriately action recruiting or staff reduction.
As the operational expertise improves such that time and cost for delivery of projects come in line with forecasts, client confidence will build, resulting in greater demands on the organization. As these demands materialize the team is well positioned to grow and accommodate the increased work load.