Editor’s note: This article was written by Brian Taylor and appeared in full on TechRepublic.com.
In 2009, Andy Kinnear, Director of the Office of Project Management for University Hosptials in northeast Ohio had a problem.
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 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.”
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.”
“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.”
Advantages of the AtTask solution
“I really started utilizing the tool as I would present,” says Andy. “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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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, “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.”