Mechanical Solutions, Inc: Aligning Engineering Expertise and Management Expectations
Engineering consultancy, Mechanical Solutions, specializes in field testing and vibration troubleshooting in many industries. When they needed a company-wide PM solution, they turned to Sciforma to shake things up.
About Mechanical Solutions, Inc.
Mechanical Solutions, Inc. (MSI) is known for its outstanding track record of solving some of the world’s most difficult technical problems, especially when it comes to tracking down vibration sources and finding ways to fix them.
MSI has offices all over the U.S, with over 30 engineers serving both government agencies and commercial customers worldwide. MSI specializes in field testing and vibration troubleshooting of critical service rotating machinery for many industries including energy, oil & gas, water & wastewater, transportation, and others. With such an array of industries, they've worked on everything from cardiac stents to nuclear facilities and at any given time can have 20 or 30 projects underway. The company also provides design development, analysis, consulting and prototyping services.
It is a complex business requiring a broad range of engineering expertise. A vibration troubleshooting effort can include experimental modal analysis (EMA) to determine system natural frequencies, operating deflection shape (ODS) characterization to observe system behavior under operational loading, and continuous monitoring during transient events. By evaluating the entire system and employing supplementary tools such as finite element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD), MSI is able to solve the most challenging problems where others have failed.
Project Management Challenges and Requirements
For years, it was up to MSI engineers to manage their projects and resources using their own tools and methodologies. Project management was cobbled together with Excel timesheets, spreadsheets, OpenGantt worksheets, emails, phone calls, and meetings. For small projects involving a couple of engineers, this process worked fine. However, with larger projects coming in and government compliance calling for greater process documentation, MSI needed a more comprehensive solution.
MSI is not structured in a typical engineering pyramid of managers and reports, explains Project Engineer Vladimir Skidelsky. It's much more horizontal: engineers all have several roles working on multiple projects and managing them. The company needed a tool that could streamline project management and be customized to suit the MSI organizational structure. Since most of the users were not project management experts, they needed a solution that would be easy to use -- and that the engineers would indeed want to use.
Because MSI deals with private, commercial, and government clients, management needed to be able to associate different rates with different projects. That meant being able to exchange data back and forth between the project management solution and QuickBooks.
Lastly, MSI wanted analysis tools to enable better tracking of projects, workflows and budgeting. The analysis tools should also help them better understand where their business was headed, and where they needed to ramp up efforts and resources.
Solution: Customizing Out-of-the-Box with Sciforma
MSI chose an “out-of-the-box” Sciforma solution, but opted to heavily configure it. They started with time tracking, which quickly made a big impact within their organization. Rather than wade through 30+ timesheets and then run their own numbers, managers were able to instantly see the big picture – and then drill down.
Senior staff could quickly see who was working on which projects, and where time was being spent, all in one central location. They knew who submitted what and were able to plan around vacation and non-working days. By making Sciforma the standard for time tracking across all projects, “Accountability went up and communication was improved,” states Skidelsky.
However, because the engineers were not sure what would work best across the entire company, the implementation was iterative, fairly long, and sometimes complex. Fortunately, configuration flexibility is a hallmark of the Sciforma solution and as the MSI engineers and managers clarified their needs, the configuration evolved within the solution.
Next came budgets, schedules, and resource allocation. Previously they had just assigned time to a project number, Sciforma gave MSI greater granularity in tracking tasks. “It was a real eye-opener for us,” says Skidelsky. “Now we really know who's working on what, so we can really drill down to the details.”
Configuration Flexibility, Win-Win Benefits
Defining tasks and sub-tasks has made a big impact. Both engineers and managers now know when too much time is spent on a given task, or when they need to add more time for these same tasks in the future.
They can also see how each project is running at a sub-task level, instead of just at the project level. While a small project might have only a few tasks, a large project can have 10, 20 or more tasks. MSI management appreciates that the Sciforma solution is configurable to the full spectrum of their engineering projects. This enables them to dynamically allocate resources.
“The strength of Sciforma is really the configuration ability,” notes Skidelsky. “You can make it do anything you want because the data's all there. It's just a matter of setting up the fields and presenting them in a way that's clean and gets the information across.” For example, rather than just tracking budgets on a running basis, MSI recently added the planned budget in locked field. This helps in both tracking and in post-project reviews.
Another big benefit of more granular task tracking is the accountability for the engineers themselves. With hourly allocations planned out, the engineers see exactly what they need to be working on. They have better insight into how they're using their time. When people are working on specific tasks rather than just charging time to a project, they can see the project flow in terms of task completion. Knowing where a project stands changes their approach from static to dynamic. That saves time and allows for good management practices.
Projects delivered on time and within budget are always a win-win. For MSI, using Sciforma for time and project management has resulted in better alignment of engineering and management expectations. Provided with a better understanding of where the business is now, the next step for management is to use the analysis tools to leverage data collected by the Sciforma solution to plan for future opportunities. With the project management tools in place and MSI's outstanding record of solving tough problems, this is a challenge they're ready to meet.