Sepura: Prioritizing R&D Projects with Timely and Reliable Data
Michael Schmitt, a Program Manager at Sepura, began to feel that the company didn't have the necessary project management maturity to conduct its business in the most efficient way. After researching, he chose Sciforma to manage their entire project portfolio.
Based in Cambridge, Sepura is a global leader in TETRA digital radio products. They deliver mission-critical communications to customers in the public safety, military, transport, utilities, and commercial sectors. They offer one of the broadest ranges of standard and specialist radio products, support tools and accessories, combined with unrivalled local customer care and support.
The Situation in the Past
At any given time, Sepura has between thirty and forty research and development projects under way, with ten more awaiting approval. There are also usually about ten operations projects on the go. These projects were run using a mixture of standalone Microsoft Project plans and spreadsheets, principally used for managing project costs. At the portfolio level, all management was carried out using spreadsheets.
Because of this unsatisfactory situation, it took a long time to aggregate planning and cost information - with much manual data consolidation necessary. The result of this was that by the time project data was published, it was almost outdated. The data reliability was questionable and was indeed questioned by many people. There was no cross-project dependency awareness, no resource pool management, and no standard templates were used. In Michael's own words, the system "wasn't fit for the purpose of project portfolio management."
Changes at Sepura Were Happening
At this time, a new CEO began working with the company and, seizing this opportunity, Michael presented his plans for change to his new chief. He was given the Head of Programme Management role to manage these changes and to implement them a program - the Integrated Project Management Programme (IPMP) - was created. Andrew Thacker, one of Michael's twelve project managers, was given the task of managing it.
A reliable enterprise-level PPM tool was clearly required and so everyone was asked what they wanted from such a tool. The project managers required scheduling and integrated resource management capabilities; the resource managers wanted a view of the overall portfolio resource situation; the financial and portfolio managers both wanted powerful reporting, data consolidation and analysis capabilities. They also wanted information presented to them on dashboards. Other requirements included an integrated timesheet system and the ability to integrate with other enterprise software in use.
Having studied a Gartner report, a list of about twenty software tools that appeared suitable was made. The list included Planview, Sciforma, Artemis, Primavera, Gensite, @task, Asta, Serena and Microsoft software. Planview and Sciforma's systems were short-listed as they seemed to most closely meet the requirements, the pricing model and the capabilities demanded by the users. The responsiveness of the vendors was also taken into account. PlanView was an excellent product and both products were affordable and fulfilled the requirements, but following trials (during February 2009), it was decided that Sciforma's interface was preferred. It was also felt that Sciforma had the easier report construction capability, requiring less technical SQL expertise. Sciforma was found to be the easier of the two products to use and was therefore selected. Phase one involved the R&D projects.
Sciforma set up a testing environment on which the Sepura people experimented before the system went live. During the early days of implementation, fifteen man-days of Sciforma's consultancy were used for configuration and non-standard requirements. Once the system was implemented, Sciforma gave a day's training to resource managers. Project managers and administrators were each given two days. All other users were trained in-house. In any change program, it's usual to encounter pockets of resistance. During this project, many people had become part of the change process while the requirements were being gathered. This, therefore, wasn't perceived as a tooling change and Sciforma's introduction met no resistance.
Some project managers felt a loss of freedom because they had to comply with a standard methodology, recognized that standardization delivered significant benefits. Overall, because of people's awareness of the benefits aimed for and because their feedback had been taken seriously and responded to, there was little resistance at any project stage. Enough time has passed since PSNext's implementation for the benefits of this project to be evaluated. All R&D projects are managed using the PSNext system. The budgetary system has been arranged so that, if a project isn't entered into the system from the outset, it doesn't get funded. Using Sciforma has resulted in more reliable, timely and accurate project, resource, and budget plans at all levels. Senior managers like the transparency of the overall project situation - enabling them to monitor activity throughout the organization. Management reports still look much the same as they used to. However, they're much more accurate and instead of taking three weeks to prepare, they're now available within days.
It's interesting to discover that Sciforma's installation has gone a long way towards paying for itself. As the system now handles project accounting, the person previously responsible for this isn't now required to do this work and so has become available to perform other useful work . Things aren't moving as quickly on the operations side. Because these departments aren't so mature, remaining functionally oriented, things are lagging with no formalized project management system in use. However, the intention is to move all operational projects onto Sciforma within the next two years. Michael's enthusiastic about PSNext. It's helped the company meet its project targets and it's helped with the aggregation of project and resource data, making the management of these much more efficient. It has also helped management prioritize projects by making it easier for them to decide upon which projects to concentrate.
Sepura's Objectives for the Future
The Sepura IPMP has given the company reason to consider the way they organize their business. It's helped them realize what they want to do, to move towards those ambitions and to become more mature. One goal the company still wants to achieve is to improve the strategic side of portfolio management. They want to harness Sciforma's ability to compare projects for the strategic benefits that each gives. Michael realizes that his change program has presented Sepura with a series of cultural challenges. “Since 2008, the company has come a long way but,” says Michael, “there's still a distance to go.”