Diamond Light Source Ramps Up Resourcing Visibility with Microsoft Project Online and Wellingtone
Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron and one of the most advanced scientific facilities in the world. More than 14,000 scientists use the facility to study everything from new medicines to innovative engineering and cutting-edge technology. Diamond Light Source’s 600 plus staff are therefore responsible for facilitating a hugely complex programme of projects and supporting operations, underpinned by multi-million-pound budgets and time-sensitive schedules.
The organisation has a high level of Project & Portfolio Management (PPM) maturity. However, the DPO (Diamond Project Office – Diamond Light Source’s PMO) struggled to achieve visibility across operational and project resources, making it difficult to balance capacity versus demand. The decision was made to integrate Microsoft Project Online to support integrated resource management, timesheeting and business analysis with Power BI. APM accredited Microsoft Gold Partner, Wellingtone, was appointed to configure, build, and roll out the system. Chris Obin, Project Planner for Diamond Light Source’s DPO, reflects on the journey itself, the benefits of Project Online, and the continuous improvement opportunities that the new system is generating.
Diamond Light Source
Products and Services
Microsoft Project Online
- Brief: build, configuration, and rollout of a fully integrated business system.
- Priorities: resource management, scheduling, and time tracking functionality.
- Functionality: ease of data entry and delivery of drill-down in-application reporting with Power BI.
- Scope: phased roll out to a total of 300 users by March 2021.
- Benefits: new visibility over resources, timesheeting and project versus operational capacity.
Managing a Complex Resource Pool Across World Leading Scientific Projects
The journey kicked off with an internal review of beamline resourcing in the summer of 2016, Chris explains. “Across our engineering team alone, we have almost 100 engineers, and we needed to establish a single source of truth over how they, and other staff, were being utilised,” he says. “I joined in December 2016, just as the initial definition phase work was being started. The resulting recommendations led us to define a software requirements specification. We identified three suppliers to tender, each demonstrating different product solutions so that we could understand how they would adapt to our needs and environment.”
This meticulous selection process led the Project Board to choose Project Online and Wellingtone. “It was a long process, but as a publicly funded organisation we needed to be thorough,” says Chris. “We operate 33 active beamlines. For each one, the scientists – all world leaders in their field – rightly expect their instruments to receive the required operational, project and emergency support as needed. So, we have these three main pools of work and we must ensure that the resources are balanced between them.”
Our project plans are often hundreds of lines long. It was during the product demo phase that we realised how valuable Project Online’s planning tools would be in helping us to manage that volume.
Tailored Configuration to Serve a Uniquely Structured Organisation
It was this complexity and volume that influenced the Project Board’s decision to choose Project Online, Chris recalls. “Our project plans are often hundreds of lines long. It was during the product demo phase that we realised how valuable Project Online’s planning tools would be in helping us to manage that volume. We are a Microsoft configured organisation, so Project Online’s compatibility with the Microsoft suite was also important.
Plus, we were impressed by the reporting capabilities of Power BI. We felt that we had a good cultural fit with Wellingtone, especially the project lead. She integrated well into the culture of the company and enabled us to ask the right questions. She helped us to bring together multiple viewpoints and agree on the best strategy to meet all requirements.
Wellingtone’s project lead facilitated three requirements gathering sessions to help thirty-plus stakeholders converge on the right configuration before proceeding to build. “The build went pretty smoothly,” Chris says. “One of the biggest challenges we faced was adapting Project Online to the way our resource pools are laid out, and adapting our schedules to forecast and measure time spent on tasks. That took some months to get right. A second challenge was adapting the culture at Diamond to a new way of working. We began piloting the new system with a single science group in September 2019. This gave us enough confidence to proceed with a wider rollout. We were charged with a deadline of rolling Project Online out to all the other seven science groups (around 60 projects) by the end of March 2020! That was a challenge, but we managed it.”
Embedding Skills, Learning Lessons and Striving for Continuous Improvement
Wellingtone helped equip the DPO to cope with such rapid rollouts by delivering their “Train the Trainer” course, embedding the internal skills needed to onboard new users in a cost-effective way. “It was the best choice for us as an organisation, given our size and the amount of reach we needed,” Chris explains. “We now have five staff trained as internal trainers and four trained as admins. We are in the process of transferring the training to online screen capture videos. That will be helpful, especially whilst we are remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic. People can access the training at their own convenience, which helps with buy-in. Having completed phase one of the rollout to 150 users, we’re hoping to complete phase two by March 2021, and that internal training and admin capacity is supporting us in achieving that significant milestone.”
Indeed, the pandemic has offered the DPO a valuable opportunity to reflect on the early use of Project Online and adapt the system to lessons learnt and new challenges. “It has given us the chance to revisit resource management, project plans, and how we analyse data in Power BI, armed with the benefit of practical experience,” Chris recalls. “For example, we’re in the process of rolling out an additional visibility layer to timesheeting. That will equip us to see not only how much operational support is being deployed, but also which instrument or group that support is going to. This will be invaluable in balancing the capacity utilization of different engineering teams. We have never had that visibility before. Now, if a project falls behind, we can identify where the blocker is and act accordingly. Our main goal in implementing Project Online was achieving visibility over our project and operational resources, and we have certainly achieved that goal.”
Our main goal in implementing Project Online was achieving visibility over our project and operational resources, and we have certainly achieved that goal.
Project Online is also helping with pipeline planning, according to Chris. “During COVID, Project Online has enabled us to spend time pulling pipeline projects such as new equipment purchases forward. By doing so, we can maximise budget spend and productivity, even while site access is restricted. I personally needed to plan four new complex projects in two months. I would not have been able to do that without Project Online! We really enjoyed working with Wellingtone. They were flexible and responsive, even when we asked for changes. As a Microsoft Gold Partner, they have a comprehensive knowledge of how the technology works. Plus, they have that hotline into Microsoft, so they can give us the inside track on what is coming next. I would certainly recommend them to others in our situation.”