A Pragmatic Approach to a Streamlined, Intuitive Project Online Configuration
“When I originally joined Signature Flight Support, everything was still being done manually,” Dave explains. “Plans were on the horizon to implement a more formal PPM tool, but my executives quite rightly wanted to see proof of concept that we had baseline processes in place before we went down that road. So, I initially built a framework using standard Microsoft 365 tools. Having then tried a different PPM tool, which didn’t really work for us, we decided to migrate onto Project Online in Autumn 2020 and began preparation for implementation in 2021. Unfortunately, the partner we originally selected to support us was good when it came to engagement, but their configuration and training was too ‘out of the box’ for our needs. It emerged that they were not equipped to bring the strategic consultancy input we needed to the table. As a result, the solution they provided was not configured to meet our requirements and the training was a frustrating experience for our staff. We knew that we needed to rethink our plans and seek an alternative implementation partner. So, on the recommendation of our divested partners in the UK, we began talking to Wellingtone.
Their extensive PMO expertise and willingness to listen to our requirements offered just what we were looking for.
Wellingtone began by auditing what had already been implemented by the previous vendor and, says Dave, “they came back with some great, value-adding suggestions. They helped us to achieve clarity over what we needed from Project Online and how best to configure the system to deliver. They then cleaned up the previous configuration to ensure that we had only relevant functionality. Our range of users is a mix of trained, accredited project managers, plus other staff who are equally skilled and committed but may not have that formal knowledge base. Wellingtone streamlined Project Online’s capabilities so that the tool is simple and intuitive for the second group, but also has the capacity for PMP accredited project managers to dive in and use it on a more sophisticated level.”
This flexibility was achieved by reconfiguring existing architecture, before integrating additional customised functionality using Wellingtone’s proprietary applications and technical expertise. These included the Wellingtone Finance App, plus specific configuration to rebuild phase workflow and exit criteria across the portfolio. “One of our key areas for improvement was reporting on project budgets,” Dave says. “We showed Wellingtone the high-level approach that we have been taking, and they demonstrated their app’s ability to further break costs down by month and by category. We could immediately see the benefit in that, so they integrated it into financial tracking within Project Online, as well as associated Power BI reporting. Looking ahead, this will be a big win for us. Another major requirement for us is timesheeting. That’s very important, as we need to accurately recharge IT and PMO costs to capital projects. We were struggling to find an easy way to identify incidences where timesheets had not been submitted. Wellingtone introduced us to their timesheet compliance report, which I value highly. It enables me to quickly identify any gaps in timesheets and chase those people up easily.”
Wellingtone delivered on what they promised to deliver. They have the PMO and PPM expertise to understand both sides of the coin – what the user needs and what the leadership is looking for – and marry the two.
Equipping the Client to Take Ownership of the Rollout
In terms of training and rollout, Dave explains that he was keen to build internal capacity to onboard users moving forwards. “It makes sense for us culturally. We know our audience and we know what they need from the tool to do their jobs efficiently. So, perhaps unusually, we asked Welllingtone to step back from that side of things so that we can build our own training package and sustain that resource in-house. Some vendors would not be willing to do that, but Wellingtone were happy to be flexible and adapt their approach to accommodate our needs.”
Initially, the revamped version of Project Online has been rolled out to the PMO and IT departments. It has also supported a large back-office implementation, where it has been used to capture and recharge relevant costs to the project. Early adoption and emerging benefits have generated interest from other parts of the business, according to Dave. “It has greatly improved our projects managers’ ability to manage schedules, generate fast and easy status reports, track and report on risks, issues, stage gates and so on. That has been a huge leap forward for us. Once we started to showcase our new dashboard reporting, our executives saw the opportunity to invite other parts of the business to report out of Project Online as well. A large part of our business handles hangar and office construction. They have adopted the tool in place of their legacy Excel systems. We have our finance wing of the organisation, responsible for negotiating leases and bringing new airport locations into our network. They will start utilising Project Online shortly.
My goal is to reach the point where we have all capital reporting coming from Project Online and Power BI, and we’re making good progress towards that. We create reports for the Board of Directors and the senior leadership team. One of our ambitions is to move to fully dynamic reporting. We want executives and sponsors to feel confident drilling down into the system independently. Overall, the organisation is recognising the benefits of our ability to track and report on meaningful data, and the portfolio visibility and clarity that gives us. It was also very useful when we moved into negotiations for a Private Equity buy-out in June 2021. The investors quite naturally wanted access to specific business insights. Wellingtone were responsive and helpful in configuring additional reports to provide the intelligence required.”
Moving forward, Dave explains, the next priorities are “further improving reports and dashboards, as well as fully rolling out financial tracking. Personally, I am also looking forward to Wellingtone’s annual Future PMO event. It will be great to learn from other organisations about what they are doing and to share best practice. I would encourage anyone considering Project Online to have a conversation with Wellingtone. For me, the most important thing is that they delivered what they promised to deliver.
«The Wellingtone team know their stuff. They’re very responsive and adaptable, which is just what we need because they can flex their service as we evolve our approach.»
An Intelligent Approach: Balancing Departmental Priorities and Divisional Cohesion
Whilst visibility was the primary challenge facing all departments, each also required specialist attention to fit their own priorities. Local Government Partnerships needed to revise their incumbent system, addressing manual working and planning with refreshed functionality and new reporting tools. Transition requested a workflow to better manage project controls, planning and resourcing. Meanwhile, ITS required sophisticated, governance-led functionality to drive reporting and semi-automated statuses within one methodology, with a phase 2 project designed to introduce a project controls workflow.
“Each EPT is linked into the process that we originally mapped out, but in terms of workflow there are some differences that we need to accommodate,” Darren explains. “Within the Projects & Programmes Team and Corporate Shared Services, we also have different EPTs according to project size and complexity, but effectively they all run to the same process. So, we can consistently report cross those different projects and programmes, and that’s what we want to do for everybody. It’s an evolving journey, but we’re now at the stage where we have something that’s looking far more standardised – albeit with iterations flexed to each department’s processes and priorities.”
Expanding Project Online: Ambitions for the Future
Having established Project Online across the four departments, the priority now is to roll out user training and focus on the technology’s further potential, according to Darren. “We’re currently working to get everyone trained and bedded in, and we’re exploring Power BI reporting to understand what drivers that can deliver for us. We’ll be enhancing our use of pipeline management to better prioritise projects. In the longer term, we’re keen to look at what we can do with resourcing – it’s vital for us to get total visibility across a very complex resource pool. Plus, we need to continue to harmonise processes. My aim is to establish a technical review board to represent each of the areas and EPT variants – so that when we do make improvements we’re doing so collectively and in line with the guiding principles of what we’re trying to achieve.”
As the journey continues, Welllingtone’s expertise will continue to be a value-adding facilitator both technically and strategically, Darren says. “Ultimately, our organisation has 50,000 people in it, so this was never going to be a simple process. Wellingtone were transparent with us about that from the start. The team know their stuff. They’re very responsive and adaptable, which is just what we need because they can flex their service as we evolve our approach. We’re not far enough down the road yet to realise truly tangible benefits but I can see that they’re coming. And, as a project professional, I consider the process and lessons learned to be just as important as final delivery. I’m pleased to have Wellingtone as a partner as we travel that road.”