An Interview with St. Alexius' Director of Facilities, Doug Johanson.
Why did you decide to pursue Critical Chain Project Management?
DJ: I have been doing this for 26 years now and we have always struggled with trying to maintain multiple projects at the same time and keeping a timeline going. Three years back we built the tech & ED building and focused on that building with the exclusion of all other projects that we were doing at the time and discovered you can do a really nice job of that, it went really quick and really well. It was new construction which made it easier, we had Microsoft Project to try and control everything and it worked reasonably well for a single project.
What we experienced when running multiple projects before and after that project was just chaos. We couldn’t predict anything about the projects. I couldn’t tell you when it was going to get done, I couldn’t tell you went to start the next one, I couldn’t tell you for sure what the cost was going to be, I didn’t know how long it was going to take to finish and we were having a difficult time budgeting and planning for the future.
So we looked at a critical chain project management implementation and with your BM3 software. We were doing Lean Six Sigma with NOVACES and were trying to go down that path, but I didn’t have a really good way of doing it. We had a big spreadsheet that we would use. I would take educated guesses at timelines and try to stagger them and put them together. We had no way to load resources. We had contractors with nothing to do for a month and then five things for them to do the next month. There was no way of staggering that and no reliable way of moving things around that I could use as a basis for planning.
So we really had to do something and I didn’t know exactly what to do, until we ran into the project management experts at NOVACES and started to talk. And, wow! That is what I was trying to get to and you had the BM3 software behind it, which made it easier. Like I said, one project I can do, but we couldn’t do multiple, and that’s why we got started.
Have you tried implementing critical chain project management or project portfolio management or any other software products before?
DJ: Like I said, we did it with a single project and it worked well. I think Microsoft project is fine for a single project; I had no problem at all it worked great. Multiples… NO. We looked into doing that maybe three years ago. Looking into how to do that with MS Project and it got so complicated and a lot of manual effort to keep that up. We don’t have any extra staff so that’s not going to happen. We can’t have a person full-time to plan this stuff and keep it moving. We needed something a little more elegant than Microsoft Project and Excel spreadsheets.
I had some monster big spreadsheets that we are still working away from even today. We still work the budget side with Excel and are trying to tie in the BM3 software into that which is helpful, so I at least have some dates that I can trust we were still struggling on the dollar side, how to string the money out and I’m still working on the management, too.
Now we are trying to change the way we fund projects, but we are not quite there yet. BeingManagement software definitely helps us to have dates to put out there and determine how fast I can do something. That really helps on the money side.
What do you like the most when you first saw the software? Why did you buy BM3 CCPM software?
DJ: What I probably liked the most is the capability of tying the resources to all the projects and the histogram on the bottom that leveled the resources. We could never do that before and I had no way of doing. With Microsoft Project there was nowhere for me to pick up on where I was overloading my resources and where I was under-utilizing them to prioritize between multiple projects.
I have 6 or 8 projects running at the same time, and we’ve hit this issue the last few months. We had a few delays on projects that were high priority and we should have had people on them. But we had rooms we couldn’t get into and other issues that we found once we had the project started. So we have been using BM3 to point to the projects that are behind and conserve the buffer.
How do you currently use BM3 in your business and how do you engage your outside vendors?
DJ: Right now we are using it to plan every major project that we have over $50,000 so that is probably going to be in the next 3 years about 2 dozen, about 20-25 projects in that range. Some of these are $8 million projects and some are $100,000 projects. It’s all over the place, but what we are doing is putting schedules together as best we can now, knowing that the projects aren’t designed in their entirety and using that to stagger them out and to try to base-load our contractors.
The contractors that we have been using have loved this idea. They have been manning up for us when we need it because we can predict it ahead of time now. Now I can predict that next month I am going to need four additional plumbers and they can run out and find them, they can get ahead of the game. That has worked out really well.
What are the most important organizational benefits that you achieved by implementing critical chain and project portfolio management?
DJ: I’m thinking predictability on finish dates. I can go to board meetings and council meetings and I can give them a date that I can live with. We couldn’t do this before and that helps drive the whole financing side of this. It drives the whole, ‘How much money am I going to need?’ conversation because I can truly tell you know how long this is going to take to do. Before we were estimating. We were guessing at stuff.
Then on top of that we see shorter timelines. I see quicker turnaround on projects that I desperately need. We are getting behind on a lot of the renovations here. It used to be one project that took four years to finish. Start to finish was four years to go through, because the phases took so long. So they would get less and less inclined to give up a big chunk of their space because they figured it was going to be nine months or a year to operate without half of their space. If I could cut that time in half I would get a lot more buy-in and we could move a lot quicker.
I can’t put up with three and four year projects any more. We don’t have the time. We have to be quicker and faster than that and I see that happening now. We are picking up time 30-40% on some of these projects. It is faster than it was before and, correspondingly, it’s cheaper for us. Less money and fewer change orders.
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