Published: 27 August 2020
When I speak to other agencies or people within the industry about internal processes and systems, one thing that is often mentioned is internal management systems. You could argue that having one or two is simply not enough or alternatively be asking yourself how many systems does one company need to run operations efficiently? The golden question to ask is could a single product, system or platform out there resolve all our problems and exceed stakeholder expectations? I'll be honest, I wasn't holding out much hope but through our thorough investigations and excavations, we have found our diamond. But let's rewind back to where our journey started. Eight long months ago, before the world fell over, my team raised concerns about our current Project Management systems being unreliable, time-consuming to manage and prone to human error. In isolation, any of these three challenges would raise alarm bells but in combination, it meant that we urgently needed to change it. This supercharged our quest to seek something better. Something future-thinking and progressive to suit our agency culture.
Have a clear goal
Before assessing various systems or platforms on the market, our first step was to gather information internally among a diverse range of teams, specialisms and senior stakeholders to better understand their must-haves and should-haves. Just by following a simple MoSCow prioritisation matrix kept our heads clear to ask questions such as:
- What do we want out of the system?
- What is our pain points each day with the current system?
- What works currently and what doesn’t work?
- If we had a new system, what is the one thing we want it to do or have and why?
After our initial fact-finding and research was conducted, the outputs formed a legitimate benchmark of what ‘good’ looks like for Sagittarius. In addition to this list, it was crucial to add the practical challenges that were weighing my team down as it was of paramount importance to choose a system that supports Project and Resource Management and doesn't hinder them. Our basic needs included:
- Project plans to be in real-time and accessible within the same system
- Scoping to be based on sold work as well as the ability to forecast overage within a project or scope well ahead of time
- RAG reports being automated
- Pipeline projects being visible against existing resources and utilisation figures
- Automated budget reporting instead of more spreadsheets.
Now that the goal and vision were clear, we needed to articulate what ‘outstanding’ looked like for the team and wider business once we've met the goal criteria. This then fuelled the roadmap for firstly the new system but subsequently what we want to achieve in the next 1-2 years. We were looking for a system that was ever-changing and evolving and why stop at ‘should have’ and ‘must-have’ we when could build a ‘could have’ wish list together as a team. We started building a team roadmap that we would own and implement throughout our journey. A list that grows as we grow. This is key for us, as the system we want to choose needs to be flexible enough to mature with us as a business.
Make a plan and start digging...
Having gathered all our inputs it was evident that the internal systems we use in individual teams remain important in their own right and needed to remain. However, those systems in the Delivery teams could be tidied into the one core without effecting current processes or ways of working.
Take our Engineering division as an example, they work well on Jira day-to-day and so merging the boards into a Project Management / Budget Management / Scope Management / Resource Management system would be the best approach. This would help streamline Project Management and join up the myriad of systems and add-ons we had floating around the core Jira and Confluence set up. With this in mind, we started our product research.
After building a goals matrix, each system or platform (that was capable of integrating with Jira) was analysed. We found a handful of products that we began to test with their respective Account and Sales managers. Assessing them one by one, like for like, we started to understand the products. There was a wide range but many with 'out of the box functionality' also added a hefty premium for any bespoke reporting we'd like. Other's simply couldn't allow for any tailoring. As you'd expect pricing played a key part in our assessment, but it wasn’t the driving force for our decision. Stepping back and looking at the time and cost-saving a brilliant tool can give you was the focus. Everything revolved around the value this tool would give to us - accuracy, forecasting, scalability and real-time reporting in one system.
We came across a relatively new system to the market, Forecast. Founded in 2016 Forecast is currently used in 40+ countries worldwide. Even though it's not ‘new’ its offering was pretty special and unlike anything we've looked at before. Frankly, it felt like it was made for us. All the reports we needed as a ‘must-have’ and ‘should-have’ came out of the box with even more options layered on top. The product’s development cycle is iterative and its continuous improvement was something that really shined through when we were discussing our current processes, issues and needs with the Forecast team. They were very super supportive and ran several demos with our teams and stakeholders to unlock any reservations we may have had. A big one from us was “if we implement this system, does it really deliver what your demo promises?" and they were quick to prove it was all real and accessible.
Starting our journey back to the surface…
The decision was an easy one. We decided to proceed and integrate Forecast. Next steps were to start planning the decommissioning of Tempo, Hawkbudget, Smartsheets and various internal spreadsheets that the Project Management team had been using and we formulate a plan to off-board and on-board everyone within the business. The On-boarding plan needed to include training, process reviews, implementation and project/team/client setups. Whilst the Off-boarding process consisted of transferring projects/resources from Tempo and into Forecast, and the backup and transfer of logged time and financials/expenses.
We kicked off training with the support of our Customer Success Manager (Aldo Chavez) who helped educate our whole business, propose best practices for extracting the best out of Forecast and cementing launch date. Within the 2 months, we went live.
First 30 days
This was framed as our ‘bedding in’ period for teams to adjust to the new system. One ‘teething’ issue we experienced was unearthing historical data. Some of our Retainers span several years and this data flooded our future schedules and scope during syncing Forecast to Jira. But between our Customer Success Manager and the dedication of our own Project Management team, we'd reached 90% parity by the end of the first month. We didn’t expect the launch to be perfect but it was pretty close in commercial terms. Within the first month, Stakeholders were able to see portfolio reports and account profitability plus project plans, pipeline and resource heat-maps to help compare non-project utilisation versus billable utilisation. There was no need to jump from one pivot table or spreadsheet to another. In short, we've democratised the management information and banished the days where only one or two key people in the business understood the delivery and resource performance data.
Three months in…
WOW! I can honestly say it feels like a lifetime ago since we launched Forecast only because I live in the system every day. Within the first 3 months, our teams have attended Forecast's webinars to improve user knowledge and met Forecast users from other businesses.
We've already been through our first Forecast upgrade involving enhancements to the visual interface, global settings to minimise inconsistency of resources through smarter allocation. Again now that we are seeing the software deliver we evolve as it evolves and see the change as good. Each new feature has benefits and it pushes the team to improve their scoping and management of projects each day. On the ground, its the practical side that demonstrates value like providing real-time availability of subject matter experts that have completed their tasks in less time.
Impact on Delivery efficiency
Within the Project Management Office, we have seen the team’s admin and reporting time reduced significantly. On the old system, we were collectively tracking an average of 40 hours per week on non-billable project work and we've halved that now with Forecast. Smashing our target week on week!
Within the wider business, we have seen an improvement in Resource management allocations, availability and pipeline management. Ownership and reporting of non-project work versus project work is now part of each team’s accountability instead of one department. Uncertainty around delivery and project plans across has been removed as this is now available in real-time within the one system.
What’s next? We are now targeting our ‘could-have’ wish list and on the road to the plan of what ‘outstanding’ looks like for Sagittarius! We are working closely with the product development team at Forecast to improve on elements such as baselining of project scope within the system and building a 360-degree project view that integrates our existing invoicing system to generate the next level of estimating accuracy. Without waxing too lyrical, it feels like the sky is literally our limit with Forecast and our exciting journey has just begun!
If you're an agency looking for a new tool then you must try Forecast and if you're a client looking for more robust project management then talk to us at Sagittarius.