Tempus Resource 2020 Virtual Conference Recap: Gary Powers, Agilent
We are grateful to Gary Powers for sharing Agilent’s narrative of success and invite you to watch his full presentation below:
Gary Powers, Agilent’s R&D Systems Manager, recounts the company’s journey to optimized resource management in his presentation at the Tempus Resource 2020 Virtual Conference, which began with a methodical and well-researched approach to finding a solution.
Identifying the problem
That same year, Agilent sought more clarity into their project portfolio. At the time, they didn’t have answers to what projects were in plan vs. in flight; what project risks existed; when the next project could start; who was working where and on what; or what resources and skills were needed and when were they available.
“We thought the problem was project management,” Mr. Powers recalls. “We had projects that were stalled and had indefinite schedules, that were not aligned with our strategy or roadmaps, projects with insufficient oversight, and little or no visibility into current or future project staffing.”
What plagued Agilent the most was its “fragmented, inconsistent enterprise standards, processes, and tools.” That’s what was inhibiting the organization’s ability to prioritize, select, initiate, staff, execute, review, and deliver projects.
The journey to resource management
After implementing an online project management system in 2015, Agilent came away with multiple insights. Most crucially, they learned that while demonstrating a core competency in project management, they needed to grow in the area of portfolio management.
Their new enterprise roadmap set a goal of being able to prioritize and execute the right projects. It also established three different management groups, one of which was specifically dedicated to Resource Management—recruitment, retention, development, and management.
Implementing Tempus Resource
In 2017, Agilent realized the final phase of their solution once they adopted Tempus Resource. With Tempus’s stable on-premise system as well as its intuitive and responsive interface that was easy to learn for non-IT employees across multiple languages and cultures, the organization began to fully leverage its new abilities in resource management.
The unified Tempus system quickly provided end-to-end data integrity and served as Agilent’s single source of truth, eliminating the various scattered data sources requiring constant verification. “Now we know, if it’s not in Tempus, it doesn’t exist,” states Mr. Powers.
For security reasons, not every person at Agilent can login to Tempus, so Mr. Powers relies on the easy reporting functions to extract data and generate monthly reports for distribution. Most beneficial has been gaining clarity and transparency into project owners and supporting owners while using a minimal data set to maintain simplicity and prevent information overwhelm.
Reflecting on Agilent’s journey, Mr. Powers names their “enterprise-wide view of the complete project and resource landscape” as one of their biggest gains. “We used to assume that project approval meant automatic resource staffing,” he recalls. Today, however, Agilent’s key to success is “prioritizing the right resources on the right projects at the right time.”
Transcript: A View of Your Complete Project and Resource Landscape
I work at a company called Agilent Technologies and this is going to be a little different perspective in that we’re doing research work at Agilent, scientific research along with other capabilities, certainly have an IT organization, but everything I’m going to talk about today is around resource management in research which is again a little bit different perspective perhaps than some of the presentations today.
Agilent: Delivering Trusted Answers
Just a quick update. Agilent is a supplier of electronic equipment for laboratories, so this is instruments that do analysis in many different markets including analytical instruments, test equipment, software, everything for the laboratory that’s doing tests.
Agilent’s Evolution: A History of Leadership
We’re a global company and we’re actually spun off from Hewlett Packard about 20 years ago. We’re focused in a wide variety of markets including pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. As an aside, we’re heavily involved in working with our customers to find a vaccine for the Corona virus, also in testing equipment and testing supplies to help find where it’s located.
Agilent at a Glance
I mentioned we’re global, so that’s a perspective I wanted to share as well because in everything we’re looking at people that are scattered worldwide in various laboratories, different organizations, different cultures, different languages. That’s been important as we’ve been working through project and portfolio management solutions to ensure that we can get global support, we can get our people engaged with the project. We’re mainly working with chemists in laboratories so these are not IT specialists. So usability, ease of use, is very important to us as we’re a global company.
Our Journey: We Thought the Problem was…Project Management
I’m going to jump in now and talk about the journey. Again, we thought the problem was project management so we had projects that were stalled, had indefinite schedules usually because of technical obstacles. We found that projects were running that really were not aligned with what we are trying to do today and what our roadmaps were. We saw that a number of projects really didn’t have the oversight we needed at a high level to see how are they going, how are they funded, how are they resourced, when are they going to be done, are they going to align with our roadmaps. And really an issue, especially globally through all these different groups, different locales, very low visibility to what’s actually going on there. How are they staffed? What’s our investment level? What are we expecting to get out of these projects?
So it was project management in that we were having these multiple issues I mentioned. And then in a detailed level, do we have project plans for these projects? What are the risks? The typical PMO type of issues that you’d have in a global environment. We really didn’t have visibility to that. A lot of that was because of organizational changes, the global situation that we had of people scattered worldwide in various labs in different organizations, so this last statement here of fragmented, inconsistent enterprise standards and processes, really what this leads to is we needed a better, more robust PMO established before we even started looking at what are the best tools to do this. We also needed processes to prioritize the projects, make decisions what goes forward, what doesn’t, how are we going to staff these, what are our priorities, what are we going to do first and second.
Our Solution Part A – April 2015
So our first solution, and this was five years ago, was an online project management system. This was Microsoft Project Online and it allowed us to link directly to those people who were using project tools on their desktops. We initially had more than about 80 projects and about a hundred different resources scattered worldwide. Mainly what we were doing there was getting information out through custom reports that were connected to the database. This got us some experience to know what we needed to have in our organization to get to where we needed to be as a functioning, robust PMO and have a system to support that.
So we started developing a high-level plan of record that could be communicated out to these different groups and then prioritizing the existing projects looking at which projects needed to be canceled, which ones needed to move forward and specifically how we would approve, initiate, govern those projects through their completion. We found that we had a wide variety of different standards, again because of the various organizations, and we started putting together here are the standards that we’re going to use worldwide. We tried to keep this high-level, as high-level as possible. What is the information that we need to have? Where do we get that information? What standards can we provide around that? And the intent there was so that we could compare projects against projects. If you have different standards, if you have different measures for each of the projects, even down to different ways of how you resource and finance forecast those projects, it’s difficult to compare one project versus another and decide which is first and which might be canceled, so the standards piece of it was a big part of it.
What Did We Learn?
So what did we learn from this? I mentioned that we’re doing a lot of work on instrumentation and our R&D and that might be a little bit different. We had many projects that were stalled not so much because the project couldn’t execute itself but because the technology to support the release really had not been proved out yet. So it’s very difficult for us to predict the breakthroughs in technology. We put a lot of work into that obviously, but when the light goes off you don’t know when that’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen or even the direction it happened. It’s quite a bit different than say an IT project in terms of its predictability and ability to know when can we actually introduce a product from this technology, so we needed to separate out that technical work from the product development itself. In other words, if we’re going to do a product development, we need to have proved out that technology before we have confidence in when we can actually deliver the product.
We also found, and this is in italics here, we actually have a core competency in how to manage our projects. The scope, schedules, dependencies, that’s a core competency of the company going way, way back and we have good project management, processes, people with a lot of experience in project management. I think, as we learned, we actually do a fairly good job of that piece of it. Also though, that portfolio management was critical. In spite of all that, we did have projects out there that I mentioned that we weren’t sure whether they’re going to complete. What’s the return on investment? How do we compare one project against another especially if we’re using different measures for the project?
ACG R&D Organization
So part of the learning then was to set up our organization for success. It’s really a matrix organization where we have a group of project and program managers, we have resource management and then this new idea in separating out the project execution from the technology development, and a science and technology group. So that middle group here was an, “Aha.” You know if we’re going to be successful at this we need to have a separate track in developing the core technology that’s required to get these projects and we intentionally wanted this dynamic between the project managers who have their triple constraint and they’re responsible for the delivery on time and on budget from the actual resources, recruiting those resources, developing them, motivating them, making sure that they’re engaged in the projects and getting feedback. So essentially we’ve got three management groups under our umbrella of the projects and programs, the resource management, and then the scientists that are actually working on the technology.
Our Solution (Part B) – April 2017
From the learnings of this, two years later, so this is in April 2017, we took a look at Tempus Resource because what our finding was that we really needed was better focus on the resource and resource management over the actual project execution. In our initial investigation with Tempus we found, comparative to other solutions out there, it was a much more intuitive user interface, you didn’t have to be an experienced Microsoft Project person, for instance, to use this. If you had familiarity with a spreadsheet and Excel, you could use the interface and you could get up to speed pretty quickly. Again, coming back to our organization, that was really important. We’re a group of scientists not project managers. We’re not IT people. We’re people that are focused in different areas but obviously we needed a system that we could use to make sure we could execute on our projects. We found in our training that it was actually an easy rollout. We have multiple cultures and languages, as I mentioned before, so to have a system that was easy to learn and use was extremely important to us. Also one that was stable, so we found, and by the way we are on premises, so we are hosting our own. I don’t have experience with ProSymmetry out of the Cloud, but we set it up inside and we found it’s been extremely stable. It’s fast. It’s responsive. That was also important to us as with people who are accessing this from multiple countries, Australia, China, Europe, certainly in the US and South America, all over the world that it needed to be stable and responsive and we found that. Also that as we found issues around it that those could be updated, that we could securely back up the system. We’ve got a lot of information in there. It’s our crown jewels. It’s everything we’ve invested in. We need to make sure we don’t lose any of that information. We found that’s been very easy to do especially, again, for people who are non-IT people, who are mainly chemists and other scientists.
I think earlier Lloyd was talking about the need to have reports for our organization. In other words, not everybody can log into Tempus in our group to get the information they’re looking for, and typically what we will do is an extraction of the data out to Excel and from that making standard monthly reports, management reports, that sort of thing that are distributed around. We found that’s actually very easy to do to get the data out. That’s been a road map that we’ve been on. With improvements it’s actually gotten easier and easier over time for us to do that in working with the people at ProSymmetry.
This last point on here for trending, graphics, reports, that was critical for us to be able to do that easily. Now, for organization, what we wanted to make sure is that we wanted to maintain the ownership and accountability for each of the project managers that they didn’t get buried in all this and we’re floundering around trying to understand what I own and what don’t I own, so it’s very clear organizationally what the ownership was for the project manager and then the supporting owners in the resource management group to make sure that those projects were staffed with the right people. However, we wanted to make sure that they weren’t overwhelmed with this. As you get into project management and even resource management the world is wide open. You could come up with pages and pages of things we might want to know about a project and the people. You can just get lost in that so we really tried to keep this high level. So what’s the minimum data we need to have for our portfolio view requires and for execution, and every time we’d come up with we could do this, we could do this. The answer is not could we but should we. What’s going to be the impact on the project managers and for what benefit? So, I would urge you to take a look at that and keep to the minimum data set. Even when you do that, you’ll find it’s hard to keep to the simple things. Somebody is always asking for something new, and you just have to always question what is the benefit of that given the effort for instance and the support you’re going to need.
The middle point here, one source of truth. So previous to having Tempus set up we had multiple sources of different information on the project scattered all over the organization and various share points and share drives and spreadsheets. Much of it offline and not available. It was part of our strategy to have end to end data integrity or one source of truth. If you want to know what the status of a project is, there’s one place to go look for that. Frankly, if it’s not in Tempus, it doesn’t exist. If we see something that’s inconsistent with that, we’re going to our touchstone of what does it say in Tempus. If that’s not right, then it needs to be fixed and corrected. That has helped us a lot to figure out where do we go for the right answer.
And lastly on this, looking at metrics. We’re measuring project velocity, we have dashboards, we’re measuring results versus plan, and all this is coming off the information that we now have in Tempus that we never had before around what projects are in flight, what is their status, where are they in the phase, what are our costs, what’s our deployment of labor, how are they on schedule, what do they look like on financials. All that is now embedded in this one global system for us. It’s made that question about who’s right much easier to answer.
What Did We Learn?
For the first time we had an enterprise-wide view of everything that we’re doing around the projects and, and this is key, and the resources. In the prior system we could see what was going on in the project but it was much more difficult to understand how our resources were being deployed, and there was an assumption made that once we had approved a project that it instantly is resourced and is now moving forward. And come the next quarter people would ask how are you guys doing. But we didn’t have the resources yet to start on that, but it was approved three months ago. Now we have a much easier and clearer view of what the next steps are going to be. When do these people come off their projects? What are their skill sets? When will they be available? We can now get a view of that across the organization. But the primary benefit of this system is not so much in the planning and scheduling all these different projects and all the tasks. Certainly Microsoft Project and other tools are great for doing that but really is in the resource management. Who’s actually doing this? Are they available? Where are the gaps? Where are people overworked? Where can we move people? Where do we have needs for different skills than we might have today? We now have good visibility to that and it helps us in our annual planning. So prioritizing the right resources, the right projects, the right time, that whole organizational approach was key to us and Tempus has really been a major factor in allowing us to have that visibility.
I’d wrap up by asking everybody to stay safe and stay healthy. Agilent is doing everything we can to get us on the other side of this thing and we hope you are too. Thank you very much.