Category Archives: Case Study

Laser Manufacturer Gains Visibility Into Project Status and Resource Utilization with LiquidPlanner

Access Laser, a manufacturer specializing in gas lasers, has grown rapidly over the past four years. At any time, the company’s engineering team may have several dozen active projects, ranging from small efforts that take one to two months to larger projects that take more than a year. Many of the larger projects require a mix of research, experimentation, and engineering work, making them especially hard to estimate and track.

In the past, all projects were planned by a single engineering manager, using Microsoft Project. However, project plans weren’t shared or revisited over time, resulting in a major lack of visibility into who was doing what, how to bring those efforts together, and when projects would be done.

“Projects were planned in silos and were out of date as soon as the planning was completed,” says Courtney Rickett, Manufacturing Process Engineer and Quality Manager at Access Laser, who joined the company in early 2015. “We had very limited visibility into the status of any given project, which resulted some in really late delivery dates.”

Lack of effective project management presented other problems, too. A general lack of cohesiveness resulted in frequent mistakes and errors—from duplication of effort to things not getting done at all. Project designs diverged, time was wasted, and some products even had to be redesigned while they were in production.

“When one product release went horribly wrong, we knew it was time for a change,” recalls Rickett. “Senior management made the decision to hire a full-time project manager, and I was tasked with making sure that person had the right project management tools to do the job.”

Rickett immediately set out to find the optimal project management solution, evaluating a list of candidates that included Basecamp, LiquidPlanner, Targetprocess, and Workzone. “We needed a solution that was real-time, flexible, and easy to use,” says Rickett. “It also had to support many projects, accommodate changing priorities, and allow for many users.”

Access Laser purchased LiquidPlanner at the end of October 2016. Kody Todd, the company’s new Senior Project Manager, had years of experience with Microsoft Project. However, she immediately saw the value of LiquidPlanner and enthusiastically supported its adoption.

To help accelerate time-to-value, Access Laser took advantage of LiquidPlanner’s Quick Start Onboarding, which included dedicated support, training sessions, templates for training materials, and other tools.

“Quick Start Onboarding helped us get up to speed very quickly—probably a month faster than had we attempted to do everything on our own,” says Todd. “We created a LiquidPlanner playbook, which helped us think through things and get them right the first time. The training videos were also great—I watched every single one.”

Through its use of LiquidPlanner, Access Laser now has full visibility into project status and resource utilization. Individual work priorities are now aligned with project priorities, resulting in faster project deliveries. Project estimates are more accurate, less time is spent determining project status, and separate timekeeping mechanisms are a thing of the past. The company’s use of LiquidPlanner is also helping Access Laser to capture, formalize, and evolve its business processes—all leading to a strong return-on-investment.

“Being able to effectively schedule, monitor, manage change, and deliver projects on time makes our modest investment in LiquidPlanner well worth the cost,” says Rickett.

Yong Fang Zhang, the company’s CEO, who was skeptical whether Access Laser really needed LiquidPlanner at first, is in full agreement with Rickett. “LiquidPlanner enables us to manage multiple projects with cross-functional teams, where everyone participates in more than one project,” says Zhang. “It allows us to quickly adapt to real-life changes in customer requirements and priorities, and to see the impact on the overall picture. We are an innovative company, and we need to quickly evaluate market changes and emerging opportunities. I’m convinced of the value of LiquidPlanner as a powerful tool to help us satisfy the needs of our customers.”

Read the full case study here.

Case Study: Scientific Equipment Manufacturer Adopts LiquidPlanner for All Product Development

At Lake Shore Cryotronics, a scientific equipment manufacturer, the lack of a project portfolio solution for project management made it difficult for the company’s 50-person product development team to track and manage its complex workload. The company’s move from Microsoft Project to LiquidPlanner gave the team a single view of resource allocation across all projects, including sustaining engineering work. The team can now quickly adjust to changing priorities, and is working together more effectively because LiquidPlanner pulls the entire team into the project management process—in a way that’s easy and natural for all.

 

 

Founded in 1968, Lake Shore Cryotronics develops, manufactures, and markets measurement and control sensors, instruments, and systems for precise measurement and control of temperature and magnetic fields. Users of these products are typically scientists, physicists, and researchers in universities, aerospace, government, and corporate R&D labs, with applications that range from electronics and clean energy to nanotechnology and deep space.

Download a PDF of this case study here.

The product development team at Lake Shore Cryotronics consists of about 50 people, including engineering technicians, design engineers, manufacturing engineers, software developers, and managers. At any time, the team’s workload includes roughly a dozen new product development projects, as well as a continual stream of sustaining engineering efforts. All team members support multiple new product development projects and are expected to ensure that sustaining efforts remain a high priority.

Lower Participation, Inaccurate Schedules, and Reduced Visibility

Prior to mid-2016, the product development team at Lake Shore Cryotronics lacked a comprehensive solution to all its project management needs. At the time, the company used Microsoft Project Professional. Each project resided in a standalone Microsoft Project file, and the team’s single Development Process Manager was the only Microsoft Project user.

“We chose to have only one person manage schedules due to the complexity of Microsoft Project,” says Rob Welsh, who assumed the role of Development Process Manager a few years ago, when the company decided it needed a full-time focus on project and process management.

During the planning phase for each new project, Welsh would work with that project team to define a work breakdown structure and project schedule, upon which Welsh would create a new Microsoft Project file. As the project progressed, Welsh used Microsoft OneNote to collect status updates from the project team. “We utilized OneNote to maintain project records and help keep project schedules updated,” explains Welsh. “Every week, for each project, I would create a table of current tasks in OneNote and ask the resources to update their progress and estimate remaining work. After I received that information, I used it to update the project schedule.”

The major problem with this method was that projects often deviated from the original plan very quickly. Technical issues, changing priorities, new tasks, and changing resource availability all resulted in the tasks that Welsh was asking people to update in OneNote each week not matching what they were actually doing. “The result was lower participation, inaccurate schedules, and reduced visibility to what people were working on,” says Welsh. “The only way to counter this was with frequent meetings that pulled entire project teams away from their work and negatively impacted project completion.”

As Welsh points out, all of this wasn’t due to poor planning or coordination. For example, during the course of a project, the team would often find a way to deliver greater value for customers. “The problem we had, however, was that we had no good way to determine the effect of that change on that project or other ones that shared the same resources,” Welsh explains. “This made it difficult to examine the tradeoffs, if any, and make quick yet fully-informed decisions on how to reallocate resources.”

A Better Way

Lake Shore Cryotronics now uses LiquidPlanner for all its project management needs. “Our adoption of LiquidPlanner was something that I initiated; there was no mandate from management,” Welsh explains. “We had already tried several approaches—to the point that most people were experiencing ‘changing project management methods fatigue’ and there was much skepticism with trying yet another method.”

However, Welsh was dealing with the issues the team faced on a daily basis, and wanted to find a better way. “I kept looking for a project portfolio solution where we could view all projects and tasks in a single place, a collaborative platform that was easy to use by all team members, and a tool that people would want to use because it would help them get their work done,” he recalls.

Welsh found LiquidPlanner through a simple web search. “Upon visiting the LiquidPlanner website, I immediately jumped to the FAQ section, read the paragraph on ‘Why should I give up on traditional project management tools?’, and was intrigued by how well it described our current situation,” he recalls. “Upon closer inspection, LiquidPlanner offered just what we needed: a priority based scheduling engine, a project portfolio solution, and accessibility for all team members to enter and update tasks.”

After signing up for a trial subscription and confirming that LiquidPlanner could indeed meet his team’s needs, Welsh took his recommendation to upper management. Their response: “We now have a new requirement: whichever solution we adopt has to integrate with our ERP system for time tracking.”

Fortunately, LiquidPlanner was built to do so. Welsh spent a few hours designing such an integration, had it setup and tested in less than a week, and received the go-ahead to purchase LiquidPlanner subscriptions for all team members in June 2016.

Today, Lake Shore Cryotronics manages all product development using LiquidPlanner. This includes more than a dozen new product development efforts, which typically range from 3,000 to 5,000 hours of effort. “Users took to LiquidPlanner right away,” says Welsh. “The entire team is using it for all aspects of our work, including electrical design, mechanical design, firmware development, software development, user manuals, marketing literature, and manufacturing process development.”

The product development team at Lake Shore Cryotronics is benefiting from its use of LiquidPlanner in many ways. Schedules and tasks are continually updated throughout the day, with at-a-glance visibility into potential issues and estimated completion dates. Ranged estimates make it easier to estimate tasks, enabling people to apply a best case/worst case approach instead of trying to come up with a single, hard number. All team members now have a consistent method for planning their work, always know their top priorities, no longer need to report their hours in two places, and are able to collaborate more effectively.

“LiquidPlanner is enabling us to work together more closely as a team,” says Welsh. “The key enabler: users have access to relevant project data, including the ability to add, modify, and report on tasks. It’s much more efficient than our previous process, where I had to query all users on a weekly basis, collect their information, and then update the project schedules manually. It also promotes more accurate and complete schedules because it takes the ‘middle man’ out of the process. In the past, with weekly updates, schedules were usually out of date. Now, with the LiquidPlanner scheduling engine always running, our schedules can be considered ‘real time.’”

Read the full case study here.

Case Study: Rex Materials Group Uses LiquidPlanner to Optimize Entire Value Chain

Architecting procedural change within a business is hard work, but it’s the vital and often overlooked work that can make or break the long-term success of a business. No one knows this better than Kevin Kohls, Director of Continuous Improvement for Rex Materials Group, makers of refractory (heat-resistant) and high-temperature materials commonly used in the plastics, light metals, solar and semiconductor markets.rex-materials

Kohls joined Rex Materials Group in early 2015, after spending more than a decade helping major companies in the automotive industry improve throughput. His charter at Rex was simple: Increase productivity by optimizing how the business tackles every step leading up to the manufacturing phase.

So far, the team at Rex had already optimized its manufacturing operations through the implementation of Drum-Buffer-Rope, a manufacturing execution methodology in which the outputs of system can never be faster than the constraints of the system; but Kohls quickly realized that this method would not work when applied to managing people’s work efforts in advance of the production phase.

A New Approach, Process and Work Management Tool

Kohl applied Theory of Constraints and Critical Chain management techniques to the problem—the most effective way to re-architect how the company approached the multitude of steps leading up to the manufacturing phase of each project. These techniques, along with a capable work management system in LiquidPLanner, enabled Kohls to tame the chaos of work and establish order in 60 days.

In just two months, the Rex team went from fielding daily calls from customers wondering when their order would ship, to providing a 90 percent accurate ship date estimate along with an initial price quote.

“We knew that the ability to generate a ship date when a PO was submitted—with 90-percent on-time performance—would make customers happier and give us a competitive edge, and LiquidPlanner was the least expensive and lowest-risk way to achieve that goal.”

– Kevin Kohls, Director of Continuous Improvement, Rex Materials

In addition to improving pre-manufacturing processes, using LiquidPlanner let Kohls and the entire team at Rex Materials gain visibility into the complete manufacturing lifecycle—from initial customer order all the way to product creation and shipping. The results, which include faster delivery of ship dates, improve plans, fewer calls and interruptions throughout the organization, have most importantly enabled greater business throughput, and an increase in the amount of orders that can be processed. What business doesn’t want to see those kinds of improvements?

To read more about how Kohls and Rex Materials use LiquidPlanner to improve and optimize their entire value stream, read the full case study.

Curious to know how LiquidPlanner was able to tame chaos and improve the Rex team’s processes so unilaterally? It’s our adaptive methodology. To learn more, download “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

Intro to Dynamic PM

How We Work: LiquidPlanner Customer Chesterfield County Public Schools

We love to check in with our customers and hear about their work habits. And naturally, we’re always eager to hear the real-life stories of how teams use LiquidPlanner to improve the way they manage projects. This month, we talked to David Eshelman, Director of Career and Technical Education, Chesterfield County Public Schools (CTE)—a system that provides support to teachers who are preparing students for future careers.

Here, he tells us how CTE uses LiquidPlanner to maintain 218 division projects, and organize, prioritize and estimate resources for 3,300-plus tasks. Plus more, read on!

CTE

Q: Why is project management software important to your business?

A: STRESS!! Too much institutional knowledge is in the heads of our staff. Now more than ever there’s an increased focus on the importance of college and career awareness. We needed a tool to support the GTD process. Tracking projects is a challenge for any organization. At Chesterfield County Public Schools, which oversees approximately 58,000-plus students enrolled at 63 schools in Virginia, the task is a real challenge.

CTE logo

Q: What’s one of your biggest challenges when it comes to managing projects?

A: In public education, there’s a need to wear many hats and manage many different initiatives. At Chesterfield County Public Schools, we need to manage a lot of data across a small team. In the past, we approached projects in a somewhat haphazard manner, using email, spreadsheets and ad hoc tools.  The system we had in place was inefficient and prone to errors and problems.

With 216 courses in 11 different program areas and more than 200 teachers spanning 63 schools, that wasn’t good enough. We needed a system that could provide better visibility and oversight. We needed to pull analytical data and present it in a clear way, rather than having people view and update information manually.

Q: What would you say is the #1 way LiquidPlanner has helped your team or organization?

A: First, we needed a system that would support our requirements and collect knowledge and processes in one place. For instance, the district holds a professional development day every year. In order to make the event a success, it reaches out to more than 40 businesses for input and participation. Previously, a lot of the information and expertise was in people’s heads rather than in a database. We needed to have a system for recording all the different activities in a systematic way.

Many of our events, like a professional development day that we use to open the school year, are repetitive. Other areas of focus include succession planning, budgeting, performance reports, curriculum development and idea generation. One of the key benefits of the cloud-based approach is the ability to access data from anywhere and through virtually any device. Staff members use everything from Apple iPads to Microsoft Surface devices, as well as laptops, Chromebooks and PCs to access the system.

CTE office

 

Q: What is the one piece of advice you wish you knew five years ago?

A: I wish I knew how extremely easy it is to pull analytical data and understand how people are using the project management tools. Using LiquidPlanner, staff members are able to classify tasks and assign them to activities or categories, such as high schools, middle schools, Governor Schools, and a career and technical center at two locations. This makes it much easier to understand resource allocation for different groups and clients.

As a result, we’re able to adjust staffing and manage other resources more effectively. Overall our team uses LiquidPlanner to maintain 218 division projects, and organize, prioritize and accurately estimate resources for 3,400-plus tasks. And those numbers continue to grow. We have been able to get knowledge out of people’s heads and into software.

The mind is best used for processing information and generating ideas rather than simply remembering things. We are now able to keep everyone in sync, manage personal and professional growth, and take planning and project management to a new and better level.

Q: What is a highlight of your workday?

A: Our highlight is seeing the notification with an upcoming Liquid Planner update. The anticipation of what lies ahead with Liquid Planner keeps us coming back. This tool has reduced work-related stress and enhanced our sense of “Getting Things Done.”

Could your PM process could be better? We’ve got just the tool for you! This 9-question multiple-choice quiz will diagnose the health of your project management tool and/or process.  Take the quiz!

 

How inDinero Grew Their Global Business Using LiquidPlanner

When inDinero CEO Jessica Mah co-founded the accounting software company, she was 19 and had never worked a company before. That was 2009. A year later, business was as good as dead. But Jessica, and her co-founder Andy Su, rethought the business from the ground up (and went to couples therapy), and intelligently fought their way back.

The company grew fast. In 2014 alone, inDinero’s growth rate was 2,685.6 percent. Today inDinero provides accounting and tax software for small businesses all over the world, with offices located in San Francisco, New York, Portland and the Philippines. They’re a thriving success story, and we’re proud to be the project management tool their teams use to manage their continued growth, and to improve the way they collaborate and increase customer satisfaction, retention and revenue.

In the following video, Jessica and team members talk about how they use LiquidPlanner to run their bustling global organization. Watch to learn more!

 

If you’re looking for a better way to effectively manage projects and make an impact on your business, we’ve got some tips for you. Download our eBook, “5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.”

5 Practical Habits for PMs

 

How We Work: LiquidPlanner Customer TDW BI Consulting

LiquidPlanner customer TDW

We love to check in with our customers and hear about their work habits. And naturally, we’re always eager to learn how teams use LiquidPlanner to improve the way they manage projects and move their business forward. This month, we talked to Paulo Pinho, CEO of TDW BI Consulting, an information management consulting company with offices in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Paulo and his team of 50 consultants have been using LiquidPlanner for over four years. Here, he tells us how TDW uses LiquidPlanner to be a more profitable company, and how they reward themselves for a job well done. Plus more, read on!

TDW_Logo

Q: Why is project management software important to your business?
A: TDW provides professional services in the Business Intelligence market. Project management is key to delivering work on time and being profitable.

What do you look for in a project management tool?
Traditional project management solutions are very centralized and depend too much on project manager skills. When we found LiquidPlanner, we were looking for something different, a solution that could engage the entire team in project managing their work.

How has LiquidPlanner helped your organization?
We use LiquidPlanner to manage all internal and external projects. LiquidPlanner helps us handle our project schedule and resources with much more confidence; we deliver work with fewer deviations, and keep costs under control. We know exactly how much effort is necessary for each project; plus, we can use past results to improve our estimations for new initiatives.

What is the #1 benefit that LiquidPlanner provides your team?

LiquidPlanner helps us keep our business under control.

How has using LiquidPlanner changed the way your team works together?

LiquidPlanner is the central hub of TDW operations. Sales, Marketing, Finance, Administration and Professional Services teams use the workspace in all day-to-day operations. Internal and external meetings are documented using LiquidPlanner, and most internal communication is done through the Comments feature. Internal and External projects are planned and executed with the support of LiquidPlanner.

Favorite features?

What’s your favorite time of day to work?

Any time is a good time when you love what you do. There is just one restriction: It’s impossible to start a working day without a strong double espresso.

LiquidPlanner and TDW

How do you reward yourself and your team for a job well done?

Are you crazy? We are IT people. Our reward for a job well done is more work. A lot of additional work!!

 

If you’re interested in a better way to work, see how LiquidPlanner could take your team to the next level.

Request a demo

LiquidPlanner Case Study: How Knowmad Predicts the Future Using LP

Diona Kidd knows what it’s like to wear a lot of hats. As one of the founders of Knowmad, an Inbound Marketing agency, Diona does a bit of everything – from marketing and sales to client management. But above all, she spends most of her time thinking about how Knowmad can exceed client expectations without overburdening the agency’s limited resources.Diona Kidd Knowmad

“We’re a small team of six so it’s critical that we not only understand the current amount of work on everyone’s plate but we also need to be able to predict with a degree of confidence what our future state looks like,” says Diona.

In the Spring of 2011, Diona realized that their existing work management system which consisted of spreadsheets, a time tracking application, and Basecamp for task management just wasn’t cutting it. “We knew that if we wanted to scale our business and continue to deliver at a high level of quality, we needed to invest in a dedicated project management and collaboration system.”

Diona evaluated a number of different project management tools, with key requirements being the ability to collaborate within the tool, integrated time tracking, and analytics to support decision-making. In June 2011, Diona decided that LiquidPlanner would be the best fit for her team and her journey to streamline Knowmad’s project planning process was quickly underway.

A project management crystal ball

Every agency, regardless of industry or size, eventually faces the same challenge: how do we accurately staff our accounts and ensure that all of our resources are being appropriately utilized? Knowmad is no different in this respect. But with a small team, the stakes were even higher.

“In addition to our full-time staff, we also work with a number of external contractors and of course, our client’s projects are always shifting in priority which means we have to continuously load balance our resources. Now that everyone on our team tracks their time in LiquidPlanner, it’s easy for me or one of our campaign managers to quickly analyze the workload, re-assign tasks if necessary, or bring on extra resources if there are competing priorities. LiquidPlanner is like having our own project management crystal ball, helping us to more accurately predict internal capacity and meet client expectations,” she says.

Intelligent time estimates

Diona also appreciates the way LiquidPlanner handles time estimation: “Our team is well versed in Agile methodologies so not only do we understand the value of estimating time using best and worst case scenarios, we love having that capability embedded in the tool itself. We have close to three years’ worth of time estimates captured in LiquidPlanner so there is quite a bit of intelligence to be gleaned by analyzing how people estimate their time. For instance, if someone on the team is consistently missing their estimates, it might indicate an opportunity to provide additional training. It has also been invaluable in helping us build proposals for similar project types since we can look back at the record to see how long a comparable project actually took us. This saves us from re-estimating the scope of a new project and ensures that we maintain our margins.”

The single most important benefit: collaborative transparency

When asked about the single most salient benefit that LiquidPlanner brings to her team, Diona doesn’t hesitate: “Without a doubt, it’s the collaboration aspect of the tool and the broad transparency that it provides. Because everyone on the team uses LiquidPlanner as their project control console, we’ve eliminated the dreaded monthly ‘traffic meeting’, saving our team at least 10 hours a month. But perhaps more importantly, this additional layer of transparency has improved the situational awareness of our team in general.”

For Diona, collaboration isn’t something that just happens between her and the rest of her team – it has also become an important conduit for keeping clients in the loop. Using the Project Portals feature in LiquidPlanner, Knowmad customizes the most important dimensions of a client’s project plan so their clients can see for themselves the status of key deliverables and mitigate potential blocking issues.

Diona concludes by saying: “LiquidPlanner has become such an essential part of our day-to-day operations over the course of the past three years. Not only do we use it to manage and run all of our client projects, it has improved our overall efficiency as a company and enables us to make more informed and intelligent business decisions.”

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