Before a medical device reaches a patient’s bedside, it must go through a rigorous multi-step process that includes design, development, testing, regulatory review, and manufacturing.
StarFish Medical, a product development consultancy based in Victoria, British Columbia, helps companies large and small navigate this process and create breakthrough products for a number of medical specialty areas.
They couldn’t do this without some serious project management muscle.
We talked with Andrew Morton, PE, PMP, who manages the project management group, to learn more about the medical device design process, how StarFish Medical project managers collaborate with clients, and what it takes to be a project manager in the medical device space.
Can you tell us about the role project management plays at StarFish Medical?
We have a project management office. At a very high level, the PMO is looking for consistency on projects. Do we have the minimum set of processes on our projects? Is that satisfactory to be successful for both internal tracking purposes, as well as to satisfy the needs of our clients? Are the PMs following those processes?
Being a consultancy, we have a lot of different clients and customers. The needs are very diverse. It’s often a tradeoff between what might work for 50, 80, 100 percent of the projects. We try to balance the needs of the majority with the needs of everything.
What was your path to project management?
My background is in engineering. I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering/physics, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Most of my professional experience has been in project engineering or project management. I’m a certified PMP.
I started in engineering and was always very interested in the coordination piece. Bringing together the efforts of many different functions within the organization and doing that in a structured way to get something really meaningful at the end of the day has always been appealing to me.
And what drew you to the medical device industry?
There are three things:
Whatever I’m doing, I want it to be meaningful. It helps substantially. The day-to-day challenges are diminished when you think about the impact our work has on people’s lives.
Cutting-edge technology is a huge interest of mine. New medical device design is very much in that area. We are pushing the boundaries of technology and finding ways to apply that in a meaningful way for people and patient outcomes. For me, it’s also interesting to be in a cross-disciplinary design environment, where we’re working on hardware and software.
What attracted me to StarFish is the company’s great reputation for excellence. Being a consultancy, we work on many different products at any given time. Everything we work on is quite diverse.
How does StarFish Medical help clients from move medical devices from ideas to manufactured products?
Within StarFish, we have design, regulatory, and manufacturing capabilities.
We have a phase-gate design approach. Phase 0 is our proof of concept, development process. Phase 1 is detailed design. Phase 2 is transfer to manufacturing.
In Phase 3, which is less common, we focus on sustaining engineering. This a product that is already being manufactured. There may be enhancements or feedback from the market about needed adjustments.
We touch all of those in our different phases. Sometimes we only help a client with a piece of Phase 1. Sometimes we get involved in the whole lifecycle, moving from Phase 0 to getting the product to manufacturing.
What are some of the differences between being a project manager in the medical device world, versus other industries?
A lot of our work is around first of a kind development. I would put us in the category of new product development project management.
We are innovating a lot, and the path forward is uncertain. A lot of our projects lend themselves to Agile methods. We also do Phase 2 and 3 projects, in the manufacturing realm. Those are going to look like more traditional Waterfall approach to project management, where there’s very little design activities to be done.
Our project managers tend to focus more on the front-end design work, which I would put under the umbrella of new product development.
In regards to new product development, I think the major difference is that our products eventually need to be sold in a regulated environment, complying with FDA or Health Canada regulations.
While the regulatory piece is not uncommon in project management, I think it’s uncommon to be looking be looking at regulatory at the same time in new product development. We’re doing that from day one.
How are the project teams set up at StarFish Medical?
It really depends on the project. The one universal is that every project has a project manager. From there, one project can look very different from another.
Why is that?
Sometimes the client is one person, and he or she has a big idea. They have funding, but they don’t have any engineering capabilities themselves. They come to StarFish to do it all. In that case, there’s a project manager supporting them, and, basically, StarFish is wholly owning the design.
Or, a client has a team of their own. They may have a mechanical engineer and a software engineer, but they don’t have electronics and industrial design. They come to us to do those pieces. For that project team, we’d build around their capabilities. If the scope was fairly small, then maybe the project manager’s only spending half of his or her time on that project.
Sometimes a project may be a derivative of a project that the client already has. We have our own internal team, but we’re interfacing regularly with technical leads on the client team. The client wants ownership of the engineering, but they don’t have the resources at the time. Generally, they’re too busy.
The client team then becomes very embedded in the work that we are doing. We have to keep them updated more regularly than other projects where the client is very hands-off. We may have a weekly call or daily scrum just to touch base.
The teams look very different, depending on our clients’ needs. Having a dedicated project manager gives the clients a single point of contact.
What do you enjoy about your work?
The rewarding part is being a part of clinical trials. We get to see how products improve things. At the end of a project, our clients will hopefully be able to commercialize and manufacture the product. Being attached to this work is very rewarding. That’s true for everyone in the building. Everyone is very motivated by success in this space, which means it’s both helping people as well as getting products on the market.
Photo courtesy of StarFish Medical
What’s it like to hold that actual medical device in your hands, once you’ve gone through the whole process?
It’s hard to describe. It can be pretty amazing when you think of the effort that went into it and all of the challenges that were involved to bring it to life. It’s extremely satisfying. When you look at a finished product, it’s easy to underestimate the effort that goes into making these products come to life.
What qualities do project managers need to succeed in the medical devices field?
You need to have a good working knowledge of product development. There’s a whole set of processes around making something that wasn’t there before.
Systems engineering is also a key piece. It ties back to product development and what the FDA expects for regulatory submission, which is a structured design approach where you create requirements, specifications, and you go through the process of formally verifying and validating. It’s a pretty big part of medical device design.
On a personal level, one of the things that goes a long way is having the passion for improving lives. It can be difficult at times. There are a number of obstacles along the way.
That passion goes a long way in reminding yourself of what you’re doing, helping you reframe things, and moving past obstacles. The project manager is leading a team; that passion can help keep going and stay motivated.
Dedicating all of your work hours to a single project is becoming a rarity in today’s multi-tasking work world.
For many teams, working on multiple projects at the same time has become the norm, which makes effective management of resources and timelines even more important. Without it, project managers may spend hours seeking out status updates; team members don’t always know what work is the highest priority; and managers are left wondering how their team is allocated. This balancing act is time-consuming for everyone involved. (Been there, done that. We’re speaking from experience here.)
That’s why we’re excited to introduce Daily Limits on Projects. This new feature offers managers the ability to set a max number of hours per day for team members to work on a project.
For organizations that run multiple complex projects at one time, Daily Limits makes scheduling people and projects much easier. By setting Daily Limits, project managers can instantly see how their team’s limits impact delivery dates across the entire project portfolio.
Daily Limits can be set on both projects and tasks. The applied Daily Limit will cap the amount of time that a team member is scheduled on a specific project or task for the day, which frees up their remaining availability for their next highest priority work.
In a world of competing projects and tight deadlines, Daily Limits helps teams understand these constraints and work more efficiently to get the job done.
Learn More About Daily Limits
Daily Limits is now available to all Professional and Enterprise LiquidPlanner customers. Not a LiquidPlanner customer? You can try out Daily Limits by starting a free trial.
To learn how to setup and manage Daily Limits, check out the video below, as well as this help article.
It’s official: the cloud has gone mainstream. While early-adopters have been touting the benefits of cloud-based solutions for years, larger organizations, as well as those facing hurdles with new technology, have been slower to adapt. But, according to recent research from Gartner, Inc., that’s changing.
Recently, more organizations, even large enterprises and slow adopters, have begun turning to the cloud. The worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 18 percent in 2017 to total $246.8 billion, up from $209.2 billion in 2016, according to Gartner.
“As enterprise application buyers are moving toward a cloud-first mentality, we estimate that more than 50 percent of new 2017 large-enterprise North American application adoptions will be composed of SaaS or other forms of cloud-based solutions,” says Sid Nag, research director at Gartner. “Midmarket and small enterprises are even further along the adoption curve. By 2019, more than 30 percent of the 100 largest vendors’ new software investments will have shifted from cloud-first to cloud-only.”
Quick Cloud Stats
Seventy-four percent of Tech Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) say cloud computing will have the most measurable impact on their business in 2017. (2017 BDO Technology Outlook Survey)
Demand for cloud solutions will grow 18% this year to $246.8 billion in total worldwide revenue from $209.2 billion. (Gartner)
Larger organizations are now learning what early adopters have known for years: cloud-based software can help you save time and money.
Here are some reasons to consider the switch to cloud-based project management software.
Design team in Seattle, and production facilities in Detroit? No problem. Cloud-based project management makes collaboration across distances easy. Thanks to the connectivity of high-speed Internet, it’s now possible to work closely with someone you may never meet in real life.
For international companies like Rotork, a leading manufacturer of industrial valve actuators, the ability to access information from anywhere in the world, on mobile or laptop, is invaluable. The company’s gear design team is based in England, while their manufacturing team is in the Netherlands.
With LiquidPlanner, “everybody can access their projects and tasks from different locations and different time zones in the business. We can share information and keep our plans up to date, which will also let us manage common resources across multiple projects.”
–Steve Watkins, R & D Engineering Manager at Rotork
Less time lying awake at night, wondering if your data is safe
Security concerns stop some companies from switching to cloud-based solutions. The idea being that having physical control over one’s servers makes it more secure.
However, cloud software can be just as secure as on-premise. Most reputable cloud-based applications have strong safeguards in place to protect customers’ data while in-transfer and at-rest. For example, LiquidPlanner is hosted with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Our customers’ data is housed at AWS data centers in different geographic areas that are completely independent from one another. With servers in multiple zones, failure in one zone won’t disrupt service.
Here are some of the security headaches avoided by using a reputable cloud software service:
Data replicated to servers in multiple geographic regions to guarantee maximum availability.
Daily data backups.
Uninterrupted power supply, guaranteed with generators.
Fire detection systems, temperature and climate control, and video surveillance.
How many times have you scrolled through a never-ending email chain, looking for that paper clip icon. “Aha! Here’s the file,” you think, only to discover that this attachment is not the final version. Or is it? The document has been updated so many times, you’ve lost track. Now you have to ask your colleague for the final final version. And wait.
Meanwhile, your manager is asking for updates because she was left off the email chain and has no idea what’s going on. Hopefully, your colleague will issue the final version quickly, so your manager’s questions can be resolved and the new final version distributed to the team.
With cloud-based project management, you can cut down on back-and-forth emails and multiple versions of documents. Everyone on your team can quickly access the latest document. Changes, status updates, and comments are automatically sent to everyone who needs them.
For companies like scientific equipment manufacturer Lake Shore Cryotronics, cloud-based project management means better organization and a reduced dependency on email.
“Many team members are using the commenting features in LiquidPlanner to communicate and provide task updates. In the past, these project artifacts would have been buried in emails, with little in the way of organization or visibility. Now, comments are tied directly to the tasks and items they’re relevant to, in a way that provides visibility to everyone on the team.”
– Rob Welsh, Development Process Manager at Lake Shore Cryotronics
Lower upfront costs: no investment in server infrastructure required
On-premise systems tend to cost more upfront, due to onsite software and server installation, software license investments, and the extra IT staff needed to configure and maintain the system. With cloud-based applications, all you need to get started is an Internet connection and a device.
When comparing the costs of cloud-based and on-premise systems, you should also take extra costs like monthly maintenance, hourly customer support, backup software, and electricity consumption into consideration. With cloud-based applications, you won’t need to worry about electricity and backup software fees. Most offer online help articles and resources, as well as customer support and troubleshooting assistance.
If you’d like to compare the total cost of ownership over several years for an on-premise system and a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) system, we recommend this calculator from SoftwareAdvice.com.
Zero time spent on software updates
You’re right in the middle of something, just hitting your groove, when a notification appears on your screen. “Restart your computer to finish installing important updates.”
Nooo. Not now, you think. And you ask for a reminder in one hour. Then you delay it again. And again. Before you realize it, you have 38 updates waiting for you.
With cloud-based solutions, you don’t need to stop your flow for updates. Once new features or updates are live, you have instant access. No download or upgrades required.
Many cloud-based solutions also offer integrations with tools you’re already familiar with. LiquidPlanner, for example, integrates with Google Drive, Salesforce, Zapier, and more. Also available is an open API, enabling you to build integrations with other tools.
Taken together, these five things make a compelling business case for switching to a cloud-based project management solution. Are you ready to join the millions of businesses who are managing their projects in the cloud? Start a free trial today to start saving time and money with LiquidPlanner, cloud-based predictive project management software.
Technology has made our lives easier. If you don’t believe that, go watch a few episodes of the PBS series, The Frontier House. While technology and automation have lessened some of the strain, they’ve also stirred up a lot of fear.
The Luddite movement in the early 1800s is one of history’s more famous examples of humans lashing out at automation. During a period of low wages and England’s war with France, English textile workers saw automation and textile machinery as a threat to their livelihood. The Luddites burned and smashed looms and other machines they believed were destined to replace them.
Since then, there have been numerous backlashes against technology and automation. In the 1980s, United States postal workers protested the introduction of letter sorting machines. Today, taxi drivers are protesting over ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber.
At its heart, automation is about solving a problem or a task that can be reliably offloaded from a person to a machine. Manufacturing has seen amazing progress due to automation, and now there are several opportunities for automation in project management to make our lives easier.
Rather than replace the role of project manager, which I don’t see happening any time soon, I think automation will relieve us from some of the more mundane tasks and help bring consistency to our daily lives.
Technology has been steadily impacting the jobs of project managers for years now, but recently the pace has quickened dramatically. Now project managers, like almost everyone else, are seeing automation on the horizon. Rather than run in fear, I suggest that we may find this technology is the friendly kind that can help.
Here are five ways I believe automation will impact our jobs in the near future.
1. Offloading Truly Routine Tasks to Increase Value
We are already making progress in automating things like tracking time, updating estimates, and reporting schedule progress. When put together, these have the potential to reduce meeting time and improve accuracy. All of this can free up your team to focus on the more valuable tasks.
The project manager can use a central hub to collect information and updates from team members, which will help ensure that updates are timely and thorough. We have seen some of this already. But, with heuristics and quality assessment algorithms, the best is yet to come.
2. Improving Assessments to Identify Risks
In the 2002 movie Minority Report, authorities were alerted to serious crimes before they even occurred. You would think all of this proactivity would make life easier, but that would have been a boring story.
Imagine, however, that you had a list of likely delays, risks, and problems before they occurred. This technology already exists in the supply chain world, and it’s only a matter of aggregating the right pieces of data for it to work for project teams.
Some projects already receive weather, traffic, and shipment notifications to alert them to problems before they manifest. Add to that the possibility of supplier problems, failed quality checks, delays, and personnel issues, and suddenly you have the potential for a robust risk tool.
3. Employing Metadata to Detect Problems
You may have noticed how your phone has become smarter in recent months. It can predict what you are going to type next and even anticipate where you are walking or driving. While this is the result of a relatively straightforward process of monitoring and then predicting your behavior and routines, the impact is downright amazing.
We now can unobtrusively collect metadata and look at how team members do their jobs. Many thought leaders believe that we can understand more from this metadata than by looking at the actual work product. There is a gold mine of information waiting. We just need to learn to mine it effectively.
In fact, many industries, including credit scoring, counter-terrorism, and financial institutions, are using metadata to predict events before they happen. In my community, a large EMS provider uses metadata and analytics to predict where and when traffic accidents will occur and proactively station ambulances near those intersections. The results are uncannily accurate.
Soon, project managers will have tools that give us a treasure trove of information about our teams’ performance. A lot of predictions can be made by analyzing the habits, the communication, the focus, the time spent on task, and other attributes of the person responsible for doing the work.
4. Facilitating Communication to Improve Accuracy
Automation can offload mundane tasks. For example, an application could get updates from the team, produce key reports, and raise triggers and alerts when problems were detected. Communication is one of the trickiest areas for a project manager to master. Software already exists to correct grammar, but other algorithms are being deployed to help identify potentially problematic phrases, and improve accuracy and truthfulness
5. Coordinating Tasks to Increase Efficiency
When I started out in project management, the ideal project manager was a directing and controlling figure who handled everything and everyone. Over time, the idea of monitoring more and controlling less has emerged. Today, the role of a project manager is trending toward that of coordinator and coach and less of dictator. This concept of monitoring becomes important because the project manager is supposed to be proactive, and if something can alert us to an emerging problem then we are ahead of the game.
And the good news is that coordinating is something software can help with. Everyone is connected, and now real-time decisions can be made about tasks and their priorities. This allows an algorithm to make decisions about who completes which task in a way that can optimize the project. This has particular potential with agile projects where “generalizing specialists” who can be deployed somewhat interchangeably within the team are favored over siloed individuals. All of this holds the potential of freeing up the project manager from refactoring the schedule repeatedly.
There will always be the need for project managers to get things done (or as Snoop Dogg says, to “put paint where it ain’t”), and the fundamentals of project management remain the same today as they have been for decades. It is our job to develop a solid understanding of success, build a good team, plan carefully, communicate well, adapt, resolve conflict, and manage the value delivery. Automation has the potential to make many of those tasks easier, but it likely won’t replace people any time soon.
Custom fields are the perfect way to track and report on any part of your workflow. This month, we’re excited to share several new Custom Fields updates that offer increased visibility, insights, and customization.
Now you have more ways to capture and report on the things that matter to your team, like project health scores, approval dates, and project costs.
Add New Color to Your Dashboards
Bring your dashboards to life with new color indicators. Administrators can now set colors for Pick List Custom Fields on the Custom Fields settings page. Colors can be used to convey project status within the Projects tab, quickly visualize project status, and customize executive reports. The selected colors will show wherever Custom Fields are exposed: on the Edit Panel, in your Personal Columns Display, in Analytics Reports, on Dashboards, in Resource Workload Report, and on the My Work Tab.
To display Custom Field colors on a Dashboard Donut Widget chart, set the Ring Emphasis to your color-coded custom field and select the “Default” Color Palette.
At first glance, using multiple methodologies seems odd, especially in manufacturing organizations optimized with repeatable processes. The natural reaction is to respond “What’s wrong with my methodology?”
PMOs and process specialists spend months developing standard processes, methods, and templates to achieve predictable results. Believe it or not, the PMO doesn’t create a new template or a new process out of sadistic pleasure. Many PMOs seek to provide structure and guidance while letting project teams adjust and scale the methodology to the project.
Despite the amount of focus user group surveys, subject matter expert collaboration, and thoughtful process analysis, there will never be a single, perfect methodology for getting work done. It’s natural for project managers and teams to use a combination of processes and templates from multiple methodologies, such as waterfall, scrum, lean, and Six Sigma.
Here are six reasons why:
1. Methodology is not a silver bullet.
A methodology is merely a tool in a team’s toolkit to guide them to a successful outcome. The team delivers the project using methodology as a guideline. Effective teams still need strong leadership, project management, and clear communication to deliver. The best methodology in the world won’t help a struggling team from failing; it will help them fail according to the standards. This is why effective teams know to pick the best tool for the job, independent of prescribed methodologies.
I’ve participated in several project turnarounds where the project manager followed the methodology but failed to actually lead and manage the project.
One of my favorite projects successfully launched and delivered its objectives without a signed project charter. Methodology should be used to provide directional guidance and teams need to know how to adjust accordingly.
2. Projects don’t always follow a predictable path.
Projects are not a production assembly line. Methodologies are developed to provide guidance to produce a predictable result. However, few projects follow a predictable path.
When you’re working on a project, it’s likely that there is a methodology to follow. Yet, the journey to get there won’t always be a predictable journey. No two projects are the same; the people, environment, project constraints, and potential risks will be different.
Even my commute to work doesn’t follow a predictable path, and I drive it every day! Traffic, weather, and delays getting the kids into day care all impact my “project” to drive to work. If we can’t exactly predict when we’ll get into the office, how can we be expected to be 100 percent accurate on project end date six months out?
The key is to adapt and adjust. This also means tweaking the methodology.
3. People deliver projects, not methodologies.
We staff projects with talented people to leverage their professional experience and ensure project success.
I’ve met several certified PMPs, Black Belts, and Scrum Masters who shouldn’t ever lead or manage a project. People may be experts in a methodology, but if they lack the professional experience and subject matter context, the chance of project success is lower.
A few years back, a process quality assurance (PQA) analyst wrote me up as “out of compliance” because I wasn’t using a prescribed methodology template for meeting minutes. Instead, I used a mind mapping tool to capture the notes and actions and sent them out in a Word document. The team found the mind mapping format easier to follow and it actually lowered the administrative burden.
I understand the PQA analyst had a role to play, but it wasn’t in delivering the project.
4. Methodologies lag behind best practices and feedback loops.
The time it takes to introduce methodology changes, gain consensus, update documentation, and communicate the change doesn’t enable a project team to shift easily. Within the PMO, methodology changes can be launched quarterly to ensure best practices are incorporated and teams have time to learn and adjust. The lack of an updated methodology should not stop a team from implementing their own best practices.
Project teams need short feedback loops (an Agile principle) and should be encouraged to fail fast and experiment to find the best solution. Just because a methodology has a design phase, doesn’t mean the team can’t run small incremental proof of concepts to validate the design. As humans, we do this all the time and course correct.
5. External pressures and politics influence project decisions over process.
How many times have you presented a project launch date only to be told “not acceptable” or “go back and sharpen the pencil”?
You can incorporate every step of the methodology into a project schedule, but senior management’s requirements (or mandates) will always have an impact on the project.
After all, people are not machines. Politics play a role in project decisions and predictable outcomes. Unfortunately, teams that seek to skip “all that process stuff” end up with a troubled project that fails to deliver the intended result. Consequently, teams look to multiple approaches to solve project problems.
Project teams will always find a reason why a specific methodology won’t meet their needs because their project is “different”. Rather than constraining them to one methodology, allow them to pick the best tool for the job.
Of course, project governance still needs to be in place to ensure the project doesn’t “run off the track.” At the organization level, a portfolio manager or the PMO needs to ensure standard project milestones and checkpoints are being met regardless of the tools, templates or processes used in specific methodology. If project teams are encouraged to use the tools and processes that best fit their projects, the PMO and the project team need to align on the approach upfront. Otherwise, some project teams will take this advice as not following a methodology at all.
The best way to strike a balance between methodology, delivery, and process-centric organizations is to tailor the methodology to the project and gain agreement. If I had done this one my past project, I may have avoided a non-compliance report from the quality assurance analyst!
After reviewing the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report, it doesn’t surprise me that more than half of respondents use a combination of methodologies. Those teams are selecting the right tool for the job. While that may not be 100 percent process compliant, it sure is smart!
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.
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.’”
Manufacturing is essentially a series of sequential steps in a longer process. Because each step must be completed before moving onto the next, even the smallest delay can have a significant impact on delivery. That’s why proper planning, scheduling, and risk management are so important.
We recently asked more than 100 manufacturing executives, engineers, and project managers about their day-to-day project management practices and how these play a role in their work and businesses. To learn what they had to say, check out the infographic below.
“This girl came to play,” Marchant Couick said as she motioned toward 14-year-old Zanaasha, who was furiously taking notes at the front of the LiquidPlanner lunch room. Zanaasha smiled. She continued to write as Couick explained her work as a renewal specialist to the roomful of eighth-graders.
The five other panelists went down the line, telling the students from Seattle Girls’ School about their jobs. Then LiquidPlanner CEO Liz Pearce asked if anyone has questions.
A hand went up. “What framework do you use?”
“Ruby on Rails,” said Ellen Musick, a software engineer at LiquidPlanner.
Another hand. “This question is for you,” she said, pointing at Zareen Maurer, senior marketing manager. “How do you know what message to send?”
Maurer gave an overview of inbound marketing and the tools LiquidPlanner uses to deliver the right messages at the right time.
After the panel discussion, the students were quizzed on their knowledge of software, marketing, and sales terminology. Three students got perfect scores, earning them LiquidPlanner swag.
The girls’ visit to LiquidPlanner on April 21 was just one stop on their “Entrepreneur Day,” which included stops at startups around Seattle. This is the third year that LiquidPlanner has hosted students from SGS. Pearce came up with the annual field trip idea with a group of female CEOs who visited Seattle Girls’ School.
“The goal is to show the girls what kinds of STEM jobs are out there,” said Pearce. “We want them to see that careers in technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship are all within the realms of possibility.”
During lunch, I sat down with Kyleigh, Grace, Zanaasha, and Belle, all 14, who have ambitious dreams for their careers.
“A lot of people make fun of me for this,” Belle said. “But, I want to be a museum librarian. I want to organize things, so people can enjoy them.”
Zanaasha knows she wants to work in politics. Grace isn’t quite sure. “I really love nature, but I also really love dance,” she said.
Kyleigh wants to be a fashion designer or an author. “She writes the best fan fiction,” Zanaasha told me. “I don’t know anything about Star Wars, but her stories made me like it.”
While none of the girls I spoke with expressed an outright interest in STEM careers before the talk began, they all listened intently, asked questions, and seemed to come away with a better understanding of career options in the technology field.
And that’s really the goal of events like Entrepreneur Day. Grace’s love of nature may lead to a career in biology. Kyleigh could use engineering skills to build better running shoes. Zanaasha may someday help bridge the gap between science and politics. Belle may design new ways to enhance museum-goers’ experience.
But first, they need that spark.
SGS Students’ Key Takeaways from Entrepreneur Day:
They have all the snacks that you could eat. That would be awesome.
All the people had really different ideas of what they were going to be when they were younger. No one really knew what they’d be when they grew up.
Free cookies at a job would be awesome.
More than 50% of the people that work there are women. That’s pretty cool.
There are so many different jobs within a single company!
Sometimes you have to fail to succeed.
There is always a new idea to be discovered.
Feature photo credit: Erika Bailey, Seattle Girls’ School