As CTO of CalAtlantic Homes (formerly, Ryland Homes), one of the nation’s largest homebuilders and a leading mortgage-finance company currently operating in 14 states across the country, Jason Grovert is responsible for driving the technology vision and strategy of the company, including the technology behind three broad strategic system areas: Interactive Marketing (including the corporate website and Interactive Sales Centers), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Business Intelligence (BI).
This means the CalAtlantic Homes IT team juggles multiple key initiatives at any given time—from managing and operating their existing systems to driving changes fundamentally geared towards helping to improve the business. “Our IT department supports multiple business lines at CalAtlantic Homes. We’re there to not just provide CalAtlantic with what IT has traditionally done, but also to drive transformational change across the business through innovative projects,” says Grovert.
Before adopting LiquidPlanner in August 2012, CalAtlantic’s growing IT team had limited visibility into the multiple complex projects it was running in their ever-changing business climate. They tried other project management tools, but old school methodologies required too much effort to keep plans current. “Given how fast things change, the moment you get your team to enter their tasks and estimates in a traditional Gantt chart, it’s instantly out of date,” Grovert explains.
LiquidPlanner delivers ROI and project clarity after one year
A year after CalAtlantic Homes started using LiquidPlanner, the team netted the following benefits:
- Saved money: Using LiquidPlanner has already saved CalAtlantic an estimated full-time head count, since they didn’t have to hire a dedicated project manager. Instead, everyone contributes to keeping the project plan up to date & accurate.
- More accurate & trusted plans: CalAtlantic’s IT project plans are close to 100% accurate on a daily basis or within a day. For example, a recent website redesign project that took seven months and 7,000 hours of work was delivered completely on time.
- Less time spent in meetings: Since everyone on the team can instantly see what the rest of their team is working on, the IT team was able to cut their weekly status meeting from one hour to 30 minutes.
- Lower email volumes: The website redesign project produced a total of 500 workspace comments that clarified requirements or addressed blocking issues and escalations – all in one place. This drastically lowered the typical circulation of emails between team members trying to stay coordinated, while also allowing new team members to quickly bring themselves up-to-date.
- Improved use of team resources: The entire team knows where 100 percent of their time goes, and they can track and analyze their tasks from initial estimate through completion.
Building trust with the business via accurate schedules
One thing that helped adoption within the team was LiquidPlanner’s task estimation feature, which allows members to use best- and worst-case ranges that represent the uncertainty in a given task. “There are different conversations you have when a task’s estimate is 5 to 40 hours (best case/worst case), versus 5 to 6 hours. A single point estimate of 5 hours hides the uncertainty that exists,” says Grovert.
With ranged estimates and historical tracking data, the CalAtlantic team is able to answer questions like:
- Was that a good amount of time spent on that task?
- Is this more or less the amount of time we thought we’d spend on this project?
- How does the estimate today compare to what we thought a week ago?
“The estimates are not only there to build a project plan, but to make us all better estimators on the next project,” says Grovert. And with LiquidPlanner, the entire team has visibility into all of a project’s estimates—a capability that did not exist before they started using LiquidPlanner.
LiquidPlanner also delivers meaningful project intelligence to everyone involved: from Grovert who oversees the development department to product managers overseeing the work being done on their systems. This allows them to evaluate what succeeded and what didn’t over time.
“LiquidPlanner provides visibility at all levels to our current projects, tasks, estimates, schedules, and risks, helping us estimate schedules with confidence and manage and forecast resource availability,” says Grovert.
A more motivated, committed team
Now that the CalAtlantic Homes IT team inputs their own plans and information into LiquidPlanner, it has increased ownership in the delivery dates calculated for their tasks and communicated for the projects. “LiquidPlanner empowers the task owners to be responsible for their own estimates and update them as the project evolves,” says Grovert. With this collective ownership of work, the entire team feels more committed to the success of the project since everyone has the ability to affect it.
“When we communicate a date to the business it’s calculated directly from every individual team member’s estimates —which increases everyone’s commitment to get that work done.”
The team has also become more time efficient—another motivating factor. “People appreciate the organization that LiquidPlanner gives them,” Grovert says. “They know what their day, week and month is going to look like.” The team also appreciates how LiquidPlanner helps them visualize all the work involved going into a project, which leads to them anticipating upcoming needs and expectations.
A brilliant move for team adoption
It’s not always the easiest job in the world to get your team to embrace a new tool. In this case, the CalAtlantic Homes team was ready to switch to a system that had better time tracking than their previous tool, so selling the group at first wasn’t too difficult. After the initial roll out, the team established specific LiquidPlanner guidelines that empowered everyone to be responsible for the accuracy in the tool.
At the end of the day, LiquidPlanner has made the IT team at CalAtlantic Homes stronger. “Being able to react on a daily basis to what’s going on has helped us become much more responsive to the business, our current projects, and our team’s needs,” Grovert concludes.