Just a year ago, Steve Watkins was using a simple spreadsheet to manage his team’s international production cycle. It wasn’t going well.
As R & D Engineering Manager for Rotork, the world’s leading manufacturer of industrial valve actuators, Watkins was spending valuable time chasing down updates while team members worked in silos from their own plans, there was little-to-no cross-team visibility or collaboration in the process, and projected deadlines had low credibility of being met.
Watkins’s UK-based gears team has a complex challenge: to make functional equipment that can operate in any environment where a flow of gasses or liquids need to be controlled (nuclear, oil, hazardous, gas). Their production cycle involves designing the gears, testing them, and then handing off specs and docs to the manufacturing team in the Netherlands.
After struggling to manage all these moving parts in Excel spreadsheets—along with some stints with MS Project and Gantt Project—Watkins got fed up, and discovered LiquidPlanner through a simple web search.
Watkins’ pilot team of eight started using LiquidPlanner for over over ten months. Now, over 100 people within the company are using it, and he expects the software to roll out to even more teams across Rotork, globally.
In the following Q & A, Watkins tells us the story of life before-and-after LiquidPlanner – and how it’s saved him time, let him collaborate with team members more effectively, and streamlined production processes.
LP: What are the top challenges you face as a product development leader?
SW: Leading a team to design and introduce new products, leap over technical requirements in a timely fashion, and then manage that process so we have a record of the design and testing processes to refer back to when we need to.
LP: What were your challenges before using LiquidPlanner?
SW: We were using Excel spread sheets to create projects, and then trying to update them manually as we went along. I tried a number of different tools – Microsoft Project, Gantt Project – and all of those worked to some level but they all fell down on ease of use.
It was difficult to keep a plan up to date. I had to manually move things around when tasks didn’t come in on time, which was wasting a lot of time. Important information circulated by emails, residing in email chains only visible to people on that circulation list. So, a single project could look like it was reasonable, but didn’t take into account everything else we had going on. Also, plans were being created at the beginning of project, which no one was keeping up to date—it was filed away.
LP: Now that you’re using LiquidPLanner, how has your productivity improved?
SW: For me, personally, I don’t have to spend time chasing people down, getting their updates and then modifying the plan myself. It’s saved me a great deal of time that I can now use to improve the planning process.
For the teams using it, 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. And if we change priority on one project, we can see how it affects the deliverables on all other projects right away. There’s a better capturing of information.
LP: What do you consider LP’s main advantages?
SW: The tool’s visibility, and being able to collaborate.
LP: How does your team take advantage of the visible, collaborative elements?
SW: When we have tests with deadlines, we can set those deadlines up and get an immediate visual cue if it looks like someone’s going to miss a deadline. In a test environment, a lot of unexpected events happen—equipment fails, tests may take longer or less time than you expect them to—and LP makes it easy to adjust the plan, and see the whole plan updated so you can report on it straight away.
Here’s another example: After the team here in Leeds completes the design and testing of our gear boxes, we move all the engineering and product information to the manufacturing site in the Netherlands. So there’s a transfer of a lot of information—test reports, builds materials, cad info, publicity drawings. Because we’re all working in the same tool, it’s helped the flow of projects move from one team to the next.
LP: You’re a deadline-driven business. How has LP helped you manage those deadlines?
Our deadlines are more realistic now. Before, they were pretty much arbitrary dates with very little grounding in reality. Now, if a date looks wrong, it’s easy to figure out where the issue is. Before, we tended to create dates out of the air with a top level view, rather than looking at the details. LiquidPlanner gives us an overall project duration based on looking at all the individual tasks and rolling those up.
What’s the ripple effect through the company?
Now, our directors and managers have more confidence in us when we say we’re going to have something finished by a certain date.
What are your favorite features of LiquidPlanner?
- Being able to apply task duration estimates. Putting in upper and lower limits gives people a feeling straight away that it’s more realistic.
- It’s an online tool. This means everyone can access and update their work on an individual process—which is big time saver.
- Re-prioritizing work items just by dragging and dropping. Our priorities change quickly and rapidly and this lets us see straight away the effect our work has on other projects.
- Emailing into LiquidPlanner. This quickly documents the process and captures information.
How has LP affected your business so far?
So far, LiquidPlanner has saved us time, and improved the visibility of our process.
How do you see LiquidPlanner affecting your business going forward?
Going forward, I would hope and expect that we could see a six month to one year improvement on our average project duration cycles.