Project Portfolio Management Software Helps Prevent Layoffs

By , CIO.com |  IT Management, project management

Robert Biles faces new pressure to cut costs. He's the applications systems manager for the City of Miami Beach, which, like many other municipalities across the United States, is expecting massive revenue shortfalls due to the recession.

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Over the past two years, Biles says he has lost five employees to relocations or to retirement, and he hasn't had the budget funding to refill those positions. Now, with another tough year for state and local governments on the horizon, Biles says that the city's budget office is suggesting that he cut US$70,000 from the city's payroll-one developer's salary-never mind the fact that workload for his 16-person applications group has increased.

"They ask me, 'How many people do you have supporting a building application?' I say, 'three'," he says, describing his conversations with the budget office. "They say, 'We think you can get by with one [developer] because the application is vendor-supported. Why do you need three people in-house to support it when we're paying vendors to do so."

Biles strategy: He has used project portfolio management (PPM) software to show the budget office why the city can't afford to lose any developers.

PPM Improves Resource Allocation

The City of Miami Beach's IT department began using project portfolio management software from Métier in October 2008 so that managers like Biles could get better visibility into how the department's 45 employees were being distributed across 60 or 70 projects.

The IT department had previously been using Microsoft Project to manage individual projects, but, Biles says, he and his colleagues couldn't see how staff were distributed across all projects, and thus whether they could take on additional work. So Biles and others would blindly assign tasks to staff. The end result: IT workers were frequently overloaded with work, and managers had to decide days before an important deadline what work was going to take precedence, Biles says.

With WorkLenz, Métier's PPM solution, Biles and other managers in the city of Miami Beach's IT department can now see who's doing what, when, and across all projects. Because managers see which employees are tied up with work, they are less likely to pile on tasks and more likely to proactively discuss how to distribute project work across the IT staff, Biles says.

PPM Eases Financial Reporting

WorkLenz also allows Biles to much more easily report back to the budget office how much time his staff devotes to projects for each of the various municipal departments IT serves. It's one way that the reporting helps him justify his staff's value to the city.

"The budget office always wants to know how much money or time I am spending with each department and what I am doing for them," he says.

Using Microsoft Project, Biles says he didn't have an easy way to roll up individual technical tasks into broader categories of work that the budget office understands, such as strategy, design, operations and continuous improvement.

"If I said I spent 65 hours upgrading mobile laptops with NetMotion, no one cares or understands that," he says.

But using WorkLenz, Biles can add fields to projects or tasks so that he can identify whether certain tasks are related to strategy, design or operations. Now he can tell the budget office, for instance, that his group spent 20 percent of its time this year doing strategic work (e.g. project planning, obtaining requirements) for the building department.

A related benefit of being able to categorize work: Biles has been able to show the budget office that coding is only a fraction of what his group does. He says the budget office had been under the impression that all application developers did was program. But since he started using WorkLenz, he's shown the budget office that his group only spends about 15 percent of its time coding. They spend the rest of their time working with users to spec out requirements for applications, testing applications they write themselves or purchase from vendors, and deploying, supporting and enhancing those applications.

By showing the budget office that his development group does much more than just code, Biles has made the budget office realize developers aren't so easy to cut.

"If I can link that $70,000 resource to a strategic project that's worth $3 million, I can show the budget office that having this $70,000 resource to ensure that this $3 million project works effectively makes sense," he says.

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