Broward County Public Schools desperately needed a system to manage its IT projects. But IT veteran Becky Schmaus knew that any vendor she contacted to help create such a system would first ask, “What is the current process?”
Unfortunately, she says, “we didn’t have a process.”
For a school district the size of Broward County, with an annual budget of $100 million for technology projects, the IT infrastructure is one that rivals that of many Fortune 500 companies. Yet, because different processes had evolved organically over time, as new technologies were adapted, initiatives were managed on a per-project basis rather than enterprise-wide. This meant that inefficiencies abounded–and costs ballooned.
Vijay Sonty, CIO of Broward County schools, wanted a project-management solution that would allow the Education Technology Services team to realistically forecast project schedules and budgets, coordinate the projects, and track outcomes, while helping the team align these projects with the district’s long-term strategic goals.
Moreover, Sonty wanted a proof of concept completed in just 90 days. He tapped Schmaus to make that happen.
Schmaus asked Microsoft for help, saying she wanted an out-of-the-box solution that Broward could customize heavily. Microsoft worked with Pcubed to come up with an enterprise project management system; Dell managed the hardware component of the project and also provided support in optimizing a SQL clustering solution.
Then, Schmaus met with people from Pcubed to talk about what Broward needed in a project management system. “We spent a lot of time, 12- to 15-hour days in a closed room,” says Schmaus. As a department of one, Schmaus knew she didn’t want to have to hire additional people to run the program, and she didn’t want it to be “a weight around anyone’s ankle,” she says.
After three months spent customizing and learning the system, Schmaus and Pcubed wrote the training manual. “In one week, I trained 60 project managers and about 100 executives,” she says. “Every so often I do another executive training.”
The entire process cost about $300,000, including consultants. Specific software deployed included:
- Microsoft Office Project Server 2003–This enterprise project management software provides centralization and standardization of project and resource information to enable web-based reporting, web-based views of project performance and data, portfolio analysis and modeling, and integration with other line-of-business systems.
- Microsoft Office Project Professional 2003–This, too, is enterprise project-management software. It provides planning and scheduling capabilities, enterprise templates, skills-based resource assignment, and resource availability views.
- Microsoft Windows Share Points Services–This is a component of the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 operating system that provides web sites for information sharing and document collaboration, including check-in/check-out capabilities and version control features.
- Microsoft SQL Server 2000–This data-management software provides data warehousing, a relational database engine, data mining, and rich data analysis capabilities.
The end result, called Project Management Office, or PMO, has allowed Broward’s tech team to automate its project-management activities and track them in such a way that more than 90 percent of projects are now completed on time and on budget.
Now, any time a new project with a scope of more than a few weeks is begun, Schmaus enters it into the PMO, along with information such as project description, start date, finish date, percentage complete, status, priority, duration category, comments, project manager, director, and more.
When changes to a single area of a project are made, the rest of the affected fields change automatically.
That piece of the PMO has been particularly useful, says Schmaus, especially after Hurricane Wilma hit last year. “We were closed for two weeks,” she points out. “We just put in the one date change, and it changed the dates of everything. … With the push of a button I could print out every project, know what’s going on with it and who it belongs to.”
The system allows for not only project managers, but also directors of projects, to be included, and the information can be sorted that way as well. For instance, “Angela, a director, has 12 people under her who are the project managers, so we customized it so that she can see her projects under the people [responsible for them].” Schmaus has created about 30 different views by which people can view and sort the projects. The projects also can be exported to Microsoft Excel and printed out in spreadsheet format.
When customizing the Pcubed software, Schmaus made sure that any fields other than plain-text fields were drop-down menus. Otherwise, because people have different ways of entering data, the system could quickly get confused. When entering the name of a project manager, for example, one person might write “Jon,” while another would write “Jonathan,” and so on.
Now, Schmaus keeps a master list of all the projects, and she is the only one who adds new projects to the list. The PMO also includes checkpoints within the process that require project managers to get a director to sign off on all projects. “We don’t want anyone spending hours on something before they even have a budget for it,” says Schmaus. “Before, people would spend days and weeks planning a project that wouldn’t go anywhere. Now, we have several checkpoints to stop that from happening.”
Once a solid project-management system was in place, the next challenge to tackle was to look at the total cost of ownership (TCO) of different projects. Both Gartner and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) have TCO models for technology, but neither was quite right for Broward’s needs.
“Schools aren’t really structured to capture costs the way TCO analysis wants them to,” explains Mary Baker, director of quality and customer service. “In a school district, you don’t procure your items at one fell swoop. It’s not all centralized.” To do an accurate TCO analysis, Baker worked to modify CoSN’s tool, being sure to capture not just the cost of acquisition but the full range of training, support, and maintenance involved.
For example, when Broward buys new computers, it looks at the amount of configuration needed on each machine as part of the total cost. When the machines come preloaded with software, they are more expensive than buying the software and computers separately. But because those pre-loaded computers don’t need software loaded by support staff, Broward saves about $20 per machine in staff costs.
“We have to run the school district like a business, even though we’re not in it for the money,” says Baker. “We need to allocate our money wisely, and that’s what TCO helps us to do.”–JN