Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), one of the oldest and largest independent, not-for-profit, applied research and development organizations in the US, needed to resolve estimating and project controls/Earned Value Management (EVM) process issues.
ProjStream provided a single source of truth, best practices, and workflows to create a streamlined system for estimating, data management, and work processes. This resulted in a reduction of data issues and discrepancy reports. The firm recognized substantial improvements to monthly project performance reporting as effort time was reduced from 17 days on average to 3 days per project.
“The level of complexity of contracts as well as the number of subcontractors we have to manage continues to increase. But we know we have the rigor and structure in place to efficiently manage these contracts and make it an area of strength in our organization.” – Bob Harbaugh, Project Management Office Director, SwRI
About the Contractor
Headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, SwRI was founded in 1947 by oil businessman Tom Slick. It provides contract research and development services to government and industrial clients, with more than 4,000 projects active at the institute at any given time. These projects are funded almost equally between the government and commercial sectors.
SwRI research scientists have led several NASA missions, including the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the Juno mission to Jupiter, and the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission to study the Earth's magnetosphere.
Challenge: In Search of a Consistent Process
SwRI project controls and business development leadership came to ProjStream with problems and inconsistencies they wanted to resolve in their estimating and project controls/Earned Value Management System (EVMS) processes.
SwRI was using disconnected tools that included commercial off the self (COTS) tools and tools developed in house. An external change control process was meant to keep the change data aligned with the COTS toolset's end results. The systems were described as very manual and cumbersome to manage. Additionally, lack of personnel training often caused the process or the system to break down.
SwRI was experiencing non-compliance issues during surveillance of their EVMS, each of which is documented in a Discrepancy Report (DR). A DR is issued to initiate the resolution process, which then sets in motion a recovery sequence that includes:
- Developing a Corrective Action Plan (CAP);
- Requesting review and approval of the CAP from the customer EVMS Review Team;
- Implementing the CAP; and
- Providing verifiable evidence of the issue's resolution.
The resolution process often requires significant time and effort to bring non-compliance to closure.
One of the main drivers for these DRs was manual data entry across different documents and forms, with errors being made in key data areas such as:
- Work breakdown structure (WBS), control account, and work package numbers.
- Current, change, and resulting cost values.
- Revision alignment consistency.
The manual entry and disconnected systems caused slower process times, which caused discomfort for SwRI leadership. The following figure illustrates the typical number of days for specific areas within the process.
A typical scenario might require, on average, a processing time of 17 days: three days each for Data Entry Integrity and Document Updates, five days for Routing and Approval, four days for Error Recovery, and two more days for Document Reconciliation.
Solution: ProjStream Transformed Chaos into Best Practices and a Single Source of Truth
SwRI wanted to eliminate data systems external to the process and streamline their data, change control, and work authorization processes.
After requirements discussions and demonstration, SwRI decided to implement ProjStream's enterprise end-to-end estimating and project controls solution.
Process and best practices are combined with a capable toolset to establish a single data source with workflow capability. The following image illustrates the solution at a high level.
A more automated approach tied data from the BOE/EVM system directly into personnel and workflow routings. This approach eliminated the need for external tools, providing a single data source. Actions built into the workflow helped streamline the process, like email notifications of a process document's completion or pending inbox items.
ProjStream's approach always includes creating work instructions specific to a company's process and training personnel using these instructions. Because those in each role are trained to perform their job function, they do not have to hunt and peck for data or resort to undocumented knowledge. These actions and approaches provide both clarity and accountability.
Standardized and Clearly Defined Processes
The following image illustrates the SwRI change control process. Each role can easily follow what steps they need to take in the toolset to perform their job function based on the created work instructions.
One of SwRI’s primary goals was to substantially improve monthly processing time and drastically reduce DRs, both of which were achieved with the implementation of ProjStream’s tools.
“Data entry integrity issues were substantially minimized due to the single source of data concept. For example, all documents and forms are generated using data from a single common database. Error recovery time has been substantially reduced due to the end-to-end management of the process using one single source of data platform,” according to Harbaugh.
The system generates email notifications to assigned personnel for document review and approvals. This role-oriented process is proactive and substantially reduces document review time. The DR rate has decreased to almost zero, and the reduction of related process DRs represent substantially less time and effort to be expended to bring the non-compliance to closure.”
“Over the course of a typical reporting cycle, any measurable reduction of extra effort improves overall efficiency by allowing more time to perform the necessary due diligence to:
- Ensure data validity and accuracy;
- Conduct in-depth performance analyses and assessment; and
- Ensure Integrated Program Management Report (IPMR) reporting validity, accuracy, and timeliness.”
SwRI’s process improvement times related to specific areas of the monthly performance reporting cycle times is significant: the effort time was reduced from 17 days on average to 3 days per project, as illustrated in the following figure.
Key Benefits: Standardized and Clearly Defined Processes
Significant benefits identified by SwRI include:
- Average monthly performance reporting cycle effort time was reduced from 17 days to 3 days per project.
- Experienced a substantial improvement in data integrity due to single-source data concept.
- The Discrepancy Report rate has decreased to almost zero.
- Substantially less time and effort are required to bring non-compliance issues to closure.
- Increased personnel accountability and effectiveness due to training and work documentation process.
- Automated workflows result in improved resolution speeds.
SwRI has gained new confidence levels in performing on large EVM contracts now that they have an excellent system for streamlining their estimating and monthly project performance reporting. Moreover, their levels of contracts won continue to increase in revenue size as well as visibility.