Access Laser, a manufacturer specializing in gas lasers, has grown rapidly over the past four years. At any time, the company’s engineering team may have several dozen active projects, ranging from small efforts that take one to two months to larger projects that take more than a year. Many of the larger projects require a mix of research, experimentation, and engineering work, making them especially hard to estimate and track.
In the past, all projects were planned by a single engineering manager, using Microsoft Project. However, project plans weren’t shared or revisited over time, resulting in a major lack of visibility into who was doing what, how to bring those efforts together, and when projects would be done.
“Projects were planned in silos and were out of date as soon as the planning was completed,” says Courtney Rickett, Manufacturing Process Engineer and Quality Manager at Access Laser, who joined the company in early 2015. “We had very limited visibility into the status of any given project, which resulted some in really late delivery dates.”
Lack of effective project management presented other problems, too. A general lack of cohesiveness resulted in frequent mistakes and errors—from duplication of effort to things not getting done at all. Project designs diverged, time was wasted, and some products even had to be redesigned while they were in production.
“When one product release went horribly wrong, we knew it was time for a change,” recalls Rickett. “Senior management made the decision to hire a full-time project manager, and I was tasked with making sure that person had the right project management tools to do the job.”
Rickett immediately set out to find the optimal project management solution, evaluating a list of candidates that included Basecamp, LiquidPlanner, Targetprocess, and Workzone. “We needed a solution that was real-time, flexible, and easy to use,” says Rickett. “It also had to support many projects, accommodate changing priorities, and allow for many users.”
Access Laser purchased LiquidPlanner at the end of October 2016. Kody Todd, the company’s new Senior Project Manager, had years of experience with Microsoft Project. However, she immediately saw the value of LiquidPlanner and enthusiastically supported its adoption.
To help accelerate time-to-value, Access Laser took advantage of LiquidPlanner’s Quick Start Onboarding, which included dedicated support, training sessions, templates for training materials, and other tools.
“Quick Start Onboarding helped us get up to speed very quickly—probably a month faster than had we attempted to do everything on our own,” says Todd. “We created a LiquidPlanner playbook, which helped us think through things and get them right the first time. The training videos were also great—I watched every single one.”
Through its use of LiquidPlanner, Access Laser now has full visibility into project status and resource utilization. Individual work priorities are now aligned with project priorities, resulting in faster project deliveries. Project estimates are more accurate, less time is spent determining project status, and separate timekeeping mechanisms are a thing of the past. The company’s use of LiquidPlanner is also helping Access Laser to capture, formalize, and evolve its business processes—all leading to a strong return-on-investment.
“Being able to effectively schedule, monitor, manage change, and deliver projects on time makes our modest investment in LiquidPlanner well worth the cost,” says Rickett.
Yong Fang Zhang, the company’s CEO, who was skeptical whether Access Laser really needed LiquidPlanner at first, is in full agreement with Rickett. “LiquidPlanner enables us to manage multiple projects with cross-functional teams, where everyone participates in more than one project,” says Zhang. “It allows us to quickly adapt to real-life changes in customer requirements and priorities, and to see the impact on the overall picture. We are an innovative company, and we need to quickly evaluate market changes and emerging opportunities. I’m convinced of the value of LiquidPlanner as a powerful tool to help us satisfy the needs of our customers.”
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