Success at Bovington
06 May 2003
Michael Harte describes his visit to ABRO's Bovington site and outlines the factors that have led to its successful roll-out of Project 2002.
Public sector IT projects are, perhaps, best known for their failures Ð almost all areas of government have faced cancellations, cost overruns and inadequate or ineffective IT system deployment. But failure is not the rule in the public sector, despite continuing press coverage of the disasters. And looking at a success can help identify lessons for the future.
In our last issue (December 2002), we carried an announcement from ABRO about their adoption of Microsoft Project 2002: this seemed a good example and I was pleased to be invited to ABRO to see what has been achieved.
At Bovington, they have just completed the roll-out of Project 2002 Ð the first site in Europe to achieve this. Management now has a modern tool for production planning and control, without interfering with the daily flow of work; the installation project has run to time Ð some three months from the decision to proceed Ð and to budget of under £40,000. The Bovington heavy vehicle repair and maintenance plant is now provided with an IT system that allows management at all levels, from the top (including the head office in Andover) down to the team leaders on the shop floor, to have access to current information on the progress of work through the plant, to plan for the future programme and Ð perhaps most importantly Ð to respond to current production problems with immediate solutions. The result: improved controls, greater efficiency and the removal of frustration from the shop floor, as bottlenecks and delays are removed from the process.
So how has this been achieved? The arrival of Chris Jones as general manager at Bovington in 1999 provided one trigger for change. At that time, the plant had plenty of work but was failing to deliver equipment on time and had no capability for analysing what was going wrong. In 1998, the plant had a simple production planning tool Ð Microsoft's Project 1995. With this, an annual plan could be prepared for each of the repair lines Ð tanks, personnel carriers, etc. The result was useful at the start of the year, but was then usually put in the bottom drawer and referred to infrequently. An upgrade to Project 98 resulted in rather better planning, but needed reams of paper to pass the results to the shop floor; the upgrade to Project 2000 and Project Central improved matters a little, but still left ABRO without a system that could be of real use throughout the year to optimise efficiency and give effective control to project team leaders.
A small project team under Mark Jeffreys was tasked with looking for a better solution; a full review of what was then available suggested that Microsoft's planned upgrade to Project 2002 was a potential solution. At this stage, another of the key features for success was introduced into the project Ð the concept of partnership.
There was already full 'buy-in' from ABRO top management for the requirement for effective project control and Bill Moore at ABRO headquarters had been appointed as overall project manager. But ABRO realised they needed support from a company that understood what Microsoft Project software could achieve and had detailed knowledge of what was being planned for Project 2002. Corporate Project Solutions Ltd matched this specification and, in December 2001, Ivan Lloyd, their technical director, effectively became part of the ABRO team. Microsoft also saw real advantage in working in partnership with ABRO as the new software was being developed and committed resources to the ABRO project.
By the autumn of 2002, Project 2002 had been rolled-out as a pilot throughout the Bovington site, making it the first European large-scale deployment of Project 2002 and, as a result, a reference site for future deployments. One of the first repair programmes to be run under Project 2002 resulted in a 50% reduction in Work in Progress (WiP), with an immediate improvement in conditions on the shop floor Ð less congestion and less clutter Ð and, perhaps more importantly, a significant improvement in cash flow. As ABRO now runs as a Trading Fund and has to meet all its financial needs from revenue from customers, these improvements are an essential part of the organisation's business plan as Project 2002 is now being rolled-out across all eight ABRO manufacturing sites.
So what does Project 2002 provide? In essence, it provides all who need to know, from top management to team leaders on the shop floor, with information on current and planned work programmes. This allows more effective analysis of work flows and capacity, and provides early warning of potential bottlenecks or of work being done before it is needed, resulting in increases in WiP; as a result, work flow through the workshops can be optimised and overtime reduced.
How is this done? Project 2002 is run centrally on a suite of dedicated servers, where system software and the project database is maintained. For most of the site level users, access uses a web browser, providing a familiar tool for most users, as it is what they rely on at home for picking up emails or browsing the internet. A few 'power' users have direct access to the database. Progress on work in hand is entered in by team leaders on the shop floor, who can also access information on their work programmes for the next few weeks. They can see the level of manpower resources available to them and take account of holidays, sickness, etc. in deciding whether they have problems ahead or can manage with what will be available.
Project managers can access information at all times about individual work programmes, or their aggregate programme and so on, up the management chain. The system has built-in indicators, showing which lines are potential problems and which are going well, so that higher levels of management can concentrate only on those items where their involvement is needed. Users find the new system much simpler to operate, although much more complex in the level of information and planning actions available to them, and much more intuitive to use. The flexibility in the software is a potential problem; it has been designed for use as a project planning and management tool for any type of project, rather than a bespoke tool for any particular industrial process. As a result, almost all parts can be tailored to suit individual needs: within ABRO, this could cause problems if individual project team leaders each decided to go their own way. At this stage, therefore, ABRO Ð through Chris Jones, the Project 2002 assistant project manager Ð maintains tight controls over the range of displays which can be used at site level, without Ð he hopes Ð reducing people's ability to exploit to the full the software available.
Another important success element has been the commitment to training on the new system. All users get two days in the classroom before they return to work, where they can immediately use the new system; further training is then given after they have become familiar with the new tools. In this way, ABRO had found it possible to generate and maintain enthusiasm for the changes that are now possible.
And it won't stop there. After rolling-out to all sites, ABRO is looking to the next stage: to give their customers access to the system, so that they can see for themselves the current status of their own items of equipment as they pass through the repair and enhancement cycle.