Montgomery College's Shiny New Intake Process

March 10, 2017 Heather Hurst

Harriet Beasley was facing a few challenges at Maryland's oldest community college, Montgomery College, where she’s a PPM (project portfolio manager) in the OIT PMO (Office of Information Technology’s Project Management Office). She presented her problem and its solution at Workfront’s LEAP User Conference in 2016. The following insights are based on her presentation.

The Problem: Too Many Last-Minute Requests

The IT department was dealing with excessive last-minute help requests around implementing and maintaining purchased technology across the college’s three campuses, populated by 3,100 employees. At an organization this large, that translated to a lot of emergency requests to deal with.

These eleventh-hour requests would require extensive unplanned effort from Beasley's five-person PMO team, leaving little time for analysis and planning. And quite often the proposed technology would be:

  • Incompatible with current systems
  • Inefficient or complex to use
  • Difficult to maintain and support
  • In need of dependencies that were not yet in place
  • Redundant—the college already owned something that addressed the same need

Beasley’s team needed a way to get from initial request to decision made—either rejected or approved and turned into a new portfolio project—much more quickly.

The Solution: A Shiny New Project Intake Process

The PMO’s goal of streamlining their intake process for new technology requests was, ironically, going to require implementing some new technology—a comprehensive work management solution.

Beasley understood that the right solution would enable them to get IT involved early enough to:

  • Analyze business problems from a technology perspective
  • Evaluate viable solutions
  • Assess technology already owned by the college
  • Understand the college’s infrastructure/security requirements
  • Explore technology dependencies and their status
  • Effectively estimate the resources required to plan and implement

In the past, the project intake process was a hot mess that looked something like this:

Not only did the process take too long and have too many committees involved—not to mention requiring excessive face-to-face meetings—it also suffered from insufficient quality checks and there being no real portfolio view across all projects.

As a result of the chaos, some projects would get completed before approval was granted, and others moved forward as “ghost” projects under the radar.

After onboarding the new technology her team decided on—namely, Workfront—the intake process now looks like this:

The project portfolio review team is now able to approve the right projects at the right time and allocate them to the right resources. They have time to perform a technical review and approval of the business case—and prioritize each new request as a project in the portfolio. Before gaining final approval of project expenses from the CIO office, there’s time for the PMO and the Executive IT Sponsor to evaluate each of the following:

  • Goals
  • Budget
  • Resources
  • Dependencies
  • Timeline

It's been a night and day difference for the MC OIT PMO (Montgomery College Office of Information Technology Project Management Office).  No more ghost projects. Fewer face-to-face meetings. Quality checks firmly in place.

Benefits of Streamlining the Intake Process

Beasley says the biggest benefit of their new intake process is that it “significantly reduced the time to approval. Before, it took a LONG time to get from submission to approval.” (Remember that hot mess graphic that depicted the old process?)

In particular, the improvements enabled by Workfront include the following:

  • The requestor can directly enter project requests into Workfront, without needing to meet with the PMO office first, as well as collaborate within the tool.
  • Cross-organization collaboration can all happen in one virtual location
  • Requests now get validated before they’re even assigned for business case analysis—which weeds out projects that have obvious flaws and saves everyone time and effort
  • The business case analysis now gets validated before it gets submitted for approval, another time-saving step
  • Approval and communications around a project can take place directly in Workfront, which means decisions are made in a much timelier fashion
  • Beasley’s team spends significantly less time sitting in meetings, and yet collaboration is more effective than ever
  • As Beasley says, “Better business cases result in better projects”
  • Her team now enjoys a “planned but flexible project portfolio”

This slide from Beasley’s presentation shows the simple steps comprising her team’s intake process today.

Beasley went on to explain each of those bullet points in greater detail during her LEAP presentation, as you'll see in this series of visuals that correspond to the points above. The details are interesting, but the important takeaway is that each of these steps can be easily customized in Workfront to suit any team or process's individualized needs.

Valuable Lessons Learned

As with any new process, it took a few iterations to get the new intake process working like clockwork. In the end, Beasley walked away with seven insightful takeaways that are useful for anyone who’s thinking of streamlining processes in a similar way:

Automate every step you can. Realize that the unnecessary meetings won’t disappear overnight, but they will diminish as the new process takes root. And above all, be patient and persistent. Any change that will be worthwhile in the long run is going to take some time to implement.

About the Author

Heather Hurst

Heather has enjoyed playing the game of marketing for the past 15 years, at the agency and corporate level, in both B2C and B2B companies. She's run PR campaigns that took her from the MTV Beach House to NASDAQ and many media outlets and content channels in between. She is currently the Corporate Marketing Director at Workfront.

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