Acquisitions fueled growth at Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co. (Greenwood Village, Colo.; $37.8 billion in assets), but that growth also led to IT traffic jams. "When a department had an IT project, they would pick up the phone and call whoever they knew," explains Cheryl Keller, project management office methodologies manager for the carrier's corporate IT division. "As a result, one technician might work 80 hours a week and still have a backlog, even though other techs were available to help."
So in March 2005 a steering committee decided to centralize IT project management. "They formed a project management office (PMO) and evaluated technology solutions," relates Keller. "After rating several products based on data capture ability, time tracking, usability and reporting, ... Planview's (Austin, Texas) Project Portfolio Management (PPM) was selected as the most robust."
After an uneventful technology installation, the Web-based PPM went live in June 2005. "We did invest in VMware (Palo Alto, Calif.) to create two virtual servers -- a Web server and an application server -- and bought two Oracle (Redwood Shores, Calif.) databases" to support the PPM solution, says Keller.
Initially, however, only the time-tracking component was rolled out. "The biggest implementation challenge wasn't the technology; it was changing the culture," Keller says. "At first, there was fear of 'Big Brother.' To help calm IT staff fears, we developed a 'Planview Happenings' newsletter and invited our CIO to give Planview presentations at our all-hands meetings."
During the summer and fall of 2005, additional features were brought online and staff training progressed. "Planview conducted a comprehensive day-long class with [project managers]," says Keller. "Later, I held two-hour overview sessions for management and resource managers."
In January 2006, Great-West began bringing all of PPM's features to bear on large projects. Customers reported immediate improvements. "[Business] units can log on at any time to request projects, check status, read progress notes and review life cycles," says Keller. "For the first time, it gave people the sense they weren't just sending requests off into a black hole."
However, Keller noticed that some project managers, who were long-time Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) Project users, hadn't adopted the new tool. "MS Project is faster because it's only a task list," Keller explains. "Since PPM's purpose is tracking time for distinct tasks, it does require some forethought while setting it up."
To ease the transition, Keller sat down with each straggler and helped build out a project on the new solution. "I also pared down the 500-page manual into a quick-start guide," she adds.
Meanwhile, overall job satisfaction soared and efficiency jumped 15 percent. "People are back down to a 40-hour work week, and we're distributing assignments more evenly," Keller says. "Listing all tasks up front in PPM allows us to match skills appropriately, which means highly skilled professionals aren't just doing busy work," she adds, noting that the efficiency gains were so dramatic that Great-West deployed the PPM solution in another division, the 170-person IT staff for financial services.
Project Portfolio Management
Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co. (Greenwood Village, Colo.; $37.8 billion in assets).
lines of business
Health, life, dental and vision.
Planview's (Austin, Texas) Project Portfolio Management solution.
Centralize project management, improve resource allocation and streamline workflow."Units can log on at any time to request projects, check status, read progress notes and review life cycles," says Cheryl Keller, Great-West.
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio