AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue #60 (Oct 24, 2011)

Using Newforma Project Analyzer to View Staff Utilization by Office and Across the Firm

Bob Rayes, AIA, NCARB
Partner, Chief Information Officer, SHW Group, Dallas

Project managers need to view staff conflicts to ensure that needed resources are available for their projects. Executives and operations managers need to view staff utilization by office and across the firm. At SHW Group, we sought a system that was easy to use and visual in nature which managers could use to view utilization and staffing projections. After searching in vain for a tool that would meet our requirements, we created it ourselves. Our software became the basis of Newforma Project Analyzer, which SHW Group uses today. The Home Screen of the application is shown below.


In this article, I’ll show how we use Newforma Project Analyzer to see who’s working on what, where, and in what roles.

We’ll achieve our goal in three steps:
1. Create a project schedule  
2. Staff each phase of the schedule, then
3. View staff utilization by office and across the firm

Step 1: Create the Project Schedule

Open Newforma Project Analyzer and select the View ribbon at the top. 

In the Filter field, enter the project name. This example uses Crane.

Select Crane Library project from the Active Projects list, as shown below.

Selecting Crane Library opens its schedule, as shown via the Schedule tab below. Use it to define the high-level project schedule based on project phases. 


The schedule’s data grid displays Status and Phase columns, in this case, pulling data from the firm’s financial system. This information is used to link the start dates and end dates between phases.

Select a phase from the drop-down list in the Follows column to indicate the order in which they occur.

For each phase enter the Start and End times by entering the dates or using the date picker tool. The software uses those dates to calculate the Duration value. This example sets the Schematic Design Phase to begin on 5/1/2010 and end on 12/31/2010.

The software automatically updates the dates for each subsequent phase.

Continue this process for each project Phase to be scheduled.


To save and move to the next tab, select Home > Save Current View.

Step 2: Staff Each Phase of the Project

The Team tab in Newforma Project Analyzer is used to identify the required roles and/or team members for a project. Members are assigned to a project by phase. Open the Team tab to see the current assignments and schedule. 

In this example, we will enter team members manually, although you can also import team members, which would be faster.  In the image shown below, we have added Mickey Garrett in the role of Lead Architect for eight hours per day for the duration of the phase. 


Next in our example, let’s assign a Structural Engineer to the project. In this case, we assign Bill Norman for six hours. On this phase, we can use other similarly qualified engineers, so we select the Or Similar checkbox. 


Lastly, we need to add a Senior Project Manager for 20 hours per week.  We try to add Pat May, but the Potential Conflicts column shows that she’s already overscheduled.


Because Pat is already scheduled to something else, we add Adam Washington instead. Finally, we will complete the team, as shown below, by assigning Graphic Designer Bill Lucas for 10 hours per week.


We can see in the Potential Conflicts column that the team members do not have any conflicts during the periods where they are required. 

Select Home > Save Current View to save before moving to the next step.

As a project manager, we are now able to confidently schedule the project, knowing that all of our resources assigned to the project will be available when they are needed.   

Step 3: View Staff Utilization

Having created a project schedule and staffed it, our office managers and operations directors need to view staff utilization by office and across the firm.

To do this in Newforma Project Analyzer, select Reporting > Projections.


Select the Staffing Projections tab to view the Staffing Projections report, as shown below. This will open up an interactive display of individual employees or companywide totals in a format that looks and acts like a spreadsheet. I can sort and filter the data to view only the metrics and time periods that I need to analyze. In this case, I need to view by office, so I drag and drop that column into the header section just as you would in Microsoft Outlook.  The example below shows a detailed view of staff utilization, with Available Hours, Expected Hours, and Planned Hours by employee shown for each week in the future.


For any individual employee we can drill down to see the assigned Project, Start Date, and End Date.


We can now also see the companywide projected utilization totaled by Full Time Equivalents, by each individual office and across the company. 

Summary

Newforma Project Analyzer offers a number of advantages over individually created and managed spreadsheets. For one, it pulls data from our financial system, in this case, Deltek Vision enterprise financial software. Two, because everyone in the firm is using the same system, we can have the office-wide views of resource allocation illustrated above. And three, Newforma Project Analyzer appeals to our architects’ and engineers’ visual orientations by displaying in an easy to use visual format, that looks and feels like Microsoft Excel but provides the business all of the advantages of an enterprise system.  By far, the most significant strategic benefit, however, is that by having a view of staff availability and utilization across the entire firm, Newforma Project Analyzer is enabling the eight regional offices of SHW Group to function as one company in maximizing the utilization of our people and the return on our human capital.

As a result of these advantages, SHW Group is better able to manage resource allocations in present projects, and to better forecast needs far into the future. 

 

About the Author


Bob Rayes is a partner and the chief information officer of SHW Group, charged with maximizing the firm’s return on its information technology investments. Bob has been exploring the possibilities of enterprise resource planning for the Architecture and Engineering industries for more than 10 years. He holds both a bachelors and masters degree in architecture as well as a master of business administration from Lawrence Technological University. 

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