Strottman International, Inc. (Strottman), a world leader in designing and manufacturing toy premiums, has an impressive roster of clients including Taco Bell, Arby’s, Chevron, and Chick-fil-A. In 25+ years, Strottman has designed and manufactured billions of innovative toys that have been safely delivered around the world for client promotions in fast food restaurants and other family-related outlets.
The Project Management Office (PMO) at Strottman has its hands full managing between 50 and 60 projects in various stages of completion at any given time. A typical project involves approximately 100 tasks to be completed over a 9-12 month product development lifecycle simply known as “art-to-part.” A project generally involves the creation of a set of 4-5 thematically tied toys using a well-known branded property or license. Special attention and sensitivity is given to safety and quality control procedures.
A major challenge for Strottman is the different geographic locations and time zones of various team members. Communication and subsequent reaction, practically overnight, must be quick and precise between time zones because even the slightest unresolved issues can result in an erosion of schedule and profitability. Schedules are frequently adjusted and updated by the PMO led by Dirk Levinsohn, Senior Director of Project Management at Strottman. “With all the projects we manage and the daily changes and adjustments to the schedules,” Dirk Levinsohn noted, “I’ve been unable to get an instant snap-shot of what the big picture looks like to provide proper reporting to executive stakeholders. It’s like flying without radar.”
Strottman also had a company-wide initiative to reduce certain project lifecycles by as much as 20%. Given the lack of scheduling information available in real-time, this mandate was not going to be fulfilled without a proper upgrade of the existing project management technology, which consisted of separate licenses of “desktop” Microsoft Project. “The lack of a centralized database for accessing project information was a major hurdle for our project management office,” recalled Andrew Oberweger, Senior Director of Information Systems at Strottman.
Solution & Results
As the element of time is extremely critical, Strottman formally partnered with EPM Solutions to begin the process of converting isolated silos of project data into one server driven entirely by Microsoft Project Server. “At first, I was a little intimidated and nervous by the new technology, but EPM Solutions held my hand as I took the big plunge. It was the most productive thing I ever could have done to improve the way in which projects were being managed. We went to a whole new level. Project Server will certainly be my legacy at Strottman,” said Dirk Levinsohn. The major benefits that Strottman wished to obtain by putting Project Server in place were the following:
- In-Depth View of All Projects
- Major Cut in Project Cycle Time
- Huge Reduction in Critical Meeting Preparation Time
In-Depth View of All Projects. The ability to have a top-down customizable view of all projects, resources, and task activity across separate project portfolios was the prime reason for converting. Never before had Strottman’s project managers been able to simply press a button and be given a filtered view of critical data that cut across a wide plethora of projects managed in various locations. For example, it had always been a laborious task to uncover a master list of every task that was currently running behind schedule across 60 active projects. Now, this task could be accomplished in a few short minutes in the office or even merely when traveling on business. “Microsoft Project Server produced views and customizable reports that our head of Project Management could only have dreamed about previously,” noted Andrew Oberweger, who gladly accepted a shared role as a Project Server administrator for the marketing agency.
The Project Server empowers the Strottman PMO by consistently providing up-to-date project management data, tracking, and monitoring of client premium programs as they go through each stage of the product development lifecycle. “Project Server enables all agency executives and client team members, worldwide, to instantly get an accurate reading of where all the organization’s projects currently stand in relationship to the official timelines,” said Dirk Levinsohn. “Furthermore, the system is also color-coded with advance warning signals, similar to a traffic light, which include green lights and red lights that are calibrated to each of our clients’ expected delivery dates sorted by priority. It has literally increased our project visibility by 100%.” Andrew Oberweger added, “Project Server also sends automatically generated e-mails to affected team members when it detects a task is potentially late in starting or finishing, It’s like the ‘mission control’ of project management with an early detection system for avoiding risk and enabling timely corrective action to ensure a successful client program every time.”
A Major Cut in Project Cycle Time. Prior to the deployment of Project Server, there had been a major initiative in place at Strottman to safely develop and manufacture client toy premiums in even less time than usual for certain clients. The initiative was dubbed “smashing the cycle time.” It was determined that the only way to effectively accomplish this task would be to have instant access to both current and historical project information so appropriate adjustments could be made to the process and scheduling of critical tasks.
“The COO of Strottman believed immediate access to all historical information for all client projects was critically important to analyze in order to maximize efficiencies,” recalled Dirk Levinsohn. Before Project Server, there was no system in place at Strottman that could extract and filter historical project information for critical pieces. As a result of the implementation, Strottman was able to quickly and painlessly configure customized reports and views from historical information that enabled it to perform a rigorous process analysis that resulted in a “smashing of the cycle time,” by nearly 20% for select clients that required a faster time-to-market. “This would not have been possible without the data processing capabilities of Microsoft Project Server,” remarks Dirk, “It was a extra benefit that we never expected to get out of the implementation. I look back on this accomplishment with great pride.”
A Huge Reduction in Critical Meeting Preparation Time. One of the biggest hassles at Strottman prior to the deployment of Project Server was the company’s weekly “Production Report.” This report was a summarized compilation of all critical project data sorted by client and program. The whole project team would get together and conduct a status review of this information. “The only trouble,” as recalled by Dirk Levinsohn, “was the information was outdated, inaccurate, and culled from multiple sources that were not updated frequently. Not to mention, it took several hours just to assemble the information and put the report together.”
Andrew Oberweger remembered, “The information was all over the place in multiple and duplicitous formats. It was a very frustrating experience that easily resolved itself once Microsoft Project Server went on-line to the agency at large.” Project management reporting became a pleasure for the PMO at Strottman once the reports and views had been properly configured by EPM Solutions. Greg noted, “Before this type of project management tool, our customers were experiencing a high level of frustration in the PMO because they were unable to extract the goldmine of information they had already tracked, but not in a format that was easily accessible for a customized report. We worked with them and helped turn that whole situation around.”
Migrate to cloud-based Project Online EPM Solutions successfully guided Strottman through the process of going from isolated “desktops” of information to a working Enterprise Project Management System that linked all the marketing agency’s information together into meaningful portfolios.
After leveraging Project Server for almost 10 years, Strottman recently upgraded to cloud-based Project Online with the help of, of course, its long-time partner, EPM Solutions. By doing that, it cuts down the needs for internal support of software and infrastructure significantly.
Project Online Migration
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