Why did Lextant start looking for a new resource planning tool?
J.D.: It started out as a staffing problem. During our staffing meetings it was just taking a very long time to figure out who's available, who's the best person for the job, and planning out all of the projects we had.
Before we found 10,000ft, Lextant was using a lot of different tools, and a lot of manual entry, including Excel. It was taking too much time to do everything we needed to because there was a lot of manual entry and redundancy in that process.
It was frustrating to get anything done in a timely manner when it came to analyzing financials, planning a new project, or putting together proposal. We didn't have historical data that we could easily access to look back at.
We discovered a lot of issues along the way with data not linking up and not being easily accessible, so we set out on a journey to try to find the system that solved all of that for us.
Bobby: It's been a wild ride and I can't believe we didn’t do this sooner, looking into tools to help Lextant be more efficient and more effective in what we do. Since J.D. and I found 10,000ft, every other day we think, "Why weren’t we doing this three years ago? Why are we just now finding out about 10,000ft?" It's been a good and a positive journey for us so far.
How did your leadership team approach the evaluation?
Bobby: Our leadership team put a lot of faith into both J.D. and I to evaluate 10,000ft and to understand how well it's working, because both J.D. and I have pretty close relationships with our other directors, the other PM, and our research associates. The leadership team is really looking to us to curate the team’s feedback.
Our leadership is looking for improvements in utilization, process, and hitting targets. As a client-based company, it's important for us to be able to predict the workflow in the pipeline and to understand the current project health, because that affects company health as well.
10,000ft allows us to be more in control of our data. We can look at historical data to better predict how projects are going to pan out and write better proposals.
We also understand it's important for us to take into consideration the health of our associates and how they're feeling working on projects. We found out that a lot of them wanted to have more transparency into how projects were doing.
Before we used 10,000ft, we didn't let our associates know how a project was doing until something concerning came up, but that wasn’t the best way to go about it. The best way for the entire team to work efficiently is for everyone to understand how a project is doing overall.
J.D.: One piece of feedback I'm seeing from the team is how 10,000ft is better — easier to use. Three months ago, it was crazy how many people were two or three weeks behind on entering their time and now everyone seems to be up to date just because it's easier to use.
What tools did 10,000ft replace?
Bobby: We were using ClickTime for both time tracking and expense management for projects, and Excel and Word to create project reports, company health reports, and utilization reports. We were using Excel and Word for staffing, too.
The biggest improvement is our decreasing dependence on Excel and all of these individual documents for data. We had a PSR document that kept track of historical completed projects and whether we went over-budget or under-budget. That just sat on someone's computer. All this data, and all the potential for data mining just sat on someone's computer and we never looked at it historically.
And utilization. We found out in our stakeholder interviews that it took an ungodly number of hours to create utilization reports. She was spending about 12 hours a month.
J.D.: That meant that she could only run it once every two weeks because it took her so long. Now it takes her 30 seconds.
How did you switch from focusing on hours to focusing on weekly deliverables?
J.D.: Within the past few weeks, this has become a really big focus, especially with these new project planning features that you’ve launched. With new projects, we're going to be focusing more on short-term goals using Work Items.
We still need our team to bill hours, but we don't need them worrying about, "Oh, I only have four hours to accomplish this task." We just want them to accomplish the task. After the fact, we can take a look at how long it actually took and talk about how we could do it better in the future. And if there’s no better way to do it, we can see that on the financial analytics side, and we can accurately plan that this task is going to take us longer for the next project.
This new way of thinking is going to be a shift for us, but I think these new features are going to really help us do that.
How do you use Placeholder Resources to understand staffing needs?
J.D.: Placeholders are the best thing ever.
We have this company pipeline integrated with our CRM tool where we rank opportunities based on the likelihood they'll happen. When an opportunity comes up that’s about 80% and we have a really good idea of the timing, we use the project budget that we created in the proposal phase to input it into 10,000ft, using Placeholder Resources for people.
Our Monday morning staffing meetings used to take an hour. Because of placeholders, our staffing meetings are now maybe 15 to 30 minutes of just filtering through for the placeholder time.
Another great thing about placeholders is, if we want to look at future potential utilization or monthly revenue, we can include or exclude placeholders or tentative projects. So, I can tell my CEO with confidence that, "Within the next two months we're going to be over-utilized for all of our associates in these placeholder areas. We might need to talk about filling in with contractors." Having the ability to do that is huge.
It's hard to predict six months out, but if you can get an accurate three-month picture and give that to the senior leadership team to make hiring decisions, that’s invaluable.
What advice can you offer other teams who are thinking about adopting 10,000ft?
Bobby: I would definitely take advantage of the Pilot Program. That really gives you the opportunity to play around and input raw data into 10,000ft so you can compare it to whatever crappy systems you were using before.
We imported all of our 2018 projects that were already in progress into 10,000ft. We were debating on whether we should keep current active projects to finish out in our previous tool, and then any new projects will start in 10,000ft, but that would result us in using two systems for maybe three or six months and we didn't like that idea. We chose a cutoff date, and we bulk transferred hours over to 10,000ft so we would only use one system moving forward. That migration worked well for us.
J.D.: I would advise potential 10,000ft adopters to really do their homework within their own company and understand what systems they're using now, what they want to replace, and how the various stakeholder groups are using the programs. The reason we decided to go with 10,000ft is because it had all the systems we were looking to replace and overall, it would save our associates time.
Because we did all of that work about two months before we even started the pilot, the implementation of 10,000ft was pretty seamless.
That couple months’ worth of work to interview a handful of stakeholders and really understand all the features of 10,000ft utilizing the Pilot Program was huge for us. We used every aspect of 10,000ft before we told the VPs and the president that this is the system we should be using. Without a Pilot Program, I don't know if it would have been as successful as it has been.
What’s the most valuable part of 10,000ft for Lextant?
Bobby: What I’m most excited about is the relationship between the data in the project portfolio, the use of custom fields, and the analytics. 10,000ft is like a big ass pivot table and you can do so much in terms of understanding the data trends and historical data. I'm really interested in looking at this data to help us be more effective in how we work future projects, whether that's creating proposals or resource allocation.
The forecasted under-budget or over-budget feature on each project page is super sweet, too. It’s helping us to be proactive rather than reactive in our forecasting.
J.D.: It's impossible for me to say that there's just one thing that I like about 10,000ft because I utilize and really love all of it. The analytics have proven to be so useful for me to look at project health and then put it in our overall company pipeline to see how much revenue we're getting every month.
Also, being able to get into the nitty gritty of each project and understand how the team is utilizing the hours they've been budgeted for.
All of the small time-saving elements of 10,000ft are huge. I myself manage anywhere from 10 to 13 projects, so I don't have time to sit down and really run analytics. Being able to save reports and click a button and have data right there in front of you is so powerful.
At the end of the day, you're only as good as the data you have in front of you. Now I have this really powerful tool that helps me more effectively manage the team and help everyone out. It's amazing.
Founded in 1998, Lextant is an experience-centered research and design partner to some of the world’s largest brands. Their customer-led innovation techniques directly connect consumer behaviors and desires to product and service design for customer experiences that stay ahead of the competition. Global brands like Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Honda, Whirlpool, Johnson & Johnson, and GE rely on Lextant’s expertise for insight-driven solutions.
Bobby Nguyen, Human Centered Design Director, has over 10 years of experience conducting and leading Human Factors research and usability research in areas such as driving performance, automotive, retail, consumer goods, and e-commerce. As Director of the HCD group, his responsibilities include leading research teams, being a mentor to associates, and assisting with business development efforts.
J.D. Johnson, Project Manager, Client Services, joined Lextant in 2015 as a recent graduate of The Ohio State University. For the past three years he has worked closely with and supported the senior research, and strategy/design team leaders to ensure projects are delivered on-time and on-budget with a high degree of satisfaction. He is a key point of contact with clients providing status updates of work in progress and proactively manages daily details.