Improving Resource Management and Project Selection Results (MSA Safety Interview)
Michael Oyler, product strategy and portfolio manager at MSA Safety, discusses some of the challenges that the organization faced managing its portfolio prior to implementing Planisware Enterprise. He goes on to explain some of the benefits that MSA Safety has experienced since going live with the Planisware solution, including improved transparency, more efficient capacity planning and better project selection.

Michael Oyler is a project strategy and portfolio manager at MSA Safety, Mine Safety Appliances.


My name is Michael Oyler and I am a product strategy and portfolio manager at MSA, Mine Safety Appliances.


What does MSA Safety do and what is your role within the company?

Mine Safety Appliances is a company that manufactures and designs safety equipment. So, our mission is to protect workers, keep them safe, allow them, their families and their communities to live in health around the world.

For the implementation, I was really the program manager, so I helped coordinate everything from the blueprinting process to the implementation team and the timelines, keeping to the schedules. Now, I'm really the day-to-day kind of high-admin user. So, I help coordinate any feature additions that we want, any customization, which I can do within the software, and I really provide some guidance for where we want to take this tool in the short-term.


Why did you decide to implement a PPM solution within MSA Safety?

Two years ago, we started looking into PPM software solutions. We were managing our portfolio with about a thousand different Excel spreadsheets. We were combining those in a yearly effort, every August, to come up with an optimized portfolio and, as you can imagine, revision management, version management became a bit of a nightmare, and difficult to do. And to ensure that we had accurate data, timely data and, then, also, optimized data.


What were MSA Safety's key challenges prior to using Planisware?

In terms of challenges, specifically with resource management, we always planned with generic resources, so a given job function -- mechanical engineer -- we'd know that we'd need 62 for a certain job, but we never added names to it, so when there was a deficit in resources or a surplus, we didn't know exactly what names those could be applied to. And, also, what design center locations, so having the transparency of a PPM tool and applying names to those resources was a huge benefit for us.

In terms of metrics, we did know kind of longer-term capacity planning that we wanted to slowly transition away from mechanical engineers and then ramp up our software engineers, as our world becomes more technical and fast-paced. So, we also knew that the PPM tool could help with that.

I think the most difficult part for us was probably hiring the correct resources. Because of the way we planned our portfolio, once a year, if we missed when those generic resources were needed and the specific location for a given year, we really wouldn't see that effect for almost 12 months and, then, assuming we caught it the next year, we could fix it -- but we lost 12 months of productivity and, in some cases, I'm sure, it was missed two years in a row. So, you just have the wrong resources applied to the wrong project, which is a very difficult problem to have.


What were MSA Safety's top priorities for selecting a PPM tool?

During the decision, as with all tools, cost was definitely a part of the decision, but also you have to factor in value. It's a tool that we expect to be with us for a pretty long time, so we wanted to make sure that we were investing in a valuable tool. But, in addition, we wanted something that we knew the support staff would be reliable and would be able to help us, so it was a bit of making relationships with the staff at Planisware.

It was also having our software developers look at the tool themselves. Since we develop software products, they know a little bit about what commercial products we should be buying. So, once it was vetted by that team, and to hear their ok, it was pretty -- a pretty good thing to hear.


Why did MSA Safety select Planisware over other PPM vendors?

In the fall of 2015, we did pretty extensive research into different PPM tools out there. Specifically, we looked at the Gartner research and we saw that Planisware had jumped to the top of their list, so we brought them in for a demo and were really excited about the solutions that we saw.

With Planisware, we really liked the visualization within the software, we liked the resource management, and then also, the user interface was really easy for us to understand.

Two of the leading competitors did not offer on-site implementation -- for us, that's a must for security within our IT department -- and, then, also, we had a bit of an issue with service with one of the other competitors. So, Planisware just outperformed the competitors in that area and that's why we picked them.


What is MSA Safety's scope of use with Planisware?

We use it all for R&D portfolio management. Our scope includes the entire R&D organization, but, by nature of developing an R&D product, you interface with operations, you interface with IT a little bit … so, we do also work with those groups. We don't always plan their resources completely to 100 percent capacity, but we do interface with them.

We have 165 projects loaded into Planisware. That will be coming down -- part of the great benefit of this tool is that we have better transparency, so we can begin to emphasize our more important projects. We have this across eight (8) locations and that's spread across the entire globe. We have it for 55 read-write users, four (4) admin users and one IT role.


... [We] looked at the Gartner research and we saw that Planisware had jumped to the top of their list ...

What benefits has Planisware provided to MSA Safety?

So, I think the biggest thing Planisware has done for us is provided an immense level of transparency that we never had before. Not only can I see what level of resources are applied to a project, but I can see what job function, what named resource and what factor of his or her time is applied to a project. We can also see as a project kind of phases out of R&D and goes into production, how their time becomes available again, and it allows us to do capacity and resource management like we've never done before.


What decisions are driven from Planisware?

The two big decisions that we're making would be with our HR department. We're doing capacity planning. We're actually hiring people based on results that we see from the tool. And, like I said, it's because of the new transparency that we have with the tool. This really improves our level of accuracy with portfolio planning. We're looking at the financial return we get from all these projects and we're putting the schedules up against each other and seeing how they best fit into our next budget year, and how we can produce the best results for our stakeholders.


What is the ROI experienced since implementing Planisware?

We've quantified these improvements in three different ways and I think they're all pretty conservative estimates.

  • Reduction in time-to-market for all projects. One is a one-percent reduction in time-to-market for all of our projects. So, across our entire portfolio, that's a pretty significant savings, even though that's just a one-percent reduction in time-to-market.
  • Increase in portfolio value. We also have a one-percent increase in the value of our portfolio and we attribute that to Planisware allowing us to select better projects and create a more robust portfolio.
  • Seamless project / financials versioning and control. The final way is also, it's in, management of the portfolio. So, we have some pretty highly paid people looking at these projects and how they all fit into our portfolio. Back when we did it with Excel, it was very labor-intensive to ensure that we had the right financials, the right revisions, all coordinating together, whereas now, with Planisware, it's a really nice, seamless revision control and we're able to optimize the portfolio.


Can you provide a specific example of how Planisware has improved MSA Safety's PPM?

I think one of the most important things is to appreciate just how massive of a project this implementation was. We really transformed the way that we plan our portfolio, which is the lifeblood of all of our future revenue comes from our R&D department, so it's really a massive undertaking just to move that from Excel, where we estimate that we had about 1200 worksheets that we combined, between revisions and different business units. It was certainly a pretty massive effort to take 1200 worksheets and combine them all into one software, one centralized planning tool that allowed us to optimize the portfolio.

Before it would take us the majority of the summer, from late-May into mid-August to plan our portfolio and we did that once a year. Now, we expect that the engineering managers and marketers would be in there every quarter to work with us on kind of a portfolio refresh. They'll be making project proposals every quarter and we expect that the time they put into planning those projects and proposing those projects is reduced by 50 percent.


How has your experience been working with the Planisware team?

Our customer success manager was extremely helpful in kind of defining this vision of what we wanted our software solution to look like. What modules we wanted to bring on in phase one, what we should maybe hold off until phase two … really defining that landscape was extremely important. And when we got into the implementation, that team was extremely responsive. They were much faster with the sprints and with the reviews than almost we could keep up with.

The team was always on top of any issues we had with discrepancies between what they built and what we expected to see. And, then, since we've launched, the support has been excellent, as well. The responses are always pretty quick, they're not so technical in nature that I can't understand them as a business user and the fixes are always as we expect them.


What are MSA Safety's future plans with Planisware?

We're trusting Planisware to really be the experts in this space -- portfolio management. Obviously, we've got this with internal resources, but we're looking to them to help guide us in best practices beyond the modules we've already brought on, with resource, project and portfolio. We look to do roadmapping, strategic buckets and investments, and we consider them, really, a partner in defining what those best practices are for our company.

We'll certainly bring on roadmapping and strategic buckets and investments. We think for the long-term vision of our R&D department, that those are going to be crucial additions.


How has Planisware made work easier for you?

I think that one of the most important things we've experienced with the software was taking a portfolio in 2015 that had 1200 Excel spreadsheets feeding into it, really the complexity of our business units, the version control, everything that we had going into it just became very difficult to manage in Excel.

It's not a tool that's optimized for doing that type of portfolio management, so bringing that in just one calendar year from 1200 spreadsheets into one, centralized, up-to-date single source of truth software was really powerful for us.