»Blue Ant is a very effective tool. It has certainly made it easier for me to manage multiple projects in parallel.«
At the Fraunhofer Project Centre for Embedded Bioanalytical Systems "FPC@DCU", Dublin City University (DCU) and the German Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology partner to provide time- and cost-efficient research and technology development of microfluidic systems. Typical applications of these next-generation “Lab-on-a-Chip” platforms are sample-to-answer integration for biomedical point-of-care and global diagnostics, liquid handling automation for the life sciences, process analytical techniques and cell line development for biopharma as well as monitoring the environment, infrastructure, industrial processes and agrifood.
We spoke to Project Manager, Barry Byrne about the introduction of Blue Ant.
Barry, what position do you hold at FPC@DCU and what are your areas of activity?
Project Portfolio Manager is my official title. I am responsible for manufacturing engineering and assay development.
What is the core business of FPC@DCU?
FPC@DCU is a one-stop shop for the development of microfluidics-based solutions for decentralised bioanalytical testing.
How would you describe the project environment at FPC@DCU?
Currently, we have around 20 staff in Dublin, split between 12 projects. So, we operate in a model where we flexibly share individual staff between projects. If an individual is able to deliver a skill for a project, we allocate them to that project for a certain duration of time based on a competency matrix approach.
Why did you want to introduce Project Management Software?
Prior to the introduction of Blue Ant, we used a combination of different mechanisms for monitoring projects, ranging from Excel to PowerPoint. While this worked well initially, as we acquired more and more projects we came to the realisation that we needed a more streamlined method to manage multiple projects, of varying scale, in parallel. Blue Ant supported this upscale model by permitting us to do this in a reliable and user-friendly way.
What are the typical deployment scenarios supported by Blue Ant?
We use Blue Ant for two key application areas; monitoring project progress and for resource allocation (e.g. time recording for booking hours on individual projects). What works quite well for us is the ability to have this information centralised in one package, as opposed to having to migrate between different software tools to compile all of the important information. The ability to generate project plans from scratch is quite easy to do, and the platform forms a key component of project technical meetings where we monitor project maturity through the very useful ‘percent complete’ function.
DCU in Dublin
How did your staff deal with the implementation?
Some of our funding bodies require us to provide time sheets for projects, as in Ireland there is now an official requirement to log hours. In one way it’s great because it gives me additional bandwidth to utilise Blue Ant. In terms of staff, I think what works well here is when I go to the project meetings, I bring up the project Gantt charts and so on from Blue Ant and if I need to change the resources I can do that within the meeting. We try to limit the staff to logging in for a maximum of five minutes a day just to see what they have to do and log their hours. The way we’re doing it at the moment is duration based, so for example, if someone works two hours on one project, they’d log two hours. We have a pull-down option for all the different projects so we can select which project they’ve worked on. Initially, there was reluctance, but as we become more familiar with it, staff have certainly become more receptive to Blue Ant.
What made you decide on Blue Ant?
Prior to using Blue Ant we were using MS Project. The problem we were having, was we needed to go through multiple tools to do what Blue Ant can do collectively. The other reason Blue Ant was introduced was a recommendation from a colleague in Germany who was using Blue Ant in a relatively large operation involving a couple of hundred staff. We were particularly sold on the logging of individual staff members’ hours and charging them to different projects. The way we operate here, we have various projects with budgets associated to them. When staff work on a project, they have to be paid by one of those budgets so it’s useful for making sure people are correctly allocated to the budget and tracking how the money is being spent.
How did the introduction of the Software go?
We were initially introduced to the software by a colleague of the FPC@DCU director and, based on a strong recommendation, we elected to have a one-month trial where we were able to test this out with ‘dummy’ projects. While initially it seemed quite daunting given the large number of project management functions available (which of course, is a good thing), the system itself, with practice, became quite easy to navigate. This initiation was also supported by conference calls with the Blue Ant sales team, who were able to outline key features specific to our needs. When we had procured a licence, our next step was on-site training, which took place over two days and again, was tailored to our needs as end-users. This was very useful and permitted, as an example, staff members to be trained up on functions such as booking hours on individual projects. While we are not experts yet, we are certainly getting there – and enjoying identifying new features of the software; a process helped by our engagement with the excellent support staff at Proventis.
How has the introduction of Blue Ant affected your project management?
It’s definitely streamlined the process. Blue Ant is a very effective tool, but the projects of course, still need to be managed. The fact that it’s an all in one package cuts down on quite a bit of time in meetings, so that’s been very effective. It’s certainly made it easier for me to manage multiple projects in parallel. Although, there are a lot of features we don’t use at the moment, as our portfolio expands we’ll be looking to implement these.
What would you recommend to other institutes with regard to implementing multi-project management software?
The first thing I would say is not to be intimidated by the size of Blue Ant. We don’t use all the functions: for example, we don’t use travel and receipts yet, but we’re finding that the more we use the software, the better we get. We’re primarily focussed on resource management and controlling at this stage.
What do you intend to do in the field of project management in the future?
We’re looking to expand. As more people come of board we’ll see more benefit as to how we use Blue Ant.
Thank you for talking to us, Barry.