Using CMMS to manage projects

Satisfy your data management needs for successful project management within your CMMS system.

By John Reeve

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The larger the task, the greater the risk. Successful project management requires many skills. A given project requires clear scope definition, identified stakeholders, a work breakdown structure, budgeting, forecasting, a risk/communications plan, key milestones, deadlines and stated assumptions. Many projects can be managed with just a schedule. But there are also issues concerning scope changes, approvals therein and dollar movement between cost accounts. There is an opportunity to satisfy many of these data management needs for successful project management within the CMMS system. Of course, the schedule would still exist and be properly integrated. Modern systems are flexible enough to be altered to meet any requirement. All we need is a roadmap forward.

In some instances, it is the user community itself that is choosing to use multiple software products to manage scope, track changes and report cost. This decision adds unnecessary levels of complexity due to duplication of effort and asynchronous data. Because most organizations are lean in staff, they need to be as efficient as possible. The primary goal of any major project should be to manage scope, schedule, cost and quality with the least amount of effort. In this article, I will focus on how all industries can better utilize the CMMS system in support of project management.

Key definitions

WBS refers to work breakdown structure, which defines the total scope of a project using a hierarchical tree structure. Because CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) and EAM (enterprise asset management) are so similar in concept, I will only use the term CMMS to mean both. Also, for this article, shutdowns, outages and turnarounds are interchangeable terms.

What is a project?

This “new way of thinking” can empower both small and large organizations, and help them make more informed decisions about managing projects using the CMMS system.

– John Reeve

Every industry has a different emphasis. Fossil power plants perform outage/shutdown projects. Nuclear power plants also have plant outages, uprate projects and safety/regulatory projects. Refineries perform turnarounds. Water/wastewater utilities have asset preservation projects. All industries can have major maintenance projects. And lastly, any industry can experience a major software implementation, which in itself is a project lasting one to two years.

Many industries also have long-range plans that contain lists of future projects that are in various states of funding approval. As these project target dates (sometimes linked to quarters) get closer to the current timeframe, the LRP review committee will make final approval and officially release for scheduling or push back. The goals of any project are to add efficiency, reduce costs and increase revenue. But if the project is mismanaged, this can cause schedule delays and budget overruns resulting in reduced funding for other critical efforts.

Problem statement

Users routinely fail to optimize the use of their CMMS systems when it comes to management of major projects. Schedule development is obviously important, but the CMMS system is the driving agent — or should be. Here are some common reasons why the CMMS system is not properly leveraged.

  1. The CMMS system has inaccurate data, lacks completeness or the data being keyed into the CMMS product is much delayed.
  2. There is no use of a project cost report, which shows cost elements in a hierarchical, indented format including ETC and revised forecasts.
  3. Users also complain that they “don’t trust the CMMS database since they can’t easily manipulate it or write reports.”
  4. There is difficulty in providing timely explanations to management (corporate) regarding cost overruns and scope changes. The project is finished and staff is struggling to organize the data for summary reports.
  5. The typical CMMS design for project tracking utilizes work order hierarchies. But these are not always the best solutions because a work order is usually tied to one asset, which in turn leads to a large hierarchy plus many status updates.
  6. The scheduling database is usually controlled by one person, and this in turn limits the visibility of data.
  7. The schedule activities are not tightly integrated with the CMMS system. The scheduling system does not have ready access to the purchasing, invoicing and other cost data present in the CMMS system.

All of the above can lead to a lack of system confidence and therefore a movement to other solutions. These are all valid problems, but they are problems that can be overcome. If the amount of staffing required to manage projects is never a concern, then there is no worry. But if the organization wants to increase efficiency in project management, they need to re-assess their current business process.

What was discovered

When users encounter roadblocks, they will find ways to get the job done. Although well meaning, these users may create their own island of information using, for example, an Excel spreadsheet to store project cost related information. In effect, they are double-entering this data. On the surface, there seems to be an overall lack of procedure, role/responsibility and training. In addition, the CMMS system may not have been setup correctly to accommodate key fields.

Ask yourself these questions:

Where does all project scope typically originate?
Answer: The CMMS database.
If project scope is frozen, where is this freeze date stored? Answer: This may be in the form of a schedule snapshot.
Is there a way to automatically capture scope changes? Answer: Not normally an automatic process.
If scope is added during the project, how easy is it to pull out the added/deleted scope with reporting and their approvals? Answer: Reports may exist in the scheduling tool, but how does it pull committed costs and invoice actuals?
If you want to show a project cost report showing budgets, dollar movements, ETC and forecasts, how hard is that to extract? Where is this data stored?
Answer: Budget values, purchasing records, receiving and invoice records, plus actual costs are stored within the CMMS system. Dollar movements between cost accounts could also be captured.
So, why are users managing this information outside of the CMMS?
Answer: They are more familiar with external tools outside of CMMS.
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