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Project Management Upgrades for a Growing Systems Integrator

It has been said that “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” For Control Systems Integrators the role of the Project Manager is key in ensuring project success.  Their ability to blend diverse adjacent disciplines and stakeholders can change the outcome from a technical success to an unqualified success.

Process and Data Automation (PDA) is no exception to this. From their roots as a regional service provider with a few projects happening at once, through decades of steady growth, and their incorporation into Krones, the magnitude and complexity of projects has grown along with them. Today with employees and projects throughout the US, situations arise that weren’t imagined at the company’s inception and success demands constant attention to detail within and amongst many projects at the same time. Strong backend support in people and systems is paramount.

Relationships and tools become key to success for structured growth. PDA has a long relationship with Penn State University (PSU) and when the school introduced its certificate program in Project Management via its Great Valley campus, multiple worlds converged. From their experience, PDA leadership knew their team would benefit from the concepts and academics offered by PSU, but the details of this course offered other advantages over other programs. The course’s setup for remote, evening learning allowed the PDA attendees to work as a cohort within the overall program even though they were frequently working at different client sites throughout the country. Their team benefitted from interacting with diverse attendees, but the focused project work happened as a unit for their personnel.

The coursework featured attractive scheduling and content for the attendees. The in-class portion of the 28-week program was executed via a single, online evening session each week.  Students focused on different modules including project charter or creation, communication plans, work breakdown schedules, costs and budgets, risk mitigation, and more.  “The depth covered within the individual modules was fantastic”, says Geoff Sanko, project manager at PDA.  “I applied much of what I learned to my projects, and I took the information forward to company management via our regular PM Workshop meeting and the tactics were vetted and rolled out to the larger team”, he continues.  “I was surprised at what it turns out I didn’t know about risk analysis”, says Doug Brooks, senior project manager at PDA.  “I found that particular module most valuable and I adapted my projects nearly immediately”, Brooks continues.

Perhaps equally important was the Microsoft Project 360 technology used in the course.  “We’ve used other tools for a long time to manage projects”, says Tim Andrews, engineering manager at PDA, “but we outgrew those a while ago and decided on the Microsoft 360 product as a suitable upgrade”.  The PDA attendees of the PSU course received the individual, specific benefits of the course while the company is using their experience there to advance the internal mission of deployment of the Project 360 solution.  “It was interesting to see the theory behind tools that I’ve used for years”, says Shaun McCausland, controls engineer at PDA who is working to become a project manager.  “Knowing that our work within the course would become integral to the upgraded company solution was interesting and attractive to me, as an attendee” McCausland continues.

“We have a proactive team approach to continuous improvement”, continues Andrews.  “Our regular project management workshops are the venue where we address items learned and they were a natural place to bring the items that our people learned within the PSU course.  Our SOPs and structured work breakdowns will benefit from the combined information and help us with a uniform approach to all future projects”, he continues.  Larger projects, which now feature multiple internal teammates in the form of company engineers, technicians, and coordinators, as well as external stakeholders will benefit from the formalized approach to plans, quality, risk, and schedules.  “Larger, longer projects need a steadier hand and consistent approach, and the MS 360 rollout and formal PMP training will give us just that.  Having multiple personnel formally trained in solid PM fundamentals, and in the exact software we’ll use, is a huge benefit to both PDA and our clients” Andrews concludes.

The final benefit of the PSU course was its alignment with eventual Project Management Professional or PMP certification.  “This course alone won’t satisfy all that we need to sit for the PMP exam, but it did help me obtain the required Professional Development Units or PDUs that are a requirement for that effort”, says McCausland.  “The subsequent boot camp module and project management audit will round out all that we need in terms of prerequisites to sit for the PMP exam”, adds Sanko.  Both attendees intend to pursue the formal PMP credentials and they, along with PDA, have faith that the PSU courses will have prepared them for success.  These successes will be reflected for many years to come in the company’s expert project execution.

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