Performance and Project Management

Three firms offer solutions for maximizing employees' time and improving job productivity

March 31, 2004
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Aasif Bagdadi and Dave Taraboletti made sure employees across the company helped decide which data to include in Airoom’s project and performance management program and that they helped teach it to their peers.

Photography: Hayley Murphy

With 160 employees and annual averages of 300 remodeling projects and more than $50 million in revenue, Airoom Architects & Builders in Lincolnwood, Ill., operates on a grander scale than most remodelers. But Airoom’s strategic approach to improving performance management can act as a template for any company.

The basic steps: Identify performance indicators critical to company success. Track and measure those indicators, and communicate the results across the company. Analyze the data to find weaknesses. Finally, develop and implement plans to improve work processes and systems in those weak spots.

When director of operations Dave Taraboletti joined Airoom in 2002, owner Mike Klein charged him with providing easy access to information for everyone in the company, clients and approved partners. “The concept was to put all the information no more than two clicks away whether people were in the office, working from home or any other place where they may have Internet access,” Taraboletti says.

Growing a nonexistent information technology department to its current level of five people, three of whom developed the program, Airoom rolled out its internally created, enterprisewide system in less than nine months.

Called AFD, the proprietary intranet portal — consisting mainly of a Microsoft SQL Server database, the Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management Solution, Timberline accounting software, an assortment of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and various programs that help load information onto the Web — has been in place for one year. “We have reduced project time by about 15% and paid off the investment cost through savings within one year of deployment,” Taraboletti says.

 

AFD’s Web interface lets employees easily pull up detailed data on their projects and view broad information across the company.

AFD provides employees with shared company information as well as individual personal pages from which each worker can manage contacts, leads, sales, purchase orders, schedules, contracts and more. “And we can tap into Sidwell [SidwellMaps.com], municipality databases, Yahoo maps, MapQuest, aerial photos online and other existing collections of data on the Web,” adds Airoom IT/IS manager Aasif Bagdadi, who headed the technology integration.

AFD also has become an essential part of Airoom’s quality-management program, which tracks processes to identify potential areas for quality improvement. AFD helps by serving as a centralized, automated means of tracking performance indicators, generating reports and communicating company goals. In addition to four global metrics — planned versus actual project time lines, customer satisfaction ratings, profitability and quality (determined by a formula that includes number of issues and time to resolve them) — employees can view measures of both their individual performance and their projects.

Project scorecards track individual or team performance on a single project or group of projects. The scorecard rates customer satisfaction through recurring, proactive phone calls to gauge the “pulse and temperature of clients” during and after projects, Taraboletti says. Also rated are adherence to schedule, performance against schedule, actual profitability versus projections, adherence to internal processes, etc. Scoring is weighted based on project size and complexity, number of trades involved, dollar amount, known lead times of municipalities and other issues that can be tracked quantitatively.

Such detailed tracking allows Airoom to make company profitability a greater factor in more employees’ compensation packages and to link production employees’ compensation to on-time project delivery, with a bonus for early completion. AFD even alerts staff when a project is going off schedule.

To determine which information should be shared and how best to present it, Taraboletti and Bagdadi employed a business methodology developed by IBM in the early 1980s called JAD — Joint Application Design/Development/

Deployment. “You gather together the best members of each work discipline and through a collaborative upfront effort determine best practices, and then the same team acts as evangelists in their respective departments to help train the rest of the company,” Taraboletti says.

JAD also helps streamline processes in general. “When we looked at processes such as design, project development and construction procedures, we found areas where we could eliminate steps,” Taraboletti says.

In addition to streamlining its remodeling process, Airoom increased the power of the information gathered for each project. “What was labeled as information for one report, we can now provide 70 variations of that report, including graphical analysis and trends tracking,” Bagdadi says. “Also, our sales team now goes very prepared for the first meeting, with more information about the municipality and other significant factors. That helps them adjust project scope to avoid changes, which have a significant impact on schedules.”

The AFD system saves more time by automatically alerting the next department that a project is ready for it. When a manager checks off that a project has moved through his or her department, an e-mail automatically sent to the next department indicates that the project is in the next stage. “For example, when the job is sold and a review has been completed, the manager of architecture will receive an e-mail and can assign it to an architect by putting it into that architect’s electronic job folder,” Bagdadi says. “We have significantly cut down on handoff time.”

In addition to the initial technology upgrades, Airoom planned a series of upgrades so the system continually will provide productivity improvements. One upgrade implemented during the first year of use was the creation of “wizards” that guide staff through the steps necessary to move a project to the next phase of the AFD system.

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