Tackling the Data Monster: Get the most out of Program Reporting

We here at Systemates would like to thank those who were able to attend our Projectmates Power Hour webinar on January 14th. Brandon Hawthorne at RaceTrac was a guest co-host and discussed the challenges and successes of using Projectmates custom, ad hoc and dashboard reporting across multiple projects. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, RaceTrac operates more than 700 company-owned and third-party contract operated stores under the RaceTrac and RaceWay names in twelve southern states. Brandon has been with RaceTrac for nine years and is also a Projectmates Site Administrator.

Q&A with Brandon Hawthorne

During the webinar, Brandon showed us how RaceTrac uses Projectmates to report schedule, cost, project and other custom information across multiple projects. Brandon indicated the main benefit of using Projectmates reporting over other methods is the speed and accuracy of the data reported. "I think the biggest and overarching thing is the accuracy," Brandon explained. "The data is already in the system and is waiting for you to quickly run a report against it."

Projectmates offers over 100 reports out of the box in addition to flexible and robust ad hoc reports. However, from time to time a client has highly specific requirements so a custom report is the best option. That was the case for RaceTrac. Four years ago, Projectmates created a custom report for RaceTrac's critical "POD" report that weaves together schedule milestones, project information, and project updates from the project manager. Although nobody remembers why it's called the "POD" report, this report is a workhorse for RaceTrac. "Multiple departments use this report every week," said Brandon. "Project Managers go in each week and update their information across all of their projects."

"Before Projectmates, people would have to take turns updating the same spreadsheet for the POD report," explained Brandon. RaceTrac has realized a large return on investment since buying the custom report. Brandon stated, "It probably saves each person that touches that report at least an hour every week, and we are talking about a large group of people. It's not only the time savings that is huge, but also the accuracy."

RaceTrac uses the pre-built reports in Projectmates for cost reporting, specifically outstanding invoices that may be pending for vendors. "This report gives you the ability to see items that have not been approved," Brandon explained. "It not only shows when the invoice was created, but also how many days have elapsed. This report shows me who the consultant is, how much we owe them, and how many days it's been sitting there. This report helps us to keep our consultants happy."

In addition to the pre-built reports Projectmates provides out of the box, ad hoc reports give RaceTrac unprecedented oversight into how much they spend on different project types. Using ad hoc invoice reports, RaceTrac executives get accurate information on project costs. "I think capturing that kind of information has allowed us to be more accurate in forecasting how many stores we are going to build," Brandon said. "Before the ad hocs, we never captured data like that. Putting that in Projectmates has really helped us a lot."

Another challenge RaceTrac faced was tracking bond status accurately. Prior to Projectmates, the company lost tens of thousands of dollars because it failed to collect on bond money it was due. To meet this need, RaceTrac created a custom form in Projectmates and is now able to run an ad hoc report that shows bond status across all projects. Brandon said, "Projectmates didn't create this form, we did. This form arose out of a need to track financial data. That way we could ensure that it would stay with the project forever."

"I created that form and now it can be used in a report. That shows you the power of the ad hoc reports. This enables us to keep track of these things, so when the time comes, we get our money back, instead of stumbling across it two or three years down the road," explained Brandon.

Using a combination of dashboards and ad hoc reports, RaceTrac is able to get really specific financial numbers for the different programs they manage. Global dashboards depict large amounts of data graphically, providing real-time snapshots that are quick and easy to comprehend. "This enables the executives to login and look at the information in real time, without ever having to look at a spreadsheet or open an email," said Brandon.

When asked if he has any advice for other owners, Brandon recommended looking for areas within your organization where you want to track a process. If you are tracking information in Excel or not at all, examine if you can start to track this information in Projectmates. "Dive into Projectmates, and see if you can't fill an area where you lack information," recommended Brandon.

Reporting Best Practices

In addition to Brandon's valuable insight, here are a couple best practices based off our experiences implementing and supporting Projectmates with many different customers.

Consistency

You've heard the phrase "Garbage in, garbage out." Well, this couldn't be truer for reporting. Your reports will only be as good as the information your internal and external partners enter in the system. The good news is that you have a lot of control to help them. For example, keep your schedule milestones, budget cost codes, and module menus consistent across all your projects. A little extra work at the front end, making sure you keep your naming schemes consistent, will ensure clear and consistent reporting across your different projects.

Set and Enforce Expectations

Want to run a rollup schedule report? Project managers need to update their schedule tasks. Want to see what action items are completed? Personnel must check them as complete. It should go without saying, but if you do not update projects regularly and consistently, you will get outdated or no data at all. Successful implementations of any enterprise software require a commitment from management to insist that processes be managed in Projectmates and hold members accountable if they are not inputting information as required.

In conclusion, RaceTrac has benefited from using the different reporting features of Projectmates, including a custom report created especially for RaceTrac. Projectmates offers pre-built, "create your own" ad hoc reports, and dashboards that depict large amounts of data graphically. These different reporting options allow for accurate reporting for cost tracking, project information, schedules, task management, and other critical information across multiple projects. In order to get the best reports, maintain a disciplined approach of consistency and set expectations for updating project information to generate clear, accurate, and consistent program reports.

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