Tracking projects is a challenge for any organization. At Chesterfield County Public Schools, which oversees approximately 58,000 students enrolled at 63 schools in Virginia, the task is a real challenge.
“In public education, there is a need to wear many hats and manage many different initiatives,” says David Eshelman, director of Career and Technical Education. At Chesterfield County Public Schools, “Collaboration, particularly in regard to equipment and professional development requirements, is extremely important. We need to manage a lot of data across a small team.”
In the past, officials approached projects in a somewhat haphazard manner, using email, spreadsheets and ad hoc tools. In many cases, project teams resorted to posting large sheets of paper with lists on a wall and updating it as necessary.
“The system we had in place was inefficient and prone to errors and problems,” Eshelman notes. With 216 courses in 11 different program areas and more than 200 teachers spanning 63 schools, that wasn’t good enough.
“We needed a system that could provide better visibility and oversight,” he explains. “We needed to pull analytical data and present it in a clear way, rather than having people view and update information manually.”
Turning to Project Management Software
In September 2015, the Chesterfield County School District turned to online project management software vendor LiquidPlanner to provide a system that would support its requirements. For instance, the district holds a professional development day every year. In order to make the event a success, it reaches out to more than 40 businesses for input and participation.
“Previously, a lot of the information and expertise was in people’s heads rather than in a database,” Eshelman says. “We needed to have a system for recording all the different activities and standardizing things. Many of our events, like the development day, are repetitive.”
Other areas of focus include succession planning, budgeting, performance reports, curriculum development and idea generation.
One of the key benefits of the cloud-based approach, he adds, is the ability to access data from anywhere and through virtually any device. Staff members use everything from Apple iPads to Microsoft Surface devices, as well as laptops and PCs, to access the system.
In addition, “It’s extremely easy to pull analytical data and understand how people are using the project management tools,” Eshelman adds. In fact, staff members are able to classify tasks and assign them to activities or categories, such as high schools, middle schools, primary schools and adult campuses or technical centers.
“This makes it much easier to understand resource allocation for different groups and clients,” he points out. As a result, the district is able to adjust staffing and manage other resources more effectively.
Overall, Eshelman’s team uses LiquidPlanner to maintain 32 division projects, and organize, prioritize and accurately estimate resources for 400-plus tasks. And those numbers continue to grow.
“We have been able to get knowledge out of people’s heads and into software,” he says. “The mind is best used for processing information and generating ideas rather than simply remembering things. We are now able to keep everyone in sync, manage personal and professional growth, and take planning and project management to a new and better level.”