In any given year, Origin Energy has more than 100 projects on the go across Australia, spanning technology, exploration, construction, maintenance and renewables. The company invests significantly to support these projects, and reinforces its strong learning culture with extensive education and training programs for employees.
It’s what you’d expect from a highly innovative business.
While Origin is not afraid of failure – another hallmark of innovative enterprises – it does want to learn lessons from projects to accelerate success and reduce risk, and to provide project managers with what might be described as 20:20 hindsight.
The challenge has been capturing the lessons learned across Origin’s entire project portfolio, which is spread through its different business units and divisions, and then making that information easily searchable and accessible.
Origin has now developed a Microsoft Power Apps solution that collates information and makes it visible across the business. It’s an approach that embodies one of the company’s core values, according to Project Delivery Lead Adam Paine.
“It dovetailed quite nicely into the Origin value of supporting a culture where people are trying to find a better way to do things,” he says.
In the past, Origin’s project managers might have captured some information about lessons learned on a project in a spreadsheet and stored that in a Microsoft SharePoint library. However, Paine says it might not have been easy for other people to access – especially new project managers.
“If you were lucky enough to find a project similar to the one you had been asked to deliver, getting access to those lessons very much depended on who was still around in the organisation to give you permissions to that library,” he explains.
“And often, those lessons might not be stored in a logical place, and the quality was questionable. So, you could really spin your wheels as a new project manager, trying to find relevant projects to learn what has and hasn’t worked at Origin.
That’s all changed now.
Origin’s projects span a number of fields including technology, exploration, construction, maintenance and renewables. Whatever platform was selected to manage the lessons learned needed to work across the business.
An internal assessment of existing systems found issues with the user experience, licensing and adaptability. Origin needed a broader solution that would make it easier for project managers to submit and find lessons learned.
Working with Microsoft partner Engage Squared, Origin developed a solution using Microsoft Power Apps, linked it to SharePoint and integrated it with Origin’s data lake and project management information system. The solution offers an intuitive user interface that allows easy access to lessons learned, and leverages Origin’s existing enterprise-wide Microsoft licences to reduce costs.
Origin and Engage Squared developed the solution in just four two-week sprints, bringing in project characteristics such as name, description, duration, cost, risk, difficulty and impacted stakeholders from the project management information system. These characteristics are transferred to a data lake stored on Amazon Web Services and uploaded to SharePoint each night.
Lessons learned can then be collected and attached to each project using the Power Apps solution, where they can be searched, accessed and adopted.
Following a brief pilot and some training for project managers, the system was deployed in mid-2019.
Importantly, the system is paired with new guidance on what constitutes a ‘good lesson’. Paine says it has dramatically changed the accessibility of lessons learned, particularly for new starters at Origin and project managers without extensive knowledge of past projects.
“If you’re a project manager who’s been here for some time, you know what projects we’ve done, and you know the people involved, so you probably have a reasonable idea of what does and doesn’t work,” he says.
“But, if you leave Origin, that knowledge was going out the door with you. Now, if you’re a project manager, you can easily search for projects with characteristics that are similar to yours and read the lessons that are applicable.
“But importantly, we want project managers to start adopting lessons. So, if there’s a lesson that is relevant for your project, you can actually add that to a shopping cart and then adopt that to your new project.”
Besides streamlining access to the lessons learned, this approach provides enterprise-wide transparency about how Origin’s project managers are searching for insights and then applying them. It also identifies which lessons are deemed particularly useful.
For agile projects, Paine says the approach is complementary to existing scrum events and standups.
Robert Reitsma, Practice Architect for Business Applications at Engage Squared, says: “We locked ourselves in a room for four days straight where we just workshopped and whiteboarded the different screens the solution would have before moving into development sprints. I think it worked because of the sort of vision Adam already had.
“That really just accelerated this project immensely. And we could be creative with things like shopping carts.”
Origin has also used Power Apps to develop a health and safety application that enables field-based teams to quickly access recent safety incident briefings that highlight the need for changes to work practices or processes.
“Having something that people can access on a mobile phone is important, because they’re out in the field and not in front of a desktop computer when they want to do that,” says Paine.
Paine has also built a Microsoft Power BI dashboard for project managers and their managers that provides insights into the usage of the system and identifies common themes. This de-facto ‘leader board’ gamifies the adoption of lessons learned and encourages other project managers to make greater use of the platform.
And it’s working, with project managers having added more than 1,300 lessons to the system since it was deployed. As more lessons are added, Paine says it becomes easier to find a relevant lesson to adopt – and that’s where the value lies.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback from project managers that it’s the best lessons learned system and process that they’ve ever come across,” he says. “And with project managers often being contractors, they’ve worked with a lot of different companies and seen how they operate. So that has been great feedback.”
Paine is keen to explore pushing the lessons learned, which are held in SharePoint, back into Origin’s data lake, where machine learning can be used to interpret the data and provide predictive insights to prevent projects coming unstuck.
It’s this sort of learning culture that Paine wants to nurture at Origin. He recognises that although there will be failures from time to time – because that’s the nature of innovation – a feature-rich and well-adopted system of lessons learned will help ward off the risk of repeat failures. Because everyone sees more clearly with a dash of 20:20 hindsight.