Project Management for Solar Panel Installation

Namasté Solar

"Our commercial sales process has even benefited from Project Insight, and I'm thinking of a couple of specific, large projects that we were awarded where we had some pretty serious competition. We were able to demonstrate that we had tools above just being able to generate a Gantt chart, showing efficiency of the company, showing that there was an infrastructure and a process and an application that supported our project management staff."
- Director of Information Technology

Main Challenges

Namasté Solar is a progressive, employee owned solar company in Colorado that is quickly gaining a national reputation as an innovator. The Director of Information Technology (IT) oversees project managers working on both residential and commercial project types in addition to ensuring efficient IT support for internal customers such as the marketing and sales departments.

  • Communication between functional departments and between the organization as a whole and its stakeholders was time consuming
  • Cumbersome process to give project team and management views into project status
  • Difficult to know how to request resources and how many were needed
  • No easy way to enable true project portfolio management for better collaboration in-house and with contractors

"I'm basically tasked with supplying them with whatever technology tools they need," the director said, "so in the past few years, we've continued to evolve a customer relationship management (CRM) system on the sales side as well as a project management system." Along with ongoing internal projects, his group ensures that internet reporting systems for their customers' commercial solar installations are functioning well. "TV systems are now being monitored with a couple of pieces of equipment. We put the TV system on the internet, which reports to a central hosting system. That provides us not only with instant status reporting and notifications, but also with logging and metrics.

Over the course of a given year, we can report to a customer, 'This is where we're at in relation to the estimated performance of your system.' Even the utilities have an investment in this system and want to make sure it's performing optimally." Namaste concurrently manages over 110 active PV projects, for both residential and commercial customers, in addition to a number of internal IT projects. As to project management before Project Insight, the director says, "It was rudimentary. We were using a combination of Microsoft Outlook and Excel spreadsheets."

The biggest problem was communication, both within the organization and externally with Namasté Solar's stakeholders. "With a project duration of easily 18 months, we found it very difficult to communicate adequately, especially with our larger project stakeholders. As the company grows, the scale of the projects that we've been engaged to do has also grown commensurately, and it was a problem not being able to set the correct expectations about when their projects would be done, what's the critical path across the board, and so on," he said. "With the internal communication, it was really difficult for us to know how to request resources, how many resources, and when they were needed. Tied into that was the difficulty of scheduling and then communicating that schedule."

Why Project Insight

Namasté Solar's IT group and key internal stakeholders outlined their requirements for a project management solution, which included:

  • A true project portfolio management system to manage projects across the organization
  • The ability to collaborate internally, and with external team members and outside contractors in a secure manner
  • Web-based system with minimal training requirements
  • Easy access to role based project views
  • Ability to integrate with CRM system

The team's evaluation was relatively formal. The director added, "We did a requirements analysis, budgetary analysis, and tried to figure out what we needed from an application functionality standpoint, then we went out there and did our research evaluations. It was very frustrating, specifically with regard to project management software. There's a whole list of lower-tier applications, but when you want to increase that functionality or leverage that across the organization, there's an enormous gap that exists, and to get to the other side of that gap, you're talking about a completely different tier in terms of cost.

"Explaining what he'd learned from his experience in previous project management positions, he said, "One of the things I kind of had to sell the company on was, 'We don't just want a Gantt chart.' You've spent all this time and now you've got a Gantt chart, but it's not really doing anything for the organization. I hammered on the idea of project portfolio management, not just project management, because portfolio management leads into collaboration. Seeing the project in its silo—that's all well and good—but you have to have Microsoft ProjectTM (MSP) software installed or some other application and then you're the only person seeing it. It doesn't really benefit you that much from an organizational perspective." Another key feature the team sought was secure external collaboration features. "We have strategic relationships with key vendors, subcontractors, engineering firms, our project stakeholders and our clients and they also want to be part of the project team, view information and look at budgets.

The real sweet spot with Project Insight is the architecture. If I have a group of contractors and I want them to have certain touch-points to our project, I don't want to have to go out and install another application just to give access to view a project. I wanted to give them a URL and a user account and then some minor training and have them up and running. Along with that there's role-based access control, another function that we were definitely looking for.

The Results

  • Can readily and efficiently communicate internally across the organization and with external partners
  • Role based, real-time views of project information are available to all key team members and partners as needed
  • Makes it possible to perform resource allocation
  • Has enabled genuine collaboration in-house and with contractors
  • Working well with Metafuse to integrate with existing CRM system

Planning and cooperation have risen to a whole new level since Namasté Solar chose Project Insight and began implementing it. The director reports, "Project Insight has helped us with planning and purchasing, and even to the point of human resources if you were to cast a broad net. Understanding that, wow, now that we're seeing our workload across the organization, we're seeing how many resources we need at certain points in the year. And that enables us to do some kinds of advanced resource planning and see where that bell curve hits for us."

In addition, he says, "Our commercial sales process has even benefited from Project Insight, and I'm thinking of a couple of specific, large projects that we were awarded where we had some pretty serious competition. We were able to demonstrate that we had tools above just being able to generate a Gantt chart, showing efficiency of the company, showing that there was an infrastructure and a process and an application that supported our project management staff." Ramping up for an even more powerful implementation in the near future, the director explained, "We're actually working with the Metafuse development staff on an integration piece into our CRM system. The reason I mention that is that we're really focused on our project managers and everyone in our installation departments, but from an organization-wide perspective, to include sales administration, accounting, marketing, with the integration into Project Insight, we'll be able to expose the project data, financial data, performance data, scheduling data to the entire organization so that we also even augment our customer service. So if someone were to call in and have a specific question about when will this happen, what's the holdup with this, whatever the question, with 110-plus concurrent projects with 40-plus tasks apiece, some of the information can be really hard to gather to get back to the customer, so exposing that to our average user will allow for information sharing that's really helpful."

In closing, the director of IT remarked on the group's relationship with Metafuse, the company behind Project Insight. "I can honestly say Metafuse is one of the best software development companies I've ever worked with. I have 16 years professionally in the software industry and I've worked for three software manufacturers, so I know how the organizations typically are structured and typically work. When I put in a support call or send in an email, often the folks that are getting back to me I've already worked with before, so I know their expertise. There's nothing that hasn't been solved in literally 60 minutes at the outside, so the level of folks that I've interacted with even from a tech expertise have absolutely exceeded my expectations."