Cambridgeshire Highways & Transport Drives a Pioneering Project Management Approach with Microsoft and Wellingtone’s Support

Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways & Transport department plays a crucial role in the council’s vision of “creating a greener, fairer and more caring Cambridgeshire”. This involves managing an annual budget of more than £84 million as part of the Place & Sustainability Directorate, which in turn is accountable for 10% of the council’s overall annual spend.

In 2020, Microsoft Gold Partner and approved G-Cloud supplier, Wellingtone, began working with Cambridgeshire County Council to roll out a Microsoft Project Platform configuration, including defined Enterprise Project Types (EPTs) and Power BI reporting. For the Highways & Transport Project Management Office (PMO), this highlighted an opportunity to customise a further EPT, specifically configured for Highways & Transport Project Delivery. It was the start of a journey towards implementing an innovative model of Project Portfolio Management (PPM). Roscoe Gibbs is the PMO Lead for Highways & Transport. Supported by Wellingtone’s expertise, he is leading his team’s continuous improvement pathway, which is making rapid progress and represents a cultural – as well as a technical – transformation.

Overview

Customer

Cambridgeshire County Council

Products and Services

Microsoft Project Online

Microsoft Power BI

PMO Consultancy

Country

United Kingdom

Industry

Local Government

Key Benefits

  • Defining advanced ways of working to drive best practice project and portfolio management.
  • Upskilling PMO personnel to act as ambassadors of a continuous improvement approach.
  • Pushing Power BI’s boundaries for extended, ‘self-serve’ portfolio visibility.
  • Creating the conditions to scale the model out across wider stakeholders.
  • Achieving cultural buy-in for the approach amongst the council’s leadership.

An Ambitious Best Practice Roadmap with Scope to Scale Up and Out

Prior to 2020, Roscoe and the PMO were already compiling a business case for deploying a customised PPM platform. “As part of that work, we built a significant knowledge base around Power BI’s portfolio visibility, delivery, and governance capabilities,” he explains. “When our central IT department announced the rollout of Project Online across the council, it was a change of course from the platform we originally envisaged. However, Wellingtone’s configuration was spot on in meeting the council’s overall PPM needs, although we already had a project framework in place. So, initially, we asked Wellingtone to work with our PMO to develop a custom Enterprise Project Type (EPT) incorporating that framework. We worked intensively to get the EPT exactly aligned to our needs. We wanted to push the boundaries of what the Microsoft Project Platform can do. But, right from the start, we were also considering how our approach could underpin the wider Place & Sustainability vision. The time and care we put into that thought process, even before we began working with Wellingtone on the configuration, is now paying valuable dividends. It has enabled us to scale our EPT model out from Project Delivery to the wider Highways & Transport department in the first instance, then potentially to the whole of Place & Sustainability – as we had always planned to do.”

The council subsequently re-engaged Wellingtone’s expertise in early 2023, to help the PMO validate how the PPM framework could be developed even further moving forwards. A series of workshops explored best practice across areas including controls, stage gate approvals, scheduling, resource management, dependencies, risks, issues, and escalations. Wellingtone then incorporated the agreed principles into a customised ‘Project Professional and Project Online for Practitioners’ training course. The aim was to upskill Highways & Transport PMO staff to excel in their own work, as well as to become ambassadors for their approach across the council.

Underpinned by Wellingtone’s support, technical expertise and training, I believe that our PMO’s work is breaking ground in terms of what Project Online and Power BI can help us achieve.

Roscoe Gibbs, PMO Lead

Pushing the Boundaries of Power BI’s Capabilities

Concurrently, the Highways & Transport PMO has been working to generate maximum portfolio value by extending Power BI’s core capabilities. “Our knowledge base has enabled us to build on Wellingtone’s configuration to challenge the parameters of what the system can do,” Roscoe explains. “What we have created is not just a reporting up tool – its impact is significantly more holistic. For example, we’re not just drawing data from our own custom EPT. We’re bridging live intelligence from Sharepoint, Enterprise Resource Planning, RAID logs and so on, to vastly increase visibility for staff, stakeholders, and leadership. We have developed an internal PMO skills set with Microsoft PowerApps, enabling our team to build new databases and integrate them with the Project Platform for enhanced PPM transparency.  For example, it’s not unusual for project managers to apply some level of optimism bias to a project initiation or plan. But we have actually embedded that parameter into Project Online’s governance gateways, so that the bias percentage is controlled by the PMO. That removes individual subjectivity and allows the PMO to refine risk parameters as the project progresses and we move from assumptions to knowns. We’re also doing things like pulling in satellite mapping Shapefiles to produce a picture of geographical dependencies across live infrastructure projects. We have created a Project Board PDF with Power BI ‘baked in’, so that any project manager can refresh their reports with real-time data at the touch of a button, saving significant man-hours and promoting immediate visibility. We’re still very much on a continuous improvement journey, but we have already made huge strides in our innovative use of the system. Throughout our roadmap, Wellingtone’s expertise has been invaluable. They have found technical solutions for some of our ambitious functionality aspirations, worked with us to customise training to our ways of working, and acted as an expert, critical resource to help us validate our assumptions and ideas.”

This PMO’s innovative use of the Microsoft Power Platform demonstrates how the technology can be creatively adapted to scale up and out. I have thoroughly enjoyed supporting them as they actively upskill, push the system’s parameters, and consistently find ways to drive PPM maturity and reach.

Marisa Silva, Senior PPM Consultant, Wellingtone

Self-Serve Visibility to Promote a Culture of Transparency, Accountability and Collaboration

This work is also driving an important cultural shift, according to Roscoe. “As a PMO, our message is that the system is everyone’s friend. Our ability to capture and integrate data on a ‘self-serve’ basis creates an end-to-end, auditable journey right across the PPM cycle. It generates transparency and joint ownership of important decisions. It protects our frontline project managers, enables data-driven insights, and ensures accountability – which is vital when allocating public funds.

“It also enables our PMO to act as a critical friend to all stakeholders by pinpointing where we need to support, challenge, or escalate,” Roscoe continues. “We have achieved strong buy-in from senior management and we are starting to engage sponsors in the journey as well. They understand what we are doing, they want us to progress our approach to a wider council audience, and they are helping us to push that culture change forward.”

Looking ahead, Roscoe is clear that this is a continuous improvement roadmap. “Projects never stand still and there is so much scope to harness emerging technology. For example, AI offers exciting possibilities across areas like commercial service contracts, proposals, and project designs. I believe there is a genuine appetite to scale our approach out to the entire Place & Sustainability directorate and beyond when the time is right. Wellingtone’s Microsoft and PPM expertise has generated real value for us. Underpinned by their support, technical expertise and training, I believe that our PMO’s work is breaking ground in terms of what Project Online and Power BI can help us achieve.”