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Howden drives innovation and efficiency with Smartsheet

Howden drives innovation and efficiency with Smartsheet

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Howden designs, engineers and supplies air and gas handling solutions to optimise the vital process of its customers. As the company expanded into a global company it became more difficult to keep track of projects, progress and data. The energy company chose Smartsheet to address these issues. Willie Vance, Technology Project Management Lead at Howden Technology, explained more about the collaboration.

For an established global business like Howden – which designs, engineers and supplies air and gas handling solutions to optimise the vital process of its customers – collaboration, efficiency and innovation are fundamental.
But with over 6,000 employees across 26 countries – and an evolving solution offering that spans complex industries such as power, chemicals, infrastructure and beyond – achieving this isn’t easy. Associates have to juggle many fast-moving projects. And as Howden has discovered, the more globalised operations become, the harder it is to ensure everybody is on the same page.

Project managing global innovation

Howden employs a mix of ambitious engineers, programme controllers, project managers and support staff across the world – all of whom work together to help their customers deliver sustainable air and gas handling solutions, often in complex environments.

Willie Vance, Technology Project Management Lead at Howden Technology, provides professional project management support across Howden Technology, liaising with colleagues globally to drive projects forward. However, in recent years, Vance and his colleagues have seen specific issues and challenges reoccur across projects.

With so much global innovation, keeping track of projects, progress and data had become a serious headache. “We were sharing Excel spreadsheets,” said Vance. “But it was never clear if we were all looking at the same file or if that file was the most up-to-date version. During our fortnightly process calls with colleagues in India and China, it was sometimes unclear whether we were on the same page.”

The team also struggled with slow, manual reporting processes. Project managers and engineers presented project information in various formats, all based on personal preference.

All of these issues made it challenging to manage employee time effectively and gain clear visibility into projects, which made understanding and balancing workloads even harder.

A platform for global collaboration

Vance knew that Howden needed to find a better way forward – and that the solution had to work for everyone, considering their different preferences and geographical locations. Vance searched for a solution that could help and spoke with colleagues around the business. A key driver was the ability to display information in a variety of different ways, such as a Kanban board, while also ensuring that work and projects could be clearly visually represented with Gantt-style views.

After researching the market, Vance identified Smartsheet as a potential solution – and initial trials quickly showed that the platform was a fantastic fit for the business.

“We were soon able to realise a host of benefits, from creating a single source for data to more streamlined planning, faster reporting and easier visualisation of tasks,” said Vance. “We discovered we could use it in a host of innovative ways, like automating legacy processes and boosting company culture.”

A common source of truth for projects

Vance looked to Smartsheet to ensure everyone could have access to accurate, up-to-date data. The team can now capture and share the same information in the same standardised, consistent ways. Everyone can efficiently interact with the right data on daily calls using tailored solutions for the specific issue at hand. A flexible platform that can show the same information in different ways, Smartsheet has also improved how the team manages projects.
Smarter, faster reporting

Before Smartsheet, Vance and his colleagues spent a lot of time collating project information and status updates for the key monthly project review meetings. A reliance on manual processes meant the team spent hours gathering historical information in various formats, such as Excel spreadsheets and PDFs. Once they’d compiled this data, they had no consistent way of attaching files, adding comments or providing context.

More effective resourcing

Howden’s teams are always busy with numerous fast-moving projects. But managing work well isn’t just about completing projects quickly and efficiently, so Howden is keen to ensure employees have the time and space they need to thrive.

Smartsheet’s resource management software, 10,000ft, has proved crucial in giving the team visibility of resource loading, along with the scope to spot if the right people are involved in a project – and if they’re going to have adequate time to do the work. This has allowed Howden to work with an Agile project management philosophy, solve problems quickly and develop the right solutions.

Vance and his team have also used Smartsheet to improve general HR processes, like holiday booking, which play a key part in effective resource management. Previously, holiday booking was done manually with paper forms – a ‘frankly archaic’ system, as Vance was all too aware. Vance has since developed an automated holiday booking sheet.

Building a strong company culture

All of the above has combined to create a better culture of collaboration and communication within the business. But Howden has even used Smartsheet to specifically nurture a strong culture through the COVID-19 pandemic, creating an internal platform where associates can post updates, share light-hearted fun and of course, keep track of each other’s availability and location.
Vance is already planning to help roll-out the benefits of Smartsheet for his global colleagues, helping them build relevant applications as needed to ensure they have tailored capabilities.

Vance tells Intelligent CXO more about the partnership.

Could you tell me more about the challenges which a global company faces?

As a global company with over 6,000 employees in 26 countries, a major challenge for us is ensuring that the data we share is consistent and current. The solution before Smartsheet was using spreadsheets, which were emailed out once they had been updated, but invariably someone wouldn’t have received the email or were looking at the wrong revision. Smartsheet gives us the ability to ensure that everyone who has access to the data is looking at exactly the same thing.

What attracted you to Smartsheet initially?

We originally looked at Smartsheet to solve a completely different challenge on the manufacturing side of the business. We had a number of projects going through manufacture at the same time, using the same resource, sub-contractors, etc. We soon realised that using a traditional MS Project-type Gantt chart plan was going to cause issues, so we looked at other software packages that would provide us with better visibility of daily tasks to ensure we remained on schedule.

Through our evaluation, Smartsheet was identified as the product most suitable for our needs. The ability to build the project plan in the traditional way using Gantt View and then switching to Card View using the same software was extremely powerful for us. When I moved into Howden Technology, I quickly realised that Smartsheet would benefit us from the perspective of sharing data consistently, and our use and ways of using Smartsheet has developed from there.

How have employees reacted to Smartsheet?

Extremely well, the ability to share information consistently is viewed as an extremely positive benefit. We often get enquiries about Smartsheet from other Howden Business Units who are interested in implementing Smartsheet solutions within their day-to-day work. At the beginning of the COVID situation, we developed a dashboard to provide updates on employee availability (whether they are working from home, in the office, not working or on holiday), current legislation on Government restrictions, travel, etc. across our three Howden Technology sites in Denmark, Scotland and The Netherlands. We also implemented automated holiday requests using Smartsheet in our Renfrew Technology Centre, which has proven to be very successful.

How will Smartsheet enable the company to grow further?

We have implemented 10,000ft as a bolt on to Smartsheet and are using the platform in a number of innovative ways in Howden Technology while continuing to develop solutions to support reporting requirements, budget setting, visibility of resource constraints, etc. 10,000ft gives us the ability to build up our project resource profiles and project budgets quickly and succinctly across all of our development initiatives, and we use it as our key source of data for reporting at our monthly progress review meetings.

What’s the best feature of Smartsheet?

It’s very difficult to choose one best feature if I’m honest. As I mentioned previously, the ability to share consistent, current data is very powerful for us and has certainly benefitted us greatly along with the ability to develop dashboards to display data in a very clear and unambiguous way. Those are certainly two of the key features for Howden Technology.

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