Project and resource management at an environmental planning service provider:
Creating offers in a structured and orchestrated way, instead of according to gut feeling
TNL Umweltplanung can use the InLoox software to plan the resources and capacities of its employees more precisely and manage them across locations when preparing offers for its consulting projects.
TNL Umweltplanung offers consulting and implementation services for specialized environmental projects. These range from species protection, urban land use planning and ecological construction monitoring to environmental impact studies and process consulting. Most of the clients are public authorities, with the majority of orders coming from the energy sector. They range from smaller projects, such as tree hollow or building inspections, to renaturation measures, flood protection and very large projects, for example environmental planning of power lines or wind power plants.
Better structure for dynamic work
After TNL grew rapidly in recent years, from 50 to a total of 100 employees, the company faced the problem of reorganizing the process from the proposal preparation stage onward.
"In general, our company is characterized by a dynamic way of working. With far more employees now, we had to structure our acquisition phase better than before - instead of just relying on our gut feeling, as we used to. Specifically, it's about who is responsible for what and when," says Anton Kohl, an environmental planner who, in addition to managing TNL's Buttenheim office in Upper Franconia, is also responsible for IT solutions and project management.
TNL employs mostly academics, with those coming from more than 20 different academic disciplines. These include biologists, geographers, geologists and cartographers. The company is divided into specialized departments such as flora, fauna, construction monitoring and cartography.
How busy are we for the next six months, and how busy for the whole year?
"When we prepare bids for major contracts whose volumes are several million euros, we need to know whether we can do them, who is involved, and what resources we need to plan for them and also shift if necessary," says Kohl.
TNL works on very large projects and also manages many smaller ones. In many cases, the large projects also extend over a planning horizon of more than ten years until they are finally put into operation and often tie up five to ten people in the next six months of the current planning period. They require structured resource planning of work packages and orders, which should be aligned with short- and medium-term time frames.
At the same time, all of TNL's clients or customers want to know more and more details earlier and earlier in the bidding process; for example, which employees are on the project team. Familiar faces' are welcome. The teams should also remain the same in their composition in the long term.
A scalable solution integrated into Outlook
TNL uses InLoox as a solution for resource and project planning because, according to Kohl, it met two criteria. First, it is integrated with Outlook, making it intuitive to use, so TNL employees, all of whom are familiar with office programs like Outlook, were able to quickly learn how to use it. It can also be used to map the dynamic way of working at TNL. For example, if a project member has a task to complete in a given week, such as an expert opinion that requires a time commitment of eight hours, it is important that this project is completed during the scheduled time period.
Fig. 1: Resource planning of large projects: Gantt diagramm with sample project (c)TNL Umweltplanung
Secondly, it was and is crucial that the solution is scalable according to project size. For example, during peak times on large projects - such as individual lot sections for power lines - up to 75 percent of all TNL employees may well be involved and working on the project to varying degrees.
At the same time, small projects can also be taken into account in the system. To do this, project managers can create three to four tasks in the Kanban board for the project - for example, a bike path, a tree hollow, or a building inspection - to create the bid.
Fig. 2: Resource planning of smaller projects: Kanban board with sample project (c)TNL Umweltplanung
By having the department managers (or individual project members) allocate resources to the respective tasks, the solution now allows each task to be grouped into a process that is cross-departmental, or where each trade is interdependent. According to Kohl, TNL-Umweltplanung has about 140 projects running at any given time. Currently, 70 users are using the solution.
With the help of resource planning, TNL can get an overview of the workload, the departments involved and the number of employees involved.
Overview of workload, more transparent processes
Since resource planning can be structured into work packages and tasks, TNL management can keep track of which employees are working on which topics across all locations.
Basic questions can be answered with regard to each offer: For example, who prepares a proposal, when and how? Which employees are assigned to work on which tasks? With regard to the degree of capacity utilization, for example, it is also possible to see how intensively a person will be occupied in the next three weeks.
TNL can also use such insights to make further decisions that are equally beneficial for the employees and the company. For example, one benefit for employees is that they can keep their overtime to a minimum. Any work overloads can be avoided, provided that peak loads are foreseeable. Vacation planning is also easier to implement across sites. To the extent that workloads are known, TNL management can assure its employees of their respective vacation times in a timely, long-term and reliable manner.
"In the meantime, it has become apparent that decisions in the acquisition process have become much more transparent because we have to calculate - from the employee all the way up to the management," says Kohl, who also sees learning effects for controlling. "We can determine in Controlling whether our calculations are correct or whether we need to change them if, for example, the number of hours has increased exorbitantly. If we were to make unrealistic assumptions, we would then have to adjust and correct them during the calculation process."
Future plans: Templates for modular proposal generation and standardized reporting with dashboards
TNL began expanding its resource planning solution in fall 2021. According to Kohl, the plan is to create templates for management to use when setting up new full-scale projects. TNL will then have templates for all work packages and operations that represent the entire company portfolio. Users will then be able to select modularly from around 150 templates covering the entire range of services to create specific proposals.
There are also plans to expand the use of dashboards. Project managers as well as department heads will thus be able to report information on workload and employee planning to TNL Umweltplanung's management in a standardized format.
"We use InLoox as a solution for resource planning because it meets two criteria. First, it is integrated with Outlook, which makes it intuitive to use, so TNL employees, who are all familiar with Office programs, were able to familiarize themselves quickly. Second, it was and is crucial that the solution is scalable according to project size."
Anton Kohl, Management Location Buttenheim | TNL Umweltplanung
After a strong employee growth from 50 to a total of 100 employees, TNL Umweltplanung was faced with the challenge of reorganizing the process starting with the preparation of the offer. The aim was to avoid "gut decisions" and to support a dynamic way of working.
TNL uses InLoox as a solution for resource and project planning because it is integrated in Outlook and scalable for different project sizes. Thus, resource planning and management is done for permanently 140 projects.
With InLoox, TNL achieves a transparent overview of the workload of the departments concerned and the number of employees involved. The proposal preparation process is more transparent and avoidable overtime and peak workloads of employees can be bypassed.