Building Project Intelligence across the Enterprise

Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the Southeastern U.S., Piedmont Natural Gas is an energy services company, primarily engaged in the distribution of natural gas to more than one million residential, commercial and industrial utility customers. Piedmont’s subsidiaries are joint-venture, energy-related businesses including unregulated retail invested in natural gas marketing, interstate natural gas storage and intrastate natural gas transportation.

In recent years, Piedmont has evolved a healthy, high-performance corporate culture that focuses on empowering all employees to deliver:

            • High-quality customer services

            • Safe, reliable natural gas services

            • Positive shareholder value

            • Greater operational efficiencies


This healthy, high-performance culture has brought with it new opportunities to mature Piedmont’s project management structure. As total project requests increased, so have the demands, interdependencies and complexities of the projects. This evolution surrounding projects led Piedmont’s executive management team to support the formation of a Project Management Centre of Excellence (CoE) with a vision of: Leading the company in transforming business strategy into business results. With direct input from the executive management team, a set of strategic goals was developed:

1. Establish process ownership and centralised accountability for project management and business analysis.

2. Implement a project selection model that ensures project investments align with company strategy while maximising limited resources.

3. Build a project management platform that is sustainable, standardised and transparent within the enterprise.

4. Boost energy, team-orientation and systemic thinking throughout the enterprise.


Lisa T. Poole, PMP, Manager, Enterprise Project Delivery Services (EPDS), formed a centralised project management department initially focused on finding the right people with the right skills, within functional lines of business and IT, and providing career path opportunities.


The Challenge


With the goals set, Poole focused on accomplishing them along tracks, meanwhile managing the cultural change.


The largest cultural challenge has been moving beyond the legacy IT definition of projects.

“Prior to the department’s existence, a project implied a significant technology effort,” said Poole. “In order to achieve enterprise-wide objectives, it’s imperative that others recognise we have ‘business projects’ that may require‘people, process, cultural and/or technology components.’”


Three months following the department’s inception, the group transitioned from Information Services to Planning& Project Management, which reports to Piedmont’s CFO. Poole credits much of the initial success to the support of her direct team and the company’s Leadership. Poole was also vested with the necessary governance authority to step in on projects where necessary.


On another front, was the continuing challenge of pursuing the strategic goals set forth in parallel. Poole worked to develop a CoE Charter and began executing its charge.


Toward Maturity


To accelerate success, Piedmont pursued a learning partner.

ESI International’s experience helping organisations around the world build similar programmes allowed them to quickly build a results-oriented learning programme. “ESI is providing so much more than our original requirements and expectations. We have had access to valuable resources throughout our journey,” said Poole.


ESI’s online assessment tools helped Piedmont identify the critical focus areas for the initial learning programme as well as to chart a longer-term course. These on-going assessments track progress and allow Piedmont to make mid-course corrections with realtime information.


ESI also:


            • Conducted executive seminars on project selection

            • Provided external validation and refinement of the CoE Charter

            • Held a BA exhibit to help recruit internal candidates

            • Provided a PM/BA framework gap analysis

            • Continues to assist Piedmont in tracking its progress online with MyESI™


To help grow the value of the CoE and its individual team members, Poole, with counsel from ESI, charted a career progression path. The path includes achievement of learning objectives and active participation in IIBA® and PMI®.


Piedmont has made solid progress in refining its portfolio management decision model to choose strategic enterprise project investments. A cross-functional Strategic Advisory Board is now in place to apply an improved model and assist with cultural change. ESI provided support by delivering an executive seminar that provided direction in governance and process development. “These new methods were embraced by senior management. We are integrating the methods into our planning cycle,” said Poole.


The Results


Less than a year since the founding of the CoE, Piedmont is realising success on all fronts. One of its earliest successes helped deliver significant reductions in operational expenses to the bottom line a year early. Using a combined enterprise/business analysis approach, Piedmont developed a comprehensive decision package that allowed executive management to make an informed, quick decision while enabling the project team to develop business requirements in parallel which accelerated the execution timeline.


Further driving expense reductions, Piedmont has seen a decrease in non-budgeted projects and increased efficiencies in project resource allocation.


The cultural changes are gaining a foothold as well. There is increased acceptance of BA and PM methods as evidenced by the use of common language, tools and methodologies. This is particularly true around risk assessments in that project management, internal audit and enterprise risk management departments now share a common framework and language associated with risk management.


PM and BA methodologies are continually gaining acceptance.“Other departments, including Facilities Management, Internal Auditing, Enterprise Risk Management and IS, are jointly attending ESI courses. Team leaders responsible for other initiatives are requesting consulting assistance,”said Poole.


What is Next


While strengthening the CoE’s foundation, Poole is now pursuing methods to manage, measure, and report on project performance:


1. Identifying project performance improvement metrics to enable consistent comparisons of project outcomes, including prior projects to be used as a baseline.

2. Developing standards associated with reporting project performance, forecasting resource utilisation and coordinating project interdependencies.

3. Providing continuous development opportunities to staff.

4. Ensuring ongoing evaluation of project management interest from other departments to serve in a mentoring role.


“In building our centre of excellence, we have benefited from the knowledge and experience brought by ESI to the process. ESI has listened and remains in-tune with our strategic development goals,” said Poole.