NOAA Fisheries Talks Going No-Code for Project Management

Federal agency finds a way to increase its efficiency tackling a growing number of projects by leveraging a solution from Smartsheet.

Overseeing a vast natural resource such as the nation’s fisheries might sound like a task reserved for only intense compute resources — yet a division of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) went with a no-code option.

NOAA Fisheries is tasked with striking a balance between tapping into oceanic fisheries to supply seafood for the nation and ensuring protected resources will persist for future generations. Part of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Fisheries has some 4,000 employees and maintains 50 locations across the country. “Our job is about managing and conserving the nation’s marine resources,” CIO Roy Varghese says, “and amplify the economic value associated with it.”

Keeping up with that mission grows ever challenging, he says, and the IT team within NOAA Fisheries has been evolving to work in a distributed environment. “We realized the way the world is, we need to be supporting a mobile and agile workforce,” Varghese says, wanting to make such moves flexible and easy to implement. He says NOAA Fisheries was having trouble keeping up with a large influx of projects, reporting, and status updates.

Image: sharafmaksumov – stock.Adobe.com

Due to resource constraints, it was not possible to simply throw more classically trained project managers at the problem. Furthermore, traditional project management tools can be heavy in terms of investment and training, Varghese says. NOAA Fisheries wanted to migrate to a new way of operating. The agency looked to Smartsheet’s no-code platform as one of its solutions to establish a PMO (project management office) structure to build tools, templates, and processes by professionals who are not project managers.

Managers looking for a tool to track work within their teams is typically how organizations get introduced to the platform, says Smartsheet’s CTO Praerit Garg. The no-code structure is meant to simplify adoption. “If you use spreadsheets, you already know enough skill to configure the solution and get your teams onboard,” he says. If CIOs within organizations raise questions about whether this no-code solution is enterprise-grade, Garg says he walks them through its ability to scale and its security properties.

Garg says Smartsheet works with clients across a broad range of industry verticals and the solution is often implemented in multiple segments of each organization. The no-code, online availability of the software is intended to elevate its accessibility. “As long as you’re a problem solver and can work with data, this toolset can put a solution together and help your team be productive,” he says. “Work doesn’t get done by individuals; work gets done by collaboration of teams.”

Varghese says when NOAA Fisheries looked to update project management, its first alternative was to establish a project management office with a group of project managers who could guide the 30-40 projects in the pipeline. That option proved to be out of reach. “We just didn’t have the resources to do that,” he says. “We just weren’t funded to have that level of staffing capability.”

The investment required for more intensive tools also exceeded budget constraints, Varghese says. Licensing requirements for Smartsheet’s no-code platform were minimal, he says, with only a few licenses needed for heavy users. Those without a license still have visibility into the project life cycle, compared with traditional software, which requires payment to use most any feature. “I can see what the status of projects are, what resources are working on it, what the risks there,” Varghese says. “I can get alerts when things are slipping.”

NOAA Fisheries also uses the platform as a workflow automation tool, he says, including to request limited entry to the agency’s buildings during the pandemic. Adopting the solution took the organization a couple of months, Varghese says, to think through how to implement project management such as initiation requests, prioritization, resource loading, and dashboard scheduling. “From start to finish, from a PMO perspective, within six months all of our projects were on the platform,” he says. That included briefings and eliminating the need to build project briefing slide decks.

Varghese says using Smartsheet did require some additional consideration and configuration because some of the needs NOAA Fisheries had were not met out-of-the-box. “The problem we were trying to solve was our ability to manage all of the projects we had, increase visibility, and have more folks in our team play the role of a project manager,” he says.

Within a couple of weeks, Varghese’s entire IT team of more than 100 was trained on how to use this toolset to manage projects. “It was intuitive enough that folks picked it up in a one-hour session,” he says.

NOAA Fisheries measures the usefulness of the no-code platform with its ability to keep pace with demand and keep its community satisfied, Varghese says. “We’ve been able to onboard a 40% increase in the number of projects we’ve onboarded.” That includes detailed schedules and dashboards, capabilities the agency did not have previously. The move also allowed the agency to reduce the number of resources it needed and democratize its project management to help it get ahead of the curve. “We gave the power to our user community to be the project manager,” Varghese.

For more content on no-code resources, follow up with these stories:

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth has spent his career immersed in business and technology journalism first covering local industries in New Jersey, later as the New York editor for Xconomy delving into the city’s tech startup community, and then as a freelancer for such outlets as … View Full Bio

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