Long-Term Planning Project Management for Electric Utilities

A Fortune 500 electric utility company that provides power to millions of customers across the country, faced the complex challenge of effectively managing long-term, multi-departmental infrastructure projects. These types of projects take a long time to progress from initial need to implementation, with durations lasting up to 5 or 10 years. Navigating the CPCN (Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity) process requires a large amount of communication with external stakeholders, giving rise to hurdles tracking all of the collaboration and communication.

With our expertise in building custom project management tools, we once again partnered to develop a project management software to streamline their long-term planning processes, enhancing their workforce’s productivity. 

Typical Project Management Software Can’t Simplify the Complexities of Long-Term Planning

Planning and managing large-scale energy transmission projects (like adding a new substation or high-voltage line) is no easy task, and using out-of-the-box project management software simply doesn’t cut it. Multiple departments are performing tasks simultaneously to tackle interconnected problems. The difficulty of tracking all these moving pieces is compounded by the fact that different projects involve a different set of tasks, and so they don’t follow the same steps to completion.

The Long-Term Planning Software Solution

The typical off-the-shelf project management software isn’t optimized to handle the long timelines and complexity that the long-term planning process entails.

In order to streamline work for planners and project managers, we decided to focus on the following key areas:

Coordination and Tracking

The planners who work for this company can have hundreds of ongoing projects at any given time. Tracking project phases, parties responsible for next steps, and updating everyone else was already a daunting task. Relying solely on Excel spreadsheets and email communication made it even more difficult to maintain oversight.

Project Modeling

Energy Transmission projects often involve multiple potential solutions, each with its own set of considerations like: cost-effectiveness, time to complete, and environmental impact. Planners needed a way to nest or track the various iterations of a solution as part of the same project.

Higher Visibility

Since the majority of communication happened via email, project managers didn’t always have immediate access to updates. This resulted in the need to constantly ping people on the team for updates, but due to the collaborative nature of projects, the proverbial ball might actually be in multiple people’s courts.


Given the duration of projects, it was unfortunately possible for staffing changes to create large gaps of knowledge about the history of a project. If someone leaves the team, it is possible that a lot of context about the project could be lost. The team needed a way to track the changes to a project, along with the reasons why specific decisions were made.

Simple Thread’s software solution was built around five key components:

Centralized Communication
Templates & Automation
Multi-Version Project Management
Task Management
Visualization & Reporting

The software created a central place where communication could occur between all the various people and departments assigned to a project. The system is highly auditable as all project-related discussions, decisions, and updates are documented in a single system of record. This eliminated the reliance on scattered email chains and ensured intimate project knowledge wasn’t lost if key players left the company.

While there are nuances in every project, similar projects (like adding a new substation) follow a similar set of tasks. Automating task templates eliminated repetitive data entry and ensured that task assignment and execution didn’t fall through the cracks. It also reduces the possibility of human error.

This software can also accommodate multiple versions of projects within the same framework, enabling efficient comparison of potential solutions.

This eliminates the need to treat different iterations as separate projects, and helps planners in their decision making process.

Task assignment, tracking, and due date management is facilitated directly in the software. Planners are alerted to approaching deadlines, minimizing the risk of missing important milestones that could cause project delays.

The platform also provides various views, including top tasks, recent projects, and unread notifications, all which enhance project visibility.

User-based permissions and data entry validation safeguard the projects, and various reporting functionality gives planners a simple way to update their managers quickly and efficiently.

Keep the Baby, Discard the Bathwater.

The first few words of the Agile Software Manifesto read 
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software…”

Better doesn’t always mean new. We discovered that while spreadsheets presented significant limitations, they are simple to view, and easy to update.

So we developed an interface for editing projects that is reminiscent of a spreadsheet.

This allows for easy data tracking, sorting, and editing while maintaining the power of a custom software solution. Their edits are still validated and managed throughout the software, allowing more complex validations, notifications, and other functionality in a familiar interface.

A Platform for Future Innovation

While the long-term planning team is definitely reaping the rewards of a custom project management tool, we see great potential for future integration as well. The vast majority of our client’s work depends upon successfully weighing the value of various options and solutions and finding the best one.

We intentionally build our software thinking about how it can be innovated and rolled out to other teams or entire departments down the road. Here are a few examples:

An integration with the “source of truth” database, which will enable them to get real-time updates when project details change.
Integration with modeling team tools so that project files and tasks can be synchronized between them rather than relying on endless emails.
We are beginning to design a customer portal that will seamlessly integrate with this software and allow new project proposals to be added via web form, and enable project status to be shared with customers in real time.
We plan to add several "smart tasks" that will automatically trigger status updates on projects when they are marked complete, reducing the time the user has to spend.

People First Solution

This custom software has empowered our client to efficiently manage their ever-growing pile of transmission projects, resulting in transformative outcomes like:

  • Enhanced Collaboration
  • Efficient Tracking
  • Streamlined Decision Making
  • Multi-Version Project Management
  • Improved Accountability
– to name a few.

The greatest win, however, is the software exemplifies our core values of building people-first, collaborative and streamlined software.

When software prioritizes people first, the positive impact of workforce enablement is a natural byproduct.