Delivering well-run, accessible elections with user-friendly, secure systems is arguably more important now than it's ever been. Trust in democratic institutions is waning due to recent turmoil and an information ecosystem increasingly impacted by mis- and disinformation.
But for everyday people, having a say at the ballot box is still one of the most vital ways in which they interact with politics. Providing voters with a well-organized and positive experience is critical to maintaining confidence in elections.
For election technology company Smartmatic, this also means that falling behind on projects and delivering products late is simply not an option. Whether they are designing and deploying ballot marking devices in Los Angeles, CA, or rolling out biometric authentication software for elections in Kenya, Smartmatic cannot compromise on quality, security, or timeliness.
As Product Director Shari Little puts it: “Election day is election day. It’s highly unlikely that it will get rescheduled. That means that we can’t miss those dates. But we also don’t want to overload our people to get a project over the line.”
Executing Smartmatic’s projects is a delicate balancing act that requires careful planning, assessing team capacity accurately, and knowing when to bring in additional helping hands.
“It’s always about looking at it from a risk standpoint,” says Shari, “When you’re in this sort of service-oriented organization, the work never stops. So to be able to tell when there’s potential risks and issues on the horizon is really important to us.”
However, as vital as risk management is, the ability to anticipate roadblocks is only as good as the information you have at hand.
If all relevant project resourcing information is siloed in different department spreadsheets rather than sitting in a central source, there’s a limit to what you can predict and prepare for.
Before Smartmatic started using Runn, the company used traditional spreadsheets to support project management. Shari recognized this situation as a chance for improvement.
"Previously, our resource management was scattered across numerous Excel sheets," explains Shari. "This lack of centralization made it strenuous to obtain a comprehensive view of our multiple design and development operations."
This was a limiting factor, particularly when it came to understanding the impact of taking on new projects or expanding the scope of work for existing clients.
Shari could see the on-the-ground impact of selling additional work when capacity was already stretched. But being in the weeds with your team is one thing: it’s harder to communicate these challenges to other departments that are approaching the situation from different perspectives and have their own metrics to meet.
At Runn, we’ve always been open about the fact that the relationship between Sales teams and Delivery teams can be complicated. In fact, it’s a central factor in what brought our founding team together in the first place.
Before coming together to create Runn and thus make Sales and Delivery alignment easier, our founders Tim Copeland and Nicole Tiefensee were on opposite sides of the chessboard - with Tim in the Sales corner bringing in new clients, and Nicole in the Delivery corner, asking “Just when exactly are we meant to work on these projects?”
It’s a dilemma that many service organizations run up against; Smartmatic was no different. Shari sought to facilitate discussions regarding new client acquisitions and commitments to additional projects. However, without detailed insights into team capacity, aligning with the Sales department's perspectives wasn't always straightforward.
As Shari recalls: “If you go to Sales and say ‘My team can’t take this on right now’, understandably they want to know why and when you can take the work on in the future. Prior to Runn, I had to just initiate those conversations based on what I could personally track.”
Shari wanted to make sure that her team always had a sustainable workload. But it wasn’t always possible to do this as there was no way of drawing together a comprehensive picture of the whole team’s capacity, down to the individual team-member level.
These complex conversations required compromising, reprioritizing, and juggling. But when it came to deciding when to pull back on some projects in the face of uncompromising election deadlines, the work that got reshuffled was usually non-billable, internal projects.
As Shari explains, whilst Smartmatic puts a high value on internal investment and development, this sometimes meant that there was simply no room at the table for this work to progress.
Sometimes we’d be asking the question, ‘Can we even run the risk of having this long-term, internal project on the go? It would be really valuable for us to do that work, but what would be the impact on our people?’ It wasn’t easy to make that judgment.”
In short, to be able to have the kinds of conversations that they wanted to have with other teams, to be able to anticipate resource risks further ahead, and to be able to find (or make) the breathing space to initiate long-term, non-client projects, Shari’s team needed better data, located in one central location, with the ability to make that data talk.
It was time to break out of the spreadsheets and bring all the info needed for comprehensive resource and capacity planning together under one roof. And that’s where Runn entered the picture.
Shifting from a manual, decentralized system to a solution that unites data across departments naturally requires some adjustments. However, Shari is positive about the experience of transitioning to Runn’s platform.
Runn’s ease of use, combined with plenty of input and troubleshooting from Runn’s technical and support staff, helped inspire enthusiasm and uptake among the Smartmatic team.
“Runn really helped guide us through the challenges of implementation,” reflects Shari, “We felt very supported.”
Since implementing Runn, Shari has found it much easier to drive complex conversations with the Sales department, pulling reports from Runn to show team utilization rates and capacity over time. With this data visualized, it is less of a challenge for other departments to grasp the reality on the ground for Shari’s team:
“It’s about being able to give them meaningful data to show when we’re just too busy to take something on. It really helps us to have those conversations about what we want to prioritize.”
From the perspective of risk management, Runn gives Shari essential warnings ahead of time. Thanks to Runn’s capacity charts, it is now much easier to anticipate when the team’s capacity will be in the red.
“For example, we had a new contract come in, and loaded the information into Runn. And we could see that our issues were not going to be immediate - not even in a couple of weeks - but that we were going to run into capacity issues in four months’ time. It allows you to see when that perfect storm is primed to happen.”
Runn also helps Smartmatic “right-size” the number of additional contractors they need to bring in for projects, thus allowing them to maintain an agile approach to staffing.
Before, it wasn’t always easy to accurately estimate the additional capacity needed to get projects over the line without putting pressure on the team. However, using Runn to surface resource utilization and availability over time, it is easy to see which skillsets are particularly pressured, and at which point in a project this could cause a bottleneck.
“We like to be quite flexible around staffing,” says Shari, “If we have a big project, we’ll often bring in a lot of contractors. But it’s all about that “Goldilocks Principle” - you want to have just the right number of people working on your project. Runn helps us achieve that.”
Additionally, using Runn has allowed Smartmatic to share resources throughout the organization more easily, based on an improved understanding of resource skills. Smartmatic improved its comprehensive database of everyone’s skills using Runn’s skills management features.
Getting everyone on the same page with a full overview of the skills that exist within Smartmatic’s workforce means that resources can be requested between verticals, rather than always having to fulfill skills needs by looking to the outside.
As Smartmatic works on elections across the globe, taking on projects in countries with different election cycles. There is no natural lull or “quiet period” during the year for Shari’s team. It’s always busy, and everyone is always on. And whilst this makes for an exciting, pacy environment, it also means that team members must be intentional about taking their PTO.
It’s clear that Shari cares deeply about how her team is doing - not just in their work, but in their wellbeing. Runn has been a useful aid in this regard, making it easier for Shari to identify when her team might be particularly feeling the heat, and to act accordingly. If the quiet time won’t happen naturally, then it has to be built into the schedules strategically.
“We actually scheduled in a a “quiet period” recently thanks to the reports we were seeing in Runn. We could see that some people had been working above capacity for multiple sprints. So we decided to schedule some time when things weren’t so busy, just to give people a chance to rest.”
This approach has also helped Shari ensure the festive period can remain relatively calm for her team, so her people can focus on enjoying the holidays with their families rather than having to face unexpected overtime.With Runn, Shari has found that it is far easier to plan around PTO and ensure that her team can always take their time off without it impacting project schedules:
“The fact that Runn makes the team’s PTO so visible is so helpful. It really helps with scheduling, so you can ensure you’re honoring people’s booked vacation time and not scheduling them to work!”
Shari is positive that adopting Runn has allowed Smartmatic to futureproof its resource and capacity planning processes. She concludes that “Runn is allowing us to be more knowledgeable, more specific, and more strategic.”
Election technology is a critical component in modern democracy, and constantly evolving to meet challenges and risks of changing times.
By moving onto the Runn platform, Smartmatic is better primed to roll with the punches, remain agile, and continue to deliver election tech solutions of the highest caliber.