Nostra is a software program that replaces multiple spreadsheets, minimizing inconsistent data and duplication of effort across teams, and providing a single set of project data that anyone with a bp user ID can access at their appropriately defined security level. It eliminates paper-based approval systems and associated clerical work, while presenting project budget, commitment and expenditure data in a standard WBS format. Nostra interfaces directly with Maximo and SAP, negating the need to license users in these programs. Project portfolio analysis is also made easier as all projects are reported consistently, and formal monthly reports can be generated in minutes rather than hours.
The above paragraph is a summary provided to bp leadership after the first few years of Nostra use, and it very succinctly summarizes its benefits. As both the implementation sponsor and former portfolio manager at the bp Bulwer Island refinery where Nostra was developed, let me expand on these benefits.
First, Nostra works, from the initial installation. This may seem obvious but having spent over $100,000 on my last project trying (and failing) to get a different cost control database up and running, I think this may be the biggest benefit Nostra offers.
Nostra is both scalable and fit-for-purpose for the individual user. With designated security settings, project team members are limited to seeing only those projects in which they are involved, while senior leaders can see the entire portfolio or any portion of it. Moreover, certain team members (e.g., contractors) can be restricted from seeing the detailed cost data. And of course, only specific user levels can input data.
Nostra is built around CVP, the bp stage-gate process for project development and delivery. The electronic approvals process allows any user to create a project request, which then goes into a hopper for consideration by the appropriate review team. If accepted, it gets moved electronically into the Appraise stage, at which point a project is created in Nostra. At each stage gate, the designated project leader initiates the approval cycle with a mouse click, and the appropriate information from the project database is routed to the specified approvers.
The best part of this process is that the approvals workflow is entirely configurable by the system administrator, so that each site can set up the system to match its current approvals workflow. Since anyone with a bp user ID can access Nostra, this workflow is not restricted to a single site, so project approval requests could be sent electronically from a petrochemicals site in the US to the management team in Shanghai, who could then make the approval in the system (with no scanning and emailing of documents!). Nostra provides email notifications to the approvers, since their user IDs are in the system. At Bulwer Island, the finance team was included in the approvals routing, so that once the project has been approved, they had the go-ahead to release the funds in SAP without a separate communication.
Nostra’s cost reporting is built around the work breakdown structure (WBS) concept, but Nostra does not mandate a specific WBS. The database interfaces with SAP and extracts the project cost data in the same structure as it has been entered into SAP. At Bulwer we created a standard WBS format which we used for all projects, although not all WBS elements were used on all projects. Nostra only extracts those WBS elements that are in use on the specific project. So, each site can retain its current WBS format. This structure is automatically copied into the cost reporting and forecasting modules.
The cost reporting structure is fixed in terms of budgets, actuals, commitments, etc., and this structure is based on the bp’s project services guideline (which broadly aligns to AACE and ANSI/EIA-748 methodologies). Because an accurate cost report summary requires a thorough understanding of the details, Nostra extracts all of the project commitment and expenditure transactions and compiles them in a “drill down” format linked to each WBS element. So, the cost engineer, project manager, etc. can see all of the individual charges against each project element, which of course can then be used to inform their future forecast. Forecasting is done at the WBS element level on a month-by-month basis, which Nostra then transfers to the summary cost report (the software also checks for consistency between the forecast and the budget). Transaction data can be displayed as either previous period end or current (data is continuously updated in the background).
Schedule milestone data can be extracted from either Microsoft Project or Primavera, and changes from month to month are highlighted.
Nostra includes both an action item register and a project risk register, with full reporting and tracking capability. Outstanding action reports can be generated by project, by name, or for the entire portfolio. No need for separate spreadsheets.
Because it is a database, myriad reporting can be done. Nostra has a number of standard reports, from individual project reports that are produced at the click of a mouse to a portfolio summary report that can be used as-is or exported to Excel for further manipulation. Recent updates allow data to be pulled in by tools such as Power BI or Tableau. Online filtering allows the user to look at virtually any combination of data (for which they have the security access). By assigning desired values to certain fields in the project information module, projects can be grouped and reported in various categories.
Much of the power of Nostra comes from its high degree of configurability, but this means that the system requires a very knowledgeable administrator and a robust change management process. Bulwer has had both since Nostra was launched, and with the wider user base now I see that they are maintaining the rigor through the use of a governance committee. This will become especially critical as Nostra becomes more widely used.
To summarize my “testimonial”: Nostra is an excellent project management information database. It has been developed specifically to align with our stage-gate project process (CVP), with the ability to adapt to individual site work practices. It provides a systematic approach for portfolio management, allowing users at any level access to the data that they need in order to understand and take action in relation to projects. Like any system, it requires training and a basic level of competence in order to make it function correctly. Most importantly, it does not replace the need for competent project controls or project management personnel - but it does make it easier for them to have the data they need to do their jobs. I have used or tested a number of different systems (Kildrummy Cost Manager, EPOCH, SAP, Clarity, CPR, Primavera, spreadsheets) over the years - Nostra has been by far the easiest to use and most aligned with the bp project process.
About R. Eric Zimmerman
Eric Zimmerman has over 30 years of project management experience during his career with bp and Hoechst-Celanese. During this time, Eric has held roles as a project engineer, project manager, project services superintendent, and senior project manager. In bp, Eric has worked extensively in both petrochemicals and refining at a variety of facilities in Texas, South Carolina, Washington State, Australia, China (Chongqing and Shanghai) and The Netherlands. He has also worked on special assignments on bp projects in Rome and Moscow. He currently leads a team of project advisors who provide oversight to bp’s downstream projects.
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