Almost all of the PMOs we meet with struggle to effectively manage resources, not just at the project level but at the portfolio level. In order to more effectively manage resources (people), organizations need to look at their resource requirements first strategically, then tactically, and finally operationally – in that order.
In this blog, I’ll address some of the strategic, tactical, and operational elements that must be addressed to more effectively manage resources. In my upcoming blogs, I’ll look at these elements in more detail.
As the number of projects continues to increase across enterprises, PMOs, product development and IT organizations often find that they do not have the resources or team members assigned properly to effectively launch and execute on these projects. Even some of our most savvy users of tools such as Microsoft Project Server and Project Online have difficulty managing their resources effectively.
There are many challenges to successfully completing a project which we’ll simply define as “completed on-time, within budget, and meeting or exceeding stakeholder expectations.” For instance, from an overall project management perspective, goals must be clearly identified and scope changes and/or scope creep must be managed or avoided. The project must be led by a project leader who takes responsibility for his or her role in the project’s success. The project manager must communicate well and understand risk planning, management and contingency planning. These are just a few of the things that must go right for the project to be successful.
However, for almost every organization or government agency we’ve ever worked with, for projects to be run efficiently and effectively, the project must have sufficient and correctly-assigned resources. These resources must be planned for properly and managed diligently. And once they are assigned, the project manager needs to be able to lead these resources or else the project will likely fail.
Part of the challenge is that project leaders often start the project without properly understanding who is available to them, for how much of their time, and if that resource will be available consistently for the duration of the project. Thoughts such as ‘what if our top developer gets pulled off for a higher priority project mid-stream,’ or ‘how much of our testing team’s time will be available when we need them, prior to finalizing the rollout plan’ are not only not planned for but not even asked. Not asking the right questions about resources up-front, PRIOR to initiating the project, is one of the most painful mistakes a project manager can make. Thinking strategically, tactically and operationally can help. Let’s discuss.
THINKING STRATEGICALLY AND TACTICALLY ABOUT RESOURCES BEFORE ACTING OPERATIONALLY
There is a lot of power in being able to strategically assess your resource requirements across the portfolio of projects. However, when the portfolio is being planned for, often at the management level, little thought is given to how the potential resource challenges typical to most organizations can and will impact the project. Budget considerations and high-level project prioritization often take precedence over determining the proper portfolio-level resource allocations. Resource planning is often not really considered until execution time, which tends to lead to commitments that are great in theory but in reality cannot be delivered upon. A major step forward would be to understand how resources should be allocated and what constraints and challenges will be expected by role. Strategic resource planning sets the table for successful portfolio execution.
There are a couple of things to do to make this happen. First, true capacity must be understood. True capacity is the consideration of project time, non-project time, and non-working time for your resources. Project time is the planned, forecasted and actual task time required to achieve the project task commitments. Non-project time can be thought of as time spent on administrative and other non-specific activities on the project. Non-working time includes vacations, sick days, etc.
Some organizations have hard and fast rules about how they allocate project time and non-project time such as allocating 80% to project work and 20% to non-project/keep the lights on (KTLO) activities. Also, across IT or product development organizations different resources often maintain different average allocations. For instance, in an IT organization an application developer may spend a target of 60% of his/her time on project work, and 40% on non-project activities; in the infrastructure support area, the more typical breakout is 30% project/70% KTLO. Each organization needs to determine how to best standardize on planning-level metrics by role within a group or across the enterprise. To do this, there must be historical data available that specifies what actual work breakouts have been in the past.
As part of strategically understanding resources you should align resources to a resource type instead of actual people. There’s a tendency to assign named people on projects; however this makes capacity planning and resource planning difficult. There are too many variances in forecasted workload based upon roles to set a one-size-fits-all standard. As one client shared with me, “How much time are our resources spending by role on projects and KTLO activities: I’ve been asking this question for three years and still don’t have an answer.” Without answers like these, strategic resource planning is almost impossible.
Another strategic resource planning element that is often neglected is the time sequencing of resource demand. This is critical to understanding the needed time on the project for each resource on a weekly or monthly basis. Is there a seasonality to our resource workloads – does more project work begin and end near the start and end of our fiscal years when we have funding and need to complete projects? Or is there a bell curve that has more work happening mid-year as we settle into our work ‘groove.’ Being able to answer questions like these based upon ACTUAL HISTORY (not hunches) is critical to making the right strategic decisions across the portfolio.
Based upon experience with large resource-constrained organizations, I also believe that engaging middle level management (the people that own the actual work resources) to help strategically plan out resource requirements is critical. Since they will be entrenched in the actual project, and the people on projects work for them, they have a vested interest in ensuring that the planning is smart and logical, that people don’t get burned out too quickly, resulting in a resource and hiring problem.
LOOKING TACTICALLY AT RESOURCE MANAGEMENT IS CRITICAL AS WELL
Once projects are underway, there needs to be a solid process for aligning project start and work with resource availability. Although there is a tendency to look at actual people at this point, organizations must resist the urge and continue to assign the resource types that are necessary to move the project along at each juncture. This is a critical stage to ensure that there are no resource shortages or disputes. Doing this requires accurate metrics for how many resource types (sometimes called generic resources) are required per projects and across projects, mapping to the ACTUAL resource availability for a given type or role. This is a major function of the PMO working closely with your functional and/or resource managers. This interaction and forecasting capability is one of the critical functions to ensuring that the portfolio is managed and staffed properly and well in advance of work being performed.
When this stage of planning is handled effectively, the lines of business owning budgets and looking for results from your projects will have more confidence that the project will be completed successfully. Resources are more likely to be assigned properly to meet the needs of the business. When resources are considered tactically, it is more apparent what is required by each resource to complete the project on time, within budget, while meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
To successfully implement resources tactically, there are a number of things that must be done. As I mentioned before, it must be determined which resource types, not actual people, are needed across projects, which takes collaboration with a functional and/or resource manager (owner of a particular set of resources). It is the project manager who is on the line for adding the work forecasting – calling specifically to which resource types are needed and when on each project. This is an important element in understanding the capacity requirements I discussed above – bringing the strategic (what) to the tactical (how), solved by a combination of project and resource managers working together.
At the tactical level, two-way communication must be the norm between the resource manager and the team members. Non-project and non-working items must be understood by the resource manager, and must be tracked at a sufficient level of detail, in order to maintain accurate forecast capacity and availability. The resource manager is held accountable for ensuring and planning for the right resources on which projects, and ensuring the timing of those projects meets the requirements of the organization as a whole. One way he or she can ensure accountability here is to properly manage regular meetings to review the upcoming resource demand for the portfolio, with a combination of other resource managers, project managers, project stakeholders in the business, and any other interested parties. Any decisions made in these resource planning review meetings should be made based upon access to actual information (planned, actual, historical), and memorialized to ensure a history can be maintained for future reference (to support this set of meetings during the next planning period).
The resource managers must be particularly attuned to resource time commitment issues at this stage that might affect the team’s ability to meet project objectives. Resource managers must be able to constantly analyze if their resources are needed on which projects, what their available capacity is among project, non-project, and admin activities, in order to plan and ensure the right folks are committed to the right work (bridging the strategic and tactical).
GETTING INTO THE WEEDS OPERATIONALLY IS IMPORTANT, BUT ONLY IF THE STRATEGIC AND TACTICAL STEPS HAPPEN
Often, too many organizations get right to the operational issues of resource management without thinking strategically or tactically. That’s often the reason why resources are not available when they are needed or the wrong people are working on the wrong projects.
If you take some of the steps I discuss above, the operational pieces, such as assigning actual people to tasks, will flow more readily. The main operational resource planning element is for resource managers to assign people to actual tasks. In most cases, the resource manager will meet with the project manager to ensure the right people are on the team at the right time to meet project milestones. It also helps ensure as things change (and they always will on projects), both stakeholders and managers can take a fully-informed look at the portfolio of resources, to deliver on-time, on-budget and meeting/exceeding stakeholder expectations.
The reality is that if resource planning across project and non-project work is not done effectively, the odds of the project going sidewise due to resource constraints raise dramatically. Taking the strategic and tactical steps listed above can greatly increase the changes of project success.
Let me know what you think. Do you act strategically and tactically before you start assigning people to the tasks? Can PPM tools such as Microsoft Project Server/Project Online and Projility Hammerhead help you manage your resources? Email me your thoughts.