We have helped hundreds of companies implement project portfolio management (PPM) technology solutions. When the companies embrace the technology and utilize best practices, it can be a wonderful thing. Executives can understand how to best budget for workforce growth while understanding increasing resource requirements. They can also set internal expectations about new product launches or whatever project-based work the firm is engaged in.

Project and portfolio managers can reap the rewards of the technology by seeing their projects come in under budget and on-time. They can also return valuable information to the company in terms of resource requirements and time to market. There are many benefits, of course, to automating PPM such as project centralization, visibility improvement, standard project template development, and project financial management oversight.

Unfortunately, we have seen too many companies rush into tool implementation before the right project management processes are in place. Let’s take a couple of steps back here and talk about a few steps you must implement that can take you from zero to effective project resource management.

First, the team needs to be in violent agreement about what the project management and resource management goals are. You also need to be in violent agreement about what information your management team is expecting to gain from the system so that better decisions can be made. What problems have hindered the organization from meeting its goals? Is there an inherent lack of realistic human resource utilization data? Is your company investing in this technology because project costs are getting out of hand and resources are over-booked and project targets are being missed?

Once the goals have been agreed upon, there are a number of steps you can take to begin implementing best practices for resource management, schedule management and overall project management optimization. I’ve found that you need to ease into project portfolio management so that everyone is comfortable with the solution and that you produce meaningful data you can make decisions on. One of the most common reasons we see companies invest in PPM is because there is a deep-set inability to see and know what their people are doing. Not only that, it’s unclear how much valuable work they are actually doing and if what they are doing is truly helping the project achieve its goals.

I’ll discuss one simple step you must take to get your project management process off to a good start. If the main goal is to get a handle on your resources and resource availability, one of the first steps then is to get to an integrated schedule. An approach is to start by capturing resource information in Project Server at the highest level and then work your way down. Say three people are needed on a project. We know one person is 100% and the other two are 50%. You now have a high-level forecast of resource demand generated by the project. It’s not very detailed, of course, but this step helps you focus on getting from no forecast to a forecast. This is a big step for many companies.

Once this process is in place, you then shift to allocating resources at the phase level. Then shift from allocation at the phase level to allocation at a more detailed level, for example, at the activity level. Finally, you’ll be able to work your way down to the task level.

At that point, they should know inputs and have an understanding of what types of impacts they’ll have and then see the specifics. Of course this presumes that they are developing other project management skills in parallel if they don’t already have them.

Again, the problem is an inability to see what people are doing and how much they are doing. An approach that allows PMs to develop their resource allocation skills gradually while at the same time getting the most out of their skill level will help ease the path to effective resource management across the organization.