Why going back to basics is the best way to improve resource management
Resource management is a really hot topic in PPM currently and it isn’t surprising. There are lots of reasons why. Research suggests many project and portfolio managers are using the wrong tools to manage scarce organisational assets. They are trying to understand the interplays involved in competing projects and a complex range of inter-dependencies with spreadsheets. Added to this, they are taking on too many concurrent commitments. When resources are overstretched and over committed, excessive amounts of time will be utilised switching between projects, which further lengthens project time-lines. Often the information that is available isn’t up to date, because when using spreadsheets, it’s impossible to capture all the changes frequently enough.
PMOs need the ability to carefully balance available project resources with demand for those resources. They need to prioritise where resources are allocated to focus firstly on the most strategically important initiatives and then introduce flexibility into their project resource management, to match the availability of those resources. Being able to work in this way is essential for the PMO to be able to really add value to their organisations.
According to Gartner, there are some common resource management mistakes being made within organisations and they occur regardless of whether the organisation is using agile, waterfall or a hybrid, ‘wagile’ approach. We see them too, when helping our customers to refine their processes.
PMOs tend to underestimate how much resource capacity is available and then, lulled into a false sense of resourcing security, they find they don’t have enough resources available for the number of projects on the horizon. Constantly switching between projects is tiring and counter-productive. By expecting resources to switch between unrelated projects, the strain this imposes on already over-extended resources is further exacerbated.
Gartner estimates that overcommitting on resource availability can reduce the time efficiency of an individual resource (a person working in man hours) by anything from 20 to 120 minutes. Multiply that up to reflect the machinations of a busy programme office and that’s a lot of wasted hours. It is far better to focus on fewer projects at a time and complete them before starting the next one, rather than having a whole range of initiatives chugging away for an extended time period.
Practical tips: How can companies get better at resource management?
It sounds straightforward theoretically, but what does effective resource management actually look like? Here are 5 golden rules.
- Firstly, understand the difference between strategic and tactical resources and strategic and tactical projects. Allocate resources and priorities accordingly.
- Start with resourcing high priority projects and work downwards. There will be certain projects that are strategically important. Resource these first and then look at what else your remaining resources can be assigned to, without upsetting the balance.
- Bear in mind that switching projects is tiring and time wasting, so allow resources to specialise and focus on fewer assignments. Create a smaller team to focus exclusively on smaller work units. These are the resources that can be allowed to switch, with extra time built in to absorb any inefficiencies as a result of the constant changing.
- Only timetable the start of a project if you have the resources available to see it through to conclusion successfully.
- Accept that spreadsheets are not ‘real-time’ enough for accurate resource planning, because it is too difficult to expect them to be accurate enough.
Maslow in the PMO
These are the foundation requirements but the exact approach to take when managing resources will depend on the level of project maturity within your own organisation. Gartner1 classifies this as ‘crawl’, ‘walk’ or ‘run’. Rather like the PMO’s equivalent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ‘crawlers’ will need to focus on getting the basics right, such as prioritising key projects and ensuring those are fully resourced first, whereas ‘runners’ can jump ahead and target more intangible issues, such as ensuring the team dynamics between resources is appropriate.
Using PPM software certainly helps and will enable an organisation to accelerate their levels of maturity. PPM software makes it easier to monitor resource availability and better manage the allocation of resources by offering improved visibility to optimise your resources. It becomes possible to immediately capture when project variables change and explore the ramifications, creating real-time ‘what if’ scenarios, to investigate the impacts of changes. Adding further subtlety to resource management, integration between PPM software and other systems will ensure that cultural factors can potentially also be taken into consideration.
Contractors are an ideal example of a resource that needs very careful management, especially in the oil and gas industry. For starters, they have an expensive day rate to reflect their specialist skills. They need to be allocated to specific projects as efficiently as possible and if there are any delays and they end up not being utilised, they should be deployed elsewhere as quickly as possible. Doing this means having immediate visibility of 4 things - the exact work required, any interdependencies or risks to be taken into consideration, the precise skillsets of each resource and lastly, potential alternative assignments. This is relatively straightforward to achieve when using PPM software, but it is less viable with spreadsheets.
Resource management reality check
Based on our experience of working with large, multinational organisations who have a multi-billion dollar project portfolio, many are at the ‘crawl stage’. They tend to have too many projects on the go and too few resources to complete them. Along with investing in the right tools, our advice to organisations in this position is to take time out to think about resource management more strategically. Be honest about what the really key priority projects to undertake are and acknowledge that there are only so many workable hours available in a day for even the most dedicated of resources.