Microsoft Project 2013 gives you a number of ways for handling resource costs including standard rate, overtime rate, cost per use and another field to let you accrue resources at a cost. Let’s take a look at these and see when you might want to use them.
If you use resource costs in Microsoft Project at all, this is the cost field that you will find the most useful. It’s, as you would expect, the normal pay rate for someone or something over a time period. For people, Project will default to a per hourly rate but you can use a different unit of time if you want – just change the setting. Or you can work out their hourly rate based on their monthly or weekly rate and enter that if you want to keep everyone standard by calculating hourly rates for all your resources.
Non-people resources are not calculated on an hourly rate. Instead, they are worked out by price per unit. You’ll have to work out what units you want to use. Use the Material Label field to record what unit you have set. For example, if you are hiring a software testing lab at $1500 per day, you can use the Material Label field to record ‘daily lab fees’. Then Project does the calculation for you – quantity multiplied by standard rate.
Cost per use
Only use this if you have certain resources where you only pay each time you use the resource, and it’s a flat fee. An example would be a call out fee for a plumber for your new office conversion. Each time you call on the plumber, Project will calculate the hourly rate plus the call out fee. You can also use this for delivery charges.
Another field that does exactly what it says, but it doesn’t apply to non-people resources. Leave it blank unless you pay your team members overtime for hours worked above and beyond their contracted hours. If you do want to use the overtime function, you’ll have to assign overtime hours to the resource, otherwise Project will assume they are either salaried and don’t get any extra payments or that they earn the same amount regardless of how many hours they work.
Of course, you don’t have to use Project to calculate overtime payments for your team, and it can get quite complicated to keep on top of what’s an overtime hour assignment and what’s normal working time. But if you are expecting Project to calculate your total project budget for you, you’ll need to make time to record all this data otherwise your expense figures will be out.
This field is only useful if you are bothered about when the money is spent. On many projects, this won’t make any difference at all, as your project sponsor will only be interested in the overall budget and estimate to complete. But there might be times when you need to know if you’re paying out the money in advance or after the job is done.
You’ve got three choices here:
They are pretty self-explanatory. ‘Start’ means the cost goes at the start of the task, so you’ve paid upfront. ‘Pro-rated’ means it is spread out across the duration of the task. And ‘End’ means you pay when the work is completed.
It’s fine to record this level of detail in your project plan for expense tracking purposes, but you’ll need to know how to read the reports to interpret it! That’s beyond the scope of this article. But hopefully this has given you a flavour of how to use the different resource cost settings in Microsoft Project and you can choose which ones (if any) are useful to you on your project.
Sometimes on a project you need to find some extra pairs of hands. That can be easier said than done. These days many companies have gone through a number of rounds of redundancies and don’t have ‘spare’ people sitting around waiting for project work to come up. So finding additional project team members can be a challenge. Here are some options to consider if you need to find a couple of extra helpers on your project.
Bringing in contractors is a quick way of getting skilled resource. You can generally get all kinds of industry knowledge. Using a preferred recruitment agency is one way to streamline the hire process and get the skills that you need.
Contractors can be expensive. They also rarely have knowledge of your company unless you have worked with them before, even if they do have industry or specialist knowledge. You have to go through a recruitment loop to bring them in and that can take time. If you use an agency to help you source suitable candidates you will also have to pay agency fees if you take on any of their suggested team members and that can equate to a couple of months’ salary.
You can ask suppliers if you can ‘borrow’ one of their application experts if you need technical help. You’ll probably have a good working relationship with a supplier already, so you know them and their staff which can make the transition easier. They will also know you and your working environment. You may already have day rates negotiated in your contract with them so you can cut out some of the commercial negotiations, making it even faster to bring someone on to the team on a short-term basis.
Suppliers may need convincing before they will loan you one of their prized members of staff (even if you do offer to pay for them at consultancy rates). As a result, this can be a difficult route to take as you may not get anywhere. However, if you don’t ask, you don’t get! It is still worth a call in to your account manager to see if they have anyone available to help you out on a project where you are short-handed.
Other internal resources
Who else in the company could step in? Ask your project team members for their recommendations. They are likely to know of colleagues who would be a good fit for the project team and who would have the required knowledge and skills.
Bringing someone else on to the project team from another department requires you to bring them up to speed quickly on the way the project works, its goals and their contribution to it. Sometimes training a new person can take longer than just getting on and doing the work with your existing team, so think carefully about who you bring on. You don’t simply want another pair of hands, you want someone who will make a useful contribution to the project.
If you take the drastic step to cancel holiday requests you can get more hours out of your team members. However, that’s the only pro I can think of and this option has a lot more cons! If you do decide to cancel leave, make sure you have a clear policy on when this holiday time can be taken instead.
There will be a massive impact on staff morale of refusing requests for annual leave and going back on your earlier commitments by asking staff to cancel their existing plans. This is really not a good option.
Cutting out travel to and from meetings by allowing staff to work from their existing place of work or home can mean you eke out a few extra hours a day from project team members. If they don’t have to travel, they can work more effectively – it is hard to work from the car or on the train, and even if you do make calls or review documents, it is not the kind of work you would do if you were at your desk. You are distracted. So reducing travel time allows you to spend more time at your desk. Also consider letting people stay over if they are travelling distances. While this might seem counter-productive, it is better than people rushing to leave before the end of the working day to get at least some of their journey done during work hours. Equally, people stuck in a hotel will often check their emails in the evening or work later because they haven’t got anything else to do!
Project team meetings are always more effective face to face, so limiting travel means you have to potentially take a hit on other types of efficiency. Also, do you really want to squeeze extra hours out of your project team members? Wouldn’t it be better to get a new member on the team to take some of the burden rather than expecting team members to spend their evenings away from their families on a laptop in their bleak hotel room? Watch out for the hit on morale and on meeting efficiency if you opt to review the project’s travel policy.
You know a lot about the project and the team, so you could pick up additional tasks. Even if you don’t have the technical knowledge to complete a lot of the tasks, you could take on some of the administrative or other aspects of the work to alleviate the burden on team members who are over-stretched.
You’ll have to drop some of the project management tasks if you do this, so you will be sacrificing good management and governance for project progress – only you can work out if this is really worth it. The risk is that your involvement will be seen as permanent. If you bought in a contractor for 3 months it would be very clear that they would be a temporary resource, but using your own time just overburdens you and gets the team into the habit that you can pick up some of the less attractive areas of their own work. Handing these back to them in a couple of months when things are quieter could be a real challenge!
These are some of the ideas I came up with for dealing with a resource shortage in the project team. What other techniques have you used to manage with a lack of resources?
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Normally on a project you will plan out the tasks required to do the work, and then add in the resources needed to carry out those tasks. Here are 5 things to take into account when doing resource planning on your project.
All team members need holidays or vacation time. Remember to plan for this when you are scheduling resources – you may find that a critical resource has already planned to take leave during a time on the project when you would really rather that they are around. Talk to the line managers of your team members about when they already have holiday time approved.
Also factor in religious and other cultural holidays. Team members may want to take time off around these times – and that goes for school holidays too.
2. Sickness absence
Unfortunately, team members can go off sick without any notice. While the option to work from home allows many people to soldier on when they may be too ill to make it to the office, you can’t rely on people to not be ill.
One way allow for this is to consider how you will backfill a project role if the person currently doing it is away from work. While you shouldn’t allocate two resources to every task just on the off chance that someone will get the flu, you should have a plan in mind just in case someone drops out of the team due to sickness absence at short notice.
3. Single point of failure
When task planning, look at who on your resource plan is the single point of failure. Who has worked on all on the Finance tasks and has all the operational knowledge? On long projects it can be particularly difficult to switch someone in at the last moment if your single point of failure person hands in their resignation.
4. Negotiating with line managers
If you don’t have direct responsibility for the team member concerned, you will have to negotiate their time on the project with their line manager. This can be tricky, especially if you only need them on a part-time basis. You may find that they can’t do the job they used to do before the project on a part-time basis, and their line manager may not find it convenient to have them back. It may be possible to job share the role in this case.
You should also consider what would happen if your schedule slips and you end up needing the team member for a longer period of time – how will you negotiate this with their line manager?
5. The triple constraint
If you lose a resource back to their day job or for any other reason, you will have to consider the impact that this will have on your task scheduling. The traditional triple constraint, for all its faults, is a good place to start discussions with your sponsor. If you have fewer resources, can you negotiate a longer time to deliver the project? Could you negotiate more money to pay for additional resources so that you have more confidence about reaching the original milestones?
In the end this will be your project sponsor’s decision, but you can at least take him or her some options to consider.
Resource allocation will no doubt change your task plan. You really need to review both the tasks and the resources in parallel so that you can put the two together and come up with an effective and realistic schedule. What other tips do you have for successful resource scheduling? Let us know in the comments.
Does your project or program have a resource management strategy (RMS)? While they are mainly used in program management, you can also find an RMS useful in a project environment. This is especially the case if your project is not affiliated to a program and you have to work it out how to handle resources yourself.
An RMS sets out how the project or program will get and manage the resources it needs to achieve the change required – after all, projects are about delivering change and you need resources to do that. “Resources” is not just an unfriendly word to describe people. Resources can be:
The people element can include temporary staff, permanent staff, contractors or part-time employees.
5. It defines an approval process for getting people and money.Don’t underestimate this! It really does help to know in advance about how to get resources for your project. It will save a lot of time and negotiation if you have already talked to the process owners and other people involved and already have this written down.
7. It defines the procurement strategy. You might not need an entire procurement strategy for your project or program, so you may find that this section of the RMS just references your corporate procurement process. This explains how you go about buying things and what arrangements or contracts need to be in place.
Remember that resources are not just people! A resource management strategy can help you be a helicopter project manager and see the big picture for all the resource needs on your project or program.
Have you used one or got any tips? Let us know in the comments.