Categories: Best Practices, Career Help, Communication, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, New to Project Management
By Conrado Morlan
We’re all novices when we start out as project managers. That’s okay. The key is to learn from your missteps.
As a young project manager in Mexico, I used to struggle with resource planning. Like many other neophyte project managers, I wanted to make sure that all the tasks in my work breakdown structure would have the required resources assigned to them by name.
The challenge was that the resources were not my direct reports. I had no control over their schedules.
My first approach at resolving this problem was to meet with the appropriate resource managers to review all the breakdown structure tasks and available resources, assign resources’ names, and reserve the resources for my project.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? I would get the needed resources for my project, while helping managers keep their resources busy. Then I discovered I hadn’t considered all the other projects competing for the same resources. Not to mention all the project intra-dependencies.
I kept trying hard to build a perfect project plan (full of names attached to specific tasks) without success until I was assigned to a high-visibility project that was part of a strategic initiative. The initiative was led by an experienced project manager from the organization’s headquarters in the United States.
I didn’t want my struggles with resource planning to cause me to fail in such a high-visibility setting. So during my first meeting with the American project manager, I let him know about my struggle and asked for advice.
He was glad I brought my challenge to his attention, recalling that earlier in his career he faced the same challenge. His solution: the “Chinese army approach” to resource planning.
Because resource planning can pose such a huge roadblock to many project managers, the Chinese army approach assumes an abundance of resources.
Our conversation went like this:
American project manager: How many soldiers does the Chinese army have?
American project manager: Right. The Chinese army has unlimited resources available to the commander in chief. Applying this approach, assume you have unlimited resources with the right skills that can be assigned to the different roles in your project. The resource planning stage is too early to be worrying about names.
Since then, I’ve followed the Chinese army approach, identifying the necessary resources for the early stages of the project—and their availability—during the project approval process.
On several occasions, I found that the roles could not be filled with internal resources because of a lack of required skills or because the resources with the right skills were in high demand. So I had to source from a contractor.
While working with resource managers and external sources, I found the need to acquire and master communication and negotiation skills. That helped me to get the best resources, while also sometimes allowing other projects to have the resource I was pursuing. All that truly mattered was that my projects were able to produce the expected results tied to organizational business goals.
What’s the most important thing about project management you now know that you didn’t know when you began your career?