Project Management

What’s your project’s bus factor?

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There’s a resource risk that should be on your project risk register, regardless of the type of project you are doing. That’s your bus factor. In other words, what risks are you running if a key resource is hit by a bus.

Yes, it’s a bit morbid (use “won the lottery and quit without notice” if you want a discussion point with less dying) but it’s a crucial issue for projects.

The resource doesn’t literally have to be hit by a bus (and let’s hope that they are not). What we’re talking about it is the impact of them not being on the team for a length of time, often with hardly any notice. For example, going off sick, deciding to take another job and HR putting them on gardening leave, needing time to care for a relative or some other absence.

The trouble with project teams is that we don’t normally have a lot of spare resources lying around. People are subject matter experts and you get one of those skilled experts allocated to your team based on need. It’s unlikely that you have a pool of multiskilled people who can step in if someone else is off work for a length of time…sometimes that might be the case, but even if the skills are available, the person who has them might be fully allocated to another project or even – gasp! – doing their day job.

Building resilience into the team is important, but in my experience it’s not often as easy as it sounds. Yes, we cross-skill team members where it makes sense. Yes, I cover for other project managers when they are on holiday for a week. But some tasks need The Person With The Skills and you have to wait for them to come back.

So, now we understand the risk that the bus factor brings to projects, what can you do about it?

First, highlight it in the risk register if you haven’t already. This improves visibility and lets senior managers know it’s a risk you’re carrying.

Next, talk to the team. They can’t predict this kind of ‘bus’ absence but you can get caught out by other types of absence. I once worked on a project where the key functional owner told me that she was on holiday for a fortnight during the project call before she went away. She had tasks scheduled for her to be doing while she was off. Her line manager hadn’t let me know, and to be fair to her, I hadn’t asked her either.

From then on, we regularly asked project team members when their upcoming holidays were, because you can’t always rely on them or their managers to let you know. Especially if the holiday is booked after the project schedule has been put together.

Talking to the team serves another purpose: it can help you identify what you can proactively do to offset the bus risk. For example, workshadowing, setting up a delegate with an account so two people have access to crucial systems, sending two people on training courses instead of one and so on.

Sketchplanations highlights the challenge in the image below. It’s up to you to make sure you’ve put enough measures in place to make sure your project isn’t delayed by unforeseen lack of resource.

sketchplanations bus plan drawing

Posted on: June 17, 2024 09:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Erin Thomas Florida, USA
Short, sweet, and to the point! Very critical element talked about in this post with some insightful tips. Thank you!

Vinod Garg CEO| PROMAC ADVISORS PRIVATE LIMITED Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
It very nicely talked about an essential and not very uncommon type of risk. Initially, I could not understand the topic by the title - Bus Factor

Elizabeth Harrin Director| London, England, United Kingdom
@Vinod, the 'bus factor' refers to the risk you are taking if key resources are hit by a bus (and are therefore out of the business for some time while they recover). It's a bit morbid, and maybe it's a UK-specific term.

Arun Sharma Delhi, DL, India
The topics you chose are great, and nice to read. Great work

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