“Far too often we see highly skilled team members deployed to the wrong projects,” said Dan Lefsky at PMI Global Congress EMEA in Barcelona. He gave an interesting presentation about resource management and here are my takeaways.
Uncover the Unspoken Calendar
The resource calendar on your project management tool probably has all the national holidays built in, but what about the unspoken dates? Lefsky explained that events like the World Cup (in any sport), the concept of siesta and other cultural events can totally throw out your work schedule. I’ve seen this first hand in a company that installed additional TVs so that workers could keep one eye on the football when they were in the office.
He also gave the example of August in France as a time when most things close down. You’d be hard pressed to get project team members to do additional hours (or any hours) when the country goes on holiday. I’ve seen that first hand too, as has he, as he currently lives in Paris where I used to live.
Manage Resource Risk
Not all resources work out. Lefsky explained that you should know the failure rates of your resources.
Another resource risk is that of availability. Have you really scheduled them at 100%? Don’t make that error. Even scheduling at 80% can be optimistic if they have day jobs and it gets even worse if their daily responsibilities change during the life of a project. Suddenly a key resource is being pulled on to other tasks and there’s nothing you can do about it. So plan for that risk if you can.
He also suggested taking into account strikes and other labour events, or at least being aware that they could present a risk to your project. They have certainly affected me when in worked in France and affected colleagues in other countries.
Finally, the weather can present a resource risk. In these days of virtual working you might be surprised that projects and businesses can grind to a halt when there’s a bit of snow, but often work does involve someone or some equipment travelling somewhere at some time. If that coincides with a weather event then you can quickly fall behind your baselined schedule.
Lefsky said that it’s important to start looking at demand management. Look at what is coming into the project pipeline and what is likely to be approved, alongside what has been currently approved and what has been approved but is not yet started.
Putting this in your model can help you longer term. You are building out solid teams who want to come to work, and you can do that more effectively if you know what projects are coming up. “Ultimately,” he said, “you are building teams who need to deliver.”
Demand management is all about looking at the strategic alignment between resource acquisition and getting them into the right place at the right time.
He talked about having an enterprise resource pool with both named and generic resources to help identify the skills available and match them to upcoming demand.
Be Best In Class
Or at least understand what best in class looks like. Lefsky explained that best in class resource management functions have these features:
With all of this information you can start to build economic models based on variables that help you identify what your resource needs will be in an economy with weak growth, strong growth or somewhere in between.
“A big piece of this is trying to move the process along more quickly without being able to change the structure of the organisation,” he said.
That’s an understatement! It’s fine to start with some of his simpler ideas, but getting to the economic models part is going to take some organisational commitment at a senior level.
Either way, it was an interesting and useful presentation that explained how teams can be more effective at managing their resources and the resource demand.
What are your current challenges with resources? Does anything here help you start to address them? Let us know in the blog comments.
An enterprise resource pool is a great way to track and manage the people available to work on projects. It’s often set up by the Project Management Office and used to work out who is going to be a good fit for the skill needs of a new project.
Setting one up doesn’t have to be a big job or particularly complex, and many project management software tools will do this for you. Dan Lefsky, speaking at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Barcelona, talked about the things you need to include in your resource pool data set in order to get the most use out of it.
Categories of Resource
He explained that a resource pool includes two types of resources:
The Data Needed For Your Resource Pool
He gave examples of the 8 things you need to consider and record for each named resource in order for you to be able to usefully draw on the data to select team members for upcoming projects. These are:
1. The Type of Resource
Is the person a Business Analyst, a Project Manager, a Quality Analyst, a User Experience expert, a Tech Writer, a Developer? Or something else? This is typically their job title and doesn’t necessarily reflect their particular skills.
This is where you record their skills. You’ll probably want to set up a drop down list or categories that you can tick from as searching free text fields is going to be too difficult once you’ve got all your resources on there. Skills can include programming languages, Agile/waterfall/hybrid PM methodologies and so on.
It’s worth noting the experience of each individual. This could include the departments they have worked on, the category of project they do, the number of years they have been at the company, or years’ experience overall in their role, the key relationships they have within informal networks etc.
Cost of resource is a factor. Are they charged at time and materials? Or fixed price? What’s their internal day rate when working on projects? You might not have costs for some resources because it’s moving ‘wooden dollars’ around the organisation and that’s fine, but if you intend to charge clients for resource time then you’ll need to know what each person costs.
Where is the resource based? For some projects it might not matter because they can work virtually, but for others it might have a significant impact. You could categorise these, Lefsky said, by onsite, offshore, onshore, nearshore or remote. Or you could list the city where they work (or do both).
6. Maximum Availability
This could change depending on their other commitments but it’s definitely a useful piece of information to have for some resources. For example, where an individual also works as a team manager, they will have certain management responsibilities that take up some time. These are things, speaking from experience, like approving timesheets, managing team’s expenses, team-level reporting, 1-to-1 meetings and performance reviews, dealing with sickness absence and so on.
You can’t allocate these people to your project 100% of the time. In fact, it’s not sensible to allocate anyone to your project 100% of the time. Note down what time they have outside their normal responsibilities that can be allocated to project work.
Knowing their line manager is helpful for resource requests.
8. Resource Breakdown Structure
Lefsky talked about positioning resources in the Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS) as this lets you see their security permissions, areas of control and similar. If you have a formal RBS then this could be worth doing but if you don’t, you could just as easily create another categorisation for security clearance if that was important to you.
Gather all this information and start to populate your enterprise resource pool. When you get started you’ll probably just focus on the people who spend a lot of time working on projects, but it’s worth expanding this if you can, and if you are going to take an enterprise-wide view of portfolio management. It’s a big job, and you have to reconcile the fact of treating individuals as ‘resources’ who can be put into little boxes and categorised, instead of the unique individuals that they are, but in large organisations particularly it can be incredibly successful.
Note that you’re going to have to continually review this. While someone’s job title might not change that often they could gain new experience through projects or develop new skills after training. Don’t let your resource pool data get out of date or you won’t benefit from being able to develop individuals or from letting them use new skills.
Do you use a resource pool? Let us know in the comments if it has been successful for you or whether – as I suspect it might be in many companies – it was set up as a one-off exercise and then not developed further, thus falling out of use very quickly. I look forward to hearing your experiences!
Read more about the reasons why you should be investing in a resource management strategy.
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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