How to Introduce Resource Management – Fast and Well

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+++ Why You Should Start with Complete Resource Planning by the Team Leaders +++

By Johann Strasser                                                                                                                Read article in German

Have you ever wondered how to make a real difference in your resource planning?

Personnel resources are scarce at most companies. As a result, companies have a great need to optimize their management of internal and external resources. But introducing resource management is not easy.

Its aim is to optimally control the resource utilization of all teams and each team member. This requires adequate organization, individual processes and methods as well as suitable resource management tools.

The right approach allows you to create a complete and up-to-date overview of all team members and their tasks. You will optimize your resource planning, recognize conflicts as they arise and resolve them quickly and effectively.

This article introduces a new way to proceed when introducing resource management: starting with the team leaders.

Introducing Resource Management 1

Figure 1: Roles and methods in resource management

Most companies class resource management as the main goal, or at least an important subgoal, when introducing Project and Portfolio Management (PM / PPM).

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First, they tend to focus on PM methods, processes and tools for the project manager.

They only address resource management further down the line. They judge it to be a difficult challenge and assume they need solid project planning as a basis to begin with.

Introducing resource management is often regarded as complicated for two further reasons:

  • Project managers often cannot anticipate exactly who will be needed on the project and when, and
  • the availability of internal staff members is unpredictable in most cases.
Introducing Resource Management 2

Figure 2: Project managers request resources, team leaders commit them depending on availability

Resource planning for projects reappears when addressing Project Portfolio Management.

You might also like our article on The Challenges of Tactical Resource Planning.

After initiating and prioritizing projects, it is also important to predict their feasibility in terms of actually available resources. What matters is availability at the level of projects and skills or teams rather than at a personal or task level.

Complete Resource Planning in Project Management

The crucial question is always the same: who can work on which project and when? With what availability?

You can only answer it if you really know all the staff’s and team’s activities.

Unfortunately, some project managers utilize their resources without planning. Or they use the wrong tool.

And some team leaders will do anything to prevent anyone from gaining insight into internal activities. All to continue living an undisturbed and quiet life on their lonely island. Or play hide-and-seek.

Read about our customer solution for integrated project and resource management now!

Does this sound hopeless? Depends on how you approach it, who is involved, and how specific you want or need the information base to be.

Statements about people’s availability, founded on an incomplete information base, invariably lead to

  • predictable resource conflicts or
  • low resource utilization and
  • economic inefficiency.

For team leaders, it is imperative and indispensable that the overview of their resources and commitments be complete.

For team leaders or rather all those responsible for resources, it is imperative and indispensable that the overview of their resources and commitments be complete.

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How can team leaders otherwise respond to availability requests?

In each and every case, they require a resource overview containing all team members, all projects, absences and operations.

Hence, most team leaders use Excel as their resource management software. Thus, they can plan on their own, and Excel offers a good database for some teams. One can easily and quickly base a central tool on Excel.

Find out more about Resource Planning in Project Management Read our article now!

Specificity of Resource Utilization

The required specificity of resource utilization is an issue that is not quite as clear. It has to fulfil sensible requirements and needs to be accessible on a permanent basis, at least when it comes to completeness.

Specificity primarily concerns the level of detail used to describe activities but also the extent to which resource planning is up to date. The more specific and frequent the planning process, the more time-consuming it becomes.

Read more about the necessary Specificity in Resource Planning in this article.

If you start with the approach that daily and specific planning is good planning, you run a risk. You may not be able to afford this planning effort in the long run and probably will not want to maintain it before long.

Do you really think it makes sense to know what each of your resources is working on every hour of every day?

Do you really think it makes sense to know what each of your resources is working on every hour of every day?

Or is weekly or monthly planning at project or work package level sufficient?

The decision regarding the specificity of resource planning is, for instance, influenced by:

  • the number of resources and projects
  • the duration of projects
  • the effort in the projects
  • the complexity of the schedules themselves
  • the changing job sites.

Of further interest is the angle from which you are looking at resource utilization:

  • project manager (requires the resources per project task, per week or month)
  • team leader (requires the absences, operations, projects of team members per week or month)
  • department head (requires the skills of the teams across all projects as well as the team activities per month)
  • portfolio manager (requires the skills from all departments across all projects per month)

Learn more about using skills management in resource planning in this article.

Which specificity makes sense also depends on the type of projects in your portfolio. After all, there are vast differences between, for example, small-scale IT projects, the development of vehicle components or pharmaceutical products, and plant engineering.

In the end, you need to determine the sensible and feasible granularity of resource planning for your case of application.

The premise of resource management for projects is always the same: better to be complete and slightly unspecific in your planning than specific but incomplete.

Better to be complete and slightly unspecific in your planning than specific but incomplete

For team leaders in a matrix organization, it is usually enough to know at project level who is to work how many hours in what month. The project manager can plan the respective details at task level in the project plan as specifically as necessary.

How to Proceed – Pragmatic Introduction

Hence, start by making your planning complete with the lowest possible effort.

Beginning with resource planning is one of our 3 Avenues to a PPM System. Read now!

Then, proceed by going into as much detail as the situation requires in your experience. The other way round is usually doubly painful. You have invested far too much for far too long, and still no one is happy.

You should also get used to the idea that you will not usually arrive at 100 per cent specificity in your planning. Employees will fall ill unexpectedly. Unplanned support cases or important presales activities will hold people up. These kinds of events influence resource planning for projects on a daily basis anyway.

The Popular Approach via Project Planning has Clear Disadvantages

When planning the introduction of resource management in conjunction with PPM, most companies prioritize setting up all projects in the system. From this they deduce the utilization of resources.

There is a problem with this approach. It only really works if all projects are entered into the system on the one hand and the actual capacity to compare it with is known on the other.

But how long will this take? How long can you afford to wait?

Unfortunately, the quality of project resource planning can vary a lot among project managers. It can also differ greatly with regard to time. All depending on how much time they were able and willing to invest in it.

Introducing Resource Management 3

Figure 3: It usually takes many months for all project managers to finish planning their projects

And even if all project managers deliver their project plans regularly and in good quality, you will still face the gap between resource utilization and capacity left by activities unrelated to projects (operations).

By nature, project managers cannot plan these.

In practice, this gap is often closed by using a reduced availability for projects in the resource pool and not the full capacity. The reduced availability is based on empirically established figures for operations and other activities.

For instance, you schedule only 80% instead of 100% of the working hours specified in the employment contract.

Find out more about the other aspect of resource planning – Strategic Capacity Planning.

The New Approach via Complete Team Planning has Many Advantages

The blanket approach of reducing availability as outlined above is simple. It is pragmatic and may suffice for some organizations or companies.

But what if the estimated project availability of individuals is challenged in cases of conflict?

And how do you track the actual project availability if it deviates from the estimation? Perhaps we need to change our resource management concepts.

Would it not be better to find absences and operations alongside project activities in a comprehensive overview?

Would it not be good to find absences and operations alongside project activities in a comprehensive overview?

This would permit you to give a well-founded answer about project availability instead of an estimation.

Introducing resource management 4

Figure 4: Project manager and team leader compare their data using traffic light indicators

But the prerequisite for this would be that people other than project managers use the PPM system. Team leaders also need to be able to plan based on the same resource pool – in their own system which is connected to the PPM system.

Team planning encompasses:

  • absences
  • general and individual operations and
  • project commitments.

But fear not, we are not talking about planning projects twice.

When committing resources, you only have to distribute available resources according to requests. This usually happens once a week or month per person at project level.

Team leaders do not plan project details. This remains in the realm of project managers. They gain greater certainty regarding which resources will actually be available at what time and to which extent.

In the end, both project managers and team leaders must be able to debate resource requests and commitments in a transparent way. This helps to avoid conflicts or at least find acceptable solutions.

In any case, both project managers and team leaders will require their own database. With those databases they must be able to work and simulate independently, while still being able to compare each other’s planning.

Project managers and team leaders each require their own database with which they can work and simulate independently, while still being able to compare each other’s planning.

How else are they going to deal with postponed projects? If resource planning is only administered in the project context without documenting resource commitments?

Paradigm Shift – Start with the Team Leaders

Most team leaders’ job description obliges them to plan and control the resource utilization of their teams anyway.

They report to their department heads in this respect.

So why not shift the paradigm? And start resource planning at the team leaders’ rather than the project managers’ end?

Team leaders have a huge personal interest in mastering their resource planning. They tend to hold their position for longer than the project managers. This puts them in the perfect position to stabilize the system.

Team leaders have a huge personal interest in mastering their resource planning. They tend to hold their position for longer than the project managers. This puts them in the perfect position to stabilize the system.

Team leaders will also be requested to produce a complete resource overview earlier on. Their superiors will not want to hear that the good utilization of their team members is not quite visible, only because the project managers once again failed to maintain all their projects.

Introducing Resource Management 5

Figure 5: Team leaders usually have a good database enabling the realization of quick wins

Ideally Team Leaders Use their Own Tool

Ideally, team leaders should be using a tool of their own. With this they load the project resource requests from the PPM system into their own overview – aggregated into a single row.

Find out more about the necessary features of such a tool for team leaders.

They proceed to enter their own commitments.

They add the known assignments of their team members at project level to their own overview, even if they are still missing in the PPM system. This saves them waiting for the last project managers and their delivery.

This approach means they are connected yet largely independent. In a minimum amount of time, team leaders are able to create the complete overview requested.

Read article on Using Resource Engagements in MS Project including the limitations!

When introducing resource management as a team leader, you are therefore not only enabled to deliver an excellent quick win in the form of a 100% resource utilization overview. You also come across as consistently in control of all resource assignments.

When introducing resource management as a team leader, you are not only enabled to deliver an excellent quick win in the form of a 100% resource utilization overview. You also come across as consistently in control of all resource assignments.

Naturally, this brings us to the question of specificity. This is lacking if team leaders amend project planning by adding single rows to the respective resources per month without detailed tasks.

Agreed, but it is still sufficient for the team leader’s overview.

As already observed above, it is more valuable to know roughly of each team member on which projects they are working or should soon be working than to have gaps in your planning.

With gaps you most definitely have a faulty overview, as it is incomplete. Plus, the lack of specificity is only ever a temporary one.

You might also like our customer solution for resource management in international product development – Read now!

So as a team leader you should make future resource commitments to projects dependent not only on priority but also on planning quality.

If you use this approach, most project managers will make an effort to plan better – hoping to improve their chances of having resources assigned to them.

Introducing Resource Management – Conclusion

PPM systems, which are only suitable for project managers and portfolio managers, are not sufficient for resource management by team leaders. This has led to the development of complementary tools. Based on these resource management tools which are better suited, resource management for projects can be introduced decidedly more quickly than with PPM systems (Figure 5).

What are your experiences with resource management for projects? What kind of resource management software do you use? Please leave a comment below.

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