Project Management Resource Planning – The Challenges

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Many companies are struggling with substantial challenges in project management resource planning. Is yours one of them?

Those responsible are expected to provide the staff needed to handle the project. However, there are generally not enough staff available with the necessary qualifications for the specified time period.

The team leaders and / or supervisors of these employees complain that they are constantly being confronted with new demands from operations and the projects. Handling both areas – operations and project work – is the challenge facing team leaders and their resources.

In this article, you will learn about:

Challenges of Strategic Resource Planning / Capacity Planning

The goal of strategic resource planning in project management or capacity planning is to ensure optimum resource utilization based on the company’s goals and the product portfolio. It should also:

  • Identify what resources, and how many of these resources, are needed for upcoming projects and general operations
  • Identify what resources must be procured and what competencies are missing

How flexible your resource plans are will depend on the types of projects your company pursues. Prioritizing these projects as part of the project portfolio management is a key objective.

There are three types of projects:

  • In-house developments
  • Commissioned projects
  • Organizational projects
project management resource planning – 3 project types

The three project types, and the prioritization and predictability of resources

How do these three project types differ in priority and what effect does this have on the required resources?

  • Prioritization of in-house developments
    With a portfolio of in-house development projects, you have a good starting point. The decision-makers themselves can decide when to launch a particular project. They can generally shape their own resource peaks. So, it is their responsibility to make rational, comprehensible decisions when prioritizing the projects.
  • Prioritization of commissioned projects
    Clients can request, cancel, or approve a commissioned project at any time without prior warning. You are expected to deal with vague forecasts. Each client thinks they are king. If you are responsible for a sales pipeline like that, you will need to learn how to deal with uncertainty. You will need to keep an eye on the order levels when scheduling your resources.
  • Prioritization of company projects
    Internal, company projects should be treated the same as any client project. One advantage here is that fewer people are involved in setting the priorities. On the other hand, these internal projects tend to be the first ones to be postponed when resources are scarce.

Our tip: Determine early on which of these three project types you are dealing with. Doing so will help you understand which of the typical challengesof project management resource planning you will face in managing your project.

Challenges of Tactical Resource Planning: Coordination between Project / Operations

Team leaders generally have the final word when it comes to allocation of the necessary project resources. Project managers expect team leaders to approve their resource requests as quickly as possible. This enables you to schedule these people for your projects. However, you also need reassurance that these approved resources will then actually be available when you need them. This helps minimize any changes to the plans later.

However, this can cause problems for the team leaders.

  • The same team leader can be repeatedly confronted with requests from various project managers at different times.
  • This makes it difficult for team leaders to have a sound basis on which to base their decisions.
  • A new request today can negate an agreement made yesterday.
  • Team members are often assigned tasks (such as operational tasks) in addition to their project work – which, in turn, affects productivity in the project.

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Team leaders often deal with several project managers simultaneously. Project-related requests submitted to the team leaders must always be well-organizedAgreed upon, reliable processes and a fixed cadence for resource approval is essential for everyone involved.

Our tip: Get everyone involved to agree on a fixed schedule for project management resource planning. However, agree that in an emergency this schedule can be modified. This provides reliability and provides a better overview of the capacity utilization for the next 1-2 cycles.


Suggested related article: Best Practices for Establishing Resource Planning Processes

Challenges of Operational Resource Planning / Work Management

Project managers usually need the responsible team leaders to approve their requests for qualified employees. This was discussed in the previous chapter. The next issue is work management – who does what, and when?

In the matrix organization, the project manager has access to the allocated resources for the specified time period. The next step is for them to plan the required tasks – or, even better – have the team members plan these themselves.

In this case, the challenge is to regularly document the current status. This enables you, as the project manager, to clearly see what progress has been made and what still needs to be done. You need the right tools to do this. For this, you may want to consider an Atlassian Jira training.

Our tip: Create an IT environment in which the project manager’s scheduling tools and the team leader’s work management tools are integrated. This gives you the ability to easily compare the plans and the current status before any upcoming status meeting. For instance, powerful integration middleware will provide the option to exchange data between different systems.

Results for Project Management Resource Planning from the PMO Survey 2020

The extensive PMO Survey 2020 investigated the most important areas of responsibility in 330 companies with PMO. In the participating companies, resource management is the least established area of responsibility compared to the other PMO functions.

project management resource planning – activities and satisfation concerning resource management support by the PMO

Activities and satisfaction concerning the resource management support by the PMO (source: PMO Survey 2020 by TPG, n=330)

According to the results of the survey, PMOs with fewer than 3 members are in a decidedly worse position for resource management than PMOs with more members. The number of responses stating “Improvements are planned” is only slightly higher for PMOs with more members. However, the share of responses stating resource management was “Well-established” are at least three to four times as high.

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Skills management and strategic capacity planning are the areas with particularly high challenges for project management resource planning. According to the survey, they are the least established. Yet, this is exactly where the differences between top, high and low performers are most marked. The first two are in a much better position when it comes to skills management and strategic capacity planning than the low performers.

project management resource planning – top-performing PMOs implement skills management more often than others

Top performers implement skills management much more often than the other two performance levels (source: PMO Survey 2020)

PMO survey 2020 TPG The Project Group

Conclusion: Project Management Resource Planning – The Challenges

This article has introduced you to the challenges faced by the three levels of project management resource planning:

  1. Strategic capacity planning
  2. Tactical resource coordination between project and line management
  3. Work planning of the individual resources

You will never be able to fully resolve resource conflicts. Yet, there are options to reduce them which have been outlined above. A strong Project Management Office with backing from top management features among the most important success factors.

The extensive PMO Survey by TPG The Project Group came to the conclusion that PMO support in project management resource planning clearly has an important effect on project success. Overall, this area of responsibility is least established, as it poses the greatest challenges.

Let us know by leaving a comment: what are the challenges you have encountered in project management resource planning?


Johann StrasserAbout the author: Johann Strasser, a certified engineer, has been a managing partner at TPG The Project Group since 2001. After many years as a development engineer in the automotive and energy sectors, Johann Strasser spent a decade as an independent trainer and consultant in the field of project management. During his tenure, he also served as project manager for software projects in the construction industry and provided scheduling and cost management support for large-scale construction projects. At TPG, he applies his expertise in product development and consulting services for international clients. His special focus is on PMO, project portfolios, hybrid project management, and resource management. For many years now, he has shared his knowledge through presentations, seminars, articles, and webinars.

You can read more about Johann Strasser on LinkedIn and XING.

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