Resource Planning: Software for the Different Roles (Requirements)

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+++ Requirements for Resource Planning Software in Project Environments +++ Which is the Best Tool for Each Role +++

By Johann Strasser                                                                                                                          Read article in German

For quite some time now, we’ve been hearing companies complain about the shortage of suitable staff. Optimally utilizing the available internal and external human resources is therefore becoming ever more important. This demands not only project management expertise, but also:

  • a full and up-to-date overview of all the team members and their duties, including line functions and absences,
  • foresight in planning, promptly reacting to any conflicts and solving these in a goal-oriented manner, and
  • a long-term strategy to develop the necessary expertise, which these days is like hitting a moving target. Contrast this to the situation even just a few years ago.

Achieving this requires having the right organizational structure, well-founded processes and methods, as well as suitable tools that truly help the stakeholders involved fulfill the duties associated with their respective roles.

The problem: Numerous companies are relying completely on project manager tools in their efforts to reach their goals. The responsibilities and the requirements within the project management environment are too divers, though:

  • Decision-maker – strategic planning and portfolio management
  • Project manager – project planning and resource requirements
  • Team leader – providing, and ensuring the availability of, the appropriate resources
  • Team members – task planning and notification of completion
  • PMO – coordination and quality assurance

Trying to cover all these requirements with the project management tool will only deliver a very rough guess of the resource utilization. Of course, the PM tool doesn’t take line activities or absences into account. Plus, its reporting functionality is not made for decision makers or PMOs, nor does it contain any work management options for team members. Why should it. It is made for project managers and their specific needs.

In the following article, you will find out more about the requirements of each role and which tools they need, to work most efficiently.

Resource planning software - The roles involved in resource management

Image: The roles involved in resource management

Decision-maker requirements regarding resource planning software

Decision-makers must prioritize initiatives and projects based on the strategic plans. They are expected to launch the right projects and ensure that a sufficient number of the right people are available in the medium and long term to carry out these projects. To accomplish this, they need a good overview of all the current and new projects as well as the existing teams and their skills and available capacities.

In case a project is delayed, they need to develop (or have someone develop) possible scenarios for handling this in a way that ensures the optimal use of the resources based on the teams and their skills. Numerous companies have to search across sites, and even internationally, to find the right people available for new projects. That requires a very flexible presentation of the portfolio and its capacity utilization:

  • What expertise and skills does the project require?
  • What expertise and skills are available at which sites, and which ones are missing?
  • Which projects can be launched, and when?
  • Which ongoing projects can (or must) be postponed?
  • Which projects are missing the necessary expertise and skills?
  • For which areas must staff with specific skills be hired, trained or reassigned? …

The ongoing and new projects are differentiated by color in a bar chart and the histograms. It must be possible to simply shift the bars representing the projects and thereby adjust the resource “peaks” to eliminate any significant overloads.

In addition, it must be possible to easily activate or deactivate a project and have its resource capacities adjusted. The ability to group resources by criteria such as skill set, site, team, project group, etc. is also necessary. Simulations need to be tested and it must be possible to save the results of various possible scenarios.

Image: Planning of scenarios using TPG PortfolioManager

Image: Planning of scenarios using TPG PortfolioManager

The problem:

Missing tool functionality: Many companies attempt to solve this using MS Excel but fail due to the lack of reliable data as well as limitations in the way the data is depicted, such as the inability to simply group the resources or postpone a project.

Focus on planning details: It’s impossible to perfectly plan all upcoming projects down to the last detail because of the uncertainty that the project will ever actually be launched. In these cases, it’s sufficient to be “good enough, but complete.” For long-term planning, one line per project and skill is generally enough, using months as the basis.

The project manager can supply data from current projects but planning estimates for new projects must be obtained from the sales team and/or product manager. It’s important to consider the normal daily obligations and absences that have been planned by team leaders as well.

A good system accepts input from a variety of other systems and allows missing or new information to be added to existing scenarios later or entered manually.

Advantages compared to Excel:

  • Manual optimization of resource utilization by simple drag and drop
  • Graphical simulation of current state of projects and immediate view of impact on the resources involved
  • Summary of all project data in an easy-to-read diagram

 

Find out more about the portfolio management solution based on your resource availability.


Project manager requirements regarding resource planning software

Project managers are expected to deliver results, and this requires having the right people in the respective teams within the company. Using their project plans as a guide, they submit requests to the team leaders and then expect a firm commitment with regard to the resources.

The challenge here:

  • If the project involves several hundred processes, this can quickly become extraordinarily complex because many processes are difficult to plan precisely.
  • Many processes don’t require these resources 100 percent of the time, but rather just a few hours now and then. At an individual level, this can be quite time-consuming to track.

This means: When it comes to resource requirements, everything is just an estimate. The real question is therefore whether these estimates are any more accurate just because they are more detailed. Preparing detailed estimates always requires more time and effort − and isn’t always possible.

How you can solve this? From our experience, detailed planning is not even necessary. In this case the approach “good enough, but complete” is the better strategy. Isn’t it enough to plan the resources as work packages and phases on a weekly or monthly basis instead of tracking such minutiae as individual processes and days?

What counts in the end is coordinating the resource availability for individual projects with team leaders on a weekly or monthly basis. In doing so, the project managers need a tool to help them determine:

  • Which teams have which qualifications
  • Which teams can take responsibility for which work packages
  • Which team can provide people (and how many) with the necessary qualifications
  • Why a particular person can no longer devote their time to this project
  • Who is handling this person’s duties while they’re on vacation
  • How can the team’s commitments be balanced with the current project plans
  • How have the team’s commitments changed
  • What happens if the project is postponed …

The project manager’s tools must enable them to easily plan the project resource requirements on various levels and broadly allocate the teams and skills. After discussions with the team leaders, solid commitments are needed from the individuals who will represent the plan’s teams and skills.

Project managers need the ability to align the people promised by the team leaders with their latest project plan. This lets them see if their plan can be implemented with the available resources.

Aligning the requested vs. committed resources using MS Project and TPG TeamManager

Image: Aligning the requested vs. committed resources using MS Project and TPG TeamManager

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Team leader requirements regarding resource planning software

Team leaders act as a liaison between their supervisor and the project managers. In addition, they also serve as a leader to the team members. Together with their team, their job is to handle as many line duties and projects as possible. The goal is to get as much work out of the team as possible without overwhelming the team members.

Team leaders must alwayse be ready to provide up-to-date information to the decision-makers, project managers and the team itself. This information relates to the team’s activities and that of individual team members as well. Having a suitable and well-designed system enables team leaders to plan, present and provide data to show:

  • What is the team’s availability, and what capacities does it have?
  • What expertise and skills does the team have?
  • Which are the team’s current projects?
  • How much time has been allocated for team meetings and other general line activities?
  • What are the team’s responsibilities with regard to the general activities, and how are these organized?
  • Who is going a vacation, and when? Who will handle their work while they are gone?
  • How much additional training does the team need? What skills or expertise is needed?
  • What is the team’s capacity for the next 6, 12 or 18 months?
  • Is the team expected to take on additional new or existing responsibilities?
  • Which team members need help acquiring the necessary team expertise?
  • Who needs additional training so that the team’s duties can be better distributed among its members?
  • What additional training is needed, and when, to be ready for upcoming assignments?
  • Who is available to participate in new projects? …

Team leaders need a good tool designed specifically for their needs, one in which they can enter information about absences and line activities and import the project requirements. They need this to have a complete overview of their team’s available capacities. A simple traffic light symbol can be used to easily depict any overutilization or underutilization of the team’s resources.

If there are resource requests for other projects, the tool should ideally allow these requests to be committed and added to the individual projects.  In addition to the capacity utilization indicator, there should also be an indicator (again using traffic light colors) to show the relationship between the resource requests and commitments for each project. Having this information facilitates targeted discussions regarding the optimum use of the available resources within the various projects.

Loading resources from different project management systems using TPG TeamManager

Image: Loading resources from different project management systems using TPG TeamManager

Team leaders generally don’t like using project planning tools because their duties don’t involve scheduling processes and milestones or depicting the dependencies between selected processes. Rather, their job is to organize the absences and line activities within specific time frames. Many team leaders use MS Excel for this because it is simple yet gives them the overview they need.

However, it would be better to use a system that is equally easy to use yet stores this information in a database. If every team leader entered their plans into this system, it would provide the necessary overview of the portfolio and project managers could use it to request resources for individual projects.

If a request is approved and the resources committed, this appears on a separate line, making it easy to identify any reallocations made by the project managers. Team leaders now always have a complete overview of their entire team based on their own data, giving them the information, they need for discussions with project managers.

Find out more about the resource planning software solution for team as well as project managers.


Involving the team members

We’ve lately increasingly noticed that the traditional comprehensive form of planning, in which all the details are included in a single plan, is no longer the best strategy.

With the agile, iterative planning so prevalent today, the trend is to use rough project plans combined with detailed task lists. In this scenario, the project manager defines the project structure its phases and milestones. At the lowest level are the work packages or sprints and iterations.

The trend is to combine rough project planning with detailed task lists.

The team members prepare the task lists with detailed information about the individual work packages and/or iterations. This is normally not done using the project manager’s tool, but rather using other tools.

This means: the project manager develops the project framework, and the team members provide the input. A well-organized project plan is thereby created, one with maybe a hundred lines instead of a thousand. The advantages:

  • Easy overview: A leaner project plan provides a clear, usable overview of the planned deadlines and resources.
  • Import of planning details: The associated list of tasks prepared by the team members delivers the details necessary for the project manager
  • Simple Steering: Splitting up the planning in two areas simplifies the whole steering process of the projects and resources
    Image: Synchronizing the project structure with the task lists from diverse

    Image: Synchronizing the project structure with the task lists from diverse

How can you cominbe both worlds on a technical basis? Appropriate middleware solutions like TPG PSLink enable you to exchange and synchronize data and data structures between different systems automatically:

  • The deadlines listed in the project plan’s work packages need to be imported into the task planning.
  • Conversely, all the resources required for the associated tasks need to be linked to the corresponding work packages in the project plans, and
  • Information regarding the volume of tasks having the status open / in progress / waiting / done is important to the project managers and must be re-synchronized with the other systems.

The advantages: With the proper synchronization methods,

  • team members plan more accurately,
  • project managers simplify their resource planning, plus
  • stakeholders work more efficiently: all roles can use the best tools for their needs without needless data duplication.

 


Summary

The growing competition for resources within companies has led to a paradigm shift in the field of project management. As you now know, the use of project plans for the planning of resources is increasingly being replaced by a combined plan involving the project (rough planning) and line functions (detailed planning). Because:

  • Having rough estimates in the project plan simplifies the control and monitoring.
  • The detailed plans provided by the team provide a more realistic view of the resources necessary and their availability.
  • This means that the team leader and team are critical to effective resource management. Using effective resource planning software, the team leader has all the control and information tools necessary to get the job done.
  • This gives decision-makers and PMOs the accurate information they need to make good decisions regarding coordination and strategic planning (such as project portfolio management).

You’ve now read about several of the tools available to help stakeholders best meet the demands made on them and integrate the diverse systems:

  • Decision-makers (project portfolio management): Simulation, overview and optimization of the resource utilization are available with a few clicks in the TPG PortfolioManager.
  • Project manager (project planning / resource requirements): Planning the processes for handling requests and commitments is done using TPG TeamLink
  • Team leader (information / commitment of resources): Information is presented for the portfolio overview and the requested resources are committed using TPG TeamManager
  • Team members (task planning and notification of completion): Detailed plans derived from the task management tools are integrated with the project’s rough planning using TPG PSLink (middleware).

What are your experiences with resource planning software? Do you have a system in place? Does it work for you? If not, why? Let us know in the comment field shown below. We look forward to hearing from you.

Final tip: Subscribe to the TPG Blog Newsletter now and never miss another blog post.


 

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