Recently, it’s felt like my work as a project manager has been all about making sure the right people are lined up to do their tasks at the right time. Having access to skilled individuals – which we often call ‘resources’ in project jargon – is critical to making sure work gets completed when it should, so the next person in the chain can do their thing.
When people are not lined up to do the work, two things can happen. First, they get bored of having big gaps in their work and nothing to do, and use that time to update their resume. They quit. Second, they get tired of having too much work to do and no one caring that they are totally overloaded. They also quit.
Your project doesn’t have to cause either of these situations because project resource planning is not that hard, even in a complex portfolio.
Only 26% of organizations always use project resource management to estimate and allocate resources. That’s not enough. Here are seven tips to improve resource management across your complex portfolio.
1. Create a single view of the truth
First, get the basics right. When you are trying to do good resource planning in project management, it’s important to have a single view of the truth.
You can’t manage your human resources effectively if their estimates and time tracking is being done in various different systems, especially if you work in a large team. Bring all your projects and resource assignments together into one tool.
2. Set up portfolio reporting
With all your data in one place, project human resource management becomes a lot easier. You can see who is available to take on work.
This alone will make a huge difference to your ability to adequately manage, track and control project work. Over 74% of organizations don’t have standards for resource management so they aren’t able to capitalize on the benefits of managing resources across multiple strands of activity in a portfolio.
The best resource allocation project management tools make it easy to set up straightforward, easy-to-understand reports that go across the portfolio of active and pipeline projects. Use workload views in LiquidPlanner to show the team’s available capacity across the portfolio.
Ultimately, it’s the transparency about what the team members are doing and when that will give you the productivity benefits that are important. That’s data you can use to make smarter decisions about where to invest the effort.
3. Use resource leveling
Resource leveling means making sure that the work is planned in accordance with available resources, and this generally means changing start and finish dates for tasks. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with an individual allocated to one project eight hours a day, another project five hours a day, and another project for a couple of hours per week… that isn’t going to work. All three projects will slow down as a result of an overstretched individual who can’t get everything done.
Resource leveling is one of the best practices for project resource management. In fact, LiquidPlanner has built-in resource leveling so your human resources can never be overallocated. Project timelines are calculated around the availability of named individuals or role-based placeholders, where the task could be carried out by anyone from a pool of people.
This step is essential to make sure all your projects are realistically resourced and you can manage expectations from senior stakeholders. Without resource-leveling, you’re likely to over promise on deadlines your team simply can’t keep.
4. Prioritize projects within the portfolio
Humans seem to be programmed to do the work that seems the most important at the time, even if it’s not. Have you ever been asked to do something and done it there and then, even though it’s pulled you away from something that was probably more important? Yes, me too. Working on the project for the stakeholder who shouts the loudest is not the best way to deliver your strategy. Your team needs access to a clear, up-to-date set of priorities each day in order to make sure they’re focused on what’s important.
Prioritize the projects within the portfolio. Intelligent scheduling tools will build priority into the ‘when’ so the most important tasks are always at the top of your To Do list and everyone knows what they should be working on next.
Again, this is important for managing expectations. Of course priorities change, and when they do, project tasks can be reorganized to take that into account.
5. Make it easy for people to update estimates
At the heart of project resource management are people. People who need to know how long a task is going to take, and to record the time it takes them to actually do it.
Make it easy for them to create and update estimates. If you use time tracking make that process as simple as possible. The right tools should have a low learning curve and be foolproof to use. They should be able to make changes in a couple of clicks and new estimates should be automatically updated everywhere so the whole team can see the impact.
6. Look for resource constraints
Some individuals are mission critical to a project; other tasks can be done by anyone from a pool of people with the right skills. Resource constraints are an occupational habit for project managers, so the key is to spot them early and prevent them from harming your timelines.
Let’s say your project has a fixed deadline, and now that the schedule has been calculated, you know you can’t meet that date. It’s likely that resource availability is pushing out the deadlines. You can allocate the work to another person with similar skills, but that won’t work if the task can only be completed by one individual. In that case, reprioritize that person’s workload so they have the focus time to spend on this project. That should remove them from being a bottleneck and allow you to meet your deadlines.
Portfolio reporting will show the impact of this change across multiple projects, so you can manage expectations and communicate with stakeholders accordingly.
7. Set work in progress limits
Use scheduling limits to constrain how work gets assigned to the team. Generally, we tend to think that it’s most important to do the top priority tasks first, and that is a good way to schedule activities. However, that can mean the slightly-less important tasks never get done. Sometimes you need a way to make sure a single resource can pay attention to more than one project within a given time period.
If you’d like to make sure all projects in the portfolio make some progress, you can set limits on work in progress. It is a useful resource management technique in project management, so it’s worth knowing how. It works like this: if one person is allocated to multiple projects, they can spend the majority of the week working on the highest priority project and split the rest of the week working on their other projects.
This approach will also make sure team members have a buffer for the ongoing tasks they have to do. I often hear from project managers that when they work with tech teams, dealing with operational issues takes priority over project work. That’s how it should be: it is important to keep services operational and if there is an issue to resolve, that’s naturally where they need to deploy their skills. Having buffer time means they can set aside some time for project work while staying on top of their day-to-day responsibilities.
Resource management is important because it improves employee morale, limits bench time and ensures work moves smoothly through the organization while keeping everyone on board with what happens next. If you do it correctly, you’ll meet more of your deadlines and have a healthier team not burdened by the stress of being overworked. No more wondering whether the project will stall because people aren’t available!
About the Author
Elizabeth Harrin is author of Managing Multiple Projects and several other books. She is founder of Project Management Rebels, a membership community for project managers who want to deliver with more confidence and less stress.