Advice for Project Managers: How to Get More Resources and Manage Chaos
Dear Elizabeth: I’m currently running a large project that’s a mess. We’ve lost team members, the customer has asked for more features and now we’re scheduled to go well over our deadline. I’ve had endless conversations with my manager about the need to add more people to the project—I’ve even shown her my resource workload report. For some reason she won’t budge. How do I convince her that adding headcount is in the best interest of finishing this project—and our business? –Frantic
Dear Frantic: Oh, I’ve been there. I feel your pain! A good way to do it is to stop talking about people and start talking about money. It feels like a no brainer to add a $30k project coordinator resource to a project that will deliver $1m of benefit every year because if you can deliver faster, you get the benefits faster.
Large projects tend to have significant benefits, either tangible or intangible, so you might have a better argument around increasing resources than people working on smaller projects. If your project has no financial benefit, it still might have a significant risk. For example, how would it sound if you could add a $30k developer to the team that would help prevent you from incurring a multi-million dollar regulatory fine? Even projects that are being done for legislative or compliance purposes have a financial spin that you can put on them.
Failing that, you might have to put the project on a Red status. Red typically draws management attention, and you’re doing the responsible thing of flagging the point that you do not have the ability to deliver on time. You could enlist your customer in putting pressure on your manager if that’s appropriate.
By the way, just because a customer asks for more features, you don’t have to deliver them in the same timeframe. Customers – internal and external – will often try to get more work done in the same time, thinking that your resource is elastic. They’ll know that isn’t truly the case and could be sympathetic to you needing more time if you can’t get the extra hands to help.
Dear Elizabeth: I work on a team that’s always in a state of chaos. We’ve tried different organizational processes, task management software and tools. How do you know if you have the right project management processes and workflows in place? –Perpetually Disorganized
Dear Disorganized: Being in a state of chaos is a sign that you don’t have the right project and work management processes in place.
I know a couple of teams who work excellently together, and yet from the outside it looks like chaos to me, so the first thing is to establish what you think “not chaos” looks like:
- Is it one where everyone knows what to do, and has their priorities straight?
- Or do you want to be able to find documents within three seconds of someone asking for them?
- Is the right workflow one where you can forecast your work for the coming month so that everyone knows what’s planned?
It’s probably a mix of all those things, but only you are going to know what will feel like nirvana for your team. Here’s where to start repairing your process:
Focus on one of your problems to fix, either by giving one of your processes another try (perhaps with a few tweaks) or trying something new. Once that area of chaos is under control, move on and try to bring some order to another area. Trying to change too much at once is a recipe for a different kind of disaster and it will unsettle the team to the point that it undermines what you are hoping to achieve.
Finally, you’ll have to accept that what is billed as “the perfect process” might not work for you. If you can’t make a best practice work, then change it. Tailor your software and processes so that they help you, and don’t hinder you. That’s a process of continuous improvement and if you work closely with your team to identify what is working and what needs to change then you can deliver incremental improvements and slowly bring that chaos under control.
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