I was reflecting on a recent project and the struggles we had with resources. As a lean company, there weren’t too many options when someone was out for some reason. It was a big impact on our schedule and caused more than a few “creative moves” to keep the project on target.
Part of the issue stems from this simple fact: Project Managers rarely own their resources. Many projects span departments and have a blend of employees and contractors. And businesses are constantly over-allocating! Even the best Project Managers fail without enough resources.
So how do you obtain – and retain – these critical people?
Resource allocation is one of the trickiest facets of project management. The resources named in the Charter aren’t usually the ones you Launch with. The more you understand your company’s culture, it’s priorities and projects, and the way it handles resource shortages and fire drills, the better equipped you’ll handle the next resource complication.
One of the most effective ways to get the inside scoop is to meet with the direct managers of your resources. These folks aren’t always part of your management team, so you may need to seek them out. Get to know them, their priorities, and how they run their departments. Learn what’s going on in their world and you’ll have the knowledge – and relationship – to mitigate risks to your project team.
3 Key Questions to Ask Resource Owners:
- How is their department structured? If everyone is cross-trained, the hit from your project is minimized. But if there’s “1 key guy” who knows some legacy system and he’s on your team, you can bet he’ll be pulled for emergencies! This will drive your allocation plan.
- Have there been any big hits lately? Life happens: people move, have babies, take vacation. Business also happens: restructuring, product launches, audits. Even if your resources aren’t directly involved, they may be affected: Joe covers for someone who leaves; Suba is assigned to a task force. If you’re aware, you won’t wonder why Joe’s work is falling behind or why Suba isn’t answering her emails…knowing is the first step in resolving issues.
- What other projects are on-deck? A big project may compete with yours or put a strain on the whole department’s resources. Knowledge gives you options. If the projects are running in parallel, you can work with the resource manager and the other project’s PM to align your schedules or find alternative resources.
If resources are your biggest project risk, call it out early and often. If you see a spike in resource needs coming up, put it on the Risk Register so the Sponsor and Steering Committee know. Talk with your team about it; show them the plan and work on mitigating it. They may think of solutions you wouldn’t have considered. You do not need to come up with the solution by yourself.
And remember, no team member wants to disappoint their manager – including their Project Manager! If you know about your team’s schedule and help them balance their work, your resources will be more inclined to tell you when they’re having other conflicts. The trust relationship will grow, leading to an increase in participation and output.