10 posts categorized "Resource Management"


Are Tools Necessary for a Successful PMO?

IStock_000000418676Small_2 Project management organizations (PMOs) have taken off in recent years.  In fact, in its State of the PMO Report for 2010, PM Solutions found that 84% of survey respondents had a PMO.  In 2000, the number was 47%.

My question is whether or not tools are necessary for successful PMO?  I am using the term "tool" to mean a central planning tool.  That could be almost anything, from a full blown project management software or PPM solution to something more simple, but that still centralizes information and plans.  It may even be a set of tools.

Fundamentally, processes are going to be much more important to a PMO.  You have to have the right organizational processes and procedures in place to deal with things like how projects are prioritized, how projects are run, how resources are assigned, and other key functions.  While a tool that shows you centralized views of projects and related information can be very helpful, it is not absolutely essential.  After all, you could do that in an Excel spreadsheet or SharePoint portal.

However, there is one area where I believe a tool is necessary and that is the area of resource management.  In its report, PMO Solutions also found that "resource management" was the top issue and priority for PMOs with over 64% of respondents indicating that improving resource planning and forecasting was their top priority.  This is understandable.  Resource management with or without a tool is difficult, especially when you throw in contentions, politics, changing demands, and personalities who want resources on their projects.

Fundamentally, the technical aspects of resource management are difficult to do without a supporting tool, which makes the management aspects more difficult.  I would say that there are some basic fundamentals that need to be tracked / tackled:

  • Creating a central resource pool (a central list of resources from which to assign projects)
  • An overall view of where resources are assigned and how they are allocated
  • Prioritize projects

These items are difficult to do in a flat Excel spreadsheet.  They also imply that you need to aggregate information and cannot maintain it separately.

So while there are many things that could be done without a central tool, resource management is not one of them.  Agree or disagree?



4 Ways to Ruin Your Day With Poor Resource Management

IStock_000005305116XSmall Resource management is important.  It can and will make or break your project.  If we have the right people, managed correctly, the opportunities for our project to succeed go way up.  If we have the wrong people, or manage our resources poorly, it will be a rough day.  For that matter, it will be a rough month.

What are some things to watch out for?  Here are four “gotchas” to watch out for to be sure that you don’t fall into the poor resource management trap as you maintain your project management software tool.  In this post, we are primarily focused on human resource management – people.

1.  Not factoring in non-project work.

It is extremely rare these days where a resource is working exclusively on your project.  People are more often working on multiple-projects at the same time, multi-tasking, and being pulled in a lot of different directions.  They may be working hard on your project, but also have to take care of operational duties.  They also must spend time answering emails, phone calls, and going to meetings.  You must factor in this non-project time.  If you need a resource to give you a solid 20 hours of work, you cannot expect that to be accomplished in 20 hours because they will be working on other things.  I have heard, but cannot immediately find validation, that 6 to 6.5 hours per day is a benchmark.  That sounds high to me.  You know your organization and its culture better than I do.  In a typical project management software tool, this will be referred to as their capacity.

2.  Not accurately estimating the amount of time you need the resources.

You need to accurately know how long you will need your resources.  This means that you need to follow good project management techniques, including building a solid work breakdown structure, and setting up a good schedule.  How long have these activities taken in the past?  How long do the resources themselves estimate that it will take this time?  Have they done these activities before so that we know their estimate is probably accurate.  These are questions you must ask so that you can accurately estimate the resource quantity (aka time) needed.  I would rather estimate more than I need and actually take less, then estimate less and take more.

3.  Not considering the difference between effort and duration.

Effort (sometimes referred to as "work") is how much time or how many hours a resource needs to work on a task uninterrupted in order to complete.  Duration is how much calendar time it will take to complete that much effort (and thus complete the task).  For example, the effort required for a task may be 20 hours, but it will take 5 calendar days (40 hours) before the task is actually completed due to other work and priorities.  Be sure that you are estimating both of these.  Do not confuse effort for duration.  Otherwise, in 20 hours you will wondering why your task is only 50% complete.

4.  Not understanding the impact of other projects.

You need to constantly be on the lookout for other projects that will become a higher priority and siphon off your resources.  This may be perfectly legitimate because another project may be more important to the organization as a whole.  However, you can and should still plan for this.  For example, if you are delivering something to a client and you need a high-value resource that “everyone” needs, plan for that.  Build some margin into your schedules to allow for this.  Set the expectations up front.  But don’t bury your head in the sand, pretend that it will not happen, and then get upset when it does.

This is obviously not an all-inclusive list.  Leave a comment if you have made some mistakes that will help someone else with their resource management.



A Solution to the Resource Management Problem

IStock_000012107875_web Resource management is often characterized as the number one problem facing project-centric organizations (see here for an example).  There are so many "sub-problems" associated with the term "resource management", but I am primarily talking about the issue of resources not being allocated efficiently.  For example, they are not available because they have been over allocated, resulting in the delay of key projects.

There are also many good suggestions and ideas to deal with this problem such as:

  • Using central resource pools
  • Develop a good process of making resource assignment decisions
  • Setting project priorities
  • Using a tool to help see resource utilization issues

However, here is a tool that can help resolve many situations and does not require a huge organizational strategy, top management buy-in, or rigid procedures.

What is this tool?...simply for project managers to talk with each other.  When we are reasonable with each other and communicate well, projects managers can take a big step towards solving this problem.  After all, isn't that why we are there?  What do I mean?  If you have a group of project managers running different projects, it makes no sense to pilfer each others resources haphazardly.  It may benefit you immediately, but it will cause you much more harm and pain long-term.  No one wants that.  By the way, by "project managers", I mean anyone who has the responsibility of managing a project.  You don't have to have the title or a fancy certification to do this.

So take the initiative, sit down with other PMs, and talk about it.  Meet together and review each others resource needs.  Where are the resource bottlenecks?  Find a way to solve them.  If there are unresolvable conflicts because of competing high priority projects (make sure this is really true - everyone's project is "high priority"), then you can escalate and communicate to more senior management for a decision.  But I think that many conflicts could be resolved by simply having a reasonable attitude, and working together.

I recognize that there may very well be more complexities than this.  You may need to go to a functional manager to request a resource, for example.  But least you can do it in a coordinated way, instead of 3 project managers going to the same functional manager for the same resources.

Of course, that means that everyone needs to be willing to work together.  I understand that is not always the case.   But in many experiences, I have found that if you treat people well, they are more than willing to work together.  It is certainly worth a try.



Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 6/6

IStock_000004563504X_web This is the last post in a discussion on how to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting, and thus good resource management, in your project management software tool.

In part 1, we discussed the key of capturing all of the work to be performed by your resources (people for the purposes of this series).

In part 2, we discussed the key of accurately capturing when the work will be performed.

In part 3, we discussed the key of capturing the effort as opposed to strictly the duration of the work.

In part 4, we discussed the key of capturing the true capacity of your people.

In part 5, we discussed the importance of process, discipline, and the right tools.

Now let's pull it all together and wrap up this discussion.  There are some random but key, underlying points to keep in mind as you work towards building good resource utilization statistics.  Here they are.

Maintaining Resource Utilization Statistics Is Not Easy

Do not go into this blindly.  This is not an easy, little additional task to do.  It requires a fair amount of work and it requires really everyone to do their part.  It can be well worth it in the end, but go into it with your eyes wide open.

You Must Know What You Want

What are your objectives?  What do you need to see when all is said and done?  If it is to feel good that you know what everyone is doing, don't bother.  If it is a specific goal, such as to increase the utilization of your key resources, then go for it.  Similarly, this will help you determine the level of detail you need (and thus the level of maintenance effort required).  If you need to make day in and day out decisions on resource assignments, then you need to be very detailed and go all out.  If you simply need to make monthly presentations to management, then you can probably relax on some of the detail and strike a good balance between getting enough detail and getting more than it's worth.

Work Backwards

I would map out what you want to see in a report when all is said and done, and then work backwards to collect the data that will enable that report.  In other words, start with the end result.  Once you have that, go backwards.  If your end result is to see a % figure of utilization for each week for each resource, then you can start to map out a process to collect utilization figures each week.

Implement in Phases

You do not have to bite off everything at once.  Start small and work from there.  Create a long-term plan for getting to your ultimate objective.  You may simply start by creating better work breakdown structures (then you could even do something like assign a generic / default percent of effort for a rough estimation of everyone's utilization).  Then after everyone is comfortable with that, you may start adding effort estimation to your work breakdown.  This tends to work better than to do everything all at once.  If you have to do everyone all at once, then be sure and run a pilot.  Choose a few projects and a few people and work through the process.  You will find that you will change and tweak it to work out the kinks - and better to do that with a few people than with everyone.

Resource utilization can be a powerful tool, even a differentiating tool because it is not easy for organizations to do it well.  Write me at blog@teaminteractions.com with your own stories and insights as you implement this in your own organizations.




Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 5/6

IStock_000004563504X_web This is the 5th and second to last post in a discussion on how to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting, and thus good resource management, in your project management software tool.

In part 1, we discussed the key of capturing all of the work to be performed by your resources (people for the purposes of this series).

In part 2, we discussed the key of accurately capturing when the work will be performed.

In part 3, we discussed the key of capturing the effort as opposed to strictly the duration of the work.

In part 4, we discussed the key of capturing the true capacity of your people.

In this post, we need to talk about process, discipline, and tools.  Capturing resource utilization once, such as to present the results at an important meeting, is not easy.  There are no magic shortcuts.  Capturing resource utilization continually over time is even harder.  That takes a few extra ingredients.

First, you must have a documented process on which everyone is trained to continually capture accurate resource utilization.  It needs to include the elements that we have discussed in these posts.  For example, how will your organization capture the work to be performed?  How will it estimate when it will be performed and the amount of effort?  Who will maintain the true capacities of people in your organization?  How will this information be reviewed for accuracy.  This will not just happen.  Your team needs to know the expectations.

That requires discipline: a steadfastness to continue doing this because the benefits are huge.  Many organizations try, but not that many truly have the grit to manage their resources in this way.

And it also requires the right tool.  You will essentially be tracking a lot of data.  You need someplace to store that data.  You need a tool that can calculate the utilization numbers.  This can be a project management software tool such as ours (EnterPlicity) or it can be an Excel spreadsheet, but you need to have a well organized tool that is properly maintained with all of this data.

Process, discipline, and tools.  Make sure you don't forget about these.


Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 4

IStock_000006399293X_web This is another post in a discussion on how to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting, and thus good resource management, in your project management software tool.

In part 1, we discussed the key of capturing all of the work to be performed by your resources (people for the purposes of this series).

In part 2, we discussed the key of accurately capturing when the work will be performed.

In part 3, we discussed the key of capturing the effort as opposed to strictly the duration of the work.

Now let's talk about capacity.  Capacity is a key measurement because it directly affects your resource utilization statistics.  Capacity is the amount of time that a person has (in reality) to do the work.  For example, they may work 8 -10 hours a day, but in reality they wear other hats and may only have 4 hours a day to do project work.  That is their capacity.

Why is this important?  Because you cannot accurately decipher and make decisions from your resource statistics without it.  You can see how much work has been allocated to them.  You can see when that work has been allocated.  But you do not know if that is too much work, not enough work, or the right amount of work.  For that insight, you have to know the resource's capacity.

Once you know the resource's capacity, then it is simple math to figure out key metrics such as their allocated utilization (the work that has been allocated divided by their capacity) or their availability (their capacity minus the work that has been allocated).

In order to accurately figure out a person's capacity, you need to include the following factors:

  • Non-project activities: how much time does the person need each day to work on non-project activities, such as meetings, administrative activities, and while we don't like to admit it social conversations and breaks.
  • Vacation: a person's capacity is 0 if they are not there.  Forgetting to factor in vacation can ruin your resource picture at a critical point in the project.
  • Training: are there training requirements that the person must fulfill which affects their overall capacity?
  • Holidays: don't forget about company holidays.
  • Full time vs. part time: is the person working full-time or are they working part time?  Part time does not necessarily mean they are a part-time employee, but they may have multiple responsibilities with project work being only one of their responsibilities.

There are different strategies for capturing this.  You may factor all of these together for the entire year and create an average capacity per day.  Or you may create calendars that keep track of their specific capacity over specific time periods.

This may seem like a lot so let me make the point again about accuracy.  You do not necessarily have to track all of this to the nth degree.  It depends on how accurate you want the statistics to be when you do your reporting.  Which means that you need to decide what statistics and the level of accuracy you need in order for you to make decisions.  If you need accurate, detailed resource statistics, then there is no magic waving of the wand - you have to go through the effort of accurately collecting the base data.  And capacity is one of those pieces that you need to capture.



Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 3

IStock_000009248870X_web This is another post in a discussion on how to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting, and thus good resource management, in your project management software tool.

In part 1, we discussed the key of capturing all of the work to be performed by your resources (people for the purposes of this series).

In part 2, we discussed the key of accurately capturing when the work will be performed.

In this post, I want to discuss what may seem like a nuance, but is actually very important.  That is the importance of estimating the effort that will be expended on a task / project.  Many organizations simply collect the duration.  The duration is the amount of calendar time that is required to complete a particular task or project.  The effort is the amount of actual, dedicated work that is needed to complete the task or project within the duration period.  For example, "Creating a Design Document" may take 5 days (the duration) to complete, but John has other things he will be doing during those 5 days.  Over the course of those 5 days, John will be working for 12 hours (the effort) on "Creating a Design Document".

Why is this important?  Because when it comes to resource utilization, the effort is all important.  That is a fundamental building block.  How much time will a resource need to expend on the task?  The duration will not cut it.  You have to know the effort.  And there is no magic shortcut.  It is not as simple as saying "ok, let's start tracking effort."  It takes time and discipline to produce good estimates.

For some tips on how produce good effort estimates, let me turn to an old blog post by Tom Mochal in TechRepublic.  Included in his recommended steps are the following:

  • Create the initial estimate for each activity (task) in the project (this implies that you need to break down your project into these activities / tasks.
  • Add specialist hours (hours from experts, specialists, indispensable folks that will inevitably be needed).
  • Consider adding rework hours (most likely the task will not be 100% correct the first time).
  • Add project management time (time to do the project management).
  • Add contingency hours (to factor in the uncertainty of your estimate).

I would also add that you need to start tracking historical records of how long things actually take.  That allows you over time to gradually improve your effort estimates and assumptions.

It may be a big step to perform these steps right away.  In that case, start small and gradually add more maturity to your estimating process as people become more comfortable.

Of course, it can be difficult to follow the steps above all the time.  We are bombarded by imposed deadlines from stakeholders, management, clients, and others.  But as I said, there is no magic shortcut.  If you indeed want accurate resource utilization, you will have to go through the "effort".



Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 2

IStock_000004563504X_web In part 1, we discussed the key of capturing all of the work to be performed by your resources (people for the purposes of this series).  This includes project and non-project work.

The second key step is to predict as accurately as possible when that work will be done.  In other words, you need to schedule it.  How you schedule it is another matter.  It could be a typical Gantt chart schedule (aka waterfall).  It could be an agile iteration or a sprint.  But you cannot get away from the fact that if you want to know how your resources are going to be utilized in a given time period, then in your project management software tool, whatever that is, you have to have accurate predictions of when work will be done.  How else could you look at the month of July and have any idea what and how much your resources will be working on?

Does this mean that you need to schedule down to the nitty-gritty detail level?  Not necessarily.  Again, it depends on the level of utilization reporting you want to get out on the back end.  That is the level of detail that you need to put in on the front end.

In other words, you can draw a fine line so that you do not get too carried away with 100% accurate schedules.  What are the time frames for which you want to look at resource utilization?  By week?  By month?  Let's take by month as an example.  If you are mostly interested in the figures for the month as a whole, then what do you need to make sure of in your schedules?  You need to make absolutely sure that the work that will be done in July is properly scheduled for the month of July.  It does not mean that you need to be as concerned with the day it will be done.

Similarly, if you want to look at things by week, then you need to be sure the work scheduled for each week is accurate.  Again, it may not be necessary to have the exact days 100% accurate.

There is not a magic button or tool.  If you want truly accurate resource reporting you need to continually do the work to capture the necessary up front data.


Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting: Part 1

Many organizations want to know how their resources are utilized.  In fact, this can be critical to organizations that rely on proper resource utilization, such as a consulting group, a professional services organization, or an IT group overburdened with project requests.  In my experience, accurate resource utilization is hard.  It is not easy, it takes discipline, and it involves more than many organizations realize.

This is the first post in a series to help you achieve accurate resource utilization reporting in your project management software tools to support proper resource management.  In this first post, I will cover the first key step that is necessary.

Let me cover one point before that.  When I am using the term "resources", I am referring to people.  How is the organization using its people?  I understand that "resources" is a broader term and can encompass things like materials, money, or machinery.  We are going to focus on "people resources", as they have the most impact on the most organizations.

With that out of the way, the first key step to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting is to capture all of the work.  In other words, you cannot accurately determine how much work a resource has on their plate at a given point in time if you have not captured all of that work.  In concept it seems easy, but in reality it is not.  There are some considerations that play into this.  This means that you must:

  1. Develop a good work breakdown structure (wbs) for every project.  You have to capture all of the work that will truly be needed for every single project out there.  And it needs to be detailed and accurate.  In other words, if your work breakdown structure includes a line item for "Implement Product at Client", that's probably not going to cut it.  You need to have enough detail to accurately know how many hours it is going to take to do this.  Read my previous post for tips on how to do this.
  2. Capture non-project work.  Most people do not devote 100% of their time to project work.  They have some day-to-day operational or maintenance tasks.  This is part of their workload as well.  They attend meetings.  They go to training.  These have to be captured.  There are generally a couple of ways of handling this type of work.  You could capture all of this work, just as you have done for your project work.  Or you could estimate the % of time each day that people spend on these things.  For example, you could estimate that 40% of a person's day is consumed by non-project work.  This gets into the topic of capacity which I will expand on in a future post.

A quick note.  Do you have to have a good, detailed work breakdown structure with estimates?  No, you don't.  But the accuracy and detail of your reporting will correlate with that.  The less detail and accuracy in the work estimates that you have captured, the less detail and accuracy you will have in your reporting of resource utilization.  You will have to decide the right balance.



2 Major Reasons to Start Tracking both Duration and Effort

Many of us come to project management software to achieve a particular objective, and that objective is many times related to somehow managing resources better.  There is a fundamental data point that needs to be understood in order for that to happen, and that is the entry of duration and effort.  For some of you, this is elementary.  For many of us, it is not, and it is essential to understand this.  These two terms are used when performing scheduling or estimating in a project tool.  Effort is sometimes called work (such as in MS Project).  What is the difference between these and why should you start to track both?  Here are two major reasons.

First, what is the difference?  Duration is the amount of calendar time that is required before a task or project will be completed. For example, the task will take 5 days to complete.  Effort is the amount of work that resources on a task or a project will actually do. For example, a person may work 10 hours on a particular task over the 5 day duration of the task (because they are also doing other things during that time).

Here is a screenshot of a sample project in MS Project showing the difference in entries (remember MS Project uses the term Work for Effort).


Why is this so important?  Here are the two primary reasons to start tracking both of these.

1.  You cannot do resource management without doing both.

Many organizations come to us wanting to manage their resources better, but they only think in terms of duration - how much calendar time will it take to complete tasks and projects.  An organization can implement project management software, load up all their projects, and start using it as a part of their process.  But if they are only tracking duration, they have no information or data to understand their resource loads and utilization.  They only have schedule information.  Only effort provides information as to the actual workload of the resource.  And only entering effort for every single task will provide the overall views and data needed to manage resources better (or manage them period).

You have to be able to add both duration and effort as part of your process.  Then you can begin to pull data such as the following (out of EnterPlicity) and really look at your resources.


2.  You cannot have a truly accurate schedule without doing both.

Think about it.  If I simply enter duration with no thought to effort, do I really have an accurate schedule for that task / project?  You need to know how many hours it is going to take for a person to complete the task (effort).  You also need to know what else that resource is working on and, given that, factor that into how much calendar time it will take before they can put in that many hours and get it done (duration).  Otherwise, you have a guess at best.

There are several ways to do this, such as simply entering the values for duration and effort per task, or using a percentage of time a resource is available to work on it.  Depending on your project management software, you have some options.  It does not need to be complicated.  But these are a couple of really good reasons to start tracking both of these values.



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