How to Improve Project Resource Planning
Select your PMO Leaders above and explore the questions and answers below for comprehensive insights into how to improve project resource planning.
What are the most common challenges you’re hearing about resource planning?
In the recent PMO Outlook Report, we found that resource planning is the top challenge for PMO leaders that are struggling with resource management. While it is evident that resource planning is crucial to PMO success, it’s encouraging to see that PMO leaders are starting to think strategically about resource planning and how they can get the most out of their resources to achieve the goals of the business. Those challenged by resource planning often don’t have a single source of truth of what the supply and demand of resources look like in real-time. Without visibility into resources, it’s almost impossible to strategically plan resources to accomplish the organization’s most important initiatives.
What is driving organizations to improve resource planning?
Most of the reasons that people try to fix the resource planning process actually doesn’t have a lot to do with the resources themselves. You’ll often hear that resource planning is the root cause problem that organizations are facing or the lack of resources. What’s actually going on is a totally different problem. Usually, it isn’t we don’t have enough resources, but we are trying to do more work than our current resources allow. So the motivation for organizations trying improve their resource planning process is because they don’t understand the root cause of what’s really causing the challenges. Now that’s not to say there aren’t any challenges related to resource planning, but it’s key to remember that we’ve got to look at the whole picture of what’s going on with our strategy picture and make sure that we are setting our resources up for success right from the start.
How does maturity level of an organization impact resource planning capabilities?
I think the maturity level of an organization has a huge impact on resource planning capabilities. As organizations become more mature at their project delivery, as they improve their ability to plan and execute on their investment strategies. They get better at resource planning because they understand that connection between what they are funding, what it is they are actually doing and what it is they are trying to achieve.
When an organization is still struggling to figure out what the right investments are, trying to respond to the market rather than be proactive. They end up changing what it is they are doing and end up reacting instead of being proactive. It’s very difficult to plan for resources that way. Your resources are your most important asset, you’ve heard that a thousand times, but they are also your most flexible asset. They are the ones you can change and assign to different things often. Organizations really rely on that too much until they grow that maturity. As their maturity grows, they understand that they that flexibility is important, but it’s much more important to use that to understand what they were doing. But now there is a new opportunity - a competitor has failed in their new product launch, a new market segment has opened up – we want to pivot quickly to do something else. If you can do that with your resources, that is a much better approach than trying to react to what’s happening elsewhere.
That’s something you see as organizations mature, they become more proactive in managing their resources. That in turn leads to more engaged, more motivated resources and a greater sense of belonging. You’ve all heard of the great resignation, but it doesn’t affect all organizations the same. If your organization is more mature, you’ll keep better people for longer because you’ll be able to work with them instead of apply changes to them..
Why is project resource planning important?
Based on the recent PMO Outlook Report, 86% of organizations say they don’t have enough resources to meet demand. With limited resources, it’s that much more important that your resources are working on your most valuable projects. But, without strategic resource planning, how can you expect to see the results your organization desires? That said, resource planning is crucial because your resources are your most important asset when executing on company’s strategic initiatives. Resource planning effectively gives your organization a competitive advantage and allows you and your PMO to strategically execute and deliver company value by leveraging the resources that will deliver results.
What type of organizations benefit from effective resource planning?
Every type! Every organization needs to be looking at a few things. One, what are the business problems we are trying to solve starting with strategy and defining that strategy first. We then look at the products, programs, and projects that can ultimately achieve that business strategy. From there we need to look at what resources we need in order to achieve the objectives outlined in each one of those products, programs and projects. So when we take a step back and start at the beginning and look at how we are going to achieve our business strategy as opposed to one process over here to define the strategy and another over here to manage the projects. We need to start top down. What is the business problem we’re solving? What are the projects that ultimately come from the products and programs? Now we can look at effectively applying resources in the right way at the right time appropriately staggered throughout the year in order to achieve that business strategy. Every organization should be looking at how they effectively manage, plan for and utilize resources.
What does a good project resource planning process look like?
Project prioritization and resource planning go hand in hand. But, when it’s in a project context we often pretend that the resources are somehow secondary. Right, like we need the project prioritization and then project selection and then project staffing and resourcing and then we execute projects as if each project was in a vacuum. When of course the reality is 99% of the time projects remain in the organizational contest. Once we are done with a project now we will hopefully be working on another one if the organization is succeeding at all. And so, it’s this notion that there is this project construct that separates the organizational goals and objectives and prioritization of projects to how we do resourcing planning. I don’t see them as at all disconnected and in fact I think looking at things from a resource pool point of view first and a project to portfolio context second is the better way to go.
What examples can you share of organizations doing resource planning well?
The key here is figuring out what resources among your many, especially if you are a large company, that are really driving that cadence of value delivery. So, as an example, I had an airline customer and their entire IT organization and they realized that their veteran top architects were the individuals that set the cadence. Every time they tried to go faster than the capacity of those six people then things actually got slower instead of faster. They would make design decisions without those people in the room because they were triple booked on other design phase meetings. So invariably, they go two or three months down the road and realize they didn’t have an optimal design decision and had to go back to square one and start over. So what really good resource planning looks like is understanding what is that one thing that we might try to go faster than but we end of going slower if we do and if we just set the cadence to that and make sure we’re resourced properly everywhere else so that those people who are setting the cadence never have to wait. That’s what really healthy resource allocation and resource management looks like to drive that highest value possible project portfolio.
What does it look like for organizations that are seeing success with project resource planning?
Organizations that understand resource planning and management are a critical component, but not the starting point are the ones that are most successful. Meaning, we must start with what strategy are we trying to accomplish, understand what products, programs and projects will come from that strategy top-down, then we can appropriately apply resources to those programs and products and projects in a way that addresses the highest priority items first for maximal impact on strategy and return on investment. Then effectively laying out those resources so that we are optimizing the strategy delivery and realization process. Businesses that are successful understand that the secret to effective resource planning and starting top-down from the strategy and then when they get to the level of portfolios prioritizing that portfolio initiatives that are appropriately staggered throughout the year so that resources can be allocated to them in a realistic way. Those organizations are the ones positioning themselves for success and seeing the greatest return on investment for everything they try to do to achieve that business strategy.
What tools/processes can organizations implement to solve for resource planning challenges?
There isn’t one tool or process that organizations can implement to solve for their resource planning challenges – there is a whole bunch. The good news there is that everything you do can incrementally make things better.
It starts with an effective HR information system that not only captures information about what type of people you have but their skills, certifications, interests, career ambitions. Understand who that person is beyond Sr. Project Manager. Because that understanding allows you to fit the right people to the right challenges and opportunities. It helps them and you deliver.
The next tool is an effective portfolio management solution. You’ve got to be able to plan your investments in the way that makes sense. You need the right tools that allow you to say; these are our priorities, these are our goals and objectives, these are the investments we are going to break those out into, this is the work that is going to be done to achieve those investments and here’s the people we are assigning to that. And we know that we are utilizing our people effectively and we are making sure the right people are in the right place and the right time with the right skills are there to deliver.
From that you need project management tools to actually capture real information about what’s happening. Now a lot of time that project and portfolio management piece can be integrated. But you need to know not just what your people should be doing, but what they are actually doing. We all know that plans are wrong. We all know that things take longer, there’s barriers that we weren’t expecting to overcome, there’s risks that trigger. Things will change, and that’s okay as long as we understand we can adjust. You need the right information in order to do that.
From a process standpoint, it doesn’t come down to individual processes, but as an integrated approach to everything. Don’t have islands of processes. Have everything working together. Have a network of connected PMOs, each managing their teams for the overall good of the organization. So that if you have a resource problem over here and a resource opportunity over there, you know about that and can work them together. That ability to have one end to end process, from planning to benefits realization and through all of the investment funding, resource allocation, work execution, performance management. It’s critical to success. If you do that, resource management becomes a heck of a lot easier.
How does the right approach to project resource planning impact the business?
So in my mind, resource planning is the key input to drive the outcomes we want. Too often I think we focus on the cost of the resources and the other inputs and not even having a clear understanding of what the business outcome is that we want. Of course we do need to combine these. The biggest mistake people make is they carry the assumption, which I believe is almost always false, that if we are more efficient with our scarce resources then we will obviously generate better outcomes. So as long as we keep everyone busy, high utilization numbers and everything we love to track in our software tools that the good outcomes must follow and nothing could be further from the truth. Because I’ve seen cases where because we aren’t looking at things like the cadence of value delivery and how we are flowing value into reality and managing that flow in a very deliberate way or even measuring it with our OKRs or KPIs. Then if we focus there we find out that its actually what I call the traffic congestion issue. The moment we change our KPIs or OKRs to focus on these business outcomes that are a cane to the cadence of value delivery then the more we can get away from the thinking that good resource planning means high utilization.
How does resource planning need to be addressed at different levels of PMO maturity?
Resource planning is one of the most difficult challenges organizations face within the PMO. Trying to understand where the organization is at to be able to accept organizational planning is critical for every PMO leader. If you’re new in your PMO journey and project delivery journey and you’re not yet standardized in how you deliver, it’s going to be really difficult to get other resource managers across the organization to buy-in to your resource planning processes. So, you have to be able to work with them. One of the tools at the PMO Squad when we work with clients is a GEMBA walk. If you aren’t familiar with a GEMBA walk, I encourage you to do some research. Ultimately, it’s where you walk the process. Walk the process of resource management with the resource owners of the organization to help them understand why it’s important for them to approve their resource and why they don’t want their resources taken to work on any project without their knowledge. It’s up to those resource managers to be able to manage their team and if they aren’t plugged into that and they aren’t plugged into our process than you are going to struggle. Ultimately, you are going to want to work together to build a resource management process that works for your organization and your unique needs.
What steps can organizations take to solve for project resource planning challenges?
I think the most important steps that organizations need to take to solve for their resource planning challenges is really to recognize that it’s really about resource planning. It’s not about resource management when things have already gone wrong. It’s about understanding what your resources are actually capable of delivering. Too many organizations approve way too many projects for the year, find that they can’t deliver them and then the next year approve just as many and think that the same about of people can deliver on them with some magic. It doesn’t work. So the most important step is to recognize your limitations, understand your capacity, and start going from there. When that’s in place, then you can start looking at the next piece, which is capability. It’s all well and good to have 100 resources available to you, but not all those 100 resources have the same set of skills. So, if you understand how many project managers, how many business analysts, how many testers – then you can not only start approving the right amount of work, but the right type of work and then figure out how you need to evolve to move forward because as you know the world doesn’t stand still.
What is the role of the PMO in resource planning improvement?
Resource planning and capacity planning are critical to any organization and their ability to deliver on projects. A PMO is a great function to be able to drive those discussions. Every resource manager is biased to his or her team. They want to make sure they take care of their people, but the PMO has a bit of an outside objective. Right, we are a service provider within the organization and we recognize that we need resources from across the different functions or different departments. Therefore, we can drive discussions as an independent facilitator to ensure the broader aspects of the organization are covered. It’s not just one individual trying to drive for the benefit of their function. We in the PMO are trying to be strategic. We are trying to drive the enterprise forward. Ultimately, in my view resource planning, capacity planning, and demand management are all functions that the PMO should be a key driver in to ensure we are leading the organization to have the right people, work on the right projects, at the right time.
What are common objections your clients face regarding resource planning processes?
When we’re working with clients to help them understand the role that resource planning actually has on the strategy lifecycle – from definition to delivery and strategy realization, we often hear things like, resources are our problem, we need more of them, they aren’t fully utilized. What those clients learn from us through our processes is that the underlying root cause of the problems they are facing is really because they are trying to do too many projects at the same time that many times aren’t fully aligned with the strategy because they might have had a separate process for identifying strategy and projects. The resources are not being set up right from the start.
What we do and what we show them is the root cause of the resource planning challenges they are facing and realistically align those resources in a way that has them optimally utilized not maximally utilized. Because if you try to put every car on the road at one time you may have maximum utilization, but you won’t’ have maximum throughput. So what we teach them the underlying root causes of a lot their resource planning challenges they are facing is that they haven’t set up those portfolios and projects for success from the start.
So if we take a step back and start with strategy, develop the products, programs and projects from that strategy and then prioritize all of that and align resources to that properly prioritized portfolio then we are able to clearly see the optimal resource utilization by properly staggering out those resources throughout the year so that resources are creating great throughput and output. Often when we start with our clients, what they think they have is a resource planning problem, but most of the time there’s actually a problem before resources were even assigned.
What roadblocks do PMOs face when trying to get better at resource planning?
I think some of the biggest roadblocks faced by teams when they are trying to improve their resource planning is it’s just really hard because you can’t stop the world for 6 months while you figure out how to plan your resources. You have to do that while you are still delivering on those projects. So organizations really have to try and take that step back and say how are we going to make this better. It’s going to take time. You have to keep delivery. But you’ve got to start saying with this next project we’re going to make it better, with this next planning cycle we’re going to improve how we do this. You’re not going to get it right on your first time, but with every incremental improvement you’ll start to see the business improve, start seeing resources management improve and start to see greater return on your projects investments. The problem organizations face is that they don’t recognize the time and effort involved in doing that. We may end up doing less, but we end up doing it better. And we set ourselves up to be able to do better and better in the future. It’s recognizing that those roadblock exist and doing something about it. It’s better to spend time and effort moving the roadblocks out of the way than trying to run harder at them and think you’re going to barrel through them.
How to get internal buy-in for proper resource planning?
As with all things getting buy-in is tough, right? The easiest way to do that is to build success on your journey and to have someone understand and trust that what you are doing is going to help them. Ultimately, we as leaders of our team we want to make sure we are supporting our team and giving them the right tools. If I don’t trust other parts of the organization or individuals within the organization, I’m probably not going to work real well with them. If I hadn’t have any wins in the past with them, I’m going to be a little hesitant to try and work with them in the future. Look for some low hanging fruit. Look to those leaders across the organization and find an easy win. Find a project that’s worked well for them, and ask how we can repeat that sort of success. Use your debriefs, retrospectives, and lessons learned to identify some of the challenges you’ve had in the past and work with those different leaders to put in solutions that are going to be beneficial to them. Ultimately, small victories can add up to trust and enable you to be a key service provider for them in the long run.
Prioritize Your People: Best Practices for Allocating Resources
Learn project resource planning best practices to set up your projects for success.
Resource planning can seem like an endless job and you might start to feel a little déjà vu or perhaps that you are reliving the same planning over and over again. It’s time to change the script. Project managers typically focus on getting project details right – as they should – but in the end getting resourcing right is the key to success for any project. Improve outcomes by optimizing the return on your people investment with better resource planning.
This webinar explores:
- What it takes to have a comprehensive resource plan (and why that's not as easy as it sounds)
- How project and resource managers can work together for a resource plan that works
- The benefits of a successful resource plan