Five Best Practices for Allocating Resources

Author: Henry Bennett

PMO leaders, like Game of Thrones, it’s “allocate or die”

The highest-rated fantasy TV show ever is about to start its eighth and final season. If you are one of the weekly millions who tune in to or stream Games of Thrones (GoT) each week, you know its most famous quote: “When you play a game of thrones, you win or you die.” That kind of sounds like “when you play the game of resource allocation, you win or…”

Okay, you may not die, but your projects might. In our recent webinar, Prioritise Your People - Best Practices for Allocating Resources, as the webinar team tried to field questions, it felt like the stakes were as dire as the Stark wolves. As the epic struggle for power is illustrated in the television show, and among your programmes and projects, one thing is perennial: Do this right and it can truly transform your PMOs effectiveness in driving business strategy.

In that spirit, we offer five best practices and their corresponding pain points to help you gain the transparency and control you need to prioritise your people and experience more success in your resource-centric program management office (PMO). We’re not promising the Iron Throne, but we assure you that you will be able to define, organise and manage different resource types in your allocation process and forecast to requirements much better and more consistently.

  1. Have the Focus of Daenerys - If you’ve been following Daenerys Targaryen making her way back to the land of her birth, you may have noticed that unwavering focus on her end goal is what has made her successful in her journey. Here’s what to do today to ensure you have the focus to make sure you have the right people on the right projects at the right time:  
  • Concentrate (with resolve) on highest priority projects
  • Align staffing time/effort to ”ABC” priority categories
  • Assess interproject dependencies and effects on downstream projects
  • Break down resource constraints to specific roles & skills
  • Be proactive – initiate the discussions with PMs
  • Get clear and monitor staffing SLAs and impact of delays
  • Collaborate with PMs to quantify the impacts on schedule, costs & benefits realisation
  • Quickly resolve or escalate highest impact issues
  1. Seek to Understand: Hand of the King (or Queen) - Even though he’s done awful things during the course of the show, for the most part, Tyrion Lannister brings wisdom and humanism to his relationships. A consummate diplomat, he seems to be able to meet people where they are—like the ancient St. Francis prayer, he “seeks to understand rather than to be understood.” For the resource-wise PMO leader this means:
  • Close collaboration with PMs that helps you all eliminate artificial constraints
  • Seeking to confirm the latest:
    • Project goals & objectives
    • Project risks
    • Start date flexibility
    • Project float/slack
    • Work plan alternatives
    • Staffing plan alternatives
    • Competency vs. role requirements

Again, if you need more advice about the ways you can better understand PM issues on the ground before they all roll up together in a cataclysm bigger than the Battle of Blackwater, let us run a few scenarios past you that illustrate these points.

  1. Siege on Winterfell: Know Your Supply - There’s really no better encapsulation of the feeling of scarcity than the Stark warning, “Winter is Here.” Granted, they seemed to know that “winter is coming”—but they didn’t know enough to stop the repercussions of the scarcity and lack that winter itself might bring. Conversely, your job while utilising resources effectively is to always know your supply:
  • Gain a true view of your capacity by specifying:
    • Resource competencies
    • Charge /market rates
    • PTO, training and admin situation
    • Onsite, travelling, remote status
    • Visibility into labour pools including lead times and external stresses.
  1. Beyond Hard Skills: The Mountain and the Hound - Because your projects will rise and fall on the power of your people, that means their success boils down to much more than brute force. If you’ve got a choice between the Mountain and the Hound as your resources, the Hound seems to have developed more “soft skills” during the show’s seven seasons (admittedly not by much). Of course, neither would count as a deployable resource anywhere but in the bloodthirsty GoT universe!

 However, soft skills are so important for the resource deployment battle that in the 2019 RMI Skills Tracking and Management Survey, survey respondents rated “soft skills” higher than industry knowledge, language skills and even delivery capabilities. Many of our customers have skills databases that track these “soft skills”. We can show you how they manage these attributes via KIP’s skills database. This is crucial—most will agree resources that lack soft skills can singlehandedly derail or even detonate your PMO—from the bottom up. Like Cersei’s wildfire in the basement of the Sept of Baelor.

  1. Soft-allocate and Iterate: Littlefinger’s Best Quality - Many of us thought that Littlefinger might very well win the Game of Thrones. He seemed flexible enough to change gears mid-flight and also seemed to be able to use a soft touch to get his way with many of the power players in Westeros. I won’t drop any spoilers here, but suffice it to say, he wasn’t as good as we thought. A “light touch” via soft resource allocation allows you to remain flexible and responsive to the business. Experts recommend:
  • A soft-allocation (or soft-booking) is simply a tentative (vs. confirmed) resource ‘reservation’ or commitment
  • This will help bridge the gap from role-based demand to named resource assignments
  • Accelerates draft plans for discussion, analysis & optimisation;
  • And best of all, it can be implemented without advanced technology – a simple flag on the allocation will do

These best practices have the end result of prioritising your people because your people are the mechanism that gets things done to drive your business strategy. Like unlikely hero, Jon Snow, you may not want the mantle of resource leadership—but we all have to step up and make the commitment to do so. Follow these best practices and put your people first or the inexorable march of time, the unrelenting pressure of budget, and the vicious cycle of resource constraint reactivity will put an unhappy end to your projects (and to any other pretender to the PMO excellence throne!).