If you are planning and scheduling programs, projects, or other agency-related initiatives, you have to consider a myriad of factors to ensure success moving forward.
These factors include such details as project specifics, how well projects align with agency goals and the like. However, the notion of resourcing, either cost and/or people resources, usually gets kicked down the road during scheduling.
But when you think about "resources" what comes to mind? Is it operational budgets? Discretionary funds? What if I told you PEOPLE are your most critical resource?
In this blog I will provide some learned insight into key elements to help you begin to plan with people resources. I will also touch on some ideas to help make your scheduling more effective for the long term.
Structure for Successful Planning and Scheduling
There are many elements that influence the planning life cycle. For the purpose of planning with people resources, we’ll focus primarily on two elements: Intake and Scheduling. Then we’ll discuss effective practices for planning, and ways to deal with disruptors to the plan.
Project intake is the method project information and ideas are brought into a process for selection and scheduling.
New project ideation begins with collecting information. Many organizations will approach this in varying ways depending on the culture, technology, and organizational bandwidth.
The breadth of information collected during intake can range from a few simple pieces of information, such as project name and description, to a detailed set of project details, such as annual detailed revenue or FTE count (as an example).
Many don’t realize that leveraging the intake process to collect more information, even if that information is preliminary, can be a valuable tool to the project review and sizing work required later on.
The level of detail may vary, but we have seen a few approaches that help to successfully navigate this variable:
- Simple Estimating: One approach to simple estimating is the use of something similar to "t-shirt sizing." By resource type is the request XS, S, M, L, XL, etc.
- Complex Estimating: Going for more fidelity, the intake process can request the hour requirements by resource type, in aggregate, or by period.
Whether you are using Excel, email, SharePoint, or a strategic planning tool like Decision Lens Accelerate, solicit people resource requests during your intake submission for ease of evaluation down the road during scheduling.
Scheduling is the process by which you identify when a project will move forward, sometimes by whom and sometimes by what means (cost). This is where the rubber meets the road in planning efforts.
Organizations who choose to forego the resource sizing during intake find themselves requesting that information at this point. Others use this opportunity to refine their figures.
Whichever boat you are floating in, a few things become clear when scheduling a project. Take a look at these questions and see how many you can answer with the data you have now (don't worry, no one is judging you):
- When is the best time for my new project(s) to start?
- Should my project be scheduled to start at the end of the current list of projects or does it need to start sooner?
- If I slot my project to begin next week, will I have enough resources to tackle this project along with the current in-flight list?
- Will another project need to be pushed out?
- If so, which project makes the most sense to not over-burden my resources?
- Can you supplement a resource bottleneck with contractor time?
- If so, how much and for how long?
As you can see the questions compound and become more granular as you dig in. And this is just for one project. Because change occurs on a regular basis, the type of analysis you perform when adding one project usually will need to occur with all new projects and any changes to existing projects.
As long as resources are required to deliver the projects, you will always need to evaluate the landscape, whether using subject matter experts or through the use of analytic tools.
Being able to assess the situation and change quickly becomes key as your process grows and matures. A strong framework will enable successful scaling as your business grows.
How to Plan Using People as Resources
When you commit to planning with your people, one of your first decisions is whether to use named resources (e.g., Richard, Susan, etc.) or resource roles (e.g., Project Managers, Project Analysts, etc.). This decision will drive how you scope, plan, schedule projects, and make changes as your scheduling activities take flight.
Once this choice is made, one of the next tasks will be figuring out how to collect the necessary sizing information for your projects and how to set the availability of the resources.
For the collection of resource sizing, this takes us back to your Intake process. Determine if the sizing determined at that step is an appropriate one to use. As for the resource availability, this tends to be more complex as the details tend to become very granular (are you scheduling by week, by month, etc.).
Many times this process is driven by the tools you’re using to assist in scheduling and how they are set up. This helps to drive the way you collect, think about, and express your resources to allow the tools to assist going forward.
We will take an example with the role of Project Manager. Let's do some quick math:
You decide you will plan by month: 173 hours per month, per person (52 weeks in a year / 12 months x 40 hours per week)
- You have 5 full time Project Managers: 865 hours per month (173 x 5)
- Available PM budget of hours: 562 hours per month based on your PMs spending 65% of their time on project work (865 x 0.65)
As you begin to build out your available resource budget you will see how this scalable process will allow for disruptors and detours as your workflow becomes more filled out and complex.
Managing Disruptors and Detours
All that we have been discussing has been building to your ability to quickly identify and manage disruptors to your schedule and detours to your plans.
In the above example I should have a baseline budget of 562 hours for the role of Project Manager, per month, for the foreseeable planning period. This process lends itself very well to changes in your environment and allows for accounting for changes such as:
- One PM goes on leave for 3 months
- You add a contractor PM for 5 months
- You have a company holiday one month and need to reduce available hours for two weeks
Having a structure such as this will allow you to identify where resource availability may experience bottlenecks and hinder your ability to deliver.
As you begin to manage identifying these obstacles you will begin to understand there are many remediation paths to solve. Many organizations identify the first solution as the only solution. This is where tools such as Decision Lens Accelerate's Bottleneck Analysis will allow you to create multiple what-if plans and compare different courses side-by-side. Many tools are good at telling you there's a problem but few, such as Accelerate, can provide you with solutions to consider.
Going from bottlenecks to solutions will allow you to focus less on problem solving and more on strategic foresight to move your organization in the correct direction.
As you push forward in your quest for efficient project and program planning and execution we hope you find these concepts useful. Let us know - we're here to help!
Want to hear more? Check out our video as we continued this discussion live!