Finding Resources

Finding suitable resources for a large portfolio of projects

Real leaders focus resources in areas that provide the greatest opportunity rather than making across-the-board decisions. ― Frank Sonnenberg

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aving the right combination of skills and experience is crucial to each project’s success. Before key dates are committed too, the prudent project manager will want to know that the right mix of skills is available. Only then can locating and assigning suitable staff get underway.
 
Resource allocation must support both the requesters (project managers) and suppliers (resource managers) each step of the way. They are at the sharp end of the process and their co-operation will determine its success. They must collaborate effectively, if high team utilization levels are to be maintained and individual projects not to suffer.
 
This article focuses on resource allocation issues faced by geographically dispersed organizations with a large portfolio of projects. The differences in how they are organized have led to quite a variety of resource allocation processes.
 
At their simplest, the required skills, roles, or disciplines are in distinct teams so each resource request can simply be directed to the appropriate team leader. The project manager may want to request particular individuals, or specify other resource attributes, such as minimum levels of experience, professional qualifications, or grade etc.
 
Larger organizations can have separate units (BUs) that focus on different lines of business, where several may have staff with similar skills. So, for example, there could be teams of process engineers in a number of different BUs. When a project sits within a single BU, the project manager will probably prefer that BU’s resources but may need to look elsewhere if they are in short supply.
 
Further complications arise when resources with similar skills within a BU are spread across different locations. If there are regional resource managers, the project manager needs to decide if a preferred location should be specified. If so, a combination of BU, Skill, and location will direct the request to the appropriate resource manager.




Should the project manager not be concerned about the resource’s location, the request must be more widely seen. A vacancy board approach work best here, with new requests visible to all potential resource providers. Each can then propose their most suitable candidates; just like a dating agency!
 
A clear understanding of the organization’s breakdown structure is needed for the project manager to locate all potential suppliers of his required resources. This is particularly useful when skills shortages occur at the preferred locations.
 
Once a candidate has been proposed, the project manager will want to see how well their skills and experience match those requested. The resource allocation process must support candidate review and rejection, before proposed resources are accepted.
 

The impact of project change

That would be it, if only projects would go according to plan. But no sooner do you have the skills capacity nicely balanced with the demand when a project change creates a new bottleneck. For high priority projects, this can trigger a grab of resources from lower priority ones. Senior managers will need to step in to help rebalance the project portfolio around project priorities and key dates.
 

The reward for getting it right

Sustaining high levels of resource utilization across the project portfolio is a worthy goal that can bring rich financial rewards. The UK Association of Consulting Engineers, in their member benchmark survey of 2011, found that a 2% increase in staff billable time could increase their member’s profits by up to a third. This is a rich reward for a quite modest improvement in staff utilization. Effective collaboration between project and resource managers is an important means of achieving this.
 

Barry Muir
Barry Muir is CEO of Innate Management Systems Ltd. You can read his blog at Innate Blog

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