Engineering resource management – keeping your teams fully utilised

As competitive pressures increase, engineering firms with a portfolio of projects need to do more with less. An obvious area to look at is the productivity levels being achieved by their project teams and this is where more effective engineering resource management can make a significant contribution.

Managing multiple projects with a limited pool of resources can be a lively ride. No sooner have you got the skills demand in balance with your capacity than a change arises, causing havoc. Change is endemic across engineering projects, as new projects arrive unexpectedly or scope changes impact current ones.

Striking the right balance is far from simple. There must be some spare capacity to respond to the unexpected and ensure that project milestones will be met, but having too many staff ‘just in case’ will erode utilisation levels and operational profitability. A recent member survey by the Association of Consulting Engineers provides the evidence. They concluded that a mere 2 percent increase in the utilisation of billable project staff would improve their member’s profits by around 30%. That’s quite a financial reward for a relatively modest increase.

There are two aspects to effective engineering resource management.

Demand Management

If skills demand is to be kept in balance with the organisation’s capacity, project managers must routinely measure performance on their projects and update work estimates as deviations arise. Earned value techniques should be applied to ensure that such updates are objective and consistent across all projects. This will provide the necessary confidence when viewing the resourcing impact across the committed project workload.

As new bottlenecks or periods of underuse are predicted, ‘What If…’ scenarios can be used to re-balance the workload, ensuring that high levels of utilisation are maintained. Combinations of potential projects that are likely to be awarded can them be layered on top so that their resourcing impact is immediately visible, and recruitment or contractor hiring requirements can be predicted.

Resource Allocation

Project managers may need to specify skills and competencies for individual tasks, when requesting resources. Each team leader will want to match the skills requested as closely as possible, so that their team remains fully occupied. The resource allocation process can be quite complex as candidates are proposed, reviewed and occasionally rejected. And of course, no sooner is an assignment agreed than change to timescales or work profile can occur.

Good resource management tools will support such detailed resource allocation processes. Changes to timescales, work profiles or individuals can be tracked and reported on, so that visibility is maintained. Such tools support is imperative, as there must be effective collaboration between project and resource managers if individual projects are not to suffer.

Improving your engineering resource management can be quite a challenge, but a good resource management tool, like Innate’s, can ride to the rescue.

Barry Muir is a Director of Innate Management Systems Ltd. We have been implementing resource management software in a wide variety of professional services organizations for more than 20 years.
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