Managing multiple projects with limited resources is not for the faint hearted. Trying to keep the skills demand in balance with capacity is a never-ending battle. No sooner do you have it sorted than a project change arrives, demanding additional resources that you don’t have. Project resource management is a dynamic, constant challenge.
Project managers must ensure that project milestones are consistently achieved if clients are not to be disappointed; they will argue that spare resource must be available ‘just in case’. But team leaders, who are targeted with maintaining high utilisation levels, will resist. Yet achieving the right balance has rich financial rewards. A recent member survey by the Association of Consulting Engineers found that a mere 2% increase in utilisation levels could increase operational profits by 25% – a rich reward indeed.
Most organisations that manage multiple projects are organised as a matrix, so that project managers can focus on project commitments and team leaders the utilisation of their people. Effective collaboration between these roles is key, if the twin goals are to be consistently achieved. The larger the organisation and more numerous the projects, the greater is the task.
So, what are the secrets of effective collaboration? A practical resource management process that the key players have bought into is probably the most important. It generally consists of three phases:
For internal projects, it may be relatively straightforward to plan projects around resource bottlenecks, but if they are for external clients who are in a hurry, then no such delays can be contemplated. Forward looking views that compare loading with capacity will identify likely skills bottlenecks, so that contract or permanent recruitment needs are clearly visible before the contract is agreed. Committing to new client projects without this visibility is a rather foolhardy act of faith.
With the demand in balance with supply, project managers can request suitable resources. As projects get more technically complex, precise technical competency profiles may be needed. Such requests can only be dealt with if a comprehensive skills matrix is being maintained. Effective collaboration between project managers and team leaders is crucial, if appropriate resources are to be consistently allocated.
And, of course, projects do not always go according to plan. Regular project performance measurement is therefore needed to show performance to date and the likelihood of key milestones being achieved. This needs to be seen early on, so that there is time for corrective action to get the project back on track.
Project resource management in large organisations is a significant challenge. Effective collaboration between the key roles is crucial.