The challenges faced in managing a portfolio of IT projects with a limited pool of resources are wide ranging and can vary considerably. They can be difficult to classify, but one way is to distinguish between internal and external projects. The challenge facing the management of external ones is generally greater, because not meeting project milestones can both cost financially and jeopardise prospects with the client. There is greater flexibility with internal projects for re-scheduling work around resource bottlenecks and in changing a project’s priority. So their IT resource management processes can be somewhat different.
However, the IT resource management goals are identical across portfolios of both internal and external projects. The challenge is to keep your teams fully utilised when each project has its own timeline, priority and skills requirements. Striking the right balance is not easy; there must be sufficient resource available to ensure that every project milestone will be met, but having staff hanging around ‘just in case’ will quickly reduce utilisation levels and erode operational profits. A recent member survey of The Association of Consulting Engineers, found that an increase in staff utilisation of only 2% increased their member’s profits by 25%.
To consistently meet these IT resource management goals, most multi-project organisations are organised as a matrix where:
- Project managers are responsible for the successful management of individual projects. The work estimates in the project plans define the resource demand and trigger the resource allocation process. Project managers need to ensure that sufficient, suitable staff are allocated so that each project commitment will be met on time and within budget.
- Resource managers/Team leaders strive to keep their skills and competency capacity in balance with the project demand, so that high levels of staff utilisation will be maintained. They need to satisfy request for resource as they arise from project managers.
- Project Management Office (PMO). For IT resource management processes to be effective there must be effective collaboration between project managers and team leaders. A powerful PMO has a key role to play in ensuring this.
Because these goals can be in conflict, senior managers are often called on to assign priorities and resolve disputes.
Agreeing project requirements – the rise of Agile
Agree the requirements, work up a detailed estimate, calculate the cost and agree a budget. What could be simpler? But getting the requirements fully understood and agreed, so that the client will be happy with the project deliverables, is an ongoing problem for all but the simplest of IT projects. This explains the rise of Agile or evolutionary development techniques.
The Agile method, with its regular iterations through a prototyping and review cycle, helps the client to understand early on the implications of what’s being asked for. Whilst this approach minimises the risk of client dissatisfaction, these iterations can lead the project down unexpected paths making it difficult to plan and cost the overall project.
This has significant implications for IT resource management. Detailed work estimates, which define the pattern of resource demand, can only be prepared for the scope of the next prototyping cycle. The IT resource management process needs to be much more dynamic for Agile projects.
IT resource management throughout the project lifecycle consists of three distinct processes:
1 Project demand management
As new projects approach confirmation, their resource plans should be layered on top of the committed workload so that their resourcing impact can be seen. The screenshot below shows the introduction of unacceptable resource bottlenecks, highlighted in red.
3 of the 5 proposed projects will overload the Analyst team for March and April
What If… analysis can then be used to rebalance the workload so that such bottlenecks are minimised, before committing to key project dates. Where the workload cannot be moved to overcome such bottlenecks, these views show the profile of required contractors, or new hires, required to ensure all key dates will be met.
2 Resource allocation
Once the demand vs capacity is in balance, or the need for additional resource agreed, approval of the project will trigger the resource allocation process. As projects get more technically demanding, resource requests are including specific skills and minimum competency requirements. Resource management tools are introducing skills matrix capabilities to enable this.
Project manager requests an Analyst with Netsuite competency greater than or equal to Advanced
The typical resource request cycle in a matrix organisation consists of:
- Project manager requests a resource, based on work estimate profile, required skills and competency levels and any other required attributes
- Team Leader proposes a suitable candidate. Any non-compliance of a requested attribute is highlighted, as shown below:
Proposed resource, Pat Pringle, only has Intermediate competency, rather than the Advanced level requested
- Project manager reviews the proposed resource and accepts or rejects Rejecting a proposed resource reverts the resource to the original request.
- After acceptance, the Team Leader confirms the resource
3 Performance measurement and re-planning
With the project resourced and work underway, the prudent project manager will want early warning of cost or schedule overruns. Timesheets track the effort spent, but independent assessments of progress towards the key milestones are also needed if forecasting the remaining work is to be realistic. Taking a project baseline when the budget is agreed provides the yardstick against which the forecast can be compared, and variances will show the cost of deviation.
Project performance measurement report that shows variances to date and forecast at completion
Unacceptable project performance should trigger a project review with senior management, where options for getting the project back on track can be explored. This is likely to require some re-planning of the project, with the project baseline being updated as the revised yardstick for future project performance measurement. And, of course, such re-planning can lead to the introduction of new resource bottlenecks as the pattern of demand changes.
Effective IT resource management is crucial for portfolios of IT projects, ensuring that use of the project resources is continuously optimised, whilst achieving each project’s budget and delivery goals.