Engineering resource management – keeping your teams fully utilized

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 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 projects.

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

Effective engineering resource management has two main aspects

Demand Management

If skills demand is to be kept in balance with the organization’s capacity then project managers must routinely measure performance on their projects and update estimates as deviations occur. 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 utilization levels are maintained. Combinations of new projects that are likely  to be awarded can then 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. Team leaders will want to propose candidates that match these requests as closely as possible, so that their teams remain fully utilized. 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 changes to their timescales or work profile can occur.

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

Improving your engineering resource management can be quite a challenge, but a good resource planning tool, such as 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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