Program resource management – resolving conflicting objectives

Program resource management is not for the faint hearted. Managing a portfolio of projects with a limited pool of resources can be a wild ride due to divergent, conflicting objectives.

Project managers ae charged with meeting their key project milestones and will demand adequate resources to ensure that every one can be achieved. From their perspective, their must always be sufficient spare resource to cover unexpected problems or issues as they arise; it’s a sensible insurance. More senior managers will sympathize as they too were probably project managers, but also because of the need to not disappoint key clients by missing crucial delivery dates.

Team Leaders, on the other hand, are generally measured on the utilization of their teams. They strive to keep every team member fully occupied on productive work and do not want to have spare resource sitting on the bench, just in case.

Getting the balance right between these competing goals lies at the heart of successful program resource management. Being too generous with spare resource can quickly reduce utilization levels and erode operational profitability. The profitability of project organizations is very sensitive to staff utilization levels, as confirmed by a recent member survey by the UK Association of Consulting Engineers. It showed that a 2% increase in hours booked by billable staff (their utilization level) increased operating profits by around 25%. That’s a rich reward for getting the balance right, and confirms the strategic importance of good program resource management.

So how to resolve these conflicting objectives and maintain the right staffing levels? There are two important aspects:

Project demand management

No sooner is a project plan updated than an unexpected change requires a re-estimate! Keeping on top of these is crucial, so that the resource impact of each change can quickly be assessed. This is where good resource management software steps in. Forward loading reports that highlight resource bottlenecks and areas of spare capacity, will be updated whenever a project change is recorded.

The table is a heat map that highlights periods of bottlenecks and under use. Drill down to each level of the organization to identify the skills and teams that are at risk.

‘What If…’ scenarios can be used to rebalance the workload. Rescheduling individual projects or chunks of work with a simple drag and drop immediately shows the impact on the heat map. If bottlenecks remain, profiles of the skills shortages can trigger contractor hire or recruitment.

Resource allocation across the program

There must be effective collaboration between project managers and team leaders if the right resource balance is to be maintained, and individual projects not suffer. Again, resource management software is the appropriate tool, enabling all parties to respond and collaborate as project changes upset the apple cart.

Maximizing staff utilization whilst respecting project milestones is the Holy Grail of program resource management. Resource management software that provides credible, consistent and up to date information, holds the key.

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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