Effective utilization of resources across multiple projects

Managing multiple projects with a limited pool of resources can be a lively ride! Whilst there must be sufficient resource to meet each project’s commitments, having too much ‘just in case’ will quickly reduce utilization levels and erode operational profitability. But maintaining effective utilization of resources without jeopardising project targets is a tricky balancing act.

Yet the financial benefits of getting it right are considerable. In a 2011 member survey, the UK Association of Consulting Engineers found that increasing billable hours by only 10 minutes a day (equivalent to a mere 2% increase in utilisation), would typically increase a member’s operational profits by more than 25%!

But, no sooner do you have demand nicely balanced with your skills capacity than a project change, or unexpected arrival of a new one, causes unacceptable bottlenecks or periods of low utilization. The more volatile the multiple project environment, then the more difficult maintaining effective utilization of resources becomes.

So, what’s to be done? In practice, it’s down to effectively managing the resource implications throughout each project’s lifecycle:

Demand management

Forward loading reports drill down through the organization structure to identify periods of low resource utilization or bottlenecks, in every corner of the organization.

Heat map in table highlights periods of unacceptable bottlenecks (red) or underutilization (green)

What If… scenarios can then be used to optimise utilization levels by dragging chunks of lower priority work in time. This is particularly useful as new projects approach confirmation; they can be layered on top of the confirmed project workload and positioned around existing commitments, to minimise bottlenecks and maintain effective utilization of resources.

Resource allocation

Most project-based businesses use a matrix organization, where project managers are responsible for meeting each of their project’s commitments, and team leaders supply the project resource and strive to maintain the target utilization levels. Effective collaboration between them is crucial if effective utilization of resources is to be maintained, particularly where individuals may work on more than one project, and individual projects are subject to change.

Re-planning – responding to change

There needs to be a robust process for managing the impact of change on a project’s resource requirements. Demand management meetings that use scenarios to explore the impact of change are a good forum. In more volatile multi-project environments, where rapid response and intervention is often needed, reports that track who changed what, by how much and when, provide the visibility to hold each person accountable and support the change management process.

So, whilst maintaining effective utilization of resources is far from easy, a combination of good management information and robust business processes, supported by effective resource planning tools, is a sound response.




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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