Life would be great for project managers everywhere if we could just grab whatever resources we need whenever we want and always get the best of the best of the skill sets we need at any given time. Yes, and in that world things like chocolate, ice cream and pizza would not make us fat…but that isn’t reality now is it?
So, I think we can all agree that it is a struggle to get the right resources at the right time for our projects. If you’re like me, you’re probably dealing with a matrix organization and you’re borrowing resources for your projects. You may or may not have them full time – if you can’t guarantee them 100% utilization on the project then they’re going to be splitting their time on other billable task work – probably on other projects for other project managers. And what does that do? Well, I can tell you that it definitely invites risk into each project. How/why? Because with each project comes some uncertainty in the project schedule – there’s no project in the history of projects that has run exactly as planned in the original project schedule. Now you have two of those schedules – or double the uncertainty – using the same resource and any task or timing change in one can affect a resource’s planned availability in the other. This is just a PM fact of life.
How do we ensure then, that our most critical resources will always be available when we need them no matter what? The answer is – we can’t. And we wouldn’t want to anyway because it would break the project budget to keep them charging 100% of their time to our projects during phases when there is no need for their skill set.
In lieu of the 100% staffing scenario, here are the two things we must do:
#1 – Make our needs known. If we aren’t going to be our own best advocate, then no one else is going to speak up for us either. When my wife and I decided to become foster parents with the intent to adopt, we were told by a wise person to let that be known to as many placement workers at the agency as possible. That way, when they needed a family to place a foster child in that met our needs, and they knew it was a child who would likely need to be adopted, then we would get that call. And it worked…not always perfectly, but we have been blessed with four more children through adoption because we made sure we got those calls – we talked to the right people…a lot.
If you know that one or two particular resources on your project team are going to be critical and you better never hit a point in the project where they won’t be available to you, then make that known. Build your resource forecast properly and accurately based on what you know, but let the resource gatekeeper know that Resources A and B are very critical – so even if there is a conflict later on – you may have a better chance of hanging on to them because you were outspoken from the start. I failed to do that on one project and learned this very hard lesson – I lost a key developer for two months and the onboarding process of a replacement resource was painful, long and expensive.
#2 – Stay in touch with the team member. I know you’re a great project manager who is connecting well with each team member. But beyond that you need to stay on top of their ‘other’ responsibilities. The best time to do that is during weekly internal project team meetings. As you go around the room or around the teleconference call and discuss task progresses, you need to also ask about other work they are doing and any conflicts they might be seeing down the road. Ask this every week so you can avoid these conflicts and surprises – or at least have some vital time to plan ahead and get tasks moved around or onboard additional project help if needed.
It’s not an earth-shattering process. The key is to be outspoken as a PM about your resource needs from the beginning. And then stay on top of the other tasks that may be pulling your resources away from you. You can’t always keep them, but if you do these two things you may be able to shift task timing around so that your project isn’t affected, or you can at least have some time to pre-plan how to handle an upcoming resource conflict so you aren’t blindsided and your customer doesn’t become irate when you lose a key resource by surprise.