This has surely happened to every experienced project manager in the world. The project is going along fine – maybe deep into a critical task or phase – and suddenly you either lose a key resource or can’t onboard the right resource as planned for the project. What do you do? How do you re-act? And equally important – how do you tell your customer?
The Escalation Process
It’s always frustrating when your organization lacks the right amount of skilled resources to fully stock all the projects that are active at any given time. This has happened to me at just about every company I’ve worked for and it’s probably happening to you right now. As the PM there are a few things you can do to combat it, but there’s no guarantee of success with any of them – unless your organization is well equipped to handle the situation. Here’s what you can do:
- Have a solid project plan in place identifying the required resources by job function if no resource has been assigned yet
- Identify the necessary resources at the beginning of the project and submit resource requests (if a formal process exists – if not do it informally) identifying approximately when key resources will need to be onboarded to the project (a little earlier than ‘just-in-time’ so they can be brought onboard and get up to speed)
- Make sure that your project plan is in front of executive management on a weekly basis
- When it’s time during the project for a new key resource to be added, resend the formal project resource request for that position
- If you’re not getting your resources, escalate it quickly – if you’re quiet you’ll have no one to blame but yourself
What didn’t work for me
You can do everything in the world to get the right resource for your project – including everything on my list above – and it still may not make a difference. A couple of years ago I was leading a very visible project and had followed this process step by step. I had submitted all of my resource requests – even the post-dated ones – at the beginning of the project. The project plan was detailed by resource and in everyone’s hands. Everyone that counted knew exactly what I needed and when I needed it. I was precise. And I re-submitted project requests when it was time for a critical new resource to jump on board. I knew resources were tight. And, of course, my project budget was tight…so I certainly didn’t want an expensive resource onboard too early that I didn’t need yet.
I was able to get most of my resources within a reasonable timeframe without too much necessary shifting of tasks in the project schedule. However, I reached a critical point where I needed an experienced technical architect to perform some key development activities. And yes, I need specific experience. I requested, I re-requested, I escalated, and I re-re-requested. It took over 4 weeks to finally get the resource added to the project. I was able to shift some project tasks around that made sense and got approval from the customer to adjust the schedule (that takes negotiation and lots of explanation) and therefore I was able to minimize the project timeline impact to only about 2 weeks. Still, it looks bad on a multi-million dollar project when you can’t get a key development resource to perform some critical work right in the middle of your project. And it definitely diminishes customer.
Looking back, even though I followed what I would consider to be the proper path, I should have performed more face-to-face escalation. I should have gone straight to our fairly accessible CEO. That is my personal lessons learned from this session. Escalation is key because the project manager will wear the failure like a big stain. Do anything you can to avoid it – and it is you who has to be the strong advocate for the project as you may find that sometimes no one else will help you out in the process. What I did wrong was to continually listen to and believe my PMO Director that the resource was coming.
The bottom line is this – skilled resources are tight in nearly every organization. Especially matrixed organizations where all of your resources are shared across projects. You and only you (as the project manager) can serve as the best advocate for what you need on your projects. And you and only you know exactly what you need – so you have to go to the resource gate keeper and fight for the right resource….and go all the way to the CEO if you have to. The final word is this…”no” can’t be an option as an answer you’ll ever accept.