What does a mountaineering team do if they want to reach the summit faster? Should they just add more people to their team, without considering their specific skills, experience with that summit, etc.? I’m not a mountaineering expert, but I don’t think that is the solution. The extra people are more likely to cause additional complications and delays rather than getting the team closer to the summit.
In my experience, this also applies to a project that is being implemented by a well-composed team of specialists. The project won’t necessarily be completed sooner simply because additional employees are hired and added to the project team. Instead, completing the project sooner depends on how the tasks are assigned, how well the team works together, and how skilled and knowledgeable the team members are on the topic. When employee utilization is done right, then productivity and job satisfaction are also increased. It is a win-win!
The Employee—A Collection of Unique Qualifications and Characteristics
In the world of PPM, the term resource is often used for employees. So, when we talk about resource planning or resource management in the context of project portfolio management, we are talking about the processes an organization uses to effectively assign the appropriate employees (including the right number of employees with the right skills, who are available) to successfully execute the projects in the portfolio. Many people, myself included, believe that employees are a company’s greatest resource.
Why are employees such a great resource for a company? Because each employee has unique characteristics (i.e., experience, specialized knowledge, intellect, diligence, etc.), and these characteristics can be thought of as individual assets for the company. The unique combination of these assets produces highly individualized employees, each of whom affects and impacts projects in different ways.
At Meisterplan, we believe it is not only important that you find available people to execute your projects, but it is even more important that you find available people with the right skills. Some of the features within the application that support this concept are:
Role-based capacity planning—assign the required roles to future projects during long-term planning
Skills management—add specific skills, knowledge and characteristics of employees in your resource pool.
Resource-based capacity planning—assign well-qualified employees to projects according to capacity to avoid bottlenecks and overloading employees
While we are proud of our tool, and we truly think it can help you find the right people to successfully execute your project portfolio, we do realize there are limitations. Not all characteristics, knowledge and skills, nor the extent of those abilities can easily be added into the skills management function of resource management software. And this is where you come into play.
Even if they have the same academic education and professional experience, employees have different ability levels, different levels of motivation and varying degrees of speed. Therefore, it makes sense for you to plan your roles objectively, but don’t assign employees on a purely mathematical level. When you assign an employee to a role, you must take into consideration the individuality of that employee.
which qualified employees are available for the project
which strengths (and weaknesses) the employees bring
what special knowledge and skills they have
in which area the employees are most valuable
Ideally, well-qualified resources with the most extensive and appropriate qualifications will be assigned the most difficult tasks. This, in turn, means that you should be able to predict which projects may be problematic, risky or complex. If you feel that none of the team members are up to such a task, you have the opportunity to search internally for a more suitable employee or hire an external specialist.
Now the question is: how do you find out what value each employee brings to a particular project?
Of course, this is easiest if you have already worked with the team and can easily assess the strengths and weaknesses of the employees. You could also make an effort to get to know them better before the project starts. Another option is to analyze past projects and their teams to identify specific patterns. Or you can get the opinion of other project managers and resource managers, who already know the employees.
When Should You Assign Specific Employees to Projects?
For many companies, the following timeline has worked:
Short-term planning (< 3 months): assign specific employees to projects.
Medium-term planning (3-6 months): assign required specialists or key employees to projects and plan the rest of the tasks using roles.
Long-term planning (> 6 months): assign capacity based on roles. If necessary, recruit new employees.
Some experts recommend planning based on roles and resource groups, and focusing on the individual employees only when implementing the projects to avoid resource conflicts or bottlenecks. When entire projects have to wait for key resources and are therefore delayed, the planning was completed too early, was too detailed, or was too focused on individual employees.
Ideally, resource managers respond flexibly to each situation during the course of the project, hiring employees according to their individual characteristics and specific skills. If that doesn’t solve the issues, you should critically consider whether it is better to add more employees or to replace existing ones (think of the example with the mountaineering team!).
How to Optimally Utilize Key Employees?
Of course, specific, highly qualified and experienced people are often needed repeatedly for multiple projects. How do you optimally use key employees when everyone wants them assigned to their project?
One solution: Build a sprint team made up of those key employees. Those employees are then dedicated to the highest priority tasks, which improves and accelerates the project process. In practice, this has been a very positive experience, as the satisfaction, productivity and motivation levels of all involved, including the other teams, increased.
By strategically deploying your resources and not randomly adding employees to the team, projects can be completed faster. At the same time, you are battling the never ending scarcity of project resources. Look behind the façade of job profiles and roles to place individuals where they fit best. Because when everyone does what they do best, everyone will quickly reach the summit together.