Resource Management2018-11-09T15:05:49+00:00


Resource Management – the Ultimate Necessity of Project Portfolio Management

Tactical resource management in project portfolio management
  • We should get that implemented right away. Meyer will do it.

– Frank Miller, CEO, last night

We admit that this isn’t a real quote, but you’ve heard it a hundred times. You may have even reacted physically: your pulse rose, your stomach churned – because you know the consequences of this sentence.

Bill Meyer is not available. He was assigned to a new Priority 1 project just last week. He’s also going on a two-week vacation in the summer. On top of that, this is the first you’ve heard of this new initiative. So now, you go into damage-control mode: somehow identify the person in charge of the project, determine the concrete resource requirements, plan staffing, explain the change to your colleagues (even though you have no idea why), and do all of this knowing that a new “Priority 1” initiative will move to the top of the stack next week.

Strategies Cannot Be Implemented without Resource Planning

You might be annoyed, but CEO Miller has just done two very important things:

  • Set priorities

  • Allocated resources to the highest-priority issue

Unfortunately, he also took some shortcuts that simply do not work. Prioritization and resource allocation must occur in the context of a project portfolio management process. But, even many established project portfolio management processes are guilty of neglecting capacity planning and resource management:

  • Portfolios are planned solely according to (financial/expense) budgets.

  • There are no rules in place to resolve conflicts – 100 “Priority 1” projects.

  • Key resources are overbooked five times over.

CEOs set resource management priorities

You can surely think of more examples. Then, you’re hit by operational realities that force you to change your plans:

  • People quit, get sick, are relocated.

  • Ongoing projects require more capacities than originally planned, or are postponed.

  • Project employees have to be replaced for personal or content-related reasons.

  • The budget for external staff is cut.

  • Two key resources are taken from internal projects to work on a customer project.

But: don’t be discouraged. Take on the issue with a structured approach, embed your resource planning in a lean project portfolio management process (more on this here), and thus ensure that your resource management makes a decisive contribution to the success of the business.

Operational resource management is a balance act

Resource Management ≠ Staffing

Resource management is often wrongly equated with staffing. Allocating people to projects is just one step within a whole range of tasks that are usually carried out separately from one another, even on an organizational level. There are three questions to ask, which makes it easier to separate the tasks from each other:

  • What type of capacity is available when, and to what extent?

  • What type of capacity do I plan to use for my project, and to what extent?

  • How do I handle changes during an ongoing project?

In this way, we distinguish between available capacity, project initialization, and tactical resource management.

We will describe the activities in detail below. Don’t have the time to read this because you still have to figure out the effects of Miller’s last decision? Then get started with the tool that supports this process and solve your multi-project resource management puzzle with Meisterplan.

There is no project portfolio management without resource management

1 – Available Capacity

What Type of Capacity Is Available to Us When, and to What Extent?

Available capacity describes the basic resource-related conditions within which projects are planned. Keeping these conditions up to date is a continuous task and is usually handled by the HR department. In many cases, when introducing comprehensive resource management, an initial definition or description is required.

Tasks include:

  • Defining roles and, if applicable, skills

  • Recording and updating resource data

  • Mapping people to roles

A role describes a person’s primary range of tasks on a project. For example, for a given IT change request, you might require a business analyst to record the requirements, a project manager to manage the project, and a database administrator to purge the old data. Often, these roles are already grouped together on an organizational level in resource pools, so you frequently hear that a project would need capacity from team BA, team PM, and team DB. Please do not make the mistake of confusing roles with skills. Skills describe the overall abilities such as certain languages, experience in certain sectors, or specific expertise such as the facilitation of workshops. Use skills to narrow down your personnel search within a role during project initialization or in tactical resource management to balance loads across a specific role.  Roles and definitions of skills often remain constant over a long period of time.

Resource master data is often managed in personnel management systems. The first task is to record who will be hired when, who will be leaving the company when, who works in what department, or who will be on vacation when. Despite what the term master data would seem to imply, changes occur daily even in smaller businesses. Typically, the quality of this data is good.

However, what most personnel management systems are missing is the allocation of people to roles. Realistically, this mapping can only be done by the direct manager (or the resource manager). It is absolutely vital to centralize this data storage!

Image of different batteries, which stand for different capacities in resource planning

2 – Project Initialization

What Type of Capacity Do I Plan to Use for My Project, and to What Extent?

Project initialization describes the time until project approval.

Whether you do a project or how – if you use traditional project management or agile product management – is irrelevant at this stage. The project manager or the initiator will usually:

  • Work out the objective and scope of the project (Scope)

  • Formulate a time objective (Time)

  • Estimate (or have someone estimate) and request resource requirements for the project (Budget)

Need an example? In an agile context, you want team A to implement the most important stories within a certain EPIC (Scope) in two sprints (Budget) starting from September (Time).Or, you want the Java developer to invest 40 days in updating the front end over September and October. From a portfolio management perspective, it makes no difference!

The management will, in any case, evaluate the content of a topic and prioritize it, schedule it, and approve it with a certain resource budget – possibly including an allocation of key resources – in the portfolio board meeting (see PPM process). So far so good – the plan is in place, and the project can begin.

Project initialization is an important phase of resource management

3 – Tactical Resource Management

How Do I Handle Changes during an Ongoing Project?

Tactical resource management begins even before the actual start of the project. It includes three core tasks that are carried out by the resource manager (typically a team leader):

  • Assigning people to projects (staffing)

  • Notifying employees about the assignment

  • Operational control: detecting the effect of changing conditions and resolving resource problems

In staffing, capacity requirements are allocated down from a role to a person. This can have the effect of spreading the load across several shoulders. A key point: under no circumstance should you undermine the authority of the team leader by frequent top-down interventions. For example, if you as CIO want to decide on the allocation of key resources, you should come to explicit agreements with the team leaders or transfer the key resources to a unit managed directly by you. You will soon recognize how valuable – and labor-intensive – it is to manage your resources. The initial assignment is easy compared to what comes next.

Tactical resource management includes 3 core tasks: staffing, notification, and operational control.

Notifying the employees is fast and easy with or without technical aids. But do you still remember the last project personally assigned to you that you had absolutely no desire to do, which came directly on the heels of two irritating projects? If you don’t like it, you can find someplace else to work? You know this isn’t how good organizations operate. So take the time and explain the staffing decisions.

Now you’ve allocated the work, but there’s no relaxing yet. Problems everywhere require operational control:

  • The most important project in the company needs and gets more capacity, making the commitments for six other projects obsolete.

  • A long-term project will be extended by half a year – and you would like it to continue with the existing team.

  • A project manager complains about the junior business analyst assigned to him (“He can’t do anything! I don’t want him on my team!”) and tries to escalate his complaint through his divisional manager.

  • A flu epidemic wipes out half of the team.

  • Your best employee goes on maternity leave.

As the resource manager, you have to quickly determine the effects of these changes and use available options to counteract them – usually by making staffing adjustments and enlisting the help of your colleagues in a cross-departmental team leader round (resource conflict resolution).

Informing employees about resource management decisions is an important step in tactical resource management

What Should You Do Next?

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