Human Resources Planning and Allocation in a Project Environment (Part 2 of 3)

guestbloggerGraham Jones (Surrey, BC - IT Professional)

Putting It All Together

From a resource planning standpoint we need to see the total demand picture into the future by discipline. The components that make up that picture are:

  1. Project backlog, ie. currently active projects
  2. Prospects, ie. work that you are currently bidding or anticipate into the future over a timescale which makes sense for your business
  3. Employee vacation
  4. Other approved absence, eg. sickness, sabbatical, etc.

All too often 3 and 4 are forgotten. At times they can have a noticeable effect upon available resources because they tend to be seasonal. Equally they tend not to be allowed for when doing project cost and schedule work. The challenge is often the time available versus the detail when doing estimates. Even if you have gone to the trouble to make some allowance for these factors often the project start date suddenly gets changed blowing away your assumptions. Although 3 and 4 cannot be handled in detail at the planning stage some allowance can be made based upon historical records.

Handling item 2 can also be problematic. Immediate prospects (currently bidding) have more definition but how do you incorporate them? The chances of getting the project and it going ahead have to be weighed. I wish I had a $100 for every time that someone said, “it’s definitely ours” and we came nowhere and every time someone said, “we haven’t a hope but we thought it prudent to bid anyway” only to get the project; called a “Blue Sky” for obvious reasons. Different organizations develop formulas to incorporate Prospects. In my own experience simply taking the “estimated hours X %estimate win X %estimate go” is as good as any because there are so many unknowns. What about Prospects that are further out in the future? Do we simply ignore them? We can’t really do that because the Senior Management of the company needs some sort of picture about where the business is going and the HR department needs to know whether they should be seriously thinking about layoffs or hiring. One approach is to develop project templates based upon experience. For example, early information might suggest that it is a type B project with a 9 month schedule, 40% win and 70% go.

The Resource Planner versus The Project Manager versus The Salesperson versus The Business Manager

When doing resource planning by necessity is has to be generic. However, when it comes to allocating actual “bodies” that’s an entirely different story. As the quote from Animal Farm says, “we are all equal but some of us are more equal than others”. I have been on the Planner and PM sides of this problem. The person allocating resources has to try and do justice to all of the work (Projects and Proposals) and the PM’s ALL want the best people on their projects. If that isn’t bad enough the Sales people want resources for Proposals and all too often the best project people are the best people for Proposals because of their skills and experience. Inevitably this can become very political and sometimes may have to go “up the tree” for resolution but hopefully not too often. This is where working relationships become vital. For obvious reasons it is preferable to work these things out between peers. I can remember many interesting “negotiations” to settle these issues often resulting in agreements for “future first round picks” and/or “transfers” at some agreed time. Some people have a better ability than others to take a “company” view versus a “personal” view of what is the best course of action.

Indeed, how to allocate resources for the best overall business performance is an interesting philosophical issue. Is “average” performance across most projects better than some strategically chosen “big successes” with key clients, where repeat business is essential, or not? By “average” I mean sharing out resources to try and give each project or proposal an approximately equal chance of success. Clearly you don’t set out with the intention of projects “failing” but the truth is that some will do much better than others for a wide variety of reasons, and you may be more serious about some proposals than others. For example, do you suddenly put some of your best people on a “struggling” project in the hope that you can give it the “kiss of life” in order to minimize or take your lumps in order to do much better elsewhere? You may indeed still chose to do that because of the importance of the client or the geographic area of business which is strategically important for the future. These are longer term business choices rather than immediate financial ones, often very difficult, because of juggling multiple client relationships. Balancing the short term and the longer term in business is often one of the most difficult challenges. The dilemma again is that it only serves to put further demands upon a scarce resource, your very best people. The important point here is that all decision makers involved MUST have an appreciation for the immediate financial impact upon the company and the longer term business strategy to be effective. This can only work if there is good communication between the peer workers involved from different departments and the senior management of the company.

In part 3 I will discuss some of the issues around forecasting.

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