For many organizations, portfolio planning happens once a year or once a quarter and consists of hours of preparing, evaluating [read: arguing] and justifying project investments. At the end of it all, the plan is well thought out, extremely thorough and in line with business goals. Success.
Or is it? As soon as the plan goes into action and projects kick off, you begin getting requests for items not on the list. As you trudge on, determined to stick to the plan, you start to realize some of these requests are valid and should have been included in the plan. So you slip a few extra projects in, and before you know it the whole team is detoured – projects are taking longer and resources are stretched thin. Now you you can’t justify saying “no” to other projects that come along because they are all just as important.
Consider another scenario, where resources are planned for each of the prioritized and approved projects. It’s beautiful. You have all your resources inventoried and allocated at a perfect 80% utilization and projects are staffed in a timely fashion with the skillsets needed to deliver on time. This was no easy feat, but with careful planning, you’ve made it and are feeling pretty good. Suddenly, a resource quits. Another gets pulled to the project they were on to fill in the gap and another resource is pulled to fill that slot, and so on. While you may have accounted for some of this, there are always going to be circumstances not in the plan – causing projects to fall off the rails.
For these reasons and many others, resource management is today’s biggest challenge; not just for IT, but for most any organization. Finding the right people with the right skills to get the job done, maintaining those resources, and keeping them engaged to deliver mission-critical projects is a core challenge for every business in today’s competitive market. According to Forrester Research, on a scale of 1-5 (5 being “well defined”), only 32% of PMOs rank above a level 3 noting “inconsistent use, some definition” for forecasting resource capacity in the PMO. Only half of those PMOs are able to monitor performance above that level 3. If less one-third of organizations are able to forecast resource capacity, what actions can be taken when red flags are identified? This indicates the shortcomings of traditional resource planning approaches and quite simply they just don’t work anymore. Too many changes take place by the time a well thought out plan goes into action, at least some level of agility needs to be worked into the plan. Over 50% of organizations are actively adopting agile project management to support agility in the development process, it is also time to introduce agility into the planning process. Without agility, resource forecasting is done in a silo and will not be effective.
One way to overcome the resource planning challenge is by measuring outcomes, not activities. When driving toward customer satisfaction, what matters is the end result, and the activities are just the means to the desired results. To ensure portfolio success, planning must focus on resources at the portfolio level. This requires a lot of iterative planning and readjustment to ensure resources are always aligned with the goals of the organization.
Here are five ways to improve your resource planning:
- Planning for outcomes, not activities. By keeping the end goal top of mind, you won’t be wasting time and effort focusing on activities that don’t make an impact. It make take several iterations, but focusing on the outcome increases your chances of getting there.
- Batch delivery for continuous improvement. The core of agile development methodology can be applied elsewhere. Keep delivering and keep improving until you have the best results. If it helps to make the delivery cycles smaller so you get buy-in along the way, then do that. But keep the progress going, and know that you don’t have to deliver the final product the first time around.
- Minimize handoffs within project cycles. Most accidents occur at intersections, and if you can close the gaps between handoffs, you can keep the project moving along. This also reduces redundancy of ramp time at handoff and keeps individuals invested in the project to see the outcome. This is not always possible, but wherever you can streamline the flow of projects through consistent resourcing, it will benefit the outcome.
- Manage resources at the portfolio level to scale your team. Focus on quality of deliverables rather than the quantity of initiatives and plan your resources to drive portfolio success.
- Reforecast and replan the portfolio to keep prioritized projects on top of the list. Resource planning is a whole lot easier once you have your projects prioritized. By replanning as changes come up, you can ensure your resources are allocated to the right projects to support the business, at all times. Don’t wait until the next planning cycle before you reevaluate your projects. Keep your portfolio clean, focused, and on track.
Effective resource planning requires a different approach. Don’t be afraid to incorporate agile principles into your planning strategy and keep focus on the outcomes of the project. Project resource planning is tough; but it’s not going anywhere. Projects will always need to be staffed, and the best managers will find a better, more effective way to staff their projects and deliver the results.
For a more in-depth look at resource planning, take a look at our on-demand webinar with Margo Visitacion, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research.