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Resource management is planning, getting and using the resources that you need to do your project efficiently. Often, organizations use ‘resources’ as an unfriendly shorthand for ‘people’. The term can also mean equipment, services, software, hardware, supplies, raw materials and anything else you need in order to make the project go forward efficiently.
When you manage multiple projects, the biggest resource challenge is normally people. You might have to order supplies or book equipment, but that is easier to manage than people’s time. In order to make sure you are using individuals’ time in the most effective and efficient way, you first need to know who is going to be working on the project with you. These people form part of your project team and are normally subject matter experts or others who can contribute to the work.
Typically, these people will work on your project on a part-time basis. They might be working on several of your projects, or supporting another project manager with their work. Maybe they have ‘day job’ responsibilities in an operational capacity.
People are busy and have other things to do besides work on your projects. That’s why it is important to give team leaders and individuals enough notice for the work required. Get commitment for their time as early as you can so they know the work is coming up for them and they can plan for it.
Use a multi-project, consolidated schedule to plan forward, identifying what support or skills you might need in four or five months’ time if you don’t currently have resources booked. If you have secured time from an individual, look across all your projects to see how you can best use it, especially if there are lulls in the upcoming work. They could use their project hours to train a colleague, develop new skills so they can support other areas of the project or get ahead on future tasks.
Capacity planning software allows you to see resource assignments across multiple projects and teams. However, many organizations don’t have tools that provide this level of data, or a culture that enables forecasting and planning at a granular level.
You may find yourself having to plan people’s time commitments with just a spreadsheet and using detective work to talk to team leaders about who is available to work on what at what time. This can be time-consuming in itself.
In some situations – for example where your organization does not yet have a mature approach to managing projects – the onus falls to you to ensure you secure support for your work. There are some things you can do to make it easier to make sure that your team members have enough time to dedicate to the work that you need them to do.
That starts with understanding who influences decisions around how individuals spend their time – the gatekeepers.
Build relationships with gatekeepers – the people who manage the priorities and time for subject matter experts and resources who work on your projects. These gatekeepers could be team leaders or department heads. They are typically the line manager of the person whose time you want for your project.
Ideally, you will have built a relationship before you need to ask for someone from their team to support your project. Your internal network is an important source of support for your project. Try to dedicate some time regularly to improving and deepening your professional relationships with colleagues by making time for them, sharing useful information with them, and being interested in what they are doing.
When you need to ask for support from their team members, start by explaining the role that that individual would play on the project so that the gatekeeper understands what that person is being asked to do. If you can, show how the project work links to the strategic objectives of the organization or department. This helps demonstrate the value in the work and elevates the ask from simply a task to a contribution to the organization.
It’s really important to keep communication channels open with the line managers of your project team members. Make time for regular check ins with team leaders. This is one of the primary ways that you will find out about upcoming absence, planned holiday and other times when the individual will be unavailable for project work, if the person themselves doesn’t let you know.
Build relationships with subject matter experts
Certain project team members and stakeholders are senior enough in the organization that you don’t need to talk to their manager about their availability and what else they are working on. Talk to them directly. These are the kind of things that you can ask:
- How much time do you/your team/individual have for my project?
- What is your top priority if it’s not my project?
- And how can my project and I support you in doing that?
This question is not an offer to take on more work for their top priority project. It’s a way to uncover how you can manage your project work in a way that doesn’t interfere with their priority goals. For example, you may be able to work around their other commitments by only scheduling project meetings with them on a Tuesday, for example.
- When do you/they have upcoming leave?
- When will you/they be really busy?
Getting visibility of absences is helpful for your project planning. Knowing their busy times is useful too. For example, if you’re working with the finance department, there will be particular parts of the financial year where they’re very busy. Try and find out what those are for the people in the project team.
- What roadblocks do you see?
- What’s coming up that I don’t know about that you think might be a problem?
There could be activities or events happening in the future that you’re not aware of. Ask open-ended questions to uncover things that might create problems or opportunities for your project schedules.
Whatever you hear from line managers or the resources themselves, assume that things will change in the near future. The information you get today is only good for today – who knows what their priorities will be in three months. It’s important to monitor progress against your plan and to do that you need accurate, updated information about what people are doing and how much time they continue to have to work on your projects. Keep talking and reviewing, having the same conversation about availability and upcoming work as a way of reminding people about their commitments and also to reassure yourself that they really will be available when you need them. Make changes to the schedule based on that information to ensure it reflects reality.
A lot of the challenges come from the organization around you not being able or willing to understand the logistics and requirements of running multiple projects in parallel. There’s no magic bullet for that, but keep communicating and using your documentation and data to demonstrate the impact of resource conflicts on your work.
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