It sounds simple, doesn’t it – you have a pool of project people and you have a portfolio of projects to resource. Surely a quick desktop exercise to match and allocate is all it takes, right? WRONG!
I have spent a chunk of my Project Management career as a Resource Manager for a sizeable corporate PM function and I’m proud of the processes I put in place. It was probably one of the most difficult roles I have ever had – not just because I found myself behind the frontline and somehow missing the rollercoaster ride of project delivery, but because everyday I was pulled in multiple directions:
- By my Programme Directors who all wanted to hang on to the best PMs
- By individuals who were totally focussed on developing their careers, so were anxious to move on to the next challenge before finishing the last
- From my business clients who wanted the best PMs for their projects or weren’t happy with the one they had
- From project teams who somehow weren’t getting on with their PM
- By PMs who just weren’t up to the task assigned or conversely, felt it wasn’t challenging enough.
- By PMs who were quite happy to run the same type of project over and over again without any desire to develop their career further. Actually, one or two of those in a large pool are quite useful as ‘safe pairs of hands’
- By sudden changes in project priorities, new initiatives and occasionally cancelled ones
- And, of course, by the important role in the ongoing development of my people!
Never a dull moment for a Resource Manager and you soon learn the arts of diplomacy and negotiation, to say nothing of juggling!
So how did I overcome all these issues? I quickly learned that there are three key principles to follow:
- Have a thorough understanding of the individual capability of your people and their aspirations
- Understand the complexity and priority of each project within the overall programme or portfolio
- Have regular, open and honest discussions with your business clients, project sponsors and of course, your people.
Let’s take each of those individually.
1. Understanding the Individual Capability of your People
As a Resource Manager, you will typically have responsibility for the entire cradle to grave process for your Project professionals. From recruitment (whether external or internal), through career development, performance appraisal, mentoring and inevitably sometimes, resignation or change in career direction. In my world, I also had to manage the rotation of the company’s High Flyer cadre, the executives of tomorrow learning their trade across the organisation. The Resource Manager role does give you a huge advantage in that you can actually develop the entire process, capability frameworks, supporting materials, career progression mechanisms etc to effectively support your people, their careers and the needs of the business.
A robust, consistent recruitment process, tailored to different levels of seniority / capability can also provides you with the mechanism to assess your people as they pass through each level of the career ladder. This provides you with several ways of gathering capability data:
- CV content, particularly for new recruits will provide an overview of experience and qualifications. Many organisations rate practical experience over qualifications and insight into the types of project an individual has successfully managed in the past will, if proven, provide the foundation for understanding their current capability.
- Professional qualifications and memberships. All of the global professional bodies and their approved suppliers provide courses, examinations and qualifications across the career ladder. Personally (and as a holder of such a qualification!) I still believe that practical experience of successful project delivery trumps theory. We will all know someone who is great at delivering but struggles in the examination room and crucially, vice versa.
- Self-assessment against each of the skills within your Capability Framework. These are typically online and either developed inhouse or provided by a specialist partner. If results are approved by a mediator (typically a line (sometimes dotted) manager) then the data is more robust. In my experience every pool of people will have several who will overemphasise their capability and a similar number of ‘shy retiring violets’ who undersell themselves every time. A mediator can help provide an accurate picture for everyone.
- Feedback on performance from sponsors, programme managers and project team members
- Assessment centres – whether half a day or longer, put individuals through their paces in front of assessors using real life project challenges. Managing projects and programmes can be (and often is) stressful, so watching them cope in a pressured assessment situation gives valuable insight into how they manage themselves in reality but perhaps more importantly, how their behavioural ‘soft’ skills stack up as these are notoriously difficult to measure any other way unless you are undertaking regular observations at meetings etc.
Gathering the data on an individual through all of these methods and by having regular one to one discussions about their performance, development needs and career aspirations provides an in-depth picture of their capability and as a result, the best project allocations for them. Something that will stretch them and help their development, perhaps with a mentor, whilst protecting the safety of the project and ensuring the individual is not out of their depth.
Project allocation must be balanced against the development needs of each individual and how that development will be delivered, but also against corporate priorities. We can’t sacrifice strategically important, but straightforward projects just to allow personal development, so Resource Management can be like walking a tightrope of conflicting demands at times!
My views on development approaches and their value is the subject of another article ‘Developing your Talent’, so will not be discussed here.
2. Understanding the Complexity of the Project / Programme
Although calculating the complexity of a project can be quite difficult in the early stages, there are key considerations that must be understood before approval to proceed can be given and a project manager appointed. There are many ways of assessing this and identifying the capability of a project manager suitable for its delivery, but my personal favourite is the CIFTER (Crawford-Ishikura Factor Table for Evaluating Roles®)
Developed by GAPPS (Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards) the working party included an old colleague of mine Dr Lynn Crawford (the ‘C’ in CIFTER) and an academic colleague of hers Masayuki Ishikura (the ‘I’), the CIFTER asks 5 specific questions about the initiative and awards a score based on your answer. The total score gives an indication of complexity, which in turn provides important information to assist in the project approval, prioritisation and the appointment of a suitable project manager. Several of my clients have adopted this simple tool as part of their project approval process, so perhaps it would be worth a look for you too. It’s frequently referred to as ‘Sifting with the Cifter’ and I can provide papers and templates for anyone wanting to find out more.
This tool can also be used to review the projects your PM applicant or assessment candidate has described as part of their experience, which provides another valuable source of evidence data for use in your resourcing decisions.
The CIFTER is freeware and available online, but I have included the table as an appendix to this article for ease of reference.
With these important pieces of information at your fingertips, you can start to plan what I refer to as ‘intelligent resourcing’. With the right data sources, it is possible to plot the capability of individuals against the portfolio of projects to make sure you have the balance right. Often, you will find that there are instances of highly experienced people managing the ‘everyday’ projects whilst relatively inexperienced PMs are managing the most complex initiatives in the portfolio. This can’t be right or good for the business, so by using these detailed pieces of data, you are equipped to make the right decisions by identifying the right person for the right project at the right time.
Don’t forget that just because a PM started a project, they don’t have to stay the course until delivery, so if the right decision is to move them onto a new or high priority project when their original project reaches an appropriate stage, then do so. Provided, of course that you are able to backfill them with a PM with appropriate expertise. Re-allocation mid project allows you to use their personal expertise in the best way and also creates a development opportunity for them in a new role and equally for the PM taking over from them.
As an example, during my career, I ran a team of Project Implementers – specialists in the face to face delivery aspects of new systems rolling out to the business. Great communicators and SMEs who would have been dreadful at the project initiation or design but understood all about embedding new systems with the users. Once a project had completed its development and testing and was ready for pilot and roll out, the team would step in, bringing their specialist skills into the delivery phase, whilst the PMs involved in the earlier stages were redeployed into new projects.
We can’t all be good at everything, so as Resource Manager, why not play to your team’s strengths for the benefit of the business?
3. Regular Communications
Effective Resource Management does not survive on data alone – communication channels are absolutely vital in the ever-changing world of projects. For that reason, behind every effective Resource Manager sits a reporting mechanism or dashboard that provides all the data needed to manage those communications, giving a snap shot of the current portfolio, it’s constituent programmes and projects, their milestones, delivery dates and resource allocations. Armed with this, you are then ready to go into ‘battle’ (otherwise known as negotiations!), with your business clients / partners and Divisional Programme Directors / Senior person with portfolio responsibility etc, almost all of whom will assume that their resource requirements are the most important!
I was very fortunate to have control over everyone with the PM title in our organisation AND a corporate function that produced a single Prioritisation process, so PM project allocations were my responsibility regardless of the division or department they were working for. I still held a monthly review with each Division and Programme Director to understand the current status and pipeline requirements and I still had to fight every month to recover my most talented PMs at the end of their project allocations. It is amazing how many additional tasks popped up at the end of a project to keep someone in role until the next big project started!
Many organisations have different approaches – Divisions owning their own projects and PMs, PM pools within each part of the business, groups of PMs scattered about the organisation, or single ones here and there for smaller companies. Whilst total control is not possible in these cases, the principles I have described still apply and regular communications with all the key stakeholders and the PMs themselves must still be a Resource Manager’s priority. The following list is not exhaustive, but highlights some of the most important communication channels:
- Monthly portfolio reviews with each Division, function or Director to assess progress, pipeline and resourcing allocations
- Sponsor meetings to discuss the specific PM allocations, their feedback on performance and pending requirements
- One to one meetings with PMs to discuss performance, allocation progress, development needs and potential assignments
- Portfolio, programme and project prioritisation reviews to drive out future resourcing requirements
- Quarterly career development and assessment reviews with Programme Directors to identify
- Management reporting and dashboards to provide your organisation with ‘a current and single version of the truth’ in the Resource Management world.
This article only scratches the surface on the importance of Resource Management and the balance between the capability of your people and the complexity of your portfolio. There is much more to share and Tower Consulting Europe Ltd would be delighted to help you with the development and maturity of your Resource Management responsibilities.
Contact us at www.towerconsulting.org for more information.
Project Complexity Guide
Crawford-Ishikura Factor Table for Evaluating Roles (CIFTER)®