Article: Resource Capacity Planning

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It’s what everyone wants but almost no one gets: Enterprise-wide resource capacity planning.  Just what makes getting this accomplished so difficult?

I’m sure I hear it at least once a week (during a trade show, twice an hour), what organizations are asking of their project management system boils down to enterprise-wide resource capacity planning.  Now I know that everyone has a little of the “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome where you think that your organization must be the only one in Christendom who hasn’t figured this out yet but the good news for you is that you’re not alone, very few organizations really have a handle on this aspect of management.  The bad news?  You’re not alone.  Many organizations are faced with a lack of power in this area of management.  I mean if you knew that some area of the world had project environments where this was always well handled, we could send people there to see how.  They could document the way it was accomplished and we could bring the lesson back to where you live to make sure it was implemented immediately.

Unfortunately, the shear number of organizations who are asking for this solution makes it clear that most organizations have not yet resolved this issue. 

Now, hold on.  If you’re one of those firms who really have figured this out, don’t be scrambling to your email to let me know that, yes, this is working fine where you are.  I know some organizations have successfully implemented resource capacity planning.  It makes it all the most frustrating for those of us still struggling with the concept.

So what do we mean by enterprise-wide resource capacity planning anyway?  This term, while a mouthful, refers to the ability to see the resource availability and resource load of all resources in the organization and the projected load of future tasks and projects.  If you can accomplish this, then you should be able to insert a prospective project into the equation and instantly see if a) the project is feasible and b) the impact on other projects of doing the project.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?  Yes, in principle it is very straightforward.  It’s in practice that the exercise becomes a challenge.  “The technology?” you ask.  Nope.  Virtually all of the enterprise project management software vendors address this type of functionality to some degree.  The problems are rarely encountered there.  The most significant roadblocks are usually in the practices and behavior of the participants.  Here are a few areas that become a concern.

Whose resources are they anyway?

Who gets to control the resources in a multi-project environment is often one of the most contentious issues.  Many organizations use a matrix structure where any given employee will have a resource or line manager to whom he or she reports as well as multiple project managers to whom he or she will report based on project work.  A matrix organization is expected to generate some structural tension for staff as project managers vie for complete control over a person and the resource managers are expected to provide an element of balance so as not to burn every resource out on a given project.

Ok, no problem so far but this affects greatly how enterprise resource capacity planning works.  With many project managers competing for given resources, all kinds of tactics can be employed to get and keep the resources they want.  Resource managers can become just another competitor trying to get access to an employee’s time.

I’ll share if you share – maybe.

The basic premise of enterprise-wide analysis is that you’re looking at all the data.  After all, what would be the point of doing a resource plan when you’re looking at only 80% of the resource requirements and 80% of resource availability?  Especially if you didn’t know what 20% was missing.  The problem in new enterprise resource management implementations is that some project managers will be concerned that if they share their real internal data, the rest of the competitors for resources can take advantage.  For example, they might see a lull in the requirements on a given project and scoop up those key resources then not give them back in a timely manner.  If the process for this is not rigorously established (and it rarely is in new implementations), then some project managers see a huge disincentive to share.  If there is anyone who ‘opts out’ of the enterprise analysis by withholding his or her data, it can reduce the value of the entire analysis.  In a large high-tech company in Montreal, I recently challenged a group of 25 senior project managers to point to anyone else in the group with whom they shared actual project data.  0 for 25 was the result.  If people won’t share data, there won’t be any enterprise analysis.

My people are all busy beavers – honest!

In a similar vein, showing any underutilization of a resource to the rest of the project mangers can leave a project manager worried that they’ll lose that person.  Consequently, project managers who are ‘forced’ to share their data will sometimes pad a project’s requirements to show that the key resource they’ve acquired is in use 100% of the time.  There are always a few key resources in an organization that are critical to many projects.  They possess that unique combination of knowledge and skills that are at the core competency of the organization’s products and are always in high demand.  These resources can make or break a project’s schedule and often are the bottleneck that determines just how many projects can be accomplished in a given period of time.  It is, of course, these very resources that a project manager will want to get first and keep the longest.

Okay, I know I’ll be beaten, but please – not with my own data!

I’m not saying it happens where you work, but – it some places I’ve visited – there are project managers who have attempted to play fair and have given the new enterprise system complete access to their innermost honest data only to find themselves called on a carpet shortly thereafter to explain the ’significant problems’ with their project.  The evidence for these problems?  Why the project manager’s own data of course!  When a corporate culture has been used to seeing data only after careful preparation and are now plunged into seeing the raw product while it is happening, it can make managers do strange things.  If this happens once or twice, project managers will run for cover carrying their data with them.  Avoiding this requires preparing the ground in advance, talking to the management to ensure they react appropriately to the different quality of data they may now have access to.

So, is it impossible?  No – not at all.  The intense almost universal desire for enterprise capacity planning has driven software vendor after software vendor to provide better functionality to deliver this analysis.  If you are working on an enterprise-wide implementation now, the key is to not expect the software to do all the groundwork.  You’ve got a corporate culture to change and you’ll need to change it a step at a time.  Paving the way with new procedures and practices, setting up training not just for users but also for management can go a long way towards ensuring that the resource capacity planning analysis is used for the purpose it was intended and not to shoot the messenger.