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[Donna Fitzgerald Video Series] Video 8 of 9: What to do when Reality Derails Your Resource Capacity Planning

August 13, 2020 | By Sean Pales

Tune in to the eighth installment in our 9-part video series with renowned resource management expert, Donna Fitzgerald.

Donna has over 39 years of experience in product development, operations, implementation and research, and she is widely regarded as a premier thought leader in the resource management and project portfolio spaces. Prior to founding NimblePM where she currently serves as the Executive Director, Donna spent ten years with Gartner Research. She covered a range of critical topics including IT resource capacity planning, demand management and strategy execution as a lead analyst in the PPM space.

In this video, Donna explains what to do when you’ve done the resource capacity plan, committed to deadlines, and then Murphy intrudes. You’ll also learn:

  • How to keep your schedule when resources are pulled to other projects
  • The power of identifying your organization’s bottleneck resources
  • A new way to look at the give and take of resources between projects
  • And more!

Transcript: What to do when Reality Derails Your Resource Capacity Planning

One question that comes up once you’ve done all the glorious work to get everything in, done the resource capacity plan, you’ve essentially made promises as to when things should be happening and then reality intrudes.  I’m going to use this word in a project context even though we’ve been talking a lot about software development.  The key is there’s always users, there’s always change so really there’s always a larger context.  But there’s an answer to the question because we all know from the day you start that Murphy is going to get involved and there’s generally not an allotment for Murphy in the project plan.  So what I want to talk about is what to do when things don’t go according to schedule.

We start out with Project A, we have Project B and we have stuff, the dreaded stuff.  Whatever stuff.  So project manager of Project A has everything going along and then gets asked if Jane can go help out for one week on Project B.  Okay, how are we going to make up the time?  How are we going to keep that schedule going?  Well, the first rule is if that one week was for essentially a crash or replacement or something, can Project B return the favor of throwing a little bit more effort back there.  Because what we’re trying to do is not penalize Project A because we had the need for a resource change.  The other thing we’re going to do is start to identify where we’re running short.  Every single organization has bottleneck resources.  They come in two flavors.  They come in the flavor of Jane.  Jane is the only expert on certain things so anytime something happens, let’s throw Jane at it.  So, what should we have done if Jane is an expert?  Jane should never have been assigned fulltime to Project A.   If you’ve really got somebody who’s jack of all trades, can rescue anything then designate them as that.  Overall you might say but then I’m pulling a resource out who’s not available because we now have Jane over here.  The answer is that you only thought you were going to make it go with the resources you had.  Reality is you always needed Jane in an ability to switch hit on things and you’re better off leaving her there.  Trust me, nobody ever gets underutilized in that position.  These people are super-stars.  Leave them there.  Let them pitch hit and if there’s a small project you want to do, some innovation, some research. Any downtime they’ve got, let them use that.

Now let’s say in Project B, something breaks.  M&E.  And the resource, the original person who coded that, who knows what the solution to that problem is works on Project B.  Now that person, because this is reality, is only on Project B half-time.  The other half of the time they really are on maintenance and enhancement, but for two days they’re going to have to double down and fix something here.  Answser:  just trade back.  What I’ve seen from working with hundreds and hundreds of clients is that there is a supposition that all time goes one way into that and projects suffer.  The answer is why.  Why is that a natural law?  I’ve never understood where that assumption came from.  What gets taken gets returned.  Now, sometimes you can’t do it if it’s in the Jane situation, but if it’s the same person they just don’t do.  If they’re gone for two days off of here, they just don’t do two weeks of maintenance.  They make up the time.

In every case you were trying to preserve the project schedule.  The first time you go through and start balancing for project allocation, the things you’re looking for are, are we staffed correctly?  Do we start running into shortfalls because we don’t quite have the right skills, we haven’t defined it right?  You start to look for where are the problems so you can fix them because even though we’re living in a world where people are saying for the sake of agility we can’t give you deadlines.  Let’s be clear.  Arbitrary deadlines are arbitrary deadlines, but the fact that you’ve got to ship a product that your company is dependent on certain activities for making money.  Let’s get real.  All of this has financial consequences.

The other thing you need to do is start constraining.  Murphy’s going to take his pound of flesh no matter what.  You’ve got to make sure that if you slip for a day, you go back to your schedule and you figure out is there any bit of fat in here we could take out.  Is there any part of the scope we can delay that does not prevent us from meeting the business purpose that we qualified for?  The key is (and many people are always surprised when I say this) the end date is your friend.  The end date is the single most important thing you have.  Don’t let anybody rob you of it because it defines the period of time in which you make the trade-offs.  That allows you to go back to somebody that said that you asked me for these 25 things.  I’ll get it to you by this date, but I’m not literally going to deliver exactly what you wanted.  As long as you understand what fit for purpose means you can probably do that as long as you don’t have resources borrowed without some compensatory.  You very carefully make sure that your switch hitters, your bottleneck resources are kept out of permanent assignment to any one project.

I hope that helps.  Thank you.




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