True agility always begins and ends with people. And the only PPM-oriented job that claims to be directly responsible for people anymore is that of a resource manager.
Congratulations, you are in charge of leading a very necessary change!
If your reaction to this last statement is stark raving horror, I can understand. It sounds crazy for you to make a change without the authority or direct access to anyone interested in the issues that this blog suggests are your responsibility, doesn’t it?
Actually, it isn’t. Because top-down authority is not the only path to change.
Back in the 90s, when the agile movement started coming together, we had no authority, and most of the hierarchy at the time thought we were eminently ignorable. Yet here we are, 20 years later, and most organizations would say they are agile or moving in that direction.
So how can resource managers help to provide the agility their organizations say they want? The answer is by quietly taking one step at a time in any direction that appears open to you.
Figure 1 offers seven possible avenues. This list was intentionally put in random order because only YOU know where your strengths lie and how to work within the culture (and politics) of your organization.
Opening the conversation
Figure 1 Resource Management Area of Influence
Because we naturally read left to right, let’s start with mentoring. This one should be the easiest place to make a change. Whether or not the people you assign to work report directly to you, it’s completely appropriate for you to talk to them and ask them how work is going. Are they ok with their assignments? Do they have too many or too few? Are they overwhelmed or bored?
How you feel about the prospect of this conversation and how your staff responds to the invitation to chat will speak volumes about the state of your wider organization. This should be a simple and easy conversation. Even if people aren’t happy (according to recent polling, 60% of the people you speak with will NOT be happy), just remember that you are sincerely offering to help by improving the quality of the assignments they are asked to do.
Working within the realm of possibilities
Assuming someone takes you up on your offer, you will quickly find that these conversations have driven you to the box on the mindmap that says resource assignments. How can you improve the quality of an individual’s assignments? The answer is simple: stop treating them like a plug-compatible widget!
I admit it’s been a long time since I had software developers working for me, but I can still remember one thing very clearly – they were each uniquely talented and complicated people (hint: all people are). Given that, I tried to allow everyone as much choice as possible.
Referring back to Mentoring, sometimes, all we can do is advise. Each person is in charge of their own growth and development. This means some people will always bite off more than you think they can do (a consistent pattern in my own career), or they will doggedly stick to the familiar and work it at a slow pace. In the end, life is a series of sub-optimized choices.
One of the most important aspects of resource assignments is ensuring that people are NOT assigned to too many things. The negatives of excessive task switching cannot be overstated. For starters, it’s counterproductive and kills creativity. Oh, and did I mention it can ultimately lead to clinical depression? If you wonder why 60% of people want to leave their jobs, the answer is easy: they either hate their boss or hate that they don’t feel any satisfaction from the work they are being asked to do.
Without opening up a very ugly can of worms, sometimes managers can draw the ire of their staff by being perceived as NOT taking care of them. This means that if the boss (potentially you) assigns them too much work, the boss is to blame. This is a soul-crushing place for any good manager to find themselves caught in, and I hope that the advice in this blog can help you avoid this experience.
Digging into the work
Can you avoid too many assignments? Yes, if you’re willing to stand up to a little browbeating. My suggestion — which aligns with advice I’ve read from others as well — is to understand the nature of the work before you make the assignment.
Is the work heads-down thinking work? If so, try to never assign an individual to work on more than three projects or tasks. Two would be better, but three is tops. Or, if the work is more collaborative or advisory, then look at the outcome and urgency of the work before you make the assignment.
It’s taken me a long time to admit this, but it’s important to point out: it’s possible that the project manager is no longer capable of giving you this information when they request the assignment. I’ve talked to so many of them that tell me they are “the victim in this situation” and can’t be held responsible because it’s the resource manager who controls their fate. Whether that’s true or not, the resource manager is now in the hot seat.
Preparing for the work of tomorrow
As a resource manager, it’s critical that you understand the exact nature of the work you are assigning people to right now. But you can’t focus soley on the work that needs to be done today; you also need to start working with your staff to ensure your people have the right skills for the work that will be needed in the future.
Are you surprised to learn that this is YOUR job? Shouldn’t the onus be on HR or the individuals themselves? Nope — not if you want to improve everyone’s life, including your own.
Resource management has stayed in the trough of disillusionment for over seven years on the Gartner hype cycle because no one thinks about it correctly. In reality, resource management is about people, and more specifically, it’s about matching named human beings to work. It’s also about ensuring that these named human beings are operating at their highest potential to ensure that the work is good and that the company can achieve its objectives.
In part two of this series, we’ll explore some simple ways YOU can work with your people to help them grow and develop as well as diving into other areas of the mindmap.