[On Demand Webinar] PMO Resource Management in a World of Skills Shortages

Tue, Aug 3, 2021

This webinar is hosted by Donna Fitzgerald, former Gartner PPM Analyst for 10 years and passionate change agent in the PPM community, and Greg Bailey, VP of ProSymmetry. Together, they cover:

• How to properly resource the strategic portfolio with the right skills and the right people to deliver more, better, and faster.
• Emerging data and thought leadership on skills shortages and what that means for your portfolio and pipeline.
• The power of effective capacity planning and real-time “what-if?” modelling to increase adaptivity and agility.
• The five competency steps that you can take to reach the goal of effortless resource management.
• New techniques for Adaptive Intake and Demand Management
• Practical examples of exactly how to do it!

Transcript: PMO Resource Management in a World of Skills Shortages

I’m really looking forward to talking about resource management in a world of skills shortages because I think it’s absolutely critical to what we’re all facing. For those of you who follow me on LinkedIn, I recently put up a poll that asked people to tell me what they were seeing. Obviously not a high response at this moment, not terribly scientific, but it said most people were dealing very actively with a shortage of skilled people. We’re going to go through that in just a second.

Basically there are only three ways to deal with a skills shortage:
The first is portfolio management and I’m going to start out by apologizing here. This is the same advice I’ve been giving for years and years and I understand that many of you don’t have full control of the portfolio. But the single, single best way to handle a shortage of resources is to match supply and demand and even though I’m sure it would be next to impossible to convince most of your executives, they shouldn’t approve more than you can do. The key is that ultimately we’re looking for at least sequencing.

The next thing is obviously use your supply of skilled people more effectively. This is going to be deeply important to the PMO because in theory if you’re still managing the project managers, this is an area where you have the most control.

The third is to increase the skills of the people who already work at your company. The third area we’re going to look at I’m hoping will be the most forward-looking of where I see a trend in this whole area where it’s not just us anymore. I think that as we go through this we may be looking for support from HR, from Learning and Development, from Talent Management, a bunch of people that we probably have never talked to in our day-to-day life. I know I certainly never did.

So, let’s start with focusing on the portfolio and resource capacity. This is a diagram I did back when I was at Gartner. Essentially from a Gartner perspective, we can take where we’re spending money or in our case resources and break it into four buckets.

The first, keep the lights on. We understand that. Run the business. Change the business and transform. What I like about this model, and I’ve absolutely used it with executives, with boards of directors, is it’s very simple saying, “Here’s at a high level where resources are going.” Normally we see about 10 percent in run the business and run the business means the people who keep the machines up, the lights on. Historically Gartner data showed that run the business was consuming somewhere around 70 percent so the key is with digital that number should be going down. If that goes down to 40 percent, we should be seeing 40 percent going into change the business. Lots of words here, lots of subtleties, but this is important. Then obviously 10 percent going into transform but that really is transformation and I’ve seen so many portfolios where transformation simply means new to us. This is probably a small area with dedicated funding and its dedicated people.

So where we’re really looking at things is just in that area. Now from an executive perspective I’m going to recommend that the list of projects in the portfolio is not a good way for executives to really understand what’s going on. So I’ve tried this over the years and this is a simple little way to say, “Where’s the money going?” So if we have five strategies, which according to HBR the average organization has between three and five, why don’t we break out people and money. And in just this format show the executives. I had one client I was working with and this is very similar to what their portfolio looked at and their top strategy for the year was increase gross margin and they came back to me and said we’ve got about 40 percent of our project proposals in there. I said that’s good except they really aren’t in there because unless you can track it in the P&L, you’re not doing it. You literally cannot have a project claim to do something and put it in that category unless it truly is shown. So they came back and said we took your advice. We’re now down to 15 percent. That, by the way, is exactly what I told them they should be saving, somewhere around 10 to 15. That is something their executives understood immediately. No contest, no complaining. Just that’s a good definition. Let’s use it. Now whether or not you’re entering new markets, creating new products doesn’t matter. But that’s a simple, high level discussion because when you’re down in the details then things get much more emotional.

Another way to look at it, and there are dozens, I’ve just shown you the highway to start getting the feel for it, is by business unit. Operations, sales, marketing, doesn’t matter. How many of your people are going into what efforts? So we can take a look at it. I had one client with very limited resources and some of you are in that situation, he had four basic business units and what he did was tell each of the four units you can have a quarter’s worth. So spring quarter was operations, summer quarter was sales and marketing, fall was new product development and winter (which of course you’d never do because that’s year-end close) was finance. This may sound simple, but it’s a really easy way to start saying, this is how much we have. We have this number of people and we’ve got this much work so we’ve got to partition it.

So essentially no matter what works for you, and I’m only suggesting some things that I hope will get you thinking, find a meaningful way to show management where the people and money are going is what’s critical. The closer you can match it, the better it is.

Now another thing I found that I just love is (and I used to be a project manager in a prior life) is roadmaps. Roadmaps in my mind are becoming the new Gantt chart because the truth is when you have a really intelligent conversation with somebody and say, “You know what? I really can’t do Project A or Epic B without doing these things first” we’re not talking at the task level, we’re talking at the major investment level, that starts to make more sense. Everybody used to say, if I don’t get to start it in January or I don’t get to start it in June, it will never get done. That’s not true if we show them this, and I know everybody on this call has had timelines for projects and you’ve done virtual Gantt charts, but what we’re looking for here is effectively the dependency linkage that says, I understand why these projects should be lined the way they are. Why Project C needs to come first but a core operational capability needs to come before we’re going to start Epic B. This is a way to sidetrack all the I want, I want, I wants and it’s all about me from senior management when you say, “Sure we want to do this; we absolutely want to do this and we want to get it done by the end of the year but this is the sequence it needs to go on” and from my perspective talking about sequence and order and dependency is something that every one of us should be very good at. That’s what we’ve spend our careers doing.

Now, let’s get into more detailed resource assignments. Part of what I think is going on and guilty as charged with the rest of you, there is no holier than thou in anything I ever say. Are we picking the right people or are we actually looking at assigning a skill to a task? When you think about that, that’s when we really used to run projects with a project manager who managed the people but we weren’t doing that. We knew who had what skills. We knew how good they were. We knew how they fit with the team. I’m thinking that now that we’re assigning hours to a task and we’re sticking any person in there, it all starts to look the same. We’re not fine tuning it. The issue is (and I totally understand if you’re using Excel this could be hard) when I gave something (I used to run software development) to one of my developers it could take 40 hours. If I gave it to Jack, who I’ve been told is a 10x developer, it’s going to take two days. I’m not going to overuse Jack, but there may be a case in a project plan where it’s appropriate to use Jack and no one else is the right resource. Again, if we want to do this, we want to sequence it around the unique person. There are also cases, and I have seen this in my own projects and programs that I managed, where the right people on the right project end up being able to do more from a project perspective, not necessarily from a discreet task but from a project perspective because they can switch hit, they could support each other, they could do a lot. So the emphasis on tasks, if we let projects in a portfolio get down to the task level we have fragmented resources, that may be part of our problem.

Red is bad. This is probably what most people would see if you had a tool other than Excel that could show you that you’ve got all these projects, you’ve got these people or FTEs staffed to it, and you notice how little green there is. I could say, oh yeah, well we designed this, but I have seen this in the wild and it’s what it really looks like. We’re never going to succeed because the more of this we have, the more exhausted people get and the less productive it is. So show management that they can’t have it all. Management is not stupid. I’ve worked for some great vice presidents and they were all very sharp and when I said, “Here’s reality. Let’s negotiate” I really didn’t have a lot of push back. Yes, we wanted to do a lot and get it done quickly, but I remember one vice president telling me, no I actually want people left standing when we get this done so let’s rethink this, Donna.

If we’ve done everything we can with the portfolio, then I think (going back to one of my earlier points) we really need to stand back and start focusing on skilled people rather than skills. I think Covid changed everything. People don’t want to go back to what it was before Covid. It hasn’t been pretty working at home in the sense that a lot of people are reporting they feel they could not get any balance, that they were simply working more hours and so more time on the clock. But I really think we should be modeling how do we build healthy, productive cultures. And that’s really starting to look at how we acknowledge and empower people. As I said, back when the standard was a project was put together and people were chosen to staff that project and those people worked as a team with the project manager, we had a lot of capability for creating something that wasn’t there just based on the parts. So essentially I’ll call it bringing the whole person to the project and if we deal at the whole person level, then we get everything the person knows. We get all their experience, everything they do well and it’s amazing what can happen because when you invite the whole person to participate, they start to feel better about the work they’re doing.

This brings me to personal productivity. Now as I said, I used to manage software development in one of my many previous lifetimes and what I noticed (now, I had a great team) was a lot of it comes down to the individual. What’s their motivation? Extrinsically we’re all motivated by the culture we work in, the working conditions and essentially the rewards and punishment. That’s do we want to stay there and that’s very much up in the air at the moment.

Then we come back to intrinsic. Do I like what I’m doing? Do I feel good about it? Do I feel that I’m being of service to others? Whatever my motivation is, and any of you who haven’t read Drive, pick it up. It’s great. Motivation 3.0 is very informative here.

Then we have to understand what our personal capacity is. What’s our rhythm? What can we work? How much can we do? This is becoming more critical. And also we’re looking to schedule work. I used to manage a bunch of night owls. They all had young kids. They’d leave work at 5:00, go home, have dinner, spend time with the kids and they’d be, by their own choice, working later in the evening. Me? I don’t do anything after 9:00. I’m a morning person. My brains go on. Those two concepts again come back to personal mastery. When we talk about skills a little later we’ll find out that concept turns out to be critical for the quality of our workforce. Of course we talk a lot about soft skills, but I don’t think most people really understand what soft skills are and how we go about encouraging them in the workforce. I don’t know how many of you (and the book is getting quite old so I understand), but how many of you have read The Fifth Discipline? Peter Senge came up with (the book is wordy, so skip pages you get bored on), but the concepts that he put in, one of which is personal mastery, is literally one of the best frameworks that I have used. When I was managing projects early on, there’s five of them, and it would be late and I don’t think well when it’s late so at 10:00 at night, so I would sit there and count on my fingers and say, have I done enough for the team? Are we doing enough critical thinking? And it created a situation where I think under a lot of pressure, a lot of hours we were all able to keep going in the right direction. And again, how does this relate back to a shortage of skilled resources? All of this reinforces we are not looking for a skill. We are looking for human beings who need to be supportive, who need to be engaged, and then we, in our role running PMOs, are going to try to make sure that there isn’t so much work on their plates that they can’t get anything done.

So, effectively the brain actually gets a voice in all of this. At the low end we’re not really engaged or thinking, it’s complete “boredout.” No one gets much done when they’re bored. A certain amount of stress, a certain amount of intellectual intensity is where people want to play. There’s a comfortable zone and then there’s a stretch zone. The stretch zone is only good for three hours a day. Tops! Now look at that. That means that if you’re trying to invent a new mathematical model or do whatever you do, your brain can’t do what’s been called deep work. We’re talking about three hours a day. A lot of us are involved in the creation of software and that’s says, “Yes you may work eight hours, but there’s only three hours where your brain would be highly productive.”
From there we start moving into decreasing productivity. Especially in the work from home where you didn’t normally get up, walk to the cafeteria to have lunch, spend a little time detoxing, you start stretching into that high yellow zone probably a lot easier than you might think, and from there you get into a burnout brain. That’s really the key that I want to convey here is that it really is possible for your brain to get tired. It really is where you could be sitting there trying to do something productive and you’re wasting your time. I’ve talked to a lot of people about utilization range and expectations. Someone called and said there was a new person who transferred into the business into IT and wanted to know why people were spending too much time in meetings and weren’t heads down coding. I just laughed because we all know meetings can be boring but some of that boringness actually may be a break. We want to make sure that we don’t push people beyond where they’re supposed to go. For those of you who haven’t read my One Matchstick at a Time series, one of the things we found in Covid was that if you spend too much time in the yellow/red people get so burned out, and this is incredibly important, they can’t come back to the same job. In fact, they can’t potentially even come back to the same profession. If we’re talking about skilled resources, this is an issue. I have seen software developers who were outstanding simply transfer out, simply quit and never come back.

Now here’s my favorite one. Task switching. Task switching is terrible and we are organizing work that does that, so here’s a couple points of reference. I found this interesting when I was doing my research, an interruption, we’ll call it a drive-by interruption, somebody stops by your desk and says, “Suzie, there’s this problem and it’s this and this and this. Oh I see you’re busy. That’s okay. I’ll go away and we can talk about it later.” Your brain is now turning around on this problem somebody just dropped on you. Even though you are trying to do the work that you were very intensely doing before that, you’ve lost part of your cognitive ability because your brain, for whatever reason, and I know it’s over my pay grade, has gotten fascinated with this problem and it’s just chewing away. So, depending on what it is, you could lose between 30 minutes and four hours of decreased productivity. Over the years, a couple of things. Now again this was in a world where people actually worked on projects. One of my developers had crime scene tape. I don’t know where he got it and when he wanted to be left alone he would take crime scene tape and tape it across his cubicle. A better idea was, we had people put colored index cards outside their cubicle that said by color code, this is what I’m working on. So if I were going to come up to George and say, “I want to talk to you about this” and the “this” I wanted to talk him about was an orange card topic and he had a green index card posted to his cubicle wall, I knew not to come in. I know that sounds silly but that’s literally what we did and it worked pretty well.

Another thing, and I talked to organizations a lot about this, multiple task assignments need to be scheduled and brain load should be considered. So in some cases if I’m doing brand new development, I shouldn’t be doing two of those for completely different projects or three of those, which is what I’ve seen, in the same day. Maybe I could work, I could put my three hours of fresh brain slotted when my brain works, either morning or afternoon or evening and I could do more routine work that does not take such intense concentration. Also, lunch hour exists for a reason. If I want to do different things, I can do one in the morning, take an hour break and then come back because from a task switching perspective, my brain has had a chance to sort of clear.

Another thing is schedule different projects on different days. You want somebody to work on two things, maybe we do Monday, Tuesday, half of Wednesday, go to lunch. And then half of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. All of this, if you do it correctly, gives you effectively more productivity from the same people.

I want to spend a minute talking about agility. Sixty percent plus of all the CEOs, Pricewaterhouse, Deloitte, Harvard have all polled, all say they want more agility. I believe that agility and purpose go together. People want to know, and this is important that we circle back to the task orientation, people want to know that the work they’re doing, the actual physical work they’re doing is for a purpose and that they are contributing and that someone will know that they’ve made the contribution. When we get down to a task focus, a specific task is just lost in the shuffle. Then people just start to feel like they’re working on an assembly line. They’re just assembling bits of code, bits of this, bits of that. It really doesn’t matter. There’s nothing to make it distinctive.

Also, a purposeful organization values co-creation and innovation. The more we let people work as teams, the higher productivity goes to. Also, a purposeful organization is also agile in the sense that it’s continuously reorienting itself to meet its goals. That means things change a lot. So we want people, and I know all of us have been there, when we go to our staff and say, “Hi. Yeah I know we were marching left yesterday and management came down and now we’re marching right.” That’s like a whip saw and I used to work in an environment where that kind of happened a lot. But if you’re not exhausted you just go, okay. Give us a little while and we’ll figure it out. Fine if that’s the right thing for us and that’s part of what our purpose is, we can do that. Again, what we’re looking to do is get human creativity, human sense of intuition, of connections, all of those things that make human beings just the incredible powerhouses that I think all of us can be. We’ve got to build that into the culture.

So now that we’ve talked about what can we do to limit demand, what can we do to better manage what’s going on, let’s talk about how we can increase our supply of skilled people. And by that I’m not going to be talking about pretty much about recruiting, I’m going to be talking about what to do with people we have. We all know employees need to know what skills are needed and I’ve read some horrible things in the trade press, one that particularly upset me that said, don’t even bother about re-skilling or up-skilling your staff. Right now you have them working so hard, they have no time to train. They’re exhausted, so just plan on laying them off and by the time we need new skills just recruit extra employees. Now none of us want to work in that company. None of us want to manage the business that way. That’s not what’s important. It turns out that if you give employees a choice and even a modicum of support, they’re willing to put three hours a week to retraining. That does not all have to be company time. I hope we’ve talked enough about how the brain works to know that, you know what? There could be a break in the day to learn something so part of the brain that was doing something else is now focused on learning and, depending on the dynamics and this is highly individual, it could all get done. That actually can be creative time because the subconscious can be problem-solving. I will freely admit that I used to go around the office and some of my development staff were playing World of Workcraft. My response was, “Oh good. Are you winning?” Why? Because I absolutely knew that they weren’t lazy. If they needed a brain break, that was fine with me because that’s what I paid them to do. I paid them to be productive over the long haul. Not every minute.

Now, another thing. There’s a huge amount of discussion on soft skills. Or a lot of people just refer to them as skills needed for the next century. But they’re all soft skills. This is a list of ten of them and they’re not all the same. It’s really important that we get a deeper understanding of what these discussions are. I took the ten and I basically broke them up so we can have an idea how we accomplish this. Now, this is a Donna opinion. I think adaptability and resilience is a result of upbringing, personality, life experience. I’ve had employees who had literally totally no adaptability. They just weren’t wired for it. I’ve had people who, through life experience, were incredibly resilient and ones that weren’t. Back when I was at Intel we used to talk about the fact that that’s what we hired was adaptable, resilient people. They actually came from dysfunctional backgrounds and they had become adaptable and resilient because their early childhood had not been pleasant. I’m not advocating we hire people just on that but I certainly saw an environment where that had been what the company was hiring. We can help people become more adaptable, more resilient, but basically we get them where they are. So it is what it is.

Self-awareness, empathy, collaboration. Most people make a personal decision on those. You can help with collaboration but it’s really personally ranted. And if people want to learn to become more self-aware, that’s fine. Those are all things where we make access to anything we know, but that’s a personal choice.

Communication and social awareness can be done in the classroom. I once had the opportunity to be in the IBM executive training program and we had a workshop on social awareness, you know, how far do you bow when you go to Japan, absolutely fantastic class. The person who taught it was wonderful and really had some high quality, business-appropriate knowledge to share with us and I know that works. Communication techniques, there’s appreciative inquiry, there’s all sorts of techniques where classroom training makes sense.

And then on the job, digital fluency, analysis/solution mindsets, anyone who started their career in finance will tell you that you can learn that on the job. And then entrepreneurial behavior, and I’ve saved this for the last because this is also something we can do on the job.

So for those of you who have never encountered it, Adobe came across something and they started it and it’s called Kickbox. It’s a three-box set where they laid out how people could choose to become a mini-startup in the company. When I heard this first described, they put a thousand people through the program and the program started out with a red box with material – start here takes you through what you’re supposed to do. You got a company credit card with $1,000 that could be spent toward your project, you got a bag of candy and you got a Starbucks card. At the end of the batch of the people who went through that, out of the thousand people, three ideas were ones the company ultimately brought to market. But what Mark, the man who ran the program, said was some ideas didn’t pan out beyond the first couple of weeks. When people had money still left on their card, they would go to another group and say, “Here, I could help you fund later stages if you’ll let me participate. What Mark said was that even though there were only three ideas out of the thousand, they trained entrepreneurs. They trained people who were motivated. And it turns out there’s hard academic research that says what makes people want to innovate, what makes people solve problems is simply believing it’s in their job to do it. Role expectations. That we expect you to be a creative person who solves problems and who innovates. You don’t even have to do Kickbox, although I think Kickbox would be great. But the point of this is just that there are so many ways we can think about improving the people we have.

A long time ago I was at a conference and somebody chatted with a complete stranger who made a comment, “We don’t need knowledge management. All we ever need is a person’s phone number and what it is they know.” I thought he was crazy when he first said it to me and I now know he was dead on. Knowledge never needs to leave your company. LinkedIn has solved that problem. Once you realize that knowledge is in people’s heads, all sorts of things start to unlock. Now in terms of learning, there’s micro-credentialing. We could do all sorts of things, so nothing is static. I’m a big fan of if you allow people to bid on work assignments, you’re going to get really talented people who learn lots of things, all of which become an asset to your organization.

And then finally, and there should be a thread through this, if you encourage decision-making at the lowest possible level, you get people who can solve problems without delegating upward. And we’re talking about building the core capabilities of the people we work with, of our own staff and everybody we touch, and I don’t think the profession has changed since I was doing it fulltime. I used to run around the organization and I knew a lot of people because I’d tap them for their knowledge. So we have incredible influence that we need to use.

So, what to do next? Okay. This is a very busy, very fringe diagram. When I created this years ago, I did it for one reason. I wanted to show people that our title was really inclusive of world domination. I believe there is almost nothing that we can’t stick our fingers into using the foundation of our own mandates. So if this is a concept that interests you, take a look at this, build your own, if you want to start with this. Pick something. Are you interested in skills and competencies? Are you interested in knowledge management? Do you think you can help people with risk management? What about change management? Can you take on our scheduling problem? Each of you listening has a talent and that talent, whatever it is, is sorely needed. You don’t need to solve everything. You just need to pick your area of contribution and get to work, just anything you have to offer. There are a lot of people who will be very grateful for your help.

Those of you who have ever met me know I have been advocating in the resource management space, that you just need software. I now work for a software company because I so passionately believe that software will help. Software has always helped. I’ve been an earlier adopter of software since I started work too many years ago to remember. Get the right tool and specifically get a tool that you can use to help solve the problem. One of the things that’s really important to know is that there are software products that are integrated that have portfolio management, project management, they do skills and capabilities, they do resource management. You can build an environment with one tool that is easy to use so that all of this extended stuff we’ve been talking about, it can track courses, it can track certifications. It can all be there. We don’t have to go to LinkedIn to see that information. We can actually get it in our own company if we get the right software. Either buy a package, or look at ours, or cobble stuff together, but Excel just isn’t going to get us to the future.

As my final note, I’m not sure that we can do everything that I talked about ourselves. In fact, I’m 99 percent sure we can’t. I don’t think we’ve ever been able to. I think we need to find lots of other people to work with who share our view that we can make work a better place, we can get more new things done. We can become agile. We can become adaptive. Our companies can be successful, but we’re not going to do it except as part of a team. Now I think we would need to meet people in HR, specifically Learning and Development, specifically Strategic Workforce Planning. We always need people from Finance. And we always need people who work on our projects, who develop software, our engineers, people in marketing. The more people we know, the easier transformation is.

So with that, thank you very much and I apologize that we started late and I’ve left so little time for questions, but anything I can take now or if you put it in the chat window, we can go from there.
——————————
Donna, that was excellent. Really appreciate your presentation. As Donna said, we’ll stay on for a few minutes here for you to review anything that you want to talk through. The other thing is that if you’re interested I’ll make sure that I send a copy of the Power Point to everybody on the session. Also I’ll make sure that I send a copy of the video if you would like to see that as well.

With that I want to thank you very much for attending today’s session. Again feel free to reach out to me and here’s Donna. You didn’t know she was standing at the podium presenting this session to you. We really look forward to working with you in the future. Have a great afternoon.

Ready to get started?