The Foundation of Portfolio Management


How did we come to appreciate the value of resource planning? After years of being involved with project management, and being very excited about it as a discipline, I realized that even though we would do a great job of teaching project management within the organization, the organization as a whole would have great difficulty executing. I came to see that there was a problem that went across projects. It was not simply a manner of planning and managing an indivdual project better. The problem lay in making decisions about the whole set of projects that the organization was trying to undertake.

Resource Planning is Not Project Planning

You can do PMBOK 100 percent and still fail as an organization.

Resource Planning Is Needed

Without resource planning, bad decisions are made repeatedly.

The first thing we realized was that resource planning is different from project management. You don't get resource planning by collecting a bunch of individual project plans. You can be 100% right in your project planning, and your organization may still have problems. Resource planning is needed; without it, terrible decisions are made.

The Solution Matters

The type of solution also matters. If the solution is too complex, it is rejected by the people that have to use it. Finally, if the data are not credible, the system will fall into disuse. After disuse of one system comes the "solution du jour," which is really a downer for most people. I've talked to many people about this, and they tend to think, "OK, we've been here before, so what's different?"

What is the Problem with Project Management without Resource Planning?

The problem is manifested at various levels and roles in the organization. Here are quotes I have heard over my career, dating from the 1990s. I still hear statements like these today:

From the project manager:

* I am not getting the planned resources at the right time.

* Then at phase gates, we go through a phase gate review. We get approval of a project plan. I know what I'm supposed to deliver, but I also know what resources I am supposed to be getting at the next stage, and what happens? I get to the next stage, and I'm not getting the resources we're committed to. So my project is in trouble, and I get blamed.

From the resource manager:

*Management never sets priorities.

By resource manager, I mean a line or functional manager who has people directly reporting to him or her. The resource manager's complaint is that management doesn't set priorities; they're always asking us todo more; they don't think about what we're currently working on; they just say, "Oh, we can start another project...."

Conversely, at phase gates, even though a project team may have done an outstanding job of doing a project plan, they get into a phase gate meeting, and the resource managers, who may not heave been heavily involved in the resource planning for project, will say, "That's not my plan!" So you have a disconnect right at the phase gates.

From senior management:

The senior management team has a whole different set of problems:

* I don't have a clue what people are working on.

I heard this last week at a large financial institution that is using our product. (They said this in the context that our product was finally fixing this problem!)

* We start all kinds of projects, but have trouble finishing them.

This is a common mistake; after all, it only takes one person to start a project, but if it takes 100 people to finish it, and if that project requires 10 or 100 people in two months, suddenly you don't have enough resources.

* I can't tell if our resources are focued on our high priority projects. In fact, I know in some cases, they aren't.

When a project slips we can't see what other project a reaffected until they get into trouble later. If you have a high priority project that was supposed to shed resources the next month, and those resources wre going to work on another set of projects, you might not notice how badly they are impacted if you are looking in a rational and careful way.

* We staff revenue projects but ignore critical infrastructure requirements.

This is a problem set that we encountered in the '90s, and we are still hearing it today.

--Peter Heinrich (CEO, PDWare)

Excerpted from a webinar, September 20, 2013, recorded on International Project Management Day.