15 Reasons Your Resources Are Working on the Wrong Stuff

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Isn't it funny how there always seems to be resource shortages for your most critical projects? Okay, well maybe not that funny. It's actually a fairly frequent sad story.

Everyone's busy trying to do their planned tasks, and then a million interruptions come their way. A phone call here. An urgent project there. Sometimes they get distracted by their own pet projects. The planned work they do have ends up taking longer than expected, and before you know it, they're trying to juggle more balls than your average clown.

In an organization where strategies and priorities aren't well connected to execution, it's even worse.

Well, it’s full speed, baby... in the wrong direction.
— Alanis Morissette

Here are 15 reasons why your resources may be working on the wrong stuff:

  1. Project Priorities aren't defined - If your projects aren't regularly prioritized within the portfolio, it's hard to know their relative value to the organization. It all must begin here.

  2. Effort Forecasts don't consider project priority - Effort forecasts are a way of assigning weekly skill or named resource needs at a project level over the upcoming three to six months. These should be assigned in project priority order, so that higher priority projects get first dibs.

  3. Organizational Strategies aren't defined - Much like priorities, if organizational strategies aren't defined, it's hard to make the connection between project priorities and organizational goals. It's the next link in the chain to organizational strategy.

  4. Strategies and priorities haven't been communicated - Having a clear set of organizational strategies and underlying project priorities aren't as effective if project and resource managers and their respective staff aren't keenly aware of them. Keep the information flowing for better alignment.

  5. Projects and programs aren't mapped to strategies - Mapping programs and projects to strategies gives visibility into how they're performing against strategy. It's the central foundation of good strategy execution and connects the top-down and bottom-up views.

  6. Resource assignments are disconnected from effort forecasts - As projects begin execution, project managers assign resources to tasks. If these task assignments aren't reconciled with the high level effort forecast (see point #2), it opens up a plethora of blind spots in the forecast, leaving resource managers and senior management scratching their heads as to what went wrong.

    Note: A resource histogram should show any discrepancies between the top-down forecasts and bottom-up assignments, and exceptions can be discussed between the project and resource manager.

  7. Priorities are ignored when change happens - Let's face it. Change is a constant. While emergencies do come up and managers constantly generate new ideas and needs (some market-driven), there still needs to be a way to assess each new request within the overall portfolio, evaluating its impact to the effort forecast. If other projects need to shift to make room, so be it, but at least it should be a conscious decision, even if it's a fast-tracked thinking exercise.

  8. Projects run late, robbing downstream projects of valuable resources - Late projects tie up valuable resources. Better estimates can help, but projects are late for a variety of other reasons as well, not the least of which is resource availability (which, itself, is often impacted by---you guessed it---other late projects). 

  9. Capacity isn't considered during portfolio intake and planning - If new projects are approved and scheduled without evaluating available capacity, those projects run a risk of overbooking already maxed-out resources, causing a domino effect of late projects.

  10. Multitasking is Excessive - Lack of capacity planning leads to overloaded resources, and multitasking adds insult to injury. There's been much written about the negative effects of multi-tasking, yet many organizations still view it as a badge of honor ("Johnny can manage twenty large projects with his eyes closed!").

    The truth is, each project you add to a project manager's workload reduces his/her productivity by 25%. It's not hard to do the math. If people are multitasking, they're not focused on high value work, period.

  11. There's a lack of visibility into all types of demand - Projects are only one type of demand. When all is said and done, after people spend time on emails, firefighting, staff meetings, support calls, "keep the lights on" work, and short breaks, there's very little time left for project work. Planning for all types of demand allows more control and predictability over priorities and project portfolio forecasts.

  12. There's no process for resolving competing priorities - Constrained resources often get pulled between competing projects by different business units. It helps to have a cross-business forum for addressing constraints and clarifying priorities, as well as an escalation process if needed. Otherwise, the higher value project may inadvertently suffer.

  13. People aren't aligned with their strengths - If a resource isn't working to their best strengths, then he or she is working inefficiently, which is as bad as working on the wrong stuff. As Robert Heinlein said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." By tracking resource proficiencies and skills, you can not only make sure people are working to their strengths, you may even find untapped available skills in unexpected parts of your organization. 

  14. Resource managers are out of the loop - Resource managers are in the best position to know what their people should be working on, and should own the effort forecast. Some companies try to keep resource managers out of the loop, citing that they're "too busy" to check effort forecasts or approve assignment requests. This is a fundamental mistake, as tight management of effort forecasts are the best way to avoid chaos and overload. 

  15. Project and resource managers don't communicate - Project managers tend to schedule their project phases, tasks, and milestones and think in terms of duration and its impact on the schedule. Resource managers and their staff tend to think in terms of overall effort distribution.  It's important for all parties to communicate regularly so as to balance project priorities with resource workloads. Every organization is an ecosystem. To treat each area in a disjointed fashion creates gaps in strategy execution.

In summary, to help increase the odds that your resources are working on the right stuff, be sure to connect strategy, project priorities, top-down effort forecasts, and bottom up project task assignments on an ongoing basis.

Be aware of non-project work that can consume your people's time, try to minimize multi-tasking, and align people with their strengths.

Last, but not least, always consider capacity when taking on new work, even for fast-tracked emergency projects.

Collectively, the results will be fewer firefights, faster time-to-market, more engaged people, greater focus, and higher productivity. And who can argue with that?


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn