Muddy Water in Your Resource Pool: When Bad Data Leads to Poor Resource Planning

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You’ve defined a good enough resource planning process, acquired some tools, trained all the participants, and launched the process, so you're home free, right?

Well, not quite. Even if all participants have good intentions and try to do the right thing, mistakes and misunderstandings can undermine data quality and integrity in significant ways, no matter how good your tools are.

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Don't let bad data pollute your planning process, and don't just let it "even out in the wash" like Dilbert's boss might suggest. Instead, incorporate regular diagnostics into your PMO routine prior to each portfolio review meeting, so you can address any issues beforehand.

Let's take a look at just a few simple diagnostics that can help avoid making ill-fated decisions based on bad data.

  • Forecasts Outside the Normal Threshold - Anyone can make a typo when entering effort forecasts, such as entering 2 FTEs instead of .2 FTEs for one or more periods. Most systems have thresholds where warning indicators can be set for upper and lower ranges, but often these are soft thresholds. Besides, a typo can be within the threshold but still wrong. A bad effort forecast leads to faulty utilization reports and incorrect resource plans. Having a diagnostic that shows any forecast outside the usual threshold is a good way to double check if the anomaly is correct.
  • Overdue Status or Timesheets - Projects with late timesheets or status updates can give false impressions of the real situation. A project with late timesheets or status updates may look more behind schedule than it is, and can lead to remediation steps that are unnecessary and sometimes even harmful to other projects.
  • Demand Out of Bounds - If you enter a top-down effort forecast and then the project's schedule changes (which often happens), it's easy to have a situation where the effort forecast (resource demand) is out of bounds of the project's current schedule. The ideal situation is for a project manager to work with the resource manager to reconcile any discrepancies between the project schedule and the effort forecast. Still, a report is a good early-warning system. If any forecasted effort is indeed out of bounds, demand is inflated for that excess period and you may mistakenly think you have problems with downstream or competing projects.
  • Assignments for Overallocated Resources - Did you really expect Mary to work 18 hours on Tuesday? Granted, this practice isn't always a data error; Some organizations enter resource assignments knowing full well that the resource is already overallocated. I can write a whole essay on why this is a bad idea, though admittedly there are exceptions to any rule. In any case, if you haven't configured your resource management system to proactively warn of (or color code) overallocations--and even if you have--it's a good idea to have a diagnostic report to show how prevalent this is, and to what extent. Otherwise, your resource plan could be quite unrealistic.
  • Projects with Unfilled Role/Skill Requests in the Current Period - As part of resource planning, many organizations first request the roles/skills needed for projects, then, as the time of need approaches, the role/skill assignments are replaced with named resources. Knowing how many projects have near-term needs that are still unfilled can be helpful in diagnosing staffing issues. Perhaps the project manager requested a skill that only exists in another part of the organization. Or perhaps the resource manager is being unresponsive. Some reasons are valid, while others aren't. Still, it's good to know where the situation exists.
  • Projects with Periods of No Demand - Except in the case of a built-in delay, projects should have resources staffed throughout the project lifecycle. If there's one or more reporting periods where there's no demand forecasted, it means you either have an understaffed project, an intentional delay, or the data isn't being updated. In any case, you'll want to know about it, and this diagnostic can help you keep projects moving along with adequate resource plans.

These are just a handful of diagnostic examples that can be useful. Most systems will have data validation and warnings, but even the best systems can allow mistakes and misunderstandings to creep in and pollute your data.

The right diagnostics, ideally run by the PMO prior to any portfolio review meetings, can help ensure your portfolio and resource planning decisions will be based on sound data.

For those interested, I'm co-hosting the PDWare Explorer free monthly webinar series with Paul Samarel, CTO at PDWare, where we'll be offering more valuable tips and techniques on resource and portfolio management. A partial product demo is also included, but in the context of the topics discussed. It's not a sales pitch. The next session is on Portfolio Delivery, Thursday, April 26th at 11am US EST. Click HERE for more information or to register for that or other monthly sessions. 

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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