A Systems Approach to Resource Management

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One often overlooked method for improving resource optimization is to employ systems thinking. Sure, resource optimization is mostly about prioritizing and filtering your incoming demand and lining it up with the available capacity. Seems easy enough.

But resource optimization is much more than balancing supply with demand. It’s also about getting the most out of your people, whose productivity can vary based on environmental factors and whether they’re having a good day or bad day, which itself can have many influencers.

The first step is to look at the causing and resulting variables of resource workload going up or down, as well as the causing variable of those factors.

An excellent tool for assessing the variables that impact resource optimization is the causal loop diagram, a common systems thinking tool for assessing cause and effect. Below is a sample causal loop diagram that illustrates the variables that can lead to resource overload. An “S” between variables indicates that one can influence the other in the same direction (up or down). An “O'“ indicates the first variable influences the second in the opposite direction.

Similar to a fishbone diagram, the idea is to take each variable and think about the possible factors that could impact it. Then it’s a matter of launching policies and initiatives to make improvements.

In the example below (looking at the top of the diagram), if the rigor of intake filters and prioritization goes up, resource workload will go down (opposite direction). If demand goes up, resource workload goes up (same direction).

Likewise, going around the circle, if resource frustration goes up, the errors will likely go up, raising the level of distraction, which in turn raises resource workload even further. It’s a viscious circle. You can also see the variables that impact those variables, and you could extrapolate it out even further to see what factors influence those.

All in all, it helps you to develop a holistic action plan that considers all the driving factors and takes appropriate action.

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So, next time you endeavor to improve resource optimization, don’t just look at supply vs. demand. Consider the whole system.


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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.