Capacity Planning

Where Does Resource Capacity Planning Fit in the Context of People, Process, and Technology?

Princess Bride-Resources.jpg

When I talk to certain people about resource capacity planning (you know who you are), their mind immediately goes to technology resources, not people. After all, Capacity Management is a key service delivery component of ITIL (Infrastructure Technology Infrastructure Library), the set of standard processes that facilitate IT service delivery. 

In ITIL, the term resources generally applies to components (network bandwidth, workstations, etc.) or services (email, internet, messaging, etc.), not necessarily human beings, except maybe in the context of keeping those services running and available. Even the "Business Capacity Management" sub-function of ITIL deals strictly with technology services as it relates to meeting business demand. See the Tech Republic article "ITIL 101: Capacity Management Sub-Processes" for an example of this focus.

As mentioned, (and as pointed out in this OpenCampus article), ITIL Capacity Management does indeed consider human workload in the context of meeting SLAs or operational commitments for IT services. In reality, this aspect of capacity planning is often given short shrift, and if done at all, is often isolated from any big picture "people resource" planning for meeting prioritized project demand.

Compare this to the Professional Services industry, where human beings ARE their business. In this article by David Young titled "The Art and Science of Capacity Planning" for TSIA (Technology Services Industry Association), the concept of a Resource Management Office is introduced, where the defined goal is "to have the right people with the necessary skills in place at the right time to meet your business needs."

It's the same for any project-driven organization.

Caveats When Referring to People as Resources

In the professional services industry and in the project portfolio management arena, the primary resource is people. From an IT internal services/infrastructure perspective, the primary resource is technology (though people are considered as a secondary means to keeping the technology and services running). 

Referring to people, processes, and technology as resources is accurate, but there are some advisable cautions when it comes to people.

The key thing to remember is, people are not a commodity, and by referring to them as resources, we do risk forgetting that these are human beings we're dealing with, who have good days and bad days, individual personalities, and preferred working habits.

Regardless, the industry has well established the term resources in both contexts: technology and people. The same is true for capacity planning.

Addressing All Aspects of Capacity: The Right Tool for the Right Job

In the broadest sense, the capacity to tackle business initiatives is provided by way of people, processes, and technology.

Standard methods like ITIL can ensure the technology services are available to meet the appropriate needs. Process reengineering and improvement tools (such as Six Sigma) can be used to remove process bottlenecks and improve process quality.

Last, but not least, an overall resource management process and toolset (whether facilitated by a Resource Management Office, an EPMO, or some other organization) can maximize your "people resources" toward optimal delivery of prioritized business strategies.

Let's talk about that third area for a minute.

In the project arena, the Project Portfolio Management (PPM) field has already established the use of the term resources to primarily refer to people, though most PPM tools also allow for adding non-labor resources such as equipment, trucks, etc.  

Even the Project Management Institute (PMI) says of Resource Management, "Hiring, developing and retaining the people needed to turn corporate strategy into reality is of critical importance... Research sponsored by PMI shows that talent deficiencies significantly hamper 40 percent of strategy implementation efforts."

Clearly, "people resources" is a vital topic. Of course, even PMI acknowledges that the topic of resource management also can include managing supplies in the supply chain. 

Resources As Assets

When I wrote The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, I made sure the subtitle said "A Guide to Maximizing the Value of Your Limited People Resources," emphasizing the word "people," since that's the focus of the book. Of course, I've since learned that in France, "limited" can be interpreted as "stupid," but that's besides the point.

Anyway, according to the Collins thesaurus, synonyms for resource include supply, facility, means, and ingenuity. In others words, a resource is an asset that can help you achieve your goals. Without a doubt, people are an organization's greatest asset (at least until such time robots take over, but... SPOILER ALERT... that's the subject of my next post). 

Meanwhile, my advice is to consider the audience when talking about resources, clarify your intent, but also acknowledge that capacity can and should refer to technology, processes, and people, with respective disciplines for addressing each.

Most importantly, never treat people like machines. Don't assume you can move them around and load them up like trucks. Look beyond the term resources when you're harnessing their talents, working styles, strengths, and availability to meet business needs. Think of them as what they are---your greatest asset.

JB Manas - website photo.jpg

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 

15 Reasons Your Resources Are Working on the Wrong Stuff


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?

JB Manas - website photo.jpg

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