Performance acceleration is vital in today´s rapidly evolving business world. Resources are growing ever-more constrained, while targets are being set higher than ever before. Caught between these two forces, and trying to balance them, is the Project Management Office.
Accelerating Performance: A Resource Management Perspective
At present, the acceleration of performance on all levels is requested throughout businesses. It is the Project Management Office´s (PMO) role to find ways of achieving these targets as businesses slowly move away from recessionary pressures. Robert Buttrick in The Project Workout (2005: Prentice Hall) found that projects failed to deliver because of unclear objectives and the right people not working on the project at the right time.
Organisations have moved from 1:1 PM-to-Project ratio, to ratios of (often) as high as 1:50 projects. The average PM is now doing much more, while still having to exercise the same standard of care. In this environment, the PMO becomes more like a customer management function, while a delivery organisation takes over responsibility for delivery in the back-office. Ideally, this capacity is on-shored but this is, unfortunately, often not the case. Near-shoring (resource-sharing with nearby countries) or even off-shoring is increasingly becoming the resource-sharing mode of choice.
However, although it is generally recognised that this type of work model is unsustainable in the long term, it does serve as a model for accelerating Return on Investment (ROI) in the average project management office.
We must remember that PMOs arose out of businesses not being able to step outside of the monotonous production process and deal with ‘custom’ requirements. However, with demand constantly on the rise, this approach now seems to have been replaced by a new assembly-line-like project production process, whereby projects are successively slotted into a portfolio and ‘produced’ one after another.
The challenge for the project portfolio manager is to devise clear strategies to increase project ROI by up to four times its current level, using dedicated resource-management capacity.
The good news is that this is possible.
Creating Resource Management Magic
If this ‘resource management magic’ is to be achieved, the people who actually execute projects need new management structures designed to cope with increased volumes. As a rule, PMs do not make good resource managers; they should rather focus on creating achievable work packages. The work of a project manager is typically to break down larger projects into smaller components that can be managed, while a resource manager focuses on assigning the correct resources to these work packages.
A resource manager will balance workload while providing a negotiation platform with project managers to ensure that client expectations are met.
Manage the customer
The project manager, as a high-volume customer front-end function, has only enough time to manage communication and risk with the client and keep track of project schedules and revenues. Therefore, through a process of delegation, the project management structure often takes on the form of a team – with the project manager overseeing a project coordinator or senior project managers who, in turn, oversee junior project managers. Soon, project coordinators are replaced with more senior resource management resources and, in time, resource or operations management becomes a dedicated function.
Specialists take on specific roles
Project scheduling and risk-management functions also tend to take on specialist roles. Resource managers become functional resources who act as arbiters between the project management and resource teams and who are responsible for securing the necessary local or international resources. As such, they should have cross-functional reporting lines to both the resource management and project management structures.
This functional structure in which the resource manager acts as a resource broker optimises the resourcing portfolio. It also creates a functional structure in which resources remain coordinated while not being constrained by being linked to specific projects on a dedicated basis. To the client, the interface is static – while the back-end functions take responsibility for delivery.
Dedicated resource management functions
A dedicated resource manager can take a functional view of requirements that allow for elimination of waste. Gerhard Hill in The Complete Project Management Office Handbook (2008: Auerbach Publications) describes approaches in which PMOs should develop standard approaches to managing project resource performance and eliminate waste. The waste takes the form of over-reliance on single resources, rework and failed projects. Often, project managers make emotional decisions based on perceived need versus optimising the schedule or use of resources. A well-structured resource management function can focus on strategic resource building and usage and change traditional ‘he-who-shouts-loudest-wins’ resourcing patterns.
Project managers tend to cling excessively to individual resources that always get the job done – a phenomenon called resource hogging.
The result is that the benefit of these resources is often not felt where it is needed. Furthermore, it limits the efficiency of the business in utilising and developing other staff and becomes destructive over time.
ROI and Analysis
Kendall and Rollins, in Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO – Multiplying ROI at Warp Speed (2003: J Ross Publishers), note some of the keys to multiplying ROI using resourcing functions:
- Project managers must understand that resource constraints hurt their projects.
- The PMO must be trusted to resolve these resource constraints.
- Projects need to be specified according to resource-based project plans.
Realising these concerns, allows the resource manager to establish a resource pool and analyse it for efficiencies. When an efficiency analysis and skills audit is available, it allows the resource manager and executive management to understand and take a tactical, objective approach to match the supply of resources to the demand for them. Resources can be allocated, according to skills sets, to complete the tasks required as work packages – which is the intent of project management.
Tactically, a clear view of resource supply and demand allows for:
- Finding overloaded resources and shadowing them with underutilised resources.
- Understanding and managing the need for overtime.
- Hiring subcontractors and building resource partnerships.
- Cross-training less utilised resources.
- Pushing people into areas where they can be more effectively utilised.
- Deferring work until resources are more readily available.
- Outsourcing the lower-return elements of the work.
A regular (weekly) pipeline meeting around resourcing allows, then, for a clear discussion regarding new projects, likely timelines based on resource constraints, and tactical redirection to achieve revenue objectives. What it also allows for is resource multi-tasking. As a result, the resource is exposed to a wider range of implementation areas. This continuous learning curve creates valuable, experienced resources and lowers the training budget.
The irony, however, is that the more people learn, the more they realise that they still have so much to learn. Naturally, this then pushes up the training budget again – but this time it is because resources are contributing more effectively to revenue, and not simply because of a desire to conform to a set training plan. In other words, it is training that actually serves a purpose instead of training for training´s sake.
20 Techniques for Accelerating Project Performance
Below are some basic techniques to assist you in activating accelerated project value in your resource management organisation. Use it as a step-by-step checklist or as an implementation plan.
- Establish valid, well-thought-out project plans.
- Ensure that the primary stakeholders are involved with and committed to the project plan.
- Communicate expectations, progress and problems regularly.
- Involve stakeholders in the resource work package design.
- Perform a quality control review of requirements to prevent project rework.
- Perform risk analysis on the major components of the plan.
- Link projects to strategic goals and strategic goals to projects.
- Eliminate old/dead projects that do not add value to the organisation.
- Develop a high-level dashboard of your current project portfolio, resource portfolio and strategic goals.
- Track and report progress.
- Escalate non-performing projects to a governance board.
- Let experts mentor and/ or train your PMO staff.
- Establish a helpdesk or mechanism by which complaints, requests and new projects gets tracked and handled. This may also be a service delivery function that visits key clients to determine the real state of affairs.
- Do regular one-on-one customer satisfaction surveys with clients.
- Have a clear methodology that caters to your core delivery process – involve resource management functions in this methodology.
- Establish a corrective action culture.
- Establish the criteria for determining whether one project is more important than another and instil this discipline.
- Let staff train each other on project management disciplines and augment this with formal training from time to time.
- Establish a communication plan that conveys its value to the rest of the business.
- Conduct project reviews with your customers.