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Resource management for programs

Chris Dwyer
April 7, 2011

Effective resource management continues to be a challenge for many programs, with availability being the number one resource selection criteria. Employment agencies continuing to thrive on urgent resource requests and internal HR and procurement groups continue to be expected to perform miracles. Why is program resource management so difficult?

A colleague recently agreed to recover a program showing signs of struggling. The team showed little belief that success was even possible. Some program areas were over resourced, while others were poorly resourced.

Commitments made by some business units had not been met, yet the process for engaging the different units was unclear. Some business units had good forecasting of what their resources were working on, others planned by crisis on a daily basis. Turnover of program resources was high, and knowledge loss and rework caused delays.

Project managers jostled for resources and competed for priority while pointing out other projects not delivering on interdependencies. Many of the team had been moved over from the last major program because it was convenient, but limited skills mapping had been done. Even though it had been known for weeks, the new program manager started with no desk, chair, laptop or phone on commencement. Sound familiar?

We often see programs approach resource management as a simple workforce planning exercise. Resource management within program environments is more than supply and demand and can be the difference between success and failure.

Projects have their share of resource management challenges, including poor engagement with resource owners, inadequate project planning and cross-project resource contention typically solved by project prioritisation. However, programs are unique.

Suffering from a lack of planning

Larger programs often struggle to mobilise effectively due to challenges in non-HR planning. Finding the right office space for the right price and availability, commissioning an office fit-out, phone as well as data connections, installed and working computers are all a logistical challenge for program mobilisation, consuming a great amount of energy just when the team needs to focus on HR planning.

From an HR planning perspective, programs are also unique as they touch many parts of the organisation, usually crossing business units, and the projects within the program often carry equal priority. Resource dependencies between projects tend to be more closely tied with increased single point dependencies.

The physical resources, such as test facilities, are likely to suffer greater contention on programs with multiple parallel projects. There can be multiple vendor relationships each with their own resource management challenges. While there is usually an expectation that projects undergo rigorous planning, programs are frequently not given the time to ‘plan’ the resultant total of the projects.

Recognising these differences, here are five top tips for HR management program success:

1. Early demand and supply visualisation

Achieving a visual representation of resource demand and supply for the entire program is as critical to program success as interdependency mapping, only then can the program realistically estimate delivery timeframes. Assuming different business units understand their capacity, capability and commitment in different ways, the program needs to select a modelling process that relates to each business unit’s existing processes. Models should also cater to part-time resources and may need to model ‘business as usual’ activity as well as program/project activity.

How to achieve this? A summarisation of resourced schedules into a master resource schedule; a separate lower technology system such as Excel; an enterprise resource or enterprise project management system? Experience indicates simple systems deliver 80 percent of possible value with 20 percent of effort compared to larger, more complex systems.

2. Internal engagement model (resource or outcome)

Lack of engagement is the cause for many resource management errors, therefore the internal engagement model is key to effective resource management. The engagement model needs to be agreed with all affected business units.

It must be clear on the difference between engaging a time-based resource on loan or secondment, or engaging an internal group for a deliverable or outcome. The process must also recognise the difference between a resource request and commitment.

Chris Dwyer
Chris Dwyer is a senior consultant and director of Core Consulting Group and has provided guidance to a range of organisations around PMO implementation and optimisation.
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