One of the first topics that I discuss with a new client when starting a big digital project is resourcing, as experience has taught me that limitations in capacity, technical capability or lack of engagement are often amongst the top causes of disorder, disruption, or delay.
From the bias position of a Project Manager, I would like to believe that upon embarking on a new project, each member of the team is both able and willing to clear their diaries and dedicate at least a day a week to our cause, and unlimited time to the most time-consuming tasks such as attending discovery workshops, reviewing and signing off a specification, data migration, script writing, training, and user acceptance testing. However, this is an unrealistic ask.
As an external consultant we do not have the benefit of insight into business-as-usual work peaks and troughs or annual leave patterns, nor do we understand how work is delegated when the individual and team responsible for it are unavailable. On top of that, with a lot of the workforce having a backlog of holiday to take, we’re used to seeing a push from employers for leave to be taken before the end of the year, which makes resourcing and availability even more difficult to predict and manage.
When it comes to resource planning, we rely on our project teams letting us know how much time they are able to commit to each activity that we present in a project plan. At times, the resource that the client is able to provide is less than required so we must think outside of the box to stick to the project plan, despite missing key subject matter experts or being short of hands.
Some of the options that I have tried and tested with success across my recent projects have been the following:
When we know in advance that a key decision maker is not available at an important time, the option of a deputy being assigned in their absence proves very successful. Formally appointing a deputy subject matter expert gives a sense of ownership and responsibility, and as long as the deputy feels empowered in their new position, it removes the blocker of waiting for the original decision maker to become available.
Divide and conquer
When a business area is required to input on different areas of the project at the same time, a good option to ensure that both areas receive sufficient attention is splitting the business team and having each half take responsibility for a certain task, and then to later meet and debrief and bring the other half up to speed. This way, each activity is completed by someone with an understanding of the business area needs, but the time requirement on the whole team is halved.
Prioritisation and rolling review of deadlines
When there are various activities assigned to the team across different areas of the project with competing deadlines it is difficult to keep on track of them all. A Project Manager can provide support at this time by bringing all tasks together into one email chain or tracker, providing a deadline next to each, an estimated time to complete, an indication of the importance of the task, and putting these in order of priority for the project team to work through. It’s also useful to build in constraints such as annual leave, events, or time-consuming routine tasks to indicate how project tasks can fit in around availability.
Backfilling business as usual roles
Whilst this option is not available to all organisations, and of course incurs costs, a favourable option is to allow members of the project team to step away from their business-as-usual roles for significant period of times around key milestones, with the reassurance that another resource, internal or external, is picking up their day-to-day workload. This approach should also increase system uptake as the more time that the team can dedicate to familiarising themselves with the system, the more likely they are to see the benefits in using it, thus engagement will improve.
There are of course other solutions which may be better suited.
If there are no budget constraints, temporary test managers can offer a lot of support in the run up to, and during user acceptance testing.
If there is not a hard go-live date, an option could be to extend deadlines to allow each subject matter area to dedicate sufficient time to the project alongside their other responsibilities and general availability.
Or, if the project work trumps all other priorities, a decision could be made to pause or rearrange business-as-usual work to fit around project tasks.
Finally, a hybrid approach could be taken, encompassing several of these other options to work around your organisation’s needs to ensure that project work does not become a burden to the people who are fuelling its success, but can run nicely alongside your annual leave, events, and workload peaks.