Our prospects put a voice to those numbers, with complaints such as “I’ve invested so much money and time in project management training, different software tools, and sophisticated measurement techniques. I’m still not delivering on time consistently – or viewed as successful by my management. And my project managers are frustrated too.”
Indeed, it’s a constant battle. The good news is that we’re starting to see a way out of this frustrating pattern. This is partly due to new advancements in software tools that better support the project lifecycle, but also due to a growing recognition by senior IT executives that improving project outcomes starts at the top.
Core to this effort is learning how to optimize your resource utilization across all of IT – which ultimately will give you the planning flexibility you need to keep the right people on the right projects. Additionally, when faced with the all-too-common unplanned change request, you will know exactly what your trade-offs are and what choices you can offer your business customers. Making such informed choices will reduce the number of projects in jeopardy.
A focus on achieving this type of strategic agility requires a shift from two predominant resource management approaches that have thus far impeded project management success rates:
1. Maintaining a narrow focus on time-tracking systems. Capturing time is a key component of resource management, but when it is not implemented with a parallel top-down resource planning process, the quality and value of the data is greatly limited. No question, capturing end-user time will allow you to perform after-the-fact trend analyses – but it can’t help with up-front planning or determining how an unplanned change is going to affect critical projects mid-stream.
This puts IT in a perpetually reactive mode. You also run the risk of end-users ultimately abandoning the time tracking effort if they do not see how their data is being used to improve overall project outcomes. Simply put, time tracking is necessary for effective resource management, but it is not sufficient without support for high-level planning processes that bridge planning with reality.
2. Lack of workflow automation for key processes. Invariably when I hear a customer – particularly a large customer – tell me they track projects, budgets and resources separately in various stand-alone tools, I know at minimum they have project management efficiency problems and that they are definitely not able to harness the power of the data trapped within the spreadsheets or other manual tools.
Additionally, without any automation to enforce a consistent project methodology, you will also get inconsistent data as project teams capture data of their choosing – not necessarily what the business needs to make smart decisions.
Six Best Practices for Achieving Strategic Planning Agility
As a software development executive who has spent many years creating products for the project and portfolio management market, I’ve arrived at the following as best practices for getting an enterprise resource management initiative started and sustained. Fortunately, the industry now has examples of customers who are achieving better outcomes – so I am hopeful that today’s project outcome trends soon will reverse to the positive.
1. Secure and maintain executive management support. Gaining and sustaining top-level support and commitment from senior executives is essential for implementing a successful enterprise resource management initiative. When I hear a customer struggling to maintain momentum for their implementation, it is almost always because executive management has not clearly and firmly communicated its support. Project managers and end users need to know that their work and the information they put into the tracking system is necessary and valued by senior management.
The most successful example I’ve seen to secure adoption and keep it going is when executive management bonuses are tied to the adoption of the solution. A real-time dashboard that shows how the adoption status of an IT executive’s enterprise resource management solution (via the familiar red, yellow and green status indicators) adds a layer of visibility that also taps into the natural competitiveness amongst managers. Nobody likes to be in the red – or lose their bonus!
2. Adopt a combined top-down/bottom-up approach. This tactic incorporates resource management into strategic, upfront planning processes so you can build an enterprise view of resource utilization over time. At this stage, you are defining the roles needed to accomplish the work and estimating the time each role will be needed on the project. I call this particular tool a staffing profile.
Then, as the project moves from proposal to acceptance through to execution, the staffing profile becomes a real representation of your resources and their project and non-project work activities. By showing executive commitment to resource planning and allocation, you are telling your end users that inputting their time is necessary and valuable to the business. Additionally, using a consistent top-down/bottom up approach will help you create a single system of record that can be relied upon to give managers a view of where actual time is being spent.
Adopting just one of the approaches – top-down or bottom-up – tends not to work very well. A top-down approach that typically does not incorporate actuals from the end user community will be a forecasting tool that does not get refined as actuals start coming in – and thus remains just a forecasting tool. Conversely, if a time-tracking system is put into place but does not feed reliable information into the planning cycles, you will simply have collected data that reflects what has taken place – placing you in a perennially re-active mode.
3. Aggregate all IT demand – not just project work. Many times organizations focus on tracking the demand for IT projects but do not integrate the work that these same resources will do for non-project operational work. As a result, resources can be overbooked and projects begin to slip. Without including operational work into the overall resource planning process, it is impossible to accurately forecast a project cost and delivery date. Taking a lifecycle view of the project process is essential. This includes initial proposal acceptance, project execution, and then asset maintenance. At each of these project stages resources will need to be planned and accounted for.
By aggregating all your IT demand, you will gain the visibility to see what is really being asked of IT – and then you can start to assess how you will meet it. You can also better prioritize your projects so that they really do align with business goals.
4. Don’t over-engineer early efforts. A high degree of project maturity is not required to get an enterprise resource initiative started and for IT to quickly realize value. Start with a resource management model that reflects your organization’s maturity level both at the executive and end-user levels. This is critical to ensure that initial foundational processes are adopted. If it is too complex, people will abandon.
Once you have a process that works, you then can evolve the maturity as your organization matures. For example, start your top-down approach by using staffing profiles that allow you to forecast how you will meet demand. At the end-user level, roll out tools that end users can easily use for time tracking, with the best being those that offer automation and enforcement. This ensures the data you get back can be relied upon to make important decisions across your entire IT portfolio.
5. Automate the request for resources. Automating the resource request process will greatly streamline resource requests, approvals and assignments. You can include outsourcers and multi-sourcers by making them just another group within the workflow. Start by automating simple processes. Then, as you gain transparency into all the work that resources are doing (project and non-project) you will be able to expedite decision making and better utilization of your people.
Centralizing resource requests by establishing resource pool managers is one approach I’ve seen work very well, particularly in large organizations. However, I’ve also witnessed many organizations gain tremendous benefit simply by establishing consistent resource request processes that are enforced by automated workflows. With either approach, you will quickly curtail ad-hoc or side-door work requests that derail valuable resources and are one of the biggest contributors to project delays and budget overruns.
6. Measure and communicate – early and often. I can’t say enough about how important it is to communicate to your stakeholders. The customers with the most successful project outcomes know how to measure and communicate throughout the company.
Start by focusing on achieving incremental value and communicating achievement of critical milestones to all stakeholders. This will provide you with momentum needed to sustain your implementation as it evolves within your organization. Do take advantage of real-time dashboards to easily show statistics – such as how your IT organization is improving its on-time delivery dates, reigning in costs, and increasing satisfaction with your business constituents.
Remember, implementing a resource management solution does not need to be overly complex. However, it is critical that your approach be embraced and sustained at both the executive and end-user levels – both are critical to your success. Applying technologies that give you a complete picture of all the demand placed on your organization as well as your capacity to meet this demand is equally essential.
Gaining such real-time insight will give you the flexibility to offer your business customers informed choices as you respond to the unplanned changes that are increasingly the norm and not the exception. Such agility will transform the way you interact with your business customers and help you create the right conditions to significantly improve your project outcomes.
Robert Lee is the Global Practice Director for Project & Portfolio Management & Lifecycle Solutions within HP Software Professional Services. He has held a number of senior positions over the past 12 years within product management and services all focused on ensuring that IT management software applications result in tangible customer value. Lee started his career working for Oracle Corporation as an application developer.