09 September 2008

Project and Resource Planning

Throughout more than 15 years of consulting I’ve come across consistent issues during project planning. One of them I would like to address is project resource planning.

Perhaps you are running an ERP project implementation. Maybe you are running an internal IT department and you have a new requirement, which comes from your company's CEO or from your consulting Sr. Vice President or from the Senior V.P. Client Sponsor. It is mission critical, with time deadlines and penalties (and yes money), if you do not hit the target date. The new project requires over 20 dedicated resources that are already 100 percent allocated to other projects or tasks. So what do you do?

a. Add a new project without adding resources, thereby delaying everything else, and ignoring the impacts?

b. Add a new project without adding resources, but, carefully plan the existing workloads and tasks for your team, thereby giving you the ability to inform your management of the likely impacts?

c. Add a new project, plan the required resources; add additional resources as a means to mitigate the likely impact to your other projects?

Too often I see project managers (PM) choosing option A, seriously. To add injury to insult, these same PM's create deadlines without sufficient milestones to measure progress or to gauge the amount of risk absorbed along the way.

How Does This Happen?

An ERP project will have scope creep. Add another module; increase the number of business processes to address; or increase the complexity of the task by training, not 500 people, but 5000 people. Maybe your company buys a new division from another company. You have until Christmas to migrate the other company’s ERP applications on to your company's production ERP system. Yes, all of these things have happened and continue to happen.

So what should the response be from Project Management? You may have no choice. It could be that you must complete these new tasks. However, without proper task planning (project plans, milestones and enough system/people test cycles) you are doomed to fail. How so? Missing deadlines is one common occurrence. If you go live, critical business processes might be unable to function at "Go Live", thereby costing your company much more than the monies saved by a one or two month delay. (The cost of failure is almost always more expensive than the cost of success.)

The proper response should be calculating the required resources needed and estimating the impact to your existing projects and tasks, assuming no increase to the available resources. Bear in mind that resources are not interchangeable. If you add a relatively inexperienced resource, that person will not replace the your senior resource you just committed to the new project. By completing this exercise, you can tell your management what the likely impacts are to existing projects, for both time lines and cost, as well as the non-monetary impacts such as employee frustration, long hours, mistakes, project and company morale.

In a coming chapter for our book we will discuss the basics of project planning and techniques on avoid the above problems, and how to inform management, even when they don’t want to listen or understand the pitfalls for poor planning.