My Approach to Strategic Resource Planning

Why it matters

Do you have the right mix of resources for tomorrow’s projects? How about next week or even next month? As I was building Knectar it always felt the like the answer was “I don’t know” instead of “of course”. This has always been the biggest gripe running my own business and as it turned out, is a problem shared by the vast majority of service companies like mine. For companies executing projects on behalf of clients (e.g. web development, marketing agencies, consultants and CPAs) this uncertainty is a fundamental business problem.

Unlike larger corporations, agencies and professional services firms cannot solve this problem by adding additional layers of management to distribute work to individual contributors. We have a keen need to minimize overhead and every FTE has a huge impact on our operating margins. Nonetheless, the problem is so acute, a new role “Resource Manager” (or “Traffic coordinator”) has arisen to solve it. Our research suggests this becomes a full-time job as surprisingly low head counts. I’ve seen agencies with as few as 15 people requiring a full-time resource manager. This is in addition to their line up of project managers and the owner is still managing Human Resources.

This is occurring because our current tools force us into Gantt chart level specifics to model capacity needs for future projects.

Think about that statement and the information you have to estimate future resource needs; budget, hours per role, and timelines. These are the most important aspects of modeling resource needs and can be estimated with reasonable accuracy on the fly. As a manager, you know roughly how much design work vs development work will be needed. The shortfall arises when attempting to aggregate estimates for all projects, prove it and communicate it to the team.

We solve this problem with the best tools available, which are spreadsheets, Gantt charts, SAAS scheduling tools, etc. Unlike our on the fly estimates which are top down, these project management tools require a bottom-up analysis of a project to provide value. This is fantastic for tactical project planning and execution. Their ability to break projects into individual tasks, dependencies, start dates and work-hours is an asset for scheduling and work allocation, but are a liability for long-term resource planning and project modeling. They force us into the weeds to define specific project variables too early in the process and the additional time does not result in more accurate strategic resource planning.


Plan future projects, but plan quickly

Our experience combined with working with early users has confirmed that resources, budget, and timelines are the three key variables at stake when planning for future projects. Top managers are estimating values for these on the fly and attempt to model the tradeoffs between at the project and company level. For example, if you add resources and budget you can complete a project faster, but may need to bump another project or hire. This, of course, is a function with predefined inputs and outputs! This means it can be solved at scale if the components can be modeled in an intuitive format. I had this realization about 5 years ago and began trying to solve the problem for my team. I started working on an internal process and accompanying application to use at Knectar. I am now at a point in the process where I want to share my approach.   

My approach to strategic resource planning:

1

Define the budget, start date, and the number of hours needed from each type of resource/skill to execute a project. For example: 50 hours development, 65 hours design, 25 hours project management.

My estimates for Williston:

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 10.14.21 AM.png

2

Map the estimates on a timeline based on weekly workloads and account for how/when the roles will actually be contributing to the project. For example: I account for ramp up/down time and when roles will start contributing to the project. A project manager (blue curve)  will typically start working on a project before the developers (purple)

Williston in the project modeler

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3

Repeat steps 1 and 2 every time new projects are added to my pipeline. I add projects when I can do ballpark estimates for workload per role. The modeling takes about 5 minutes.

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 8.55.58 AM.png

4

Map all the projects on the same timeline and look for resourcing gaps! With the tool I built, this now happens automatically! Before I did this manually in Excel and it did not look this good.

Insufficient project work.png

5

When a project is confirmed and nears its start date (4 weeks out for me), provide the project model to my project manager as a starting point for their tactical Gantt charts. I have found using this as a starting point has simplified the project manager’s discovery process and increased accuracy of the project schedule.

I’ve been using this approach and tool at Knectar for years and it’s served us well. We’ve honed the process over the years and my friends/colleagues finally convinced me to open it up to the public. The screenshots in this post are actually from our live Beta! The success I had is already translating into a more predictable resourcing model for a handful of early beta customers. If you want to give it a try, get in touch!

Get in touch:

Chris Amato @ chris.amato@carv.io

 
Chris Lee