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Don’t be an Ostrich; Proactively Address Unpredictability about Project Resource Availability

DontbeanosterichA systemic lack of predictability regarding resource availability threatens to trump unmanaged scope creep, technical complexity and organization change resistance as the primary source of project risks.  Achieving an organization’s strategic objectives gets impacted as transformational projects require specialized skills that are in high demand and in low supply – this was admirably depicted by Scott Adams in a recent Dilbert cartoon ( 

The obvious solution to this is to either add more resources or take on less work in parallel. The first choice is usually unrealistic and success with the second is not achieved overnight.  Reducing the volume of multitasking is a key to more predictable throughput, but convincing senior management that you can actually do more by doing less is not easy. 

 In the interim, here are a few tactical steps that a project manager can take:

  1. Pity the poor resource manager who has competing demands on his/her resources’ time!  Unless your organization follows an objective project prioritization approach, priorities are likely set by whoever screams loudest.  In this situation, your best chance of improving resource availability predictability is to have a positive relationship with these resource managers so that they will try to be as considerate as possible with your resource needs.  If you are really lucky, they may even be motivated to assess and modify the resources’ operational duties to help you out.
  2. Reduce the degree of project internal multitasking – it’s bad enough that your team members are likely working on other projects as well as operational activities, but at least try to avoid their having to context switch between tasks on your project! 
  3. Multitasking creates inefficiency as a result of context switching. Reduce the effort wasted in context switching by simplifying the ramp up/ramp down for team members.  One way to do this is to decompose work activities to a low enough level of detail, so individual tasks can be accomplished within one or two context switching cycles at most.
  4. If your organization does not have a standard PM methodology, work with your peer project managers to define a consistent set of expectations for team member progress and issue management.  If a resource knows that the reporting requirements are consistent across the concurrent projects they are assigned to, that’s one less thing for them to worry about learning (and re-learning!).
  5. Walk a mile in their shoes. When team members have multiple projects and operational activities to complete, increase the likelihood that they will want to work on yours by ensuring they understand how their tasks (and the success of the project as a whole) will benefit the organization and them.  Remove as many barriers to their being able to efficiently complete their tasks as possible. That means no unnecessary meetings and be sure to streamline project administration and communications as much as possible!  Take a page from agile approaches and embrace the role of a project manager as being responsible for clearing the hurdles from the team’s path.

Resource availability unpredictability is here to stay. You can make like an ostrich, stick your head in the sand and hope the problem goes away. Or you can take some tactical steps to increase the odds of success for your project, while simultaneously evangelizing the merits of reduced multitasking!

Which is it to be?

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