guestbloggerGraham Jones (Surrey, BC - IT Professional)

The Problem

In a project environment it is an ongoing challenge to match human resource requirements and skills to project and proposal demands. You need to try and avoid a surplus, which goes straight to the bottom line, or a deficit, thereby affecting schedules, which may bring project penalties and/or poor client relations. There is no perfect solution by virtue of the fact that there are so many variables. So what to do?

It’s Not About The Tools But About The Data

Today there are many computer tools which make the collection and processing of data easier. However, improving the mechanics doesn’t necessarily improve the end result. It is, and has always been, about the quality of the data. RIRO (rubbish in – rubbish out). So this is where we have to focus.

Starting Out On The Right Foot

Regardless of whether we are talking about an internal or external project there is a “sales/marketing” component up front. Before the project goes ahead there is usually some “negotiation” around cost and schedule for a given product specification. During this process it is all too easy to lose sight of where you started from. Do you “pad” your figures with the expectation of a negotiated reduction, but possibly risk “early elimination”, or do you try to be “lean” to be competitive up front? At first sight it might seem that this only applies to external, commercially based projects but internally you are still competing for “project dollars”. The problem is that regardless of your approach the “client/stakeholders” will not feel satisfied without some element of negotiation. All attempts at convincing the client that you have given them realistic numbers are likely to be met with skepticism. As a PM I have been on the receiving end of the outcome of these negotiations only to discover that the project couldn’t possibly be done for the final cost or schedule. Cost and schedule are very closely inter-related, something which is often overlooked during the negotiations. There is nothing more demoralizing for the PM than to have to start from such a position. This often leads to requests for the better performing people (see below) in the hope that it will make a difference. All projects should be estimated based upon an “average” performance. If there are problems, experience tells us that you cannot “right the ship” after the project is 25% complete. Pouring in more resources, at extra cost, may (or may not) prevent further deterioration but at a suboptimal efficiency. You can only get so many “flies around the jam pot”.

How Sure Are You?

Estimating project costs is notoriously difficult especially for one-of projects. Assuming that there is a good project definition (sadly not always the case) and if the fundamentals of project work breakdown structure are carefully followed at least you should have a reasonable handle on the work to be performed. The next step is to determine the amount and type of resources required. This is the tricky part! In the engineering industry, where I spent a large part of my career, published metrics have been developed over many years to assist. Even then they must be used carefully because every project tends to have some unique characteristics and specifics to the business. For example, estimating a fixed price process technology project is totally different from a time and materials project, the former being much more difficult and higher risk. How many times have you heard people say, “this project is exactly like project X”, and unwisely rushed ahead on that basis? Ultimately there is no substitute for either developing your own metrics or modifying published metrics to suit your own experience.

In part 2 I will discuss the “picture” of what we are aiming for and the conflicts of resource allocation.