Got Staff?

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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No one wants to be understaffed and unable to meet key objectives or, conversely, overstaffed and forced to lay off workers. However, achieving optimal personnel levels isn’t always easy, particularly when you’re faced with fluctuating workload demands and changing business conditions.

The key to staffing success is developing a strategic plan that takes into account long-term objectives as well as short-term needs. Rather than just responding to situations at the last minute, you can hire more proactively.

Here are some steps to help you gain more control over your personnel situation:

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Add it up. At least once a year, you should analyze your team’s workload. Using a spreadsheet, estimate how many work hours your employees’ activities require each month. For instance, network security issues might take 20 hours, software installations and upgrades 40 hours, and so on.

Be sure to list recurring projects, such as a biannual assessment of IT needs throughout the company, as well as special one-time initiatives that may be ahead.

To gain a better idea of typical workloads, evaluate employee activity reports and talk to managers in your group. Try to form as accurate a picture as possible of common demands, but don’t worry if you can’t gather precise numbers on hours devoted to each task; you can still generate a meaningful analysis with estimates.

Next, consider the resources available to meet those needs by calculating how many hours your employees work each month—one programmer working nine hours a day, with 20 workdays in a month, can put in a total of 180 hours, for instance.

If your applications development group has four programmers working the same number of hours, you’d have access to 720 “person hours” each month. Yet, if you have an average of 790 hours worth of work in upcoming months, you won’t have enough people to get the assignments done, particularly should unexpected demands arise.

Strategize. Before you place a job advertisement for more programmers, think carefully about the appropriate staffing solution. A consistent pattern of work exceeding the person hours of available employees is a good indicator that you need additional full-time personnel.

Otherwise, if workloads fluctuate or there is only a short-term need for assistance, consider bringing in project IT professionals. For instance, your company may be planning to implement a new database application, which will require training and extra technical support as employees master the basics.

The staffing requirements of a typical IT department can quickly change due to new technologies and expectations, so make sure you’re not rushing to automatically fill vacant positions. There may be a more pressing need to add personnel in other areas, create new roles within the team or restructure the old positions.

For instance, your previous IT manager may have focused most of her attention on reducing expenses and getting the most out of existing technology. However, now that your organization is undergoing expansion, you may need someone in that role who’s highly skilled at developing IT strategy and managing new projects. Or you may discover that the job responsibilities for the position can be redistributed among existing employees.

Stay on track. Be sure to recalculate workloads and evaluate your staffing practices on a regular basis, not just when your firm is faced with an urgent situation, such as a major initiative or employee turnover.

Solicit input from your staff: Their front-line insights may give you a new perspective on what’s needed.

Some questions to ask include: ·

  • How would they describe their workloads: manageable or overwhelming?
  • ·
  • Do they think more full-time staff or project professionals would improve the team? If so, what skill sets do they think are needed most?
  • ·
  • How has the use of consultants made a difference in the department? Were they brought in at the appropriate time? Were they satisfied with those hired to support the group?
  • ·
  • Were any project professionals with whom they’ve worked strong candidates for full-time positions?
  • The best staffing strategies are flexible and evolve over time. What worked well six months ago may not be appropriate today, so it’s critical to stay on top of trends. With adequate personnel levels at all times, you’ll be in a stronger position to meet whatever IT demands come your way.

    Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.