Align IT Resources to Improve Project Throughput

By Jeff Monteforte

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I’ve discussed in past articles how I believe and have experienced results that show that project portfolio management (PPM) is the single most essential IT governance control that can improve a tarnished image for the IT department.

PPM is a governance discipline made up of several, specialized and individual disciplines. Some the more significant individual disciplines include demand management, business case analysis, and resource management.

Out of all of them though, it is a structured and well-administered practice of resource management, properly integrated into your PPM process, which can save the day when you need to squeeze more blood from the proverbial IT stone.

Resource Optimization

Common sense will tell you if you place the skills and resources that best match the needs of a project, said project will be completed as fast as possible and with the best possible quality. Unfortunately, in the fluid business environment that IT departments must function, this “perfect” allocation of resources to projects is virtually impossible to achieve.

The next best option—and an option that is achievable—is to construct a resource management control process that endeavors to maintain an optimized resource-to-project distribution.

In simple terms, the resource management function aims to achieve two simultaneous goals: place the best available resource on a project in order to maximize the project’s potential for success, and to ensure a high-level of resource utilization to avoid unnecessary expense and a bloated IT staff.

IT Master Schedule

As a starting point, an effective resource management function requires one essential input from an earlier PPM step: a master schedule of all approved IT projects.

If you’ve built an effective IT master schedule you should be able to see all of your project demand for a predetermined window of time (i.e., rolling 18-months) in a single report.

The master schedule is the heart of the PPM process. It is the end result of the up-front work of collecting, coordinating, and evaluating new project ideas.

Following other guidelines I’ve presented to you in the past, the master schedule should organize the portfolio of projects into the major categories of non-discretionary (regulatory, legal, production support, etc.), large discretionary (strategic, informational, transactional, and infrastructure), and small discretionary (small system enhancements falling under a predetermined threshold, such as 500 IT resource hours, or $100,000 in total cost).

The master schedule shows you not only the projects currently active, but also those approved projects awaiting resources. In other words, it shows you a pipeline of the next wave of IT projects that your organization will be working on in the near future.

If constructed appropriately, each category and each project within the individual categories will have an explicit stack-ranked priority. In other words, if there are 50 projects on your master schedule you should see each project assigned a priority from one to 50.

This priority ranking is one of the essential keys to successful resource planning.

The Resource Management Method

In addition to the master schedule, an effective resource management method (RMM) must include three fundamental disciplines leading up to optimized resource management: resource pool and skills inventory; high-level capacity planning; and cross-project resource planning.

RMM: The foundational information required to enable an effective resource management function is the information that describes the pool of resources available to you and the skills available within that pool of resources.

Some organizations refer to this information as a “skills inventory”, but it is comprised of more data than just a simple inventory of skills.

A more sophisticated skills inventory will associate the required skills and the level of competency to each role that you use in your organization. But this association is a secondary step and not an essential requirement to get your resource management function started.

High-level Capacity Planning: Your initial, high-level capacity planning should provide focus on critical skills within the organization by highlighting capacity and demand overloads by organizational unit, project or roles.

Using the previously described skills inventory as the source of available resources, the capacity planning function matches the skills and experience of individual employees with prioritized corporate initiatives on the IT master schedule.

Each project from the master schedule must have high-level resource estimates associated with it before resource planning can occur. Once established, the fundamental capabilities of a high-level capacity planning process allows resource managers and resource schedulers to staff projects quickly by searching for resources by name, role, availability, skills and resource pool.

Cross-project Resource Planning: Individuals are removed from the pool of available resources based on the priority established by the IT master schedule. This continues until all resources of the pool are committed to one or more projects.

Once accomplished, this provides insight into the organization's portfolio, showing how overall work (demand) compares with overall resource availability (capacity). It gives you the ability to see resource constraints by role and skill, as well as conduct "what-if" type analyses on projects to simulate different project scenarios where demand is shifted to prevent overcapacity.

In some cases, a lower ranking project may not be fully staffed. It is at this point that an overall staffing policy would kick in. For instance, your policy may say for continually constrained roles such as project manager and DBA it is acceptable to pursue an external resource if it allows the project to start a minimum of 30 days sooner.

Finally, your capacity plan must be continually refined as each individual project moves through the project lifecycle.

Jeff Monteforte is president of Exential, a Cleveland, OH.-based information strategy consulting firm, which specializes in IT governance, information security and business intelligence solutions. He can be reached at jmonteforte@exentialonline.com.