How To Resource A Project

A guide on what to consider when planning your project resources.

Chef putting team together

The conventional wisdom on project and programme scheduling has it that if you increase the amount of resource the time taken to completion will reduce. Software scheduling tools will work all this out for you providing they have been set up correctly but what should you as the project leader be considering from the outset? We are of course talking about people here in terms of resource, a somewhat impersonal description it has to be said.

Perhaps the first thing to consider is the type of project itself. By this we mean is it a multi-phase project with each phase having different characteristics – a design phase followed by some form of implementation? Such projects require different skill sets within the project team and significant time and energy spent on providing the lead by the project manager. Is it a project that spans a number of different functions and disciplines? Again, significant effort will be required to ensure a common understanding is maintained across the project team.

So back to increased resources leading to reduced timescales. Where this is straightforward to envisage is in projects or phases of projects that have a clear line of sight to the end.

Let’s consider a construction project to upgrade a section of road. There will be a phase of the project that is involved in working out designs and plans that will be conducted by a relatively small team of specialists. Would increasing the number of experts at this stage speed things up? Probably not – definitely a case of ‘more cooks spoiling the broth’. Once the design work has been completed and we get into the construction phase there are different disciplines at work that’s for sure. What is also different is that it is very clear what’s required to get from the starting point to the successful finish point. Would increasing the project workforce in this construction phase help reduce timescales to completion? Almost certainly yes, notwithstanding any practicalities involved.

This example is perhaps one where increasing resourcing can also mean using separate teams so that shift-work can be carried out to further speed up completion. It would be difficult to conceive of how such an approach might be adopted in the earlier design phase. Just how much extra resource is used needs to be a judgment based on the actual costs involved and that of managed any extra resources (key if multiple shifts are used) and the expected return for completing in an earlier timeframe.

[Tip: Remember that clients may not have the funds to pay early as their budgeting systems may prevent them from doing so. It is essential to maintain a good and open relationship with sponsors and clients when considering such changes.]

There are three aspects to consider when scheduling your resources or changing them in an existing project:

  1. Project Type – R&D or design projects require set skills and disciplines and need time to come up with workable solutions. Adding more architects to the design team for a new building design will only bring in different opinions that will have to managed – all this adds time. A project with a straight line of sight between start and finish such as in construction or coding (after the software design is complete) will benefit from increased resourcing – but keep an eye on the ROI.
  2. Project Team – a project team that is more or less from one discipline could well benefit from an increase in numbers providing they take into account the type of project as mentioned above. Where this gets awkward though is when the team is multi-disciplinary. What project leaders/managers often forget is that by increasing the size of their team they have to put in place sufficient time and effort to ensure the communication between different disciplines is maintained. This in itself may require extra team members.
  3. Project Complexity – A project that consists of different phases requiring different skills and functions and a project team that comprises different disciplines who have to work together is complex. Add to that distributed teams and team members perhaps working in different parts of the world in different languages (and business cultures) and delivering their elements of the project in different counties and you have a truly complex project. If you have some of these elements (and there are many more) you must ensure you have sufficient resource to lead and manage the project team itself. This may seem obvious but what is needed here is the acknowledgement that leading and managing the team is part and parcel of the project and not merely an administrative overhead. Without it, no project gets delivered.

In Summary

No two projects or programmes are the same so when faced with having to schedule resources ensure you don’t just think about what’s been done before. Consider the project type and its complexity together with the skills and disciplines needed in the project team. Once you have done that there’s just the small task of going out and recruiting the right project team members.

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Providing the Lead

Group of WomenWhen it comes to the successful delivery of pieces of work it seems to me that the one thing that stands out above all else is how people co-operate and collaborate to ‘get the job done’. Now this isn’t saying that technology, processes, systems and methodologies are of no use, of course they are, they allow people to gain an understanding of how to complete their tasks and assist in that completion. Those systems and methodologies are worthless on their own. It is only their intelligent use by human beings that enables work to move forward and projects to be delivered.

Everyone who has been on a training course will remember what it is like to be given a task as a group and told to go away and come back in a set period of time with your group’s answer. There are many things at play here not least of which is the development of a group dynamic for the period of the course (or maybe just that one task). What often happens though is that after a period of everyone talking about what needs to be done and how it could be achieved one individual starts to provide the lead. It might be soon after the group has been told to start or it may take some time.

How long it takes for that leader to come forward does in itself say something about individual drives. Does the self appointed-leader who comes forward straight away believe they are best placed or are they used to taking control in situations? What are the thoughts of the leader who gradually appears from the pack after a period of time? Did they get frustrated at the lack of action in moving forward or did they decide that as no-one else had done so they had better get on with it as they were running out of time and wouldn’t achieve their goal? Whatever their reasoning the fact that they took the plunge and started to provide the lead allows everyone else in the group to stop worrying about that aspect of the group working and start concentrating on the task at hand.

So does this happen back in the workplace? Well, perhaps not when we are thinking about the appointment of CEOs but throughout each and every organization every day of the year there are situations where groups of people have to come together to achieve particular tasks or projects. A leader will be appointed for significant projects but even in this instance there will be parts of the project when his or her specialist knowledge and experience doesn’t fit the need of the piece of work. Rather than blundering through and trying to make it work more experienced and self-aware leaders will let the best person for that aspect of work come to the for. Better still, if they ask for someone better suited to step forward they are sending out a huge message of trust in their project team.

The training course scenario is more often replicated when groups of individuals are obliged to collaborate in order to get their normal business objectives achieved. Some people will automatically assume the lead, which can help or hinder depending on the way they approach it or the culture of the organization. Other groupings will work together co-operatively for a period of time until maybe only an outsider looking in will recognize that one individual is directing operations.

All groups of people who need to achieve tasks or projects will have someone within their midst who is providing the lead. That individual may be self-appointed and may or may not be fully accepted by the rest of the group or they may emerge over a period of time as the one person steering the group forward towards their goal. 

Getting Teams Working

Organizations deliver what they do by grouping people together in teams to meet specific requirements. The ability to choose who is part of a team does not always fall to the team leader as they may well be appointed to head up a pre-existing team. Nevertheless, the team leader needs to pay particular attention to make sure the team operates as a team and delivers what is needed.

Get The Benefits of Teamwork

Having a team of people putting their efforts towards one goal make sense to most but think for a moment about examples of when teams (or groups if you prefer) haven’t delivered as they might have been expected to. The only reason a team is put together is to achieve more than what one individual can. This can be in terms of the volume of work required or because of the need to utilize diverse skills and competences that rarely exist in one individual.

The phrase ‘delivering more than the sum of its parts’ is especially true of teams that are working well together. This requires good communication within the team and a common understanding of what needs to be done at any point in time.

The issue of team leadership can be a tricky one. While an organization may give someone a title of Team Leader there may well be occasions when others within the team take the lead when they are best suited to it. This is indicative of a team that is working really well together and also of a mature leader who recognizes when best to allow others to step up to the mark.

Avoid Groupthink

Groupthink is when an idea within a group of people develops and through increasing enthusiasm and often a lack of external input, can develop into something that is flawed in some way.

No-one would ever question or criticize a team for being overly enthusiastic about their work but there has to be a check every now and again as to the direction it is taking. This may be the role the formal team leader chooses to take although they may well be driving enthusiastically in a particular direction. If this is the case then someone else in the team or outside of the team needs to be given the authority and permission to interrupt and ask the question “Is this thing going the way it ought to?”

The Right Mix

Having the right mix of skills, specialisms, experience and attitudes for the work the team needs to carry out seems pretty straightforward enough. The danger is that teams are often put together by concentrating almost exclusively on the required skills and specialist ‘technical’ knowledge. The attitudes and (so called) soft-skills are far too often ignored. Indeed, this can be how teams get themselves into a groupthink situation with similar people backing up and supporting each other without considering any wider perspectives.

If needed, there are many psychometric tools around to help assess potential candidates for teams that a leader, experienced or not, could use to assist in getting the right mix. At the end of the day it is the balance of specialist skills and knowledge and inter-personal skills that make or break a team.

Plan For The Future

Unless the team only needs to be in place for a short period of time then considering how it needs to change as time moves on is critical. The work the team is involved in is likely to evolve and the team shape and structure will need to adapt accordingly. Individual team members may leave the team for any number of reasons and the team leader needs to consider how to deal with these situations. Some team members may be more important to team success (relatively so) than others so some form of contingency plan needs to be in place should they leave.

It may well be the case that the team needs a re-fresh every now and again to prevent it becoming stale. Moving people on and bringing in new team members will require specific effort on behalf of the team leader. When this happens the team leader has to consider that they have a new team in place as any change in team membership will change the skills, knowledge, experience and attitude of the team as a whole.

Getting teams to work well towards the delivery of their given goals is far more than just stating those goals and expecting them to be delivered. Significant effort on behalf of the team leader needs to be put into developing and nurturing the individuals within the team. The amount of effort required can often come as a surprise to newly appointed and inexperienced team leaders who often concentrate on what they know best, i.e. their own specific area of expertize.

To get the most from a team you need to:

  1. Make sure you have the right combination of people in terms of their skills, experience, knowledge and attitudes.
  2. Be wary of Groupthink especially if you have a team of similar individuals – put in place mechanisms to inject external questioning of direction if needed.
  3. Let the most appropriate person lead on any individual aspect of work that the team is involved in and make sure that person is supported.
  4. Think about how to deal with changes to key team members and consider a team re-fresh either to meet changing needs or to bring in new ideas.
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Do Your Project Meetings Deliver?

How many of us have spent hours on end at project meetings wondering just why it was that we were invited and wishing we could get out of them and go and do something more interesting instead?  So maybe the senior stakeholder meetings need to have a wide representation to ensure the governance of the project is working well but let’s face it, these should only be quarterly or bi-monthly at most.  It’s when the wide stakeholder base gets involved with regular project meetings that the focus starts to shift from project delivery to meeting attendance.

All organizations have their own project culture which dictates what meetings happen and who is expected to attend.  The key word here is ‘expected’ because anyone can make a reasoned argument to attend any meeting however tenuous the connection.  The skill of the Project Manager comes in ensuring only those that have direct relevance to a project attend meetings.  This means negotiating and influencing different stakeholder groups and undoubtedly ruffling a few feathers on the way.

To prevent project meeting attendance becoming an industry in its own right I strongly recommend a thorough review of the meeting structure and cutting out any that have wide stakeholder attendance.  Combining meetings is another way to reduce time but be careful that in doing so you don’t start to build up the meeting attendance again so that it becomes un-manageable.  As a goal, aim to reduce the number of project meetings and time spent on them by 50%.

There is one type of meeting I’d never get rid of and that of course is the regular Progress Meeting.  For these to be of any use you have to ensure you get the right attendance, the bare minimum I would suggest – your core team. 

How often? – weekly is best and at the start of the week.  A Monday Morning Meeting to kick the week off looking at what happened last week and what needs to happen in the coming seven days is an absolute must.  Only switch to daily meetings at peak times, perhaps towards the delivery end of the project but try to avoid this wherever possible as it can start to re-generate the meetings culture again.

How Long? – 30 minutes maximum should be enough to get through all necessary discussion.  This requires good meeting skills on behalf of the Project Manager (or whoever else might lead) and team members.  If 30 minutes seems tough then go for 60 minutes to start with and aim to reduce down to 30 once you get into the swing of things.

Where? – It is so tempting to just pull chairs together in an office and hold a meeting there but the distractions can be huge.  It’s far better to remove yourself and find another area to hold your meeting.  Remember, you don’t need long so providing someone can take (very) brief notes anywhere will do.  

So, my top three tips for successful Project Progress Meetings are:

  1. Schedule them at the start of the working week and stick to this.
  2. No more than 30 minutes for the meeting.
  3. Have the meeting away from the working area to avoid distractions.

[A word on distractions in meetings  - there is no need for people to take phone calls, read and reply to texts and e-mails in a 30 minute meeting – turn the phones off, it’s only half an hour!] 

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