Who Stole my People? Five Ways out of the Nightmare of Resource Theft

We have all been there.  By “all”, I mean any experienced Project or Programme Manager working in the real world of competing projects and territory-hungry sponsors and “C”-level executives.

Alpha and Zeta

Let me offer a basic scenario: your Project Alpha is one of several running within your organisation and, you are pleased to say, it’s running pretty well.  So what are the great rewards and honours that are coming your way as a result?  Well, not so fast!

Instead, when Project Zeta starts to run into problems due to bad planning, bad luck, bad leadership or some perfect storm of all three, its increasingly desperate sponsor comes knocking on your door.  Not for sage advice or the wisdom you have carefully accumulated.  No, what they want is your most precious resources: your people.

A Widespread problem

Organisations that juggle multiple projects (and which ones don’t) all face this problem.  There is a constant scramble for scarce resources with particular skills, experience or simply for those people in our organisations who just get things done.  This has a corrosive effect on your ability to deliver your projects effectively but, perhaps more important, it hits hard at the organisation’s long-term ability to deliver strategic change.

What, then, is to be done?

There are many components to a working solution to this and none is an easy or quick fix.  Implementing them all in conjunction with one another, however, will have a profound effect on your organisation’s ability to deliver strategic change and therefore to stay agile, retain value and build contribution.

Strategy 1: Selecting Well

Portfolio management and the ability to select a balanced set of programmes and projects that can be delivered within your resource constraints is the first and most strategic approach.  Select your initiatives well, not only to match them to your resources, but also to create a clear case for supporting them against other, operational, pressures.

Strategy 2: Planning

No surprises here but, truly, how many project and programme managers really invest the time and energy needed to develop a robust plan, with tested estimates and prudent contingencies, for their resource requirements.  I know you do, but if every PPM in your organisation did too, then there would be far fewer problems.

Strategy 3: Central Control and Governance

You want a resource: you come and see the top banana.  This is not about creating a bureaucracy, a power base or a roadblock.  It is about recognising that if people really are your most valuable resource, then like the gold at Fort Knox (is there still gold at Fort Knox?), it needs to have someone strong guarding access.  This is about good governance and the ability for one, suitably qualified and senior, person or group to make strategic judgements that give all of the projects and programmes their due weight.

Strategy 4: Contingency

I know that no organisation in its right mind will employ people to twiddle their thumbs until an emergency arises…  except, maybe, the fire service, or the ambulance service (they are separate in the UK), or the army, or the coast-guard, or…

Okay, so some would and we willingly, as a society, make those investments – and that’s what they are – to manage risk.  So aim to have some surplus resource available at times of pinch points in major programmes or projects.  Central planning of resource calls should allow this.  Think of it as an investment in risk management for your portfolio, rather than as an overhead on your salary bill.

Strategy 5: Change the Culture

One of the driving cultural norms is that senior executives are rewarded for delivering their projects or programmes to time, cost and quality.  This causes parochial behaviours and the development of neo-mediaeval fiefdoms within organisations.  Instead, create shared accountability across a whole portfolio.  In mediaeval France, kings stopped their Counts and Barons warring with each other by calling them all up to fight wars with other states.  Now, they need to negotiate with a war council for the men and machines to fight on the front to which they were directed.  This worked, and it can work in modern organisations.  It is not so much divide and rule as unify and lead.

What other strategies are there? 

Please do add your own strategies in the comments.


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