PM Foundations – Estimating and Loading Resources

One of the common pitfalls I often run across when reviewing project schedules is inadequate attention or diligence around the area of resource planning. Improper planning in this best practice area often leads to project schedules and budgets that may not be reasonable or manageable. The following summarizes the high level best practice areas associated with resource planning:

  • How to estimate the resource requirements for schedule activities.
  • How to load the resource assignments and work effort estimates into the project schedule.
  • How to perform resource usage analysis, and resource leveling techniques.
  • How to create the resource plan utilized to finalize resource assignments, and provide a key input to create the project budget

    For purposes of this post, I will focus on the first two — estimating resources and loading the resource assignments into the project schedule.

Resource Estimating:

There are two techniques for resource estimating – bottom up & resource allocation. Both techniques are valid, and each are more effective than the other in specific situations.

Bottom up Estimating:

The following steps describe the mechanics of this technique:

  1. Work with the team to estimate the work effort (hours) for each resource assigned to the activity.
  2. Enter the hours for each resource assigned to the activity within the Project Management tool.
  3. The Project Management tool computes the allocation % for the activities (based upon the hours and duration assigned to the activity).

When is this technique most effective:

  • The activity is complex, and the team needs to spend time to understand the details associated with the activity.
  • Experience with other projects is based more on actual hours of work effort.
  • Precision of the work effort is very important, and is worth the time to create a more accurate schedule.

Here is an example of how this technique works:

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Resource Allocation:

The following steps describe the mechanics of this technique:

  1. Group activities based upon allocation of resources (may be one to one, but more likely will have activities with the same allocation over some period of time).
  2. Assign allocation % for each resource assigned to the activity in the Project Management tool.
  3. The Project Management tool computes the number of hours of work effort for the activities (based upon the allocation % and duration estimated for the activity).

When this technique is most effective:

  • Details of the activity are not known, and therefore it is the duration estimate that is driving the resource estimates
  • Experience with other projects is based more on “how long it takes” vs. “how many hours of work”
  • Precision of the work effort estimates is not as important as developing a reasonable schedule

Here is an example of how this technique works:

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As depicted in this example, both techniques arrived at approximately the same resource needs (this certainly will not always be the case). However, the approach to arrive at the resource needs was very different and highly dependent on the situation and information available. For each set of activities within the schedule, it is important to decide on the appropriate approach to estimate and assign resources, and then gather the information required to determine resource requirements. In many cases the project manager will use a combination of the two approaches (#1 for more complex work effort driven activities, and #2 for more duration based activities).

Resource Loading:

Once the resource estimating process is complete, the mechanics of loading resources into the schedule is very straight forward. From the resource tab on the individual task, or from the resource column in the Gantt view (assuming you are using MS Project as your PM tool), the resources are added in the following manner (depending upon the approach selected):

1) Approach #1: Select the resource, enter the hours in the work column, and the % allocation will be computed.

2) Approach #2: Select the resource(s), enter the % in the units column, and the work hours will be computed.

Another key element associated with the resource loading process is the task type set-up for the activity. Use of different task types impacts the way the units (%), work and duration are re-calculated when any of these elements are changed. I always recommend use of fixed duration with an effort driven option as the default set-up. It allows work and units to fluctuate as you modify the timeline (duration). The table below describes the different behaviors within the project schedule, based upon the task type:

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When loading resources, a good check that you have the activities broken down to the appropriate level is whether or not you have direct accountability of resource assignments. If you have a lot of tasks with 2-3 people with a 10% allocation, you may not have the activities broken down to the appropriate level.

You want to avoid falling into the trap of loading activities into the schedule that are “indirect” in nature that are merely loaded to reflect usage of individual’s time on the project. Try to keep the schedule focused on “direct” project activities. There are other ways to reflect commitment to the project without putting “noise” in your schedule.

Resource Estimating & Loading Best Practices

In summary, the following are the best practices associated with the resource estimating & loading processes:

  • Use the resource estimating and loading approach that best fits the type of activities that are being planned
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  • Do not add “noise” into the schedule by attempting to account for all hours expended on the project (activities in the project schedule should be limited to “direct” activities).
  • Set-up the schedule activities in a manner that drives the appropriate behavior when loading resources into the project schedule. I recommend fixed duration as the task type.

Note: I will be posting a blog in the near future on performing resource usage analysis and creating your resource plan.

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PM Foundations–The Core Team

At the heart of most successful projects you will find an effective core team that is fully responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the project. This is not to be confused with the strategic level guidance that represents the key function of the project steering committee. The project manager is responsible for ensuring that the core team is effectively selected, on-boarded, and fully engaged throughout the project life cycle.

What is the purpose of the core team?

The practical answer is that the core team is responsible for monitoring the progress of each of the key deliverables and making decisions about course corrections should the project begin tracking behind schedule, over budget or if major scope changes occur.

What are the important elements of a good core team?

A good core team is comprised of the key stakeholders who are empowered to represent a segment of the overall project domain (the segment is generally defined based upon an organization or competency/function they represent). Representing this segment means that the core team member is responsible for providing knowledge from their area of expertise, and making/influencing decisions that impact this area of expertise. Several key factors influence the process of identifying the core team:

  • Diversity: Diversity is a key element of the core team, because it is critical that different perspectives about the project and the project deliverables are fairly represented on the core project leadership team. These perspectives should be represented from day one of the core team — many project managers are tempted to exclude groups from the core team until they are needed to perform specific project activities.
  • Inclusiveness vs. effectiveness: The core team is not the entire project team working on different project activities. Sizing the core team appropriately is critical to the successful management of the project. As the project manager you need to strike a balance between including the right people in the day-to-day management of the project, and creating a team that is too big to effectively make decisions. Based upon my experience the appropriate core team size is somewhere between 6-10 people.
  • Assessing the Organization: The type of organization you are working in significantly influences the manner in which the core team is formed (depicted in the chart below). In a functional organizational, it is generally the functional leads that represent their area/department on the core team. In a matrix and project organization, the core team is generally formed based upon the role of the people assigned to the project. The type of organization also impacts the project manager’s role and authority on the project (from limited in a functional organization, to full control in a project organization).

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Procuring the Core Team Members

The factors described above represent key considerations when performing the following steps to select the core team:

  1. Determine which roles should be included on the core team. I find the most effective method is to look for the roles on the RACI chart with the most significant R’s (Responsible).
  2. Decide what project team members can fulfill these roles, If the team has not been formed, the question becomes what people in the organization can fulfill these roles.
  3. Determine if the composition of the core team needs to be adjusted based upon disconnects between the roles on the core team and the names assigned to the team.

The following chart provides an example of assembling a core team, based upon ownership of the key project deliverables. Ownership does not necessarily represent the person that will complete or manage the deliverable, but rather the person that will be responsible for the deliverable. Responsible means that this is the role that will ensure that the quality, scope, timing and cost of the deliverable are satisfied based upon the expectations established in the baseline project plan. Key deliverables which do not have an explicit owner established on the core team generally represents a RED flag (project risk), because the project manager will likely be required to manage these deliverables outside of the project leadership team as a “one off” process.

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You will find that multiple people may be required to fulfill specific roles, if one person cannot adequately represent the full scope of the deliverable on the core team. In addition, specific roles may be filled by consultants or third party partners.

Getting stakeholders, functional managers and other resource managers to agree to loan you the right resources for your core team can be a challenge. Having a solid project management plan with high level milestones and roles/responsibilities, Project Sponsor support for the initiative, and clear definition of the deliverables (in the form of a WBS) to reference during the discussion with the resource managers makes this process much easier. When assembling the core team it is important to interact with the potential core team members to understand how well they understand the project – and how they feel about the business case (benefits, scope, target dates). It is a bonus to obtain resources that are passionate about some aspect of the initiative (benefits to their organization, learning opportunities for them, team dynamics).

On-boarding the core team

Prior to the overall project kick-off, the core team is assembled for a planning meeting (or series of planning meetings, depending on the complexity of the project). The planning meeting helps level set the core team on project planning efforts that have been completed to date (prior to them joining the team), and launching the efforts to complete the remaining planning activities/deliverables. The Project Manager facilitates the discussion on project planning deliverables completed to-date (project charter, milestones/target dates, scope statement, RACI, and the Project Management Plan). Making sure everyone is clear about what their role on the project is one of the essential topics at this point in forming the core team.

The Core Team planning meeting is best structured in the following manner:

Goals and objectives

  • Communicate information about the project using project artifacts created to-date
  • Establish a common understanding of roles and responsibilities
  • Begin the process of completing the remaining planning deliverables

Activities / Discussion Topics

  • Icebreakers and introductions (particularly important for new projects, with a diverse cross-functional team)
  • Review of project deliverables (best to provide access to these deliverables in advance of the meeting, so this time is spent productively covering questions and open issues)
  • Establish core team priorities and begin working on the remaining planning deliverables

Core Team Best Practices

The following summarizes the best practices associated with selecting, procuring, and on-boarding your core project team:

Purposefully select the core team

  • The team’s diversity in terms of backgrounds, perspectives and talents significantly improves project outcomes.
  • Right-size the team to accomplish the task at hand – manage the day-to-day project operations. Make sure the team can adequately “own” the project deliverables, but is not too large to effectively manage team dynamics.
  • The core team should be formed in a manner that is consistent with the organization that is driving the project.

Work with the right people to procure the right team members

  • Clearly communicate with resource managers (about the project and resource needs).
  • Use the project sponsor appropriately to gain support of the initiative.
  • Obtain buy-in of the potential core team members (to understand their commitment to the initiative, and comfort with their role).

Make the effort to adequately on-board and ramp-up the core team

  • Spend time “forming” the team.
  • Clearly communicate the plans completed to-date. You want the core team to “own” the plans, even if they were not involved in making all of the decisions or creating all of the planning deliverables.
  • Focus on getting immediate traction on the work ahead. Quickly align the core team with the project priorities, and ownership of next steps.