No one likes to run into project resource conflicts on their projects – it can be both a painful experience and a tricky issue to overcome. You may have to negotiate (and not everyone is good at that or comfortable with it) or you may have to go to supervisors and senior management and be aggressive (again, not everyone is good at that or comfortable with it). But, in order to save your project, it may be absolutely necessary.
I had an incident on one of my projects recently where project focus became an issue for a couple of my team members and I also witnessed it happen to a colleague of mine – all within a three week time span. And it can really be a truly frustrating thing to have happen.
A critical resource bottleneck
As for my situation – here’s what happened… The project was progressing normally. We had moved into the design phase which is a critical time for the business analyst and often the tech lead depending on how complicated the solution might be. My project happened to be a complicated one. Unfortunately, it was not quite as high a priority as two other projects which were going on concurrently with mine and both of those projects involved some of my resources on one or both. Even though my resource forecast had these resources dedicated to my project during the necessary timeframe, issues on the other projects kept pulling them away over this three week time period to the extent that my project came to a complete work stoppage. That never sits well with the customer and certainly doesn’t make them feel important or satisfied with service or my ability to get things done for them.
So how do we go about ensuring our project team is grounded and focused on the tasks at hand? I had to take corrective action in my case. I went to their direct supervisor and then to the project managers leading other projects these individuals were working on. Their time still had to be split due to critical requirements on these other visible projects, but in the end I was able to get the time out of them I needed – which is all I really cared about at that point. To do that, the resources ended up working quite a few extra hours (I certainly didn’t care), but my project got back on track after initially losing about a week during the chaos.
Taking proactive measures
Proactively working to ensure something like this doesn’t happen is by far a much better route to take. I thought I was on the right track for that…but apparently not. And that was a tough lesson to learn. Thankfully I learned that lesson without losing the project in the process. And for me it wasn’t a situation where I failed to effectively manage my own resources or properly forecast their time. So you can see how these things can happen for reasons far out of your control or you can’t really see coming. You can forecast resources' time and let them know what’s expected of them, but in the end if they are directed to do work elsewhere by the ones who actually sign their paycheck and determine their raises, then they’re going to do that ‘other’ work first.
The only real way around that is to keep those individuals who are higher up in the food chain also very well informed of your resource plans and needs. In some organizations, this may be as simple as providing your forecast report to senior management to cover all of your bases. In other organizations – especially larger organizations – it’s more likely a change in the resource allocation and monitoring process has to take place. Likely, all project managers would need to provide the same detailed resource plan and forecast you’re presenting in order for senior management to sort through the potential conflicts. Most organizations use some sort of collaboration or centralized resource pool to identify and plan for such conflicts, but they are often poorly used and poorly understood by those monitoring the resource allocations.