Project Management Institute

Resource managers

the key to your success

Functional managers often “own” the resources you need to make your project a success. Are you doing all you can do to win their confidence, get project buy-in, and maximize their potential to be valuable assets to the project and the organization?

by Joan Knutson, Contributing Editor

FOR THE SAKE of this article, the functional manager who owns the resources that we need assigned to our projects will be referred to as the Resource Manager. These Resource Managers assure that the right people with the right talents are available and assigned to the right projects at the right time—this person is very important in our world.

Yet, you say, you have no control over Resource Managers, that they often report to a different manager than you do. True; but that does not lessen the reality of your dependence on them nor absolve you from doing everything in your power to influence and support them in performing their resource management job to the best of their ability.

However, the Resource Manager is often the forgotten cog in the project mechanism. When is the last time you made a special effort to have one-on-one meetings with your Resource Managers? When is the last time you brought all your Resource Managers together for a briefing especially designed for them concerning the project? When is the last time you invited your Resource Managers to the training classes you are putting on for your project team?

This article looks at the role of the Resource Manager in the project management discipline and the recommended partnership between the Resource Manager and the Project Manager.

The Basic Job of the Resource Manager. The functional manager's (Resource Manager's) job is to see that their employees are successful and that their department meets its objective. In your organization, is it the functional department's objective to provide qualified resources to projects in a timely manner? If top management does not see this as one of the Resource Manager's major objectives, it will be difficult to elicit the Resource Manager's attention to the needs of your project. Let's assume that the Resource Managers have been chartered by their management to support projects and project management to the best of their ability.

Staffing, quality of work, meeting their internal organization's goals and the growth and development of the resources are their key concerns.

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Project Management-Related Functions. Resource Managers perform three functions that are associated with project management. They produce long- and short-range staffing plans; hire, fire and develop their staff; and perform in a matrix environment.

Producing long- and short-range staffing plans. The Resource Manager must produce long-term and short-term staffing plans that will assure that the right people with the right talents are available and are assigned to the right projects at the right time.

At the most strategic level, they staff their department to accommodate project work and the functional area's operational work. The Resource Manager (hopefully, with input and direction from top management and the various project managers) determines the headcount required of his or her department for the period of time addressed in the budgetary process. During the functional budgeting process, the functional (Resource) manager predicts how many people of what skill mix will be needed in order to accomplish the operational work of the department as well as to accommodate the needs of the current and upcoming projects.

At the more tactical level, the Resource Manager assigns the right person with the right skill mix to the appropriate projects. In conjunction with the project manager, the Resource Manager determines who is assigned to what projects. This requires that Resource Managers truly know the skills and personalities of their staff and understand the needs of the projects.

At the day-to-day operational working level, they prepare and track a schedule, manage the changes in their staffing plan and move the players accordingly. In other words, Resource Managers work with their staffs to develop a weekly schedule. During the project, as schedules slip, as people become unavailable, as priorities change, those detailed staffing plans often become invalid. It is the job of the Resource Manager to respond intelligently to these changes and to reschedule tasks and people accordingly.

Hiring, firing and developing their staff. In conjunction with the staffing plan developed above, the Resource Manager identifies the skills, knowledge and competencies required to deliver the work “on the boards,” match available skill sets, and perform a gap analysis. He or she needs to close the gaps by doing whatever it takes to get needed people on board: hiring, negotiating transfers from other parts of the organization, isolating subcontracted resources, and/or training current staff.

Once the anticipated work is broken down into specific assignments, Resource Managers groom, train, and “stretch” their staff. Forethought and preparation are needed to ensure that the staff members have time allocated in their schedules to participate in the professional development plan, which may include training, mentoring, or just personal time to think and grow.

As the skill mix changes, certain resources may no longer be relevant to accomplish the anticipated operational and project workload. Hopefully, those resources have been “retrained” to possess needed new skills; and if not, the Resource Manager has the unpleasant job of phasing them out of the organization.

Performing in a matrix environment. Resource Managers tend to stay focused on their own empire. Why not? That is typically how they are reviewed. However, for Resource Managers to support the project management discipline, they need to be willing to function in a matrixed organization, to be flexible to support other areas, and to subvert their personal glories to contribute to the goal of the team.

The relationship between Resource Manager and the Project Manager should be a partnership, with resource management the common ground. The goal of both is to provide resources properly, to forecast resource needs, to aid in the hiring process, to contribute to the performance appraisal process and to the growth and development of the staff.

The Project Manager's Role in this Relationship. If you are convinced that the functions described above as performed by the Resource Manager are crucial to your success, I suggest that there are two initiatives that you as a project manager need to take in order to ensure that the Resource Manager is capable of supporting you, your project and project management. Those two initiatives are (1) provide training, and (2) provide position support tools.

Training. Provide a class for Resource Managers that addresses the resource management process and their role in the project management discipline. Position the course not only as a skills course to support the project effort within the organization but also as a partnership course for Project Manager and Resource Manager. Focus on concepts, not methodology. Concentrate on the Resource Manager/Project Manager partnership, facilitating discussion between the two.

Topics to cover might include methods to create the staffing plan, types of reports to allow better communication, understanding roles and responsibilities, the link between strategic planning and tactical work, how to be flexible yet maintain control, just-in-time recruitment, maintaining and growing the resources.

A training program designed uniquely for Resource Managers positions them to be active rather than passive players in the project arena.

Support Tools. But more than a class is needed. To make the concept a reality, topics discussed in class must have support tools back on the job. Let's take just one example. In order to perform intelligent staffing one must understand the concept of resource loading and leveling. Resource loading is the mathematical calculation of individual effort exerted on various tasks in a single time frame. After the resource has been “loaded” onto the schedule chart, some individuals may be overloaded and the staffing plan must be “leveled.” In other words, their schedule and perhaps other people's schedules must be changed to assure the availability of the right resources at the right times.

So in the class, the Resource Managers learn about the concept of resource loading and leveling. They go back to their job better equipped to use the scheduling software on their computer. However, their scheduling software product does a nice job for one project at a time but doesn't have the power to deal with an enterprise-wide analysis. The Resource Managers have the desire and knowledge to intelligently manage the staffing schedules, but they go back to the job and the necessary software support is not available. So they try to do it by hand or with inadequate software, and they fail; or they don't even attempt to rectify the situation and they feel even more frustrated because they now know how to fix the problem but can't because they don't have the tools.

FOR THOSE OF YOU who want to focus some attention on the Resource Manager, what training to offer and what tools to provide, I suggest the following process: (1) prepare an analysis of the Resource Manager's job in general, (2) isolate those tasks that are specifically related to project management, (3) determine how the Resource Manager would evaluate his/her success in these project management areas, (4) question the Resource Manager's supervisor as to how the Resource Manager's success is evaluated relative to project management, (5) analyze the critical success factors that need to be in place in order for the Resource Manager to best support project management, (6) work with the Resource Manager and his/her manager to implement a plan to provide those critical success factors.

If part of the plan is to change the Resource Manager's behaviors and enhance or expand his/her skill mix, create a list of the desired behaviors and skills and develop and/or provide appropriate training. If part of the plan is to provide tools, determine the tools that are necessary and make them available.

Resource Managers are those people who provide you the resources needed to complete your projects. You owe them your attention. ■

Joan Knutson is president and founder of Project Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management consulting and training firm.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network • March 1997

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