Below are some of the obstacles that are common for project managers to come across when managing resources:
Obviously these obstacles increase the risk to the project and could undermine its success. However, there are strategies for mitigating these risks and addressing them when they become issues .
Here are seven strategies you can employ to overcome these challenges:
1. Create Buy-In and Ownership Early
Not having all the resources in time for kickoff is a common occurrence in matrix organizations. Companies believe, justifiably, that just-in-time loading of resources is a wise use of project dollars. However, once you have determined the resources needed, it’s critical to get them engaged as early as possible. Start by soliciting their help and feedback even before the kickoff to collaborate on the planning efforts.
Using a collaborative approach to project planning creates buy-in and ownership with each team member. They feel valued when they are part of the process. Their level of support and willingness to contribute rises exponentially. Engaging them will foster bonds with you, as the project manager, and within the team.In a collaborative team, people feel like they have a personal stake in the success of the project. Without this relationship, team members can become disengaged and transactional. This in turn exasperates the difficulty you’ll encounter getting them to make every meeting and every deadline.
2. Ensure the Budget Reflects the Resource Plan
Your project budget directly correlates to the required resources and time. Make sure the budget is defined early and aligned with the resource plan. Then make sure that the project’s executive sponsor reviews and approves both.
As your project proceeds, you should track the resource plan weekly as part of your status report. If you find a discrepancy between the projected versus the actual, it should trigger an alert for you to find out where and why the gap in resources appeared. Many times, that gap could be a signal that there is a risk to the project.
3. Always Contact the Person Before Escalating an Issue
If you know that there is a possibility that the assigned person is overloaded or has a performance issue that may prevent them from potentially meeting deadlines, then you have a risk. If the assigned resource begins missing dates, meetings, and deadlines, then you have an issue on your hands.
Try to resolve it first with the person before reporting it on a status report or escalating it up the chain. This is critically important for the relationship. As a project manager, you always have to balance pushing your project forward and handling difficult situations without damaging relationships. Many project managers do not pay enough attention to the relationships and end up with a struggling project that many times fails because of this underlying reason.
If a member feels that they were thrown under the bus and exposed in a status report or to their upper management, they will definitely lose trust in the project manager. However, if there is a candid conversation between the project manager and the team member about the concern and risk, and they are asked to help resolve it first, well that creates a very different dynamic. As a project manager, your role needs to be to work with your team to help them resolve their issues - and they need to know that. You also want them to realize the impact on the project if a date is missed, and therefore agree that if it continues to be a problem for them that you can both decide on how to best report it to solve the issue. This is the softer skill of collaboration that can be a real asset to your success.
4. Beware of the Cost of Replacing or Adding Resources to Solve problems
Sometimes it’s necessary to replace or add resources to your project, but the best time to do that is early in the project cycle. Replacing or adding resources mid-project, while everything is moving at full speed, can be cost-prohibitive because of the learning curve required to allow new resources to catch up. Many times, doing so can be a real budget killer.
Consider the options of extra training, one-on-one conversations and a realignment of responsibilities to solve the problem instead of bringing in additional resources. It’s vital to mitigate this risk as early as possible. The earlier you do it, the less costly it will be.
5. Clarify the Roles and Responsibilities of All Resources and Stakeholders
Every project has to have a project organizational structure that identifies who all the stakeholders are including: the core team members, internal and external stakeholders, project owner, sponsors and governance. The project manager needs to ensure that these stakeholders are identified with clear roles, responsibilities and stake in the project.
The charter is one of the tools to document this information along with a communication plan on how the team will interact. Managing your resources and defining the communication plan starts to cross over between resource management and stakeholder management. But both have to do with people, and are equally important in keeping resources informed and productively contributing to the project outcome.
6. Build Team Cohesion
A project manager manages tasks and processes on a project, but leads the people. Some of the best-practices in leading people include getting to know your team and building relationship bonds that are grounded in trust and respect.
Getting to know people requires understanding of their needs, challenges, strengths, weaknesses, personality style, goals, and what makes them tick. As a project manager, you need to effectively use your soft skills - skills such as leadership skills, communication skills, team-building skills and relationship management skills, all of which are critical to project success.
Sometimes building team cohesion takes more work with some teams than with others. It depends if there are previously damaged relationships within the team, if there are political agendas, insecurities between team members, friendships, rivalry groups, disgruntled employees, champions, etc. the list can go on and on. Your goal is to create an environment of collaboration, trust, and peer-to-peer accountability.
Trust begins with you — learn to become a leader with the emotional intelligence to lead and develop a high performance team. With a strong team, you can overcome all challenges, mitigate all risks and resolve all issues. What seems impossible to achieve somehow gets accomplished with a high performance team because the energy of the team together brings about creativity and solutions that no one on their own can possibly achieve.
7. Focus on the People, and Success Will Follow
Remember it's the people that matter after all. If you work on the relationships and the team engagement, you will end up with a strong team. Members in a strong-bonded team do not let each other fail. This makes building relationships and building a strong team the two most important things you can do as a Project Manager to ensure your project's success. And yet too few project managers focus on that.
In future articles, I will discuss different ways to build team cohesion, communication strategies for building trust with people, pitfalls to avoid in difficult situations, and how to shift your paradigm as a project manager from being a task manager to a relationship manager.
Rania Kort is an Independent Management Consultant and Business Advisor with more than 20 years’ experience helping Fortune 100 companies successfully implement strategic initiatives. Rania has managed large-scale programs and programs, established and run PMO's and implemented process improvement in many different industries. She ran and grew an IT Management Practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers for more than seven years managing over 300 consultants. Currently, she serves as an independent consultant focusing on achieving results through collaboration and a team leadership approach that ensures alignment, accountability and trust to develop high-performance teams.