The Project Group, LLC

The Project Group, LLC Newsletter

  Advancing Project Management

April 2003  


in this issue


The Project Group, LLC

We specialize in assisting corporate and government clients in learning to improve their productivity while planning and executing projects.

Our three-phase approach yields faster, more efficient project initiation, planning and execution results.

Attend the Scaramento Project Management Nuts and Bolts Course May 19 - 20, 2003

Our two-day course covers the processes of Project Management.

Audience: Managers tasked with small to medium-sized projects

Covers best practices of:

Initiation -- Project Objective Statements, Project Chartering, Project Organization

Project Planning -- Work Breakdown
Structure, Task Estimating, Resource Planning, Structured Risk Management

Leadership & communication issues underlying good team-building

Bring your own projects to work on as exercises!

Attend the Scaramento Microsoft ProjectTM In One-Day Course May 21, 2003

Learning this popular software tool can be very daunting! It's very helpful to have someone to help you understand which of the myriad features you'll probably never use so you can focus on the ones you'll use all the time.

After years of teaching Ms-Project and applying it in the field, Roger Kent created this class to focus on the basics needed to build a task-based plan. It is delivered in a combination lecture, 'follow me' through the software and individual challenge exercises.

Unless you are familiar with best-practice planning models, we recommend you take Project Management Nuts and Bolts first. Most of us learned word processing because we understood the model it was based on: a lined piece of paper with top, bottom, left and right margins. People have difficulty learning Ms-Project because they're not clear on the planning processes that form its underlying model. Project Management Nuts and Bolts is the ideal preparation for Ms-Project.

To Learn More Or To Enroll In A Class Click Here



Each month our newsletter delves into a specific step in the phases of Initiation, Planning and Execution of projects. Our methodology is applicable to any project in any industry. Our systematic approach to Project Management is designed to help your company's projects gain traction quickly, communicate clearly to all parties and keep them on track to reach a successful conclusion.

We facilitate workshops that jump-start your teams, making sure they know what they are going to do and validating they have the time and resources with which to do it.

This newsletter focuses on Process 8:

Optimizing Resources






How much time is anyone really available?


When putting together a schedule most project managers first consider the work they need to do and the amount of time they have to do it in. Then they determine if they have the staff to do the work. This process can also work the other way. Determine how many resource hours you have available and then, based on sound effort estimates, figure out how long each task will take.

The term Resource Optimization includes the concepts of resource allocation (determining how much of any resource's time will be devoted to a task) as well as resource leveling (smoothing out the peaks and valleys of resource commitment). It also takes into account team dynamics, ergonomics and motivation, all of which may have a much larger role in determining how much work really gets done.

Before you know if you have enough resources to accomplish your project goals you need to know how much your resources have to devote to the project. Unless you are in a fully matrixed organization (where resources are only engaged in project work) all of your resources must contend with their "day job", the regular responsibilities of their functional organization.

Even when people are supposedly assigned full time to your project they may continue some "day job" responsibilities including time taken up with formal infrastructure and organizational chores -- staff meetings, non-project related e-mails, keeping up with the company intranet site, attending to other professional development activities (reading or formal training).

When you account for all the above, you may discover that someone supposedly assigned full time to your may, in fact, be ;putting in an additional 20 hours a week elsewhere. We've all experienced this unless we are punching a clock and being paid overtime. Unfortunately overtime does not apply to most information workers.

If you want to know if you have enough resources to complete a project you first need to know the baseline of any resource's availability. Even under the best of circumstances it's rarely 100%.


What does Resource Commitment mean?


Once you work through the issues around resource availability, you need to assign resources to tasks and determine the number of hours per week they are assigned to that task. When you've assigned resources for every task in a preliminary schedule, you'll be able to see if any resources have been assigned to be more than one place at the same time. If you base your schedule on severely overallocated resources, some tasks may not get done when you expect them.

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the backbone of all project planning. Without a sufficiently granular WBS with reasonable task duration estimates, you can't begin to determine how committed your resources are.

A mathematical way to determine resource commitment divides the duration estimate by the effort estimate to arrive at a percentage commitment. Let's say you have a task with a five-day duration. You ask a resource working on the task to estimate how many hours of effort they expect to devote to that task. For example, say George estimates 20 hours of effort within that five-day period. Dividing 40 hours of duration (5 days) by 20 hours of effort gives you 50%. This resource is only committed 50% of their time on this task.

This method requires accurate effort estimates. These may not be easy to obtain, especially in information work. Detailed effort estimates can take a lot of time and energy to collect. In a rapid planning effort, is it worth it?

Here's a method we recommend: Choose four levels of commitment to a task: 100%, 75%, 50% and 25% (corresponding to 8, 6, 4. and 2 hrs/day). Have team members estimate a level of commitment for each task. You can do this quickly and commitment levels can be refined later. These percentages can help us determine at a glance if a resource is overallocated.


Seeing Resource Overallocation


A resource-loaded Gantt Chart can give you a preliminary view of where resources may be overallocated.

On the week of April 20 Glorwyn is just working on one task a time. But the following week he will be a very busy knight. Will he be able to complete all his work based on his parallel tasks? This chart shows possible overallocations but requires study to really understand the numbers.

A graphic that shows resource overallocation at a glance is generically called a resource histogram. Microsoft Project calls it a Resource Graph. Look how the assignments in the Gantt Chart above produce this graph:

The vertical axis shows the percentage of the resource's allocation: anything above 100% is more than full time. Now can you see why we should be concerned about Glorwyn's being able to do all the work assigned to him?

For an larger image of the two graphics in this article click here


Resource Leveling Strategies


Seeing the problem is the first step in solving it. We may first want to go back and validate those snap- assignments we made. Is he really working 100% on the tasks to which we have assigned him?

The first strategy is to attempt to move some task that is not on the critical path into a free window to resolve the overloading. We must first have clearly defined the critical path and know how much float (wiggle room) we have on non-critical path tasks. The difficulty with this strategy is that resolving the overloading of one resource may double or triple assign another resource on the same task.

The second strategy is to add another person to the task. This approach only works if the task is resource- driven. That means the task duration can be shortened by adding another person to it. Information Work tasks, unfortunately, often are not resource-driven. You may be able to break the task into two or more parts and assign multiple resources to the parts.

A third possibility may be to contour a resource's assignment to a task. Have them plan to work a lot in the beginning, lay off in the middle and then finish up with a push. Front-loading refers to bunching the hours devoted to the task in the beginning of the task. Back-loading refers to moving the majority of hours to the end of the task. This kind of precise resource contouring is difficult given the often-changing nature of project work.

The Triple Constraints tell us that time, effort and scope are all interdependent. Pushing out the project completion date may be the simplest but least desirable option if your resources hours are fixed. Reducing the scope may be another option. If the deadline and scope are immovable then you must ask your resources to work overtime. This is not always the best choice for morale. Make sure your team gets compensating, if not financially then through time off or other perks.

Microsoft Project has an automatic resource leveling ability. This means it can try to smooth out every resource's allocation to 100%. It usually does this at the cost of pushing the project end date way out.

If pushing out the project end date is not an option you may suggest to the software to go ahead and level but only within the available wiggle room (slack). We have never seen this solve all the problems but it may offer you some suggestions.

If you don't like how the software has completely mangled your project schedule, you can always choose "Clear Leveling" and your project is returned to its original condition before you leveled it.


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