I’m guessing you’ve seen this one before. You may deep into your creative project or ad campaign and you lose a critical resource. Or you’re ready for that specific resource that you were guaranteed so long ago; you've waited till just the right time to bring them onto the project and team so as not to waste budget and now they are nowhere to be found…because they’ve been committed to another project.
It’s painful, but it’s also a reality – especially in larger organizations where you have a matrix environment with several teams working concurrently on many different projects. Sometimes a matrix organization makes resource management easier. Sometimes – because there are some many hands in the pot – it can actually make resource management harder.
What do you do? How do you react? And equally important – how do you tell your client that you now have a big – and somewhat unfillable – hole in your team?
It’s always frustrating when your organization lacks the right amount of skilled resources to fully stock all the projects that are active at any given time. This has happened to me at just about every company I’ve worked for and it’s probably happening to you right now. As the PM there are a few things you can do to combat it, but there’s no guarantee of success with any of them – unless your organization is well equipped to handle the situation. Here’s what you can do:
- Have a solid project plan in place identifying the required resources by job function if no resource has been assigned yet
- Identify the necessary resources at the beginning of the project and submit resource requests (if a formal process exists – if not do it informally) identifying approximately when key resources will need to be onboarded to the project (a little earlier than ‘just-in-time’ so they can be brought onboard and get up to speed)
- Make sure that your project plan is in front of executive management on a weekly basis
- When it’s time during the project for a new key resource to be added, resend the formal project resource request for that position
- If you’re not getting your resources, escalate it quickly – if you’re quiet you’ll have no one to blame but yourself
My failed example
We, as project managers, can do all of these things and more and still experience the loss of a key resource at the wrong time (is there a right time??). A couple of years ago I was leading a very visible project and had followed this process step by step. I had submitted all of my resource requests – even the post-dated ones – at the beginning of the project. The project plan was detailed by resource and in everyone’s hands. And I re-submitted project requests when it was time for a critical new resource to jump on board. I knew resources were tight. And, of course, my project budget was tight…so I certainly didn’t want an expensive resource onboard too early that wasn't needed just yet.
I was able to get most of my resources within a reasonable timeframe without too much necessary shifting of tasks in the project schedule. However, I reached a critical point in the creative project where I needed an experienced design expert to consult with so that we could produce what our client wanted and we were up against looming deadlines. I requested, I re-requested, I escalated, and I re-re-requested. It took over 4 weeks to finally get the resource added to the project. I was able to shift some other creative project tasks around that made sense and got approval from the client to adjust the schedule (that takes negotiation and lots of explanation) and therefore I was able to minimize the project timeline impact to only about 2 weeks. Still, it looks bad on a big dollar project with an important client when you can’t get a design consultant in to do his part in the middle of your project. Especially when you already had it all planned out. And it definitely diminishes client confidence and the likelihood that they will become a good referenceable client.
Looking back, even though I followed what I would consider to be the proper path, I should have performed more face-to-face escalation. Our CEO was pretty accessible and a meeting with him outlining the impacts we were facing because of this resource issue may have solved the problem much faster. What I did wrong was to continually listen to and believe my direct leadership that the resource was coming.
Sometimes it’s tough to find just the right creative resource to fill out your team. And when you have them and lose them, that’s painful. When you have them planned for future tasks and lose them – well, that’s equally painful. Skilled resources are tight everywhere. As project managers we are required to plan well for our projects and keep them visible to minimize the possibility of losing our key resources. Even though we follow what seems like the right escalation path on issues like this, sometimes we need to step outside of our comfort zone and escalate it even further. The key is to fight hard for our projects, take it to the CEO if we have to when a resource conflict threatens to damage the project and disrupt the team and client. Don’t go down easily or quietly.