Common Project Issues: Lack of Resources

Posted by Brad Egeland

We’ve all experienced this one.  You’re running the project, possibly even deep into development or other critical activities and you either lose a key resource or can’t onboard the right resource at the planned portion of your project.  What do you do?  How do you re-act?  And equally important – how do you tell your customer?

The Escalation Process

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

An Example that Didn’t Work

Now, I realize you can do all of these things and more and it still may not make any difference or help at all.  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 I didn’t need 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 where I needed an experienced data integration specialist to perform some necessary critical and complicated data loads prior to testing and training.  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 project tasks around that made sense and got approval from the customer 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 multi-million dollar project when you can’t get a data specialist to perform some critical work right in the middle of your project.  And it definitely diminishes customer confidence and the likelihood that they will become a good referenceable customer.

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 PMO Director that the resource was coming.

Summary

Skilled resources are tight everywhere.  As Project Managers we are required to plan well for our projects and fight hard for our projects.  Even though we follow what seems like the right escalation path on issues like this, sometimes we need to step outside of that and escalate even further.  I didn’t – partly because I listened to promises and partly because I was also managing and fighting for 5 other projects at the time so my availability to do much more really wasn’t there.  However, in hindsight, I realize that a 10-minute sit-down with the CEO would likely have solved it – or at least it would be a good story to pass on to the customer. 

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