Resource Planning for Professional Services
The professional services sector is broad and encompasses a variety of industries, from IT and marketing to law and accounting. Despite the varied nature of these professions, each benefits from project managers and team leaders taking a strategic approach to resource and capacity planning.
In project management, a resource is anything that is needed to complete a task or project. This can include people, materials, time, and even finances. Because most companies and organizations don’t have unlimited finances or personnel, it is vital that project managers are tactical in deploying these resources.
In some organizations, a dedicated resource manager may be hired to ensure the limited materials, labor, and finances are being properly utilized.
Why is resource planning important?
Even before a project moves into the execution phase, it is important for project or resource managers to look ahead at what will be needed throughout the project’s life cycle. Based on the length and nature of a particular initiative, a project manager should have a good idea of who and what is required to accomplish critical tasks that will ultimately result in project completion.
Resource planning is more effective when project managers have visibility into workloads and can forecast demand, review historic project data, and utilize team members based on skills, location, performance, and availability. Much of this can be accomplished with project management solutions like Wrike.
Taking care not to overutilize resources in a project setting is one way to prevent productivity killers like employee burnout. According to the Mayo Clinic, employee burnout can occur when a worker is experiencing stress in the workplace, work-life imbalance, or a lack of control over their workload. Business Insider notes that between 40-50% of American workers experience burnout, meaning it is more critical than ever to have an effective resource planning process in place.
Resource planning keeps projects running smoothly and sets the stage for on-time and on-budget project delivery. It also helps professional services firms understand their ability to take on new work based on the future capacity of their workforce — otherwise known as capacity planning.
Knowing how to allocate and manage resources can be the difference between project failure and success.
Project managers in professional services succeed when they are able to look ahead and plan based on the “big picture.” In the context of professional services, capacity planning is how firms can ensure they have the right resource capacity plan available to meet future client demand.
Capacity planning also helps organizations understand and prepare for future operating costs because it assesses variables beyond current resource levels.
What is capacity planning?
Capacity planning is how PMs and resource managers assess and address the future needs of their organization. It requires a strategic, long lens approach that takes into account things like future demand, past data, trends, seasonal changes, and even irregular conditions. Insights like these help PMs and resource managers make decisions based on actionable data.
Specifically referring to labor, capacity planning ensures the necessary amount of individuals with the appropriate skill sets are available to work on certain projects and initiatives.
Let’s say that a company plans to roll out a website redesign within the next six months. A resource manager would make sure the appropriate amount of copywriters, designers, and programmers are all available to work on the project so it is completed in time.
Will more staff need to be hired? Are there any skills that are lacking and need to be accounted for? Will staff need to work overtime or take on more than their current workload? Will freelancers or contractors be needed? Capacity planning can be a balancing act, so it may be useful to look at the resources utilized during similar projects. Past data will likely provide insights around timelines, labor, and costs.
Businesses rarely (if ever) set their budgets “on-the-fly” and capacity planning helps organizations gain a firm grasp on future operating costs months and sometimes years in advance.
Challenges of capacity planning
You may find there are some challenges and barriers associated with capacity planning.
For instance, changes in leadership may make it difficult to predict what project or resource decisions should be made. One PM may lay out an ambitious approach to tackling the project portfolio, while another may take a more conservative approach. If future leadership is unclear, planning in this way may prove challenging.
Additionally, a lack of visibility into employee workload can be a roadblock to efficient capacity planning. Operating from a position of darkness makes it difficult to assess which resources are available for which projects, which resources are being over- or underutilized, and which resources you simply don’t have at your disposal.
Tips for capacity planning
To ensure an efficient capacity planning process, make sure you’re doing the following.
- Analyze demand and capacity requirements
Based on data, a resource manager may determine that a particular time of the year or project type signals a need for more resources or an increase in workload for already existing resources. This is important data!
- Evaluate current and planned capacity
Will more staff be needed or do individuals on your team have the bandwidth to take on more work? Are there any skills currently missing from your team that are necessary for upcoming projects?
- Align capacity with demand and future business goals
Generally speaking, project and resource managers have at least a rough idea of what is coming down the pipeline. These insights are important because they help align who and what is available with who and what is needed to achieve key goals.
Software solutions that provide visibility into individual workloads allow for better capacity planning. Wrike’s workload view tool enables resource managers to check short- and long-term availability of individual team members. This is especially useful for teams who work on simultaneous projects.
What is demand management?
Demand management is a process that aims to align the needs of clients with the capabilities and financial interests of an organization. Demand management is key for professional services teams because it seeks to address and anticipate client requirements while minimizing risk and disruption to your own organization.
Increasing profits is a natural goal for professional services firms who are motivated to maintain high client retention rates. Research shows that increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can lead to a 25-95% increase in profits. This is why leveraging your firm's resources to deliver value to customers in the most efficient way possible should be a top priority for your organization.
A poor or non-existent demand management process can lead to poor prioritizing, where resources that are unwisely deployed on projects inadvertently create bottlenecks in other project pipelines. It can also lead to over-extended, overutilized, and burnt-out workers. This can negatively impact the on-time delivery and overall health of other projects in a portfolio.
What are some best practices for demand management?
This can involve analysis and projection based on historic data of trends or conditions that have previously impacted business activities — also known as forecasting. Planning will also generally include looking ahead at business goals and determining how to best apply resources in pursuit of these goals. Demand planning should also consider risks.
As R.K. Sharma explains in “DEMAND MANAGEMENT: Supply Constraints and Inflation” (2009), communication “makes or breaks the demand management process.” Clear communication across departments and to clients about what is required and what can be delivered is absolutely crucial.
Planning, forecasting, and communicating are all pointless if they do not result in a strategic approach to prioritizing projects. Utilize knowledge of available resources and client requirements to determine how to increase profits with the most efficient deployment of resources.
Forecasting and leveraging visibility into employee workloads can help ensure a thorough and strategic resource process. Wrike’s tools are ideal for capacity planning and demand management because they can be used to view team workloads, generate reports, automate tasks, and more.