Projects generally start on a positive note. Teams onboard, briefs are shared and work begins. However, once work commences, estimates feel like they were made on inaccurate numbers. The constraints of resources, time and money quickly begin to take centre stage, forcing a manager to evaluate the goals his/her team is chasing.
On the other hand, managing client and employee expectations is a tightrope to walk. As work mounts or clients seem to be dissatisfied, you will quickly run out of ideas to get the project back on track. And try as you may, this uphill journey doesn’t have one simple solution…
When you see that your team is yearning for ‘special powers’ that could give them extra bandwidth from within, here are collective measures that can help you prioritize better. So, go ahead and find the hidden potential to do more with less!
1.100% utilization is the way to go
Employees work hard. The quality of your project delivery definitely reflects that fact. So putting the ‘100%’tag on it, for work culture purists especially, may sound like the whole process is being dehumanized. However, when you step back and look, complete productive utilization is a fool-proof way to make sure that efforts are not wasted and that your teams are not overworked at the last-minute.
Ensuring 100% utilization is all about prioritizing schedules and making sure that your timelines login real work as opposed to generic schedule placeholders or worse, process-driven delays. Besides timelines and mundane work logs, also focus on enabling comprehensive skill utilization of employees.
Under-utilization as a long-term problem causes more harm than just emptying the payroll budget. Quantified brilliantly in the HBR article, it was found in a study that leaders who are incapable of utilizing intelligence, (diminishers as the research puts it), end up using only about 66% of their employees’ capabilities, leaving employees frustrated and dejected.
Complete skill utilization ensures that your employees feel enough challenged without being overwhelmed. Empowering teams with a chance to hone their secondary skill sets helps them grow professionally and explore newer avenues of career advancement. You will begin to see that your workforce is well rounded and competent. This way, they are also likely to feel more passionate about their projects and take tasks for opportunities instead of merely feeling obligated to show up. Most importantly, you will find additional resources that can act as a safe buffer for the pipeline as well as ongoing ad hoc work.
When this is practiced with improved internal processes (as discussed in the following steps), you will see that a lot of clunk is off the charts and you have the room to prioritize as you need to.
- Billable projects rank high
If you sit down to make a list of your most ‘urgent’ as well as your most ‘important’ tasks, you’ll be surprised to see how your billable tasks, ones that actually help make those bottom-lines numbers prettier, don’t necessarily get the lion’s share of your efforts.
As this acountingToday article shrewdly points out, for every 1200-1500 odd billable hours (number dependent on the firm) generated by services firm partners, there are 1000+ non-billables hours that pull back your Return on Investment.
The reasons could be many, from vacation season to training and improvement programmes. But you will notice that the process also suffers from delays that crop up due to poor visibility into employee availability, vague client briefs, ad hoc requirements that disrupt planned schedules and a host of such other reasons that are significant but hardly billable.
Fixing the process such that your pipeline highlights billable prospects and gives you the bandwidth to plan for them well in advance is a great starting point. In addition, you’ll need to make allocations such that employees find the time to begin preparing for the projects before the actual timeline begins.
In addition, your allocation and planning methodologies need to attain the maturity to have different versions such that the billability of the project becomes the deciding factor for the route you take. For example, an agile work culture makes this very easy to accommodate. If you are a services firm with separate business and operational teams, a stand-up that allows team heads to exchange notes could help clarify financial priorities. Cost-efficiency in terms of consultant billing rates that fit into different client budgets is yet another point that could be tackled in such meetings.
Given how these steps logically point towards better planning, demand forecasting becomes the next bridge to cross.
- Demand forecasting is a mandate
Demand forecasting refers to being able to have the intuitivity to gauge the quantity of upcoming work as well as the resource dependencies that it has. So to give it a more comprehensive explanation, demand forecasting follows capacity planning, which lets you really shape your workforce such that it is molded to suit the projects your team will be working on for the next quarter or two.
In addition to the ‘FTE potential’ or the hours you will need, it is of utmost importance to have the nature of the projects recorded as well. This way, you can make sure that the skill inventory you have in place is tailored to take on these projects. And the ability to forecast really helps train your employees, give them the time to understand briefs and assimilate the requirements.
On the other hand, when you see a gap, you can choose to outsource or hire additional help too. Time gives you the advantage to both negotiate better contracts as well as pay enough attention to the finer details of the projects. Demand forecasting and capacity planning depend upon organization-wide transparency, business intelligence that gives you real-time insights and a synergy between business development and operational teams.
When you begin to forecast and plan scientifically months in advance, you will automatically be able to plug resourcing loopholes to match project requirements and have operations dedicated to perfecting priority tasks. This means impulsive hiring is not going to be an overhead cost any longer.
4. Diversify your hiring patterns
Ultimately, you may have had to hire impulsively on more occasions that you’d admit. Besides eating into the project budget, hiring on the go is a very stressful task that thwarts the schedule. And you may not always be able to find the perfect match in a limited timespan. Moreover, as requirements diminish, letting go of full-timers every now and then is neither ethical nor healthy.
With accurate capacity planning though, you’ll begin to see how freelancers and part-timers may be better equipped to fill in the niche requirements you have. Contractors can be hired on demand as well. This additional resource pool can help you be more agile with your hiring patterns without actually affecting the dynamics that your full-time workforce has. In fact, it will help you take advantage of the hyper-specialized gig economy and help build a layered skills inventory, which according to this glassdoor report, 72% CEOs worry about (Recruiting finding: 72% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills).
Informed hiring and restructuring practices are critical to giving your employees a credible and conducive atmosphere to work in. Being systematic helps them understand how you appreciate quality. Given how you cut down unnecessary payroll expenses, you will also be equipped to incentivize the performance of your hardworking employees and overtime, build a team that you can truly count upon. And a formidable team, in all honesty, is the safest route to a project’s success!
Doing more with less, as much as it sounds like a minimalist’s mantra, is all about harvesting the one currency we all have in common – time. Invest in tools that let you achieve that and you’ll see how you have a team of superheroes at your disposal, led of course, by you!
As the subject-matter expert for Saviom’s flagship resource management software, Aakash Gupta advocates best practices of the domain through the company’s publications and webinars. You can reach him here.