Projects stuck in the slow lane?
Many companies successfully weathered the turbulent economic times of recent years. Now, they are taking on more projects as the economy improves. The staff are busier than ever but every status meeting points to less getting done. Project deadlines slide past like a large truck on an icy highway. All projects seem to be over their budget and over their estimates. The cry for more resources is heard in more meetings. The natural tendency in this situation is to improve project management processes or blame the PMs.
If this is your organization today, you may have an "everything else" problem. Projects have the lowest daily work priority and as such, get whatever time remains after everything else is done. Many managers have no visibility to this work within the organization, leading to an overestimation of available time for project work.
I've had many organizations tell me that an average of 70-85 percent of their employee's time is available for project work. A quick look at the standing staff meetings on their employees’ calendars would show that this number cannot be.
Visualizing the time
What's needed is a way to visualize the time demands in a way that leads to proper prioritization. I've created the OPRA capacity model that segments time based on differences in time allocation priority. (No, not Oprah. She's a really nice lady but the H would cost us a fortune.)
OPRA breaks down the work in four categories.
- Ad Hoc
These are the required tasks for an employee, such as sick leave, vacation and required HR Training. These are must do activities. For planning, we want this time to remain stable.
This work represents the future organizational investment, usually captured in Projects. These include work on new products and Services as well as enhancements to existing products and services. These activities are generally addressed after all other work is complete. For planning, we want to increase the amount of available time.
This is the work necessary to run the organization and includes tasks such as answer customer calls/emails, maintain servers, patch software. These are generally must do activities though there are many opportunities for optimization. For planning, we want to minimize the time spent here where possible.
These are the chaotic, unexpected activities that occur daily. These activities can include technical support calls, ad hoc requests from stakeholders, clients and management. For planning purposes, a time buffer of reasonable size protects the other activities from the schedule impact of these activities without robbing other work categories of useable capacity.
Let’s run the numbers
Overhead is straightforward to calculate as the information is readily available. You need:
[(average sick days per year * 8 hrs) + (annual vacation days * 8 hrs) + (average HR training days * 8 hrs)]/52 weeks = O hours / week.
A typical employee may annually take 5 sick days, 10 vacation days and have a total of 5 HR training days. Based on the formula above, this would translate to [(5*8) + (10*8) + (5*8)]/52 = approximately 3 hours per week of overhead.
Project demand can be calculated, using a tool that captures the resource assignments over time. A number of companies use a Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) tool to balance cost, resource and strategic demands. However, it is difficult to execute well without a full picture of resource utilization. Heavy use of contractors may indicate the company needs to buy resource capacity for projects as contractors spend much less time on organizational maintenance tasks.
Recurring time requires work sampling to determine the level of effort, which is likely greater than thought. Lean Process techniques use the keeping of a time diary for a few weeks to determine what activities and allocations are really happening. Once this data is captured, it is analyzed for recurring patterns and opportunities to make things more efficient. These efficiency opportunities are placed in a backlog and are worked on when ad hoc time allocations are not consumed.
I recommend allocating some time for ad hoc work per week. If you run any system at capacity, any new time demands will throw the entire system out of equilibrium. Therefore, if you schedule 100 percent of an employee’s time, any ad hoc request will create a fire drill. For example, collaboration between employees is one example of an ad hoc task. Typically two to four hours per employee on a non-support team is sufficient.
We can then use this higher quality allocation data to adjust our project planning processes. This will lead to more realistic project plans and make Portfolio prioritization easier. Next week, we’ll examine other ways that organizations can be adding to this resource capacity problem.
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