Science Meets Voodoo
One of the most daunting tasks that I’m regularly faced with is Manpower forecasting and planning for all of our various project efforts. It seems like everyone always needs to know the facts relating to our human resources…”Do we have enough staff available to take on this new project?” “How many calendar weeks will this project require?” “What’s the estimated labor cost?” “How long will this project take if we put a small team on it?” “What kind of labor budget do we need to include in this new proposal?” These are just a few of the staffing-related questions that tend to bubble up around here on a regular basis. And we are not unique in that aspect. These questions really apply to EVERY business at some point or another. And make no mistake about this: If you are not able to consistently answer these questions for your business within a very small margin of error, you are in big trouble! Bids will be incorrect, projects will be late and/or over budget, personnel will be overworked, and most importantly, your company’s financial picture will quickly head to the red-ink zone.
First, let’s look at the science involved in the manpower planning process…
There are a couple of scientific tools that I use that I have found invaluable for manpower forecasting. First and most important is the use of reports from historical data. If you have access to data from previous similar jobs, it’s very easy to utilize as a guide for your current efforts. This data includes hours charged to previous jobs sorted by sub categories, calendars days required to complete tasks, as well as individual skill sets applied to the work. If you have this sort of data and can assemble it in a report format, you will find it invaluable to apply to current projects. The second tool that you must have is some sort of manpower modeling device to layout the requirements of your project. There are a number of different ways that you can model human resource requirements. One of the simplest and an old favorite of mine is a spread sheet with resource requirements and availabilities cross-linked. Microsoft Project also has the ability to load and model your resources within a project schedule. It’s a little complicated, but it does the job if you take the time to learn the software. There are also a number of other commercial software products out there that do the same thing.
And then we have the Voodoo…
While there is a large amount of science that you can apply to manpower-planning in today’s working world, the black-magic or gut-feel factor will always be present. This less-scientific side of the game often includes a project manager’s intuition, experience, instinct and occasional dumb-luck. The guys that are good at manpower-planning manage the Voodoo side of the process as well as they do the scientific side. Just don’t ask them to teach it to you, because they probably cannot. It’s just too opaque.
Adaptability is another key part of being able to accurately forecast and deliver the appropriate number of personnel to make-up a successful project team. Once things start to fall away from the plan (and it WILL fall away from the plan sooner or later) the trick is how you adjust. Some tricky projects may require adjustments every day, so a Project Manager has to literally keep a pulse on things every day. Anything less will come back to haunt you before you’re through….trust me on that one!
So if you’ve chosen Project Management as your career path (or if it chose you), then you’d better figure out a way to forecast, plan and track your manpower resources on every job, every day. And you better have a scientific process that covers all of your bases, as well as an open mind for the Voodoo side of things….Stick with this gig long enough and you’ll develop your own manpower planning process to get you through your projects. And if you don’t develop something that works, chances are you’ll be doing something else real soon!