If you want a competitive edge as a digital PM, working on your resource management skills is a must. In fact, this might be the most important element of your job.
A 2020 survey by Wellingtone found that resource management is one of the main processes project managers struggle to successfully embed within their practices. And The Pulse of the Profession 2020 report by PMI found that a lack of efficient resource management can waste 11.4% of your investment.
So how can you go from struggling to manage those resources to seamlessly forecasting, assembling, and managing all the separate elements needed to successfully deliver your projects on time and within budget?
The answer—as with most things—lies with continuous professional development and following project resource management best practices. In this article, we’ll discuss how to evaluate your current workflow and how to implement best practices as a digital PM.
Evaluating Your Processes
By evaluating your methodology and resource planning strategies, you can start to refine your skills to become a PM with the resource management skills and capabilities needed to succeed.
This can feel like a challenge in a market where digital projects can encompass anything from creating augmented reality experiences to launching web-based services for citizens and everything in between. The resources you need to complete each project will vary, but often include equipment, team members, and materials.
Effective resource management is one of the most important elements of managing an overall project. But it can sometimes feel like juggling balls and spinning plates—at the same time. And in an ever-changing and fast-evolving industry like digital tech, it can feel like you’re always chasing your tail.
But the good news is that even though your project deliverables may change, the strategies and techniques you need to successfully deliver them often look pretty similar.
Digital project managers can become more skilled at successfully juggling and spinning all the resources they need to complete each project by following some best practice strategies—and we’ve outlined 8 of these below.
8 Best Practices For Resource Management
Time spent honing your resource management skills and strategies is time well spent. Especially as research from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) shows that the most effective digital project managers are always evolving and adding new strategies and ideas to their toolbox. An agile mindset combined with a flexible approach and a desire to keep learning will also help you stay ahead of the game—and these best practices will help you achieve just that.
1. Plan To Create A Strong Foundation
Your initial planning sets the whole scene for the remainder of any project. So start strong by creating a foundation built around a resource-loaded project schedule. Starting with creating a resource loading chart can help you see how your team’s availability matches up with project tasks and their target completion dates.
Once this is complete, both stakeholders and team members can see, at a glance, how you envision executing a specific project. They’ll also know how much time it will take and where their involvement is necessary.
Some people may say that for an IT project, there’s no need for a project plan. But while it’s true that in a fast-paced environment like IT your plan may change and evolve over time, it’s still a tool that many successful digital PMs choose to employ.
A clear project plan clarifies the processes and activities needed for successful completion, helps you to visualize milestones, and also offers a level of confidence to your stakeholders, because they can see you’re prepared. There are many different project management software and resource management software options to choose from that can help you create a plan to be proud of.
2. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
Your project plan might give you a broad overview of where you’re heading—but scheduling gives you the granular level of detail to know exactly how you’re going to make that happen. You may decide to create traditional tasks with set deadlines for specific elements, while for others, a less formal to-do list without specific deadlines may do the job for smaller elements.
Sometimes, limits for the amount of time each task should be completed can be useful too. You might decide to use time tracking software as a way to see how long each project task takes and the balance of which team members are working on specific tasks and when.
Some projects may require you to track how each team member is spending their time, down to 15-minute blocks, and others will only need a loose estimate of how long you anticipate each task to take.
3. Build In Flexibility
Even with the best planning, any project can be delayed by unexpected circumstances. You’ve probably heard of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” And most digital PMs know only too well that this can also apply to your resource plan. The problem is you never know ahead of time what might go wrong or why.
The key to coping with this uncertainty is to account for the knowledge that something probably will go wrong. Effective digital PMs achieve this by building a certain degree of flexibility into their resourcing plans. It’s always better to give a conservative estimate for how long something will take or prepare a contingency for if the developer you need is unavailable—knowing that any additional resource buffer will probably end up being used when you need to resolve something that’s gone wrong.
4. Balance Your Project Resources
Ideally, you want the capacity of your resources to correspond to demand. Otherwise, you may find your team is sitting at their desks staring into space with nothing to do one week—then overworked and working late to try and meet a project deliverable the next. Over time, stress like this can lead to burnout and impact their perception of your abilities as a project manager.
Capacity planning can help you determine when you’ll need which resources over a project timeline. Then, you can ensure resource availability matches your resource allocation at the right time. And if something goes wrong—and as we’ve discovered, this can happen pretty often—knowing how to readjust and optimize those resources and reduce bottlenecks means you’re more likely to stay on track. You can use techniques including resource leveling or smoothing to help rebalance your project.
5. Keep Your Team Members Engaged
It’s unlikely you’ll complete your project on time if your team is unmotivated or unengaged. These days, successful project management relies on people management and human resources more than almost anything else. But many digital project managers don’t necessarily work with their teams for longer than the lifecycle of each project.
That means soft skills like knowing how to communicate, build trust, and lead your team are utterly essential. Digital PMs need to hit the ground running and manage their teams by carefully considering which tasks align with each individual’s expertise and strengths. If each team member is working on something they enjoy, they’re far more likely to feel engaged and motivated.
For each specific project, you’ll likely need a blend of team members, from front-end developers to UX architects, data scientists, and more. Some of these may work on a project from start to finish, while others will only be responsible for specific deliverables within a certain stage. Being able to quickly assess each individual’s communication styles and use your influence combined with your soft skills, to work out how to keep them engaged and motivated.
6. Choose The Right Resource Management Tool
There’s a huge choice of digital resource management tools out there to choose from—and certain tools may suit certain projects but not others. Rather than steadfastly using the same tool for each project, forward-thinking digital project managers stay up to date with the latest trends and aren’t afraid to test out new software tools.
This aligns with the findings of the PMI, which identified creative problem-solving skills and the ability to think strategically as two of the most important skill sets for a project or resource manager.
Creativity and strategic abilities are also vital in project managers who recognize that not every digital project needs a digital tool at every single stage. Sometimes, sitting down with your UX team and working out the stages of a customer journey by creating a mind map, moving touchpoints around, and seeing everything written down on good old paper (although digital mind maps also work great!) is the way to go.
7. Document Everything
While you might understand each stage of your decision-making process—do your team and stakeholders? Keep things crystal clear by documenting your thought process and assumptions around your resource management process so that it’s easy for everyone else to understand the logic behind your decisions.
By keeping records of your decisions and openly sharing your processes, it’s easier to gain and maintain stakeholder buy-in. This can help build confidence and show you’re invested in hearing their opinion. And if they query anything and you need to say no, being able to show the evidence behind your decisions can help reduce doubt and build trust.
Having templates on hand for meeting agendas, project kickoff meetings, or sprint planning meetings also makes it much easier and faster to create a paper trail that documents every stage of your project, especially decisions around resource utilization. These documents can also help when preparing reports, tracking metrics, analyzing profitability, and gaining a high-level view of workflow performance.
8. Create A Communication Plan
When you’re in the weeds of a project, it can be easy to let communication slip. But out of the projects that do fail, communication breakdowns are responsible for 57% of cases. As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to communicate the project progress with all stakeholders and team members.
Taking the time to create a communication and prioritization plan at the very start of each project ensures everyone is clear about how to send updates, ask questions, or share ideas.
For example, you might be happy for team members to message you on Slack but prefer to keep all external stakeholder communications within your project management platform. Stating these expectations clearly means everyone knows where and how to reach you. What also sets a great digital PM apart from a good one is that they’ll also place a high priority on two-way communication.
Taking the time to find out how your team prefers to receive feedback can help maintain open lines of communication. Some may prefer a quick video call, while others may request written feedback. By making sure your communication plan plays to everyone’s strengths, you’re setting yourself up for success.
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Find more about who is responsible for resource management here.