How can we plan accurately when we know we'll lose resources?

How do we come up with an accurate plan that will hold, when we KNOW we are going to have resource issues along the way?
Resource unavailability is such a common problem for creating and meeting a schedule. There is unfortunately no silver bullet. What matters up front is conveying what's truly needed and what could go wrong if those resources are NOT made and kept available.
  • Use planning work and communication to show what very specifically what resources (people, equipment, lab time, etc.) you need and when.
  • Use risk analysis to communicate what could happen if you do NOT get these resources at the right time.
  • Show project alternatives: For example, "If we get X resources in this area with this timing, we could add an extra month to the schedule." For critical issues, "If we do not get these resources, this plan is NOT doable."

Your first goal should be to get to a realistic plan based on the real resource availability, starting at the very beginning of the project. Getting and maintaining commitment requires an early and ongoing communication and influence process to get those resources committed, and convey the consequences if resources aren't committed or issues if resources vanish later in the project.

For example: In the concept phase or initiation phase of a project, you start to get an idea of what types and numbers of functional people you might need during different parts of the project. Start communicating those insights immediately, and let other functional managers know what resources the project will require.

During planning work you will continue to identify necessary resources. It's best to find these needs systematically, by identifying resources for each aspect of the Work Breakdown Structure or task list. This provides an accurate "bottoms up" estimate. Then, summarize those numbers to show the amount of resources you need from each group over time.

Finally, include representatives from functional areas where you typically lose resources during a project, or where you expect to lose them during this one. Use the same techniques just described to point out potential inaccuracies in your schedule due to anticipated resource issues.

The practical key is to expect to have to be relentless in your ongoing communication about resource needs, and what the impacts will be if you don't get those resources at the right time. You may even have to "stomp your feet" and dig in if your feel that a resource shortfall truly threatens the project's goals. And if you're not sure yet but think it could be a threat, be very articulate in your risk statements.

NOTE: One key aspect of successful resource communication is to phrase things objectively and specifically. "We don't have enough resources" may be seen as generalized whining. No one has enough resources! I've heard executives say, "Oh everybody always complains that we don't have enough resources. Get over it. We just have to get it done." In addition, a general statement is not actionable.

Be ready to show specific areas of resource shortfall or looming risk. Find past projects that suffered from this specific resource scenario and refer to the problems caused for those projects. Remind everyone of the project's Late Cost Per Week. Get as specific as possible, and make your requests as specific as possible, down to the people and the points in time. Instead of "We're short QA resources," say "We need 2 senior QA resources for two weeks right here or else (risk/consequence)." That's small, specific, and actionable.

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