4 Steps to Right Sizing the Project Team

Right-sizing. I love that fun, ugly term that originated in the late 80’s that executives started using instead of firing people. “We aren’t firing, we are right sizing.” Sure, that sounds better and more forward thinking to everyone except the 4% of the company you just let go unexpectedly because you didn’t meet last quarter’s earning projections. “No honey, I wasn’t fired or laid off, I was right sized.” Oh, then that’s ok…

Now let’s consider it on less permanent terms – on a current project where you aren’t hiring and firing, just making sure you are properly staffed for this current project. Too many team members on the project can wreak the project budget quickly. Too few and you have a whole different set of problems to deal with including missed deadlines, work overload, dissension and frustration…and likely some quality issues and customer confidence and dissatisfaction issues. Finding that right balance – especially right out of the gate on the project before all the dust has settled and you are certain you are on the correct path to the right project solution – can be next to impossible. So, as the dust does start to settle – and even before as you’re planning resources for the project – what do you do to right size the project team? Consider these scenarios and actions…

Getting it right from the start. The first step – and maybe the only step if you’re lucky and do it right and nothing changes – to right sizing the project team is to get it right the first time. Leave the starting gate with whatever size team you are certain you need and then never have to change it – up or down or sideways – throughout the project engagement. This can be especially challenging for the less experienced project manager and there can be so many unpredictables and variables – often many that are beyond the control of the project manager – that can affect the project and the tasks needed to complete it. All those variables and unpredictables plus the ones that the newbie project manager didn’t think of can make it extremely difficult – maybe even impossible at first – to get the project staffing and resource planning right the first time. More experienced project managers will get it right more often than not. Good, because it can be very costly to add new resources later on and bring them up to speed and equally costly to carry unnecessary resources till that point in time you realize you didn’t really need that many developers or the extra data specialist you were previously convinced was going to be necessary.

Compare to other projects. We are constantly comparing our project to others. Trying to learn lessons, sharing details to make life easier on our project or helping our PM colleagues. The past is often the best predictor of the future. When you ran into resource problems on that last project and had to add resources, what was the reasoning? And how bad were the budget and timeline affected when you added them? Consider this as early as possible – probably when you are putting together your resource forecast and requesting the proper resources before you even have the full team assembled.

Keep resources on the project only as needed. Yes, many times we put the resource plan together and ask for ‘x’ resources and keep them throughout…sometimes with dead time for a resource in the middle of the project. There may be options for them to help out in other ways on the project during those lulls in effort for them, but complete downtime for a project resource can be problematic as they may charge idle time to the project to keep their own resource utilization percentage at a maximum…something they are often judged on for raises and performance reviews. So be careful – you could find yourself paying for resources you don’t need and killing the project budget in the middle of the project. Plan resources for only those periods that you need them – make it clear to everyone that you don’t need your tech lead till July 1st and that your data integrator will be free from September through December so that the resource gods can re-assign him to another project and not have you end up carrying dead weight on the project for four costly months.

Fixing the project in mid-stream. This is the one to avoid, but it often becomes necessary – all too often. Removing a resource in mid-stream on a project may not be too costly unless they have already caused irreparable harm to the project, the timeline, and budget for being carried unnecessarily or for wrongful acts. But adding resources in mid-stream to replace a resource or to meet unexpected project needs can be very costly because you must go through the education process and bring one or more resources up to speed. Get them everything you can fast so they can jump on board productively as quickly as possible. The statement of work (SOW), recent status reports, the project schedule, issues list, risk plans, even the project budget forecast and resource plans can be helpful getting new key project personnel up to speed fast. Have them sit in on one or more project status meetings with the customer before they actively participate – if you can possibly have the luxury of doing that – in order to ensure they are ready. But remember, all this does come at a price – it stretches the project budget and the project timeline so be careful.

What about our readers – what are your thoughts and experiences with dealing with project resource planning and fixing the project team size along the way? It can be painful and costly, but if necessary it is the only path to take. Please share your thoughts and discuss.