PMO Guide: Resource Management For Project Portfolio Managers

For Project Management Offices (PMOs), the challenge of optimizing resources while ensuring teams are aligned with high-priority projects is a common yet critical task. Resource conflicts and bottlenecks can impede project progress, impact timelines, and hinder overall organizational success. In this article, we explore approaches to circumvent these challenges on the portfolio level and foster an environment where projects flourish while maintaining resource equilibrium.

Do you need more information on project portfolio management?

Read our article "Project Portfolio Management - An Introduction For Practitioners With Little Time On Their Hands" for a detailed overview.

Resource vs. Project Resource Management and the PMO

Resource management, traditionally linked with HR and managers, now extends to Project Management Offices (PMOs). There is a pretty big “but” tough problem: PMOs typically do not oversee all resources - and why would they? Their task is to ensure strategic projects come to fruition and to keep the project portfolio healthy. Hence they typically oversee project resources (if at all). This article concentrates on resource management as part of PMO's project portfolio management (PPM) only. And this alone is often already challenging enough. So let's get into it.

Bringing Resource Management and Project Portfolio Management Together

If you have read other articles on this blog, you probably already know we are all for project resource management. However, you may have noticed that we are also on the fence a bit, too. Namely in regards to its usefulness for all types of organizations from the get-go. In our experience, and if you want to make resource management part of your border project portfolio management, there are a couple of prerequisites your organization needs to fulfil and in our experience, not all organizations do - quite the opposite.

Here is a non-conclusive list of prerequisites an organization and its PMO should fulfill, before diving into project portfolio resource management

  • Real Time Resource Data: Who is available? Who is not? What skill set is provided by whom? And so on. Data of this kind is the overall prerequisite. But having it once does nothing. You need to keep it up to date at all times.
  • Clear Project Objectives: Ok, this holds true for all of PPM.... but still
  • Detailed Enough Project Plans: No need to manage resources, if you do not have project plans - but often, the needed level of detail is counterproductive to PPM (go down the Governance rabbit hole, if you are interested in why that is the case).
  • Understanding of Resource Types & Skills: The PMO needs to know the crew rather well.
  • Leadership Support: Yep, as with everything on this list, it costs money. Your leadership team needs to be involved and willing to invest.

So let's assume you can check the tick boxes on all or at least the majority of the aspects above. What is next?

1. Conduct Robust Resource Capacity Planning:

Resource capacity planning involves a meticulous analysis of the skills, availability, and workload of each team member. Utilize resource management tools and software to gain insights into the current and future resource landscape. By understanding resource capacity, PMO members can make informed decisions and allocate resources efficiently.

2. Implement a Resource Management System:

Adopting a comprehensive resource management system provides a centralized platform for PMO members to track resource availability, skills, and allocation. Such systems facilitate transparency and enable quick identification of potential conflicts, allowing for proactive resolution before they escalate.

3. Utilize Resource Leveling Techniques:

As part of your planning phase, you may want to level your resources. Resource levelling is a technique that involves adjusting project schedules to optimize resource allocation. By staggering tasks and smoothing out peaks and valleys in resource demand, PMOs can prevent conflicts and ensure a more balanced workload for teams.

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4. Establish a Resource Conflict Resolution Protocol:

Now you basically have everything to get things going. So let's assume you planned all resources and your projects are underway. But somehow, new ideas come up and others prove less valuable than initially thought. Now it is time to make use of what is often called a Resource Conflict Resolution Protocol. It is a clear and well-documented protocol for resolving resource conflicts. Having a predefined process ensures consistency and efficiency in addressing conflicts when they arise, minimizing disruption to project timelines. In the real world, the protocol often refers to the prioritization logic you should have in place.

5. Regularly Review and Adjust Resource Allocation:

Resource needs and project priorities may evolve over time. Regularly review resource allocation against project priorities and organizational goals. Be prepared to make adjustments to ensure resources align with the most critical initiatives.

If you have these five steps down, you are pretty high on the PMO Maturity Level scale. Good on you! If you want to take it even further, there are other aspects of resource management a PMO may take part in.

  • Prioritize Skill Development and Training:
    Invest in the continuous skill development of team members to enhance their capabilities. Well-rounded teams can handle a broader range of tasks, reducing the likelihood of resource conflicts. Additionally, cross-training team members can provide flexibility in resource allocation.

  • Conduct Post-Project Evaluations:
    After project completion, conduct thorough evaluations to identify areas of improvement in resource management. Use insights gained from these evaluations to refine resource allocation strategies for future projects.

In conclusion, effective resource management in PMOs requires a combination of strategic planning, open communication, and the leverage of advanced technologies. By proactively addressing resource conflicts and aligning teams with high-priority projects, PMO members play a pivotal role in driving organizational success in a competitive and rapidly changing business environment. However, to make this happen, you need a solid baseline.

Is There A Lightweight Approach?

Yes! For one, you can make do with a couple of data points that gauge if a project needs more or less resources and if project members run the risk of going above capacity. The following list of data points is common in the real world.

  • Number of project members involved: The higher this number, the more resource-intensive the project.
  • Number of milestones over time: Check for projects and periods with an above-average count of milestones. If it is not down to overly detailed planning, resource demand is probably high.
  • Number of divisions involved: The higher, the more complex and resource-intensive the project.
  • Estimated financial budget: Commonly correlates positively with resource-intensiveness.
  • Comfort Zone Proximity: This is a fun one. Is the project part of the organizational comfort zone? Then you can expect it to run more smoothly will less resource demand.

If you want to identify bottleneck resources, apply the KPIs above to your project resources.

Keep It Agile: Make Use Of Bottom-Up, Stage Gates, And Plan Only 3-6 Months Ahead

We are not suggesting running your entire organization with Scrum or Kanban. You can. It might even be useful. But in many cases, a hybrid approach is the most useful way to go. If you want to follow this path, you may want to let go of planning resources top-down. By going bottom up, you internalize quite a bit of resource knowledge within your project portfolio: your team's.

In addition, it proves useful to keep the planning horizon rather short. Three to six months often do the trick. Coincidentally, this time horizon tends to run along most stage gate systems (see more on this topic here). It is here where you can make things truly hybrid. Plan your stage gates top-down - or let the project sponsor in on this task. Ask the project team to plan crucial milestones to achieve the current (or current and next) stage gate bottom up accordingly. Using this approach alleviates some of the resource planning pressure.

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