Workforce Planning: The Struggle is Real

By Doug Morrison, Director Business Performance Management, Melillo Consulting

Workforce planning is a popular topic: Our customers want to optimize resource utilization and recognize labor costs more accurately. Agile methodology and DevOps practices are two popular trends that have made workforce planning and accounting even more arduous.

While using Agile and DevOps is often a solid plan for improving time-to-value of a team, department or even an entire organization, the reality is that the ideals of these methodologies are difficult to attain. The transition from Waterfall to Agile is a journey, and almost all customers are finding some hybrid solution is optimal for their various needs.

Waterfall project execution methodologies will remain in place for maintaining entrenched legacy systems that really aren't as nimble as DevOps or Agile would require. In addition, every company has some sort of website or mobile app and many are now challenged, for example, with how to evolve from just being a local “bank” to becoming a “global online business.” Agile development is really the only way to accomplish these goals and keep up or exceed the competition’s digital capabilities.  

Agile methods rely on cross-functional teams, but it has been a struggle to find the right mix of people who were keeping the lights on and supporting operations, versus those who were providing project delivery work. Really big companies may delegate specific jobs to individuals – a person for operations and another dedicated to innovation; however, most of our customers have mixed roles. The keep-the-lights-on type of work is often conducted by those who also provide innovative work, and unless you’ve defined that type of work as double-duty, resource management can get complicated.

Employees on two or three projects may appear to have spare time; however, you only get the full picture of their time after accounting for all their assignments, traditional project execution, agile work and operational support. Many of our customers struggle with on-time project execution because the resource reporting doesn't really show the whole picture, and the resource managers can't justify additional resources because they've got only a partial picture that incorrectly shows available capacity.  The employer may have a project management system, or maybe just use Excel spreadsheets, help desk systems, and even have multiple agile systems resulting in silos of labor effort data.

It's very valuable for companies to be able to pull all that information together into one enterprise-level view of what everybody's working on.  Individual or blended cost rates are multiplied out by the number of hours spent on operations vs innovation and actual cost analysis of how much money is being invested for various business objectives, portfolios or epics. We helped customers by providing an enterprise-grade project management system that can consolidate this information in real-time.

For example: If an employee worked on 10 help desk tickets, 30 Agile story points, and 2 project work plan tasks we can intelligently report that employees cost to each activity type (all without relying on unreliable timesheets).  We can calculate labor cost down to the incident, user story point and project milestone. IT should be able to communicate how many hours and how many dollars were spent to deliver business value, but somehow this is a pretty unique perspective.

Maybe even more importantly, we can compare all these actuals with the forecasted resource demands and improve future resource estimation.  With a complete resource demand forecast, our customers can predict 12-18 months in advance of resource shortfalls or surpluses. This is enough lead time to budget for some contract labor and maybe even retrain some employees to adapt to the needs in the portfolio pipeline.  

Finally, all goals are most often reached when all resource demands are considered when approving new projects and forecasting a workforce plan. Today’s highly competitive environment, coupled with the shortening of product life cycles, requires companies to have optimized workforces that allow them to respond quickly but also predictably. 

Agile's Not for Everyone 

Some people thrive with Agile. Others hate that the work is broken down into very individual components and they're allocated X number of minutes to work on a particular task. Some people dislike feeling that they're under a microscope, checking off a task even if it doesn't seem finished and moving on. Others love it and make the challenges into a game - how many of these small tasks can I check off in a day?

One of Agile's core tenants is that workers are dedicated to just one particular task all the time. The team allows for fast feedback and implementing it. Agile allows you to recognize where a company is spending money, and to adjust, if necessary, and put resources toward business goals and objectives. Clearly defined goals are critical to success. Maybe being competitive in the marketplace is a company's number one goal. Agile workforce management allows them to determine if attaining that goal is a spending priority.

Want to discuss workforce planning for your organization?

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