Knowledge workers spend just 39% of their day on their actual jobs. The rest is taken up by email, meetings, interruptions, etc., according to the Workfront 2016-2017 State of Enterprise Work Report. That means it’s more important than ever to accurately plan and forecast the work you want your teams to do—so that they can spend more time focusing on work that drives your business forward.
The absolutely brilliant Erica Gunn, Director of Marketing Operations at Nordstrom, and I gave a presentation at Content Marketing World this week, where we shared a number of tips to improve resource planning and management. Following are six that can get your team working more smoothly.
1. Develop a Strategic Breakdown Structure
No matter what stage your business is in, take the time to create a Strategic Breakdown Structure where you align each of your goals with measurements. Following are a few questions you could ask yourself to get started:
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- How will you measure success?
- Are you working on the right things?
- What’s not going to help you succeed?
Measure your results as you go and adjust your plan along the way. You should keep your company’s and team’s strategic initiatives as your North Star, guiding all of your efforts, because you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
2. Take the time to gather project requirements
Getting the information about a project before it kicks off will enable you and your team to plan and resource effectively for the full scope of any project. Depending on the type of work you’re doing, your project input form will likely be different, but should focus on the end goal you’re working to accomplish, including:
- Strategic alignment
- Relevant deadlines and milestones
- Project goals and success metrics
- Actionable learnings from prior projects
- Key competitors and approach
- Approvers required throughout the project
Don’t be afraid to invest time upfront into your requirements gathering, because everything you document before you launch into the project will be time (and sanity) saved along the way.
3. Plan for the unplanned
We all hate ad hoc requests, but in some industries and companies, they come with the territory. A last-minute opportunity might arise that requires support, or a market shift may make your planned activities obsolete (such as warm weather when you’re planning a marketing blitz advertising coats).
Whatever the reason, ad hoc requests happen. The typical response, though, is that they completely derail your work—making you and your team miserable. Instead, plan for ad hoc work to come your way. If you are tracking your team’s work, you can come up with a good idea of how much time typically goes to last-minute requests. If that number is 20%, then account for it in your resource plans. Yes, that means you’ll likely only be able to schedule team members at 60% utilization (80% utilization is typically given to a full-time employee), but you’ll have a more realistic view of what your team can actually accomplish.
4. Know how long things take
This one is really simple—track how long it takes you to complete repeatable work projects. Track time over both hands-on time (hours worked) and duration (over what period of time). You’ll likely be surprised at how you were under-allocating time for projects, assuming they have fewer steps and take less time than they actually do. Once you know how long things take, it’s much easier to accurately forecast resources to get them done.
5. Create your prioritization methodology
There are a lot of ways to prioritize—around company / departmental goals, against opportunities that arise, or to the requests of the boss. At the end of the day, it’s best to take all of these into consideration. Consider the following as you create your team’s prioritization methods:
- Balance strategic alignment—how do the requests align to the strategic mission of your team or department?
- Urgent v. important—there are those requests that are absolutely urgent; and those that are important—how do you identify the fine line between both?
- Relative effort—it’s common for people to bring requests that “will only take 5 minutes” in order to get things slipped through the system (and they rarely really take 5 minutes). Have an idea of the relative effort needed to accomplish your commonly requested tasks so that you can schedule the requests properly.
6. Change is hard
Any change you make to the way you resource your projects requires a mindshift from your team. And change is really hard. Don’t skimp on giving your team members leeway to process and react to the change in their own way. Most should quickly embrace a system that will let them work fewer weekends, but you could have push-back. Following are the tips that Erica shared to navigate the change process:
- Communicate: Define what you want people to do differently. Visibly and transparently change your intake, prioritization and resource management behaviors. Let everyone see how you’re doing things differently.
- Model: Live the change – leadership models the new behavior. Get executive/leadership buy-in for more structured intake, prioritization, and resource management
- Reinforce: Rewards and consequences are the most powerful levers you have. Reward those who follow suit (call-out in company meetings, spot awards, “good job”, etc.) and ensure there are consequences for the “old behaviors” (chaotic/randomized work isn’t funded/supported, for example).
Over-scheduling your resources leads to burnout and turnover. With more discipline and process around resource management, you can keep your team members happy, and build trust in your customers that you can deliver on time.
Knock resource management out of the park with our free ebook "The Complete Guide to Resource Management." Download today!
About the Author
Heather has enjoyed playing the game of marketing for the past 15 years, at the agency and corporate level, in both B2C and B2B companies. She's run PR campaigns that took her from the MTV Beach House to NASDAQ and many media outlets and content channels in between. She is currently the Corporate Marketing Director at Workfront.Follow on Twitter More Content by Heather Hurst