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Project Emergency Plan: What to Do When You Run Out of Resources

Posted by  Graham Kimberley

Imagine that you're managing a number of critical projects. The first project should be nearly complete, but it has gone slightly off the rails, forcing you pull manpower from another project to get it back on track.

Now the second project risks falling behind, and the team is starting to make mistakes because they're missing some key people. You're sure that the client is about to complain, so you pull in some temporary workers to try to hit your deadline. Since you brought them in on short notice, you're having to pay overtime to get the job done. The result? A stressful, hectic and inefficient project that might just cost your profit margin -- or your reputation.

As a project manager or resource manager, you should never be in a situation in which you run out of time, money or people when you aren't expecting it. Undertaking a proper needs assessment can help you allocate the right resources to the right place, at the right time.

Developing a Needs Assessment

The needs assessment is your precursor to decision making. It's your process for identifying discrepancies between the results that need to be accomplished and where you are right now, so you can prioritize your resources.

There are a few basic steps that you can work through to develop your needs assessment:

1. Gather Information

As part of the professional services project management planning phase, you should gather information about needed resources and consulting with team members whose expertise is integral to the project's success. How much time do they need to deliver a milestone? Do they have the proper tools, technology and equipment to carry out the task? How do known variables such as vacation time impact the resource requirement? Have you considered other possible disruptions such as sickness or dysfunctional working practices that may impact delivery?

2. Match Resources to Dependencies

The next step is to identify the schedule dependencies -- the tasks or activities that must be completed sequentially for the rest of the project to proceed. You can't erect the roof until you build the foundation and walls. Prioritize resources to these critical tasks, preferably in conjunction with your risk assessment to understand where problems might arise.

3. Build a Contingency Plan

Before the start of a project, you should allow for some flexibility in case unexpected situations arise. This might include having a back-up team on standby, a few days' leeway in the project delivery date or a buffer of cash for any costs associated with problem solving. Your choices will depend on the size, complexity and risk associated with the project, but the important thing is that you collect enough data to build a strong forecast from the start.

4. Gain Consensus

The final step is to gain consensus, whereby the client, team members, management and key stakeholders agree on the allocation of resources outlined in your needs assessment. Since project performance is rarely improved by single solutions or activities, it's important that you take an interdisciplinary approach and seek buy-in across the organization.

What If My Project Is Still Going Off the Rails?

If you have identified that the project will not be completed using the strategies set out in your needs assessment, including your contingency plan, you have a few options:

  • Work overtime
  • Use contract resources
  • Move resources from other projects
  • Change the project scope
  • Swap resources by releasing underperforming team members and assigning more productive workers to key activities
  • Throw more resources at schedule dependencies
  • Fast-track certain activities to accelerate the project schedule
  • Improve and streamline internal workflows to prevent bottlenecks
  • Find more funding and raise the budget

Each of these options has benefits and drawbacks. For example, you may be able to remove some items from the project and focus on the pre-agreed goals that are valuable to your stakeholders. This needs careful handling, though, or you might fall short of expectations. You might also fast-track the schedule by running schedule dependencies alongside other tasks, instead of before them. This will save you time, but if the schedule dependencies change from the original specification, you may end up doing more work and increasing the cost.

Toward a Real-Time Solution

The sure-fire way to keep a project on track and on budget is through access to accurate, real-time information about your manpower, equipment, suppliers, materials and subcontractors. This lets you monitor progress against your project schedule and see exactly where your stress points lie.

Leading professional services automation (PSA) solutions allow you to take the pulse of the project in real-time so you always know whether the project is moving in the right direction. Finding out at the end of the month that you have spent 60 percent of your budget, but you're only 40 percent complete is a potentially disastrous problem. With current information at your fingertips, you can quickly assess your needs assessment and take corrective action.

Emergency planning is all about defining what it means to be "finished" and having agreed-upon strategies to control costs and deliver on time. This is partly covered early on during the needs-assessment phase, but it should also be continuously evaluated during the project life cycle. Being able to forecast the progress of your project and seamlessly reallocate resources goes a long way toward eliminating the insidious overruns that might otherwise creep into your projects.

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Graham Kimberley

Graham Kimberley is a Business Manager at Unit4. Bringing more than 20 years’ experience providing ERP solutions to large corporate and SME people centric organisations by understanding the needs of companies in terms of Financial and Project Accounting, Procurement, Workflow, HR/Payroll and Business Intelligence.