One of a project manager's primary roles is to assure that a department's workload is prioritized and balanced--matching available resources with client demand. This requires knowledge of the skills needed to execute various project types and an understanding of staff expertise and capabilities, and if need be, access to outside experts for specialized or unique technology demands. At times it may feel like you are manipulating a Rubik's cube as you try to assure that a project's demand aligns with the availability of necessary experts.
How does a project manager successfully match resources to demand and minimize the disruptions of unexpected projects? Forecasting. Proactively collecting information on upcoming projects and thoughtful planning of resources helps reduce the need to manage projects reactively. That's an important point: you are forecasting the incoming work as a whole, as well as the work streams the project will hit (15 hours of copywriting, 10 hours of design, 5 hours of project management, 2 hours of proofreading, etc.) and then comparing that "demand" to your team's capacity by work stream/role.
Forecasting allows the chaos from triaging unexpected work to be reduced resulting in noticeable benefits, including: lowering overtime or outside rush fees, sensible hiring, delivering work on time, reducing errors, and boosting staff morale with a more predictable, less stressful work environment.
Here are a few suggestions for successful forecasting:
- Establish a go-to contact in each client area that will facilitate sharing work projections on a quarterly (or, better yet, monthly) basis
- During these meetings or communications, truly partner with the go-to contact to help them consider the full breadth of their typical and historical project work. In addition, if there are public resources that list their events or publications schedule be sure to review these ahead of the meeting.
- Establish a standing internal department meeting to review client projections and work volume against department resources; depending on how large your department is you may just want to include managers or specific subject matter experts. This meeting may be held on the same schedule as the client forecasting meeting, or you may want to hold it more often as capacity and projects can change more frequently given project scope changes and staff PTO and attrition.
- Discuss what areas of expertise will be required and in what quantity, as well as what gaps exist.
- Identify freelance or outsourced assistance to manage overflow or fill the expertise gaps--this is a fantastic way to access specialized experts and expand the department capabilities without the commitment of a full-time hire.
- Document and share findings with department leaders. Once the plan is blessed, communicate it out to the larger team to provide them transparency and assurance that their work-life balance is important.
Forecasting arms the project manager with valuable knowledge enabling proactive project and resource management. It creates confidence in meeting client demands and allows thoughtful consideration for outsourcing. Embracing a more proactive philosophy may just inspire others to follow the lead.
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