March 1, 2014 Leave a comment
As many in the industry have come to realize, not all resources at one’s disposal are created equal. Different individuals operate at different speeds and some have a wider breadth of knowledge than others.
As program managers, we are provided resources on a per project basis and it is up to us (in conjunction with functional managers) to determine how tasks will be disseminated amongst the various individuals at our disposal.
Invariably however, as the program (and functional) managers begin to get to know the people at their disposal, they will often have a better understanding which might be more adept at completing certain tasks in a timely manner and which can be called upon to take on new tasks and responsibilities as the project progresses.
While a program manager’s main duty is to ensure the timely completion of the project, what exactly occurs over time if a small set of individuals are required to take on more and more work due to the fact that they are the ‘stars’ of the team and have demonstrated on many occasions that they will deliver as needed? What dangers exist from ‘going to the well’ one too many times?
What is Resource Overloading?
Simply put, overloading your resources is the process by which the program manager begins to allocate more and more tasks to a select few resources because those individuals have been counted upon in the past to deliver results. The ultimate consequence is that the work breakdown structure becomes heavily skewed and unbalanced. Despite having a fairly decent resource pool, the actual workload itself is not uniformly distributed amongst the team.
What are the Initial Signs of Resource Overloading?
Despite what many may think, resource overloading is not as easy to spot as one might surmise. If the work breakdown structure looks skewed, that can be a telling sign that things are not effectively balanced. However, depending on how tasks as broken down, the disparity may be more vague if number of hours of work per task are being leveraged. This is ultimately due to the fact that the more rapid delivery resources will invariably be able to complete a larger number of individual and complex tasks in a shorter time frame. As such, if the program manager is asking for feedback on how long specific tasks may take, a resource who is more capable will be completing tasks at a faster rate, thereby providing shorter turn-around times relative to a peer who may ask for longer time for each task. This is probably what makes resource overloading so much more difficult to spot. On the surface, a casual observer may assume that the tasks which have been allocated more time are more complex and as such may not realize that in fact, specific resources are actually performing less work in given time frames (per unit hour) than others.
What are the Negative Effects of Resources Overloading?
The most obvious consequence is burn-out of a specific set of resources because they are being burdened by a larger than manageable set of tasks. Additionally, team animosity can begin to set in as those resources that are delivering begin to question why they are ‘picking up the slack’ so to speak while their peers are coasting through the day. This becomes even more frustrating if peers are compensated in an equal fashion (or even higher) despite not delivering at the same rate. And finally, loss of good resources through voluntary attrition can be the final result of an over-worked resource whose frustration level finally causes them to decide to find work elsewhere.
What can a Program Manager Do to Mitigate the Issues Associated with Resource Overloading?
The first step in mitigation is to recognize that resource overloading is occurring. Once that diagnosis is confirmed, the program manager should begin to work towards re-allocating tasks to remove burden from over-extended resource. There is a danger in this regard that project slippage could occur, so steps should be taken to discuss these options with the functional manager. Additionally, a program manager should never be afraid to be up front with functional managers regarding the resources they are being provided. If certain resources have a tendency to ‘coast’ relative to their peers while others are compensating for their lack of motivation or experience, then this needs to be addressed. Either the program manager can ask for a re-allocation of resources or they can take steps to ask for scope adjustments as needed. None of these are the most ‘ideal’ discussions to have, especially with the project sponsor, but ignoring the issue could have longer reaching ramifications. Project slippage could occur if mitigation steps are taken, but project slippage will most definitely occur if valuable resources decide to leave for other opportunities.
Resource overloading is often an overlooked issue within the corporate structure. Complacency can set in within all lines of management as they all begin to rely more and more on a select few individuals. But as stated earlier, the consequences of not taking steps to mitigate resource overload can result in a fractured organization and a severe loss of functional knowledge and talent as good individuals decide to take opportunities elsewhere.