Finding a happy medium between under- and overutilization of employees as well as selecting best-in-class talent for a given project while maintaining profitability, should be the focus of all of us. Sounds simple, right? And yet, it's still something that many companies struggle with. So what's challenging about it?
Even though resource allocation looks like a pretty simple concept, it does come with a set of challenges. The list is long, so let's focus on the most common ones.
Resources are the point of contention between different departments – Sales, Delivery, HR – you name it! Each focuses on resources but usually looks at them from different perspectives that sometimes (or even quite often) contradict each other.
For example, the sales department wants to get as many projects as possible, HR is interested in executing their hiring plan which doesn't always align with the sales pipeline, Project Managers want people with a better-suited skillset, and finally, the development team wants to be able to grow professionally in various directions.
If there's more than one person, or a team of people, responsible for the allocation, then all stakeholders in the process must be involved. Needless to say, people from different departments subjectively look at resources to fulfill their needs, and allocation-related decisions might not be made in an unbiased manner.
But then it's difficult to pinpoint who's responsible for any unfavorable outcomes of those decisions. Basically, if everyone is accountable for a task, no one really is.
Lack of transparency
This one stems from the previous point. If more than one person (or a team) is responsible for the allocation, all stakeholders do it independently, usually storing resourcing-related data in various places.
With all of the spreadsheets flying around, it's not only easy but almost inevitable to lose track of some pieces of this puzzle, leading to chaos and conflicts.
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With many channels of communication, such as e-mails, group chats and private messages, comes the risk of miscommunication. For example, the upper management/team leaders usually exchange information gathered during weekly meetings, which is time-consuming.
Dependencies between projects
To successfully optimize resource allocation, decisions must be made based not only on the current availability of people but also on the broader project context within the company (sometimes projects get extended, periodically people are rotated out of the project, etc.)
Without all the current and planned allocation information, it's easy to overbook the most demanded resources and underutilize others.
Lack of visibility into resource skills & competencies
as the organization grows, keeping up with the entire spectrum of competencies across the teams is getting more complex.
Lack of a transparent allocation process and communication results in suboptimal resource use. Let's remember that our resources are people who might feel frustrated and disengaged if their skills and potential are not considered while planning.
How we do it in Apptension
Last year we reached a point where the existing allocation process wasn't feasible anymore. With our headcount growing we decided to create a dedicated position for a Talent Allocation Specialist (TAS) who'd take care of the resourcing issues full-time and act as a communication hub within the company.
Here's the rundown of how we typically approach the process.
Initiating the resource request (Sales/PMs)
We use a dedicated Slack channel for the resourcing requests. It starts with a standardized form submitted by the sales dept. or a Project Manager in which they specify the skills required for the job.
Estimating resources (PMs/Dev Team)
A Talent Allocation Specialist selects people for the pre-sales team. For that, we use Team Deck, a resource management tool that allows us to check availability, skills, seniority levels, previous assignments, and much more. Once the estimation is done, presented to the client, adjusted if needed, and accepted, we can form the development team.
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Resource acquisition (TAS/Recruitment)
Knowing the exact skillset, budget, and timeline of the project, the Talent Allocation Specialist checks our available resources against the project's requirements.
If at that moment, we don’t have people exactly matching the tech stack, TAS proposes possible solutions. Do we trigger a new recruitment process if there's enough time? Do we turn to outsourcing? Do we make some shifts and rotations within existing projects? It depends on the context and the situation at hand.
Once all the parties agree on what the team should look like, it's time to put it in writing. Again, TAS goes to our tool of choice, Teamdeck, and make bookings in the system so everyone can be up-to-date.
Going through the resourcing situation (Sales/Delivery/TAS)
Of course, no project exists in a vacuum and is part of a bigger ecosystem. All parties involved in resource utilization need to be updated about the situation. We have a weekly meeting to address any bigger issues or challenges that might have come up, and a representative for each department is present.
Monitoring (PMs/Account Manager/TAS)
The process continues even after the project starts. Both PM and AM monitor the situation in the project. If there are any issues requiring TAS intervention, such as adding new resources, the information is passed on and discussed. Necessary measures are taken to ensure the project's smooth and successful delivery.
How to measure it?
No process exists in a vacuum, and we need to be able to assess whether it's working or not. So here come metrics that help us track and evaluate the performance of our tasks and projects.
There are plenty to choose from, so let's look at the most common ones:
- Utilization – a breakdown and analysis of a team member's available hours and how much time they spend on each project.
- Scheduled utilization – the utilization rate planned for employees to be realized during the project against their total capacity.
- Actual utilization – the utilization rate based on the working hours logged by employees.
- Capacity – employee's total available working hours after taking into account public holidays and the employee's absences (holidays, sick leaves, etc.).
- Availability – the total time an employee is available to work.
- Billable vs. non-billable hours utilization – hours worked paid by the clients vs. hours worked and unpaid by the client (also includes internal projects and tasks).
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Why do we invest in a structured human resource allocation and management process?
It enables utilization planning and thanks to specific processes in place, we can have an overview of the amount of work people have on their hands, which, in turn, helps to avoid over- and underutilization. It's important not only from the profitability perspective but also from the perspective of keeping our employees engaged and preventing a high attrition rate.
What is more, it helps to see preventable issues from the very beginning. Having a structured resource management process gives us an insight into what to expect in future projects.
It allows us to act before minor issues become more significant and complex to solve problems. An example of that can be a case of an excellent developer who's permanently assigned to projects with Vue.js as a primary framework while signaling that he's starting to feel burnt out and wants to switch to mobile.
Lastly, It promotes transparency, as the more people are in the decision process, the more challenging it is to keep everyone up-to-date. Thanks to creating a separate role dedicated to resource allocation, we avoid miscommunication and booking conflicts.
Talent and human resource allocation – summary
Introducing such a role and standardizing the allocation process may seem daunting and sometimes not worth the time. There might be a thought that since we've always somehow managed those tasks, why can't we keep going?
However, companies that want to be at the forefront of innovation must know how to do it with constrained resources, especially in IT. Introducing such a role dedicated to allocation and standardizing processes is necessary to ensure higher performance, better results, and optimal resource utilization.