Why Resource Control Can Never Be an Afterthought

The Project Manager must be adept at managing and controlling the physical resources on his projectI love articles that begin with casual throwaway lines such as “controlling resources is pretty straightforward.” Either the author has never managed an IT project of any size, or I need to turn in my project management badge.

I have never found the management and control of physical resources straightforward. Managing these resources may not be as challenging as working with the human kind, but certainly not as simple as some of these experts would have us believe.

Physical project resources involve servers and workstations, system development software, productivity software, office space, furniture and materials, short term leases (e.g., training space), living accommodations for out-of-towners, travel, and for my brilliant and hard striving millennials and Gen Z friends, cupboards full of sugary snacks and high-octane coffees (ok, Boomer, you like them too).

(For my articles on managing resources of the human kind, refer to “10 Surefire Approaches to Leading a Project Team” and “10 Characteristics a Project Manager Must Develop.”)

Where do the people aspects of project delivery come in, you ask? Well, it is these physical resources that provide the productivity tools and creature comforts that project staff require for those long grinds we call projects.

As for the people aspects of project management, it is in the learned skills of the Project Manager to deal with issues that come with the monitoring and control of physical resources. It is in the Project Manager’s foresight in recognizing when an issue with the availability of physical resources begins to develop. It is in her practiced ability to influence an optimal solution for the good of the project. It is her negotiating skills to arrive at a solution that satisfies the needs of all parties while the project continues with minimal disruption.

Unless one is involved in estimating and/or bidding project work, and especially when that estimate is a fixed-price proposal, the planning and management of physical resources is often taken for granted.

We need another developer, fine. Call the supplier to ship another laptop. Oh, and check the storage cupboard for an extra chair, preferably one with all four casters. He can sit opposite Billy until we can get a desk for him.

Sound familiar? I hope not; though I have seen projects essentially managed in that fashion. It is a recipe for disaster.

Monitoring and controlling physical resources begins – like so many other aspects of the managing and controlling process group – with planning

As the project plan is laid out, thought must be given to the physical resources needed for the execution of each phase. These resources should be plotted against the project timeline so they can be brought on at the appropriate time. Lead time must be anticipated when working with external entities and suppliers to ensure just-in-time delivery. As much flexibility as possible must be built into the procurement and utilization of resources, given that projects will almost certainly vary from the original plan.

Asking questions such as the following can help prepare a solid plan:

  • “We will be bringing on 200 developers in March. How much lead time does the hardware supplier need to deliver the workstations?
  • When do we need to order the development infrastructure to have it installed on time? How much time is required to configure it?” Likewise for the test environment(s). And for the production environment.
  • Can we start with a small office space now and lease additional contiguous space later as the team grows?
  • Do we require non-refundable tickets for our traveling consultants? Do we allow exceptions for senior management whose travel is less predictable?
  • Do we set up open workspace or high-walled cubicles for our project teams?
  • When is it optimal to apply software upgrades so team momentum is not interrupted but we remain in compliance with the vendor’s maintenance requirements?”

The process of monitoring and controlling these physical resources is a constant activity throughout the lifecycle of the project. These questions and others like them are constantly asked in order to minimize cost and to maximize utilization of physical resources. As the project proceeds, the Project Manager must be prepared to make necessary adjustments or corrective action to ensure resources are available as needed and released when no longer required.

The Project Manager must be keenly aware of how availability and utilization of physical resources can affect the project schedule or vice versa. For example, if a delay in obtaining the required resources affects the schedule, then the project schedule and resource plan must be updated, Change Control may need to be invoked, Risk and/or Issue Registers are updated as warranted, and Lessons Learned should be augmented.

The same would hold true if it were a change in the project schedule that affects the availability of resources. If a task will start late, is it possible to delay acquisition of resources for that task? If a task extends, what are the requirements to extend the physical resources (e.g., if end-user training is delayed and/or extended, can acquisition of the classroom space be delayed or its usage extended?).

So often the physical resources of a project are looked at as an afterthought. Someone realizes the next phase will soon be upon the project and the equipment has not been ordered. A scramble ensues, premiums are paid, and disaster is averted. But at what cost? Or project staff will soon ramp up for the development phase. A scramble ensues. Suitable space is found some distance from the main project site. But at what cost to communication and productivity?

Monitoring and control of physical resources cannot be an afterthought. It is also not a straightforward exercise. It is a deliberate activity that starts with detailed planning in concert with the project schedule and overall project plan. The planning is followed with focused attention to ensuring that the resources are available and properly utilized. Only with such rigor in all aspects of monitoring and controlling project progress will the project ultimately be successful.

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