Resource Poaching 101

Have you ever been the program manager on a job where you planned everything down to the smallest detail; you collected the requirements, got your experts together, reviewed what it would take to perform the development, and finally presented your plan to upper management.  They were so impressed with your presentation that you were approved to proceed with the development and authorized to use all the resources that you requested.  

You were off to a great start and for a while the program ran smoothly, then one day a member of the team missed a deadline on something non-critical because they were needed on another effort.  A little while later you realized that more significant tasks are slipping and again you did the right thing, you worked with your team members to understand the conflicts and what the impact was.  You may have even submitted an escalation to upper management to get the “resource poaching” stopped.  And then it hit you “this happens on a lot if not all of our programs, even the highest priority programs”.  

Why is this?

There are lots of reasons, some understandable and some not, I’ll stick to a few of the more common ones:

  • The company has declared that it only approves projects that it can complete; therefore, priorities really are not required.
  • Management doesn’t realize how rampant “resource poaching” is
  • The level of multitasking and it’s impact are not understood or are under appreciated
  • One of my favorites “we have X number of the brightest people in the industry don’t tell me it can’t be done”
  • Etc. (I’m sure you can add to the list yourself.)

At this point you are faced with a choice,

1)     Suck it up, be the good corporate citizen, put in the hours and drive your team to get the job done (and keep management apprised of the slips as you go).

2)     Push back for the appropriate resources and try to fix the problem on a case by case basis, or

3)     Take the longer term view and look to provide a solution that addresses the potential causes of the problem.

Being the optimist that I am, I believe that given the information to make the right decision most good managers will (within limits) try to fix the problem (we have to understand that management will always push for greater productivity).  Therefore, I typically recommend a combination of 2 and 3 above.    I have generally found that most bad decisions are made due to either bad or incomplete data.  If this is the case then the best way to fix the problem is to fix the data, number 3.  Fixing the data may take a while so until then you will have to fight for your team, number 2 (remember as the Program Manager it is your responsibility to make sure your team has what they need to succeed).  

In my experience the most common cause for “resource poaching” is simple over commitment the people.  One typical reason for his has been that there was no centralized scheduling tool with a common resource pool so you can’t get a view of all the tasks that anyone is working on.  Another common issue is that there is no record of historical trends, so when management says to add a task or reduce your schedule you have no hard data, from within the company, to back up your argument.  If you are experiencing one or both of these issues it is not surprising that management over commits people so it is up to you and, maybe, a few other brave soles to address the issue head on.

How can I fix this you might task; in short that depends on you and your company.  There are many tools that can be employed some as simple a spreadsheet/workbook where each PM enters a summary of their resource requirements or maybe you set up a master project and all new developments report to the master project.  On the elaborate end of the scale there are many portfolio management tools out there that can do a great job for you, if you can afford the price.  What ever approach you choose be sure be sure it can handle the following:

  • All resources involved in your programs (people at a minimum tools and test equipemnt is good to include as well)
  • All programs you have going (at least those that are known)
  • Placeholders for the unexpected/unknown
  • Sick leave
  • Vacations
  • Sustaining work for old projects
  • etc.
  • The ability to add new projects
  • Ideally tie it into what ever program management or scheduling tools you are using
  • Regardless of what path you choose make sure it works for you,your companies culture, and then follow it through.

    Ed Gaeta

    [email protected]

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    2 thoughts on “Resource Poaching 101”

    1. Brilliant, insightful and clearly written, Ed. This is one of the biggest headaches team members face on any project. The Project Leader MUST be aware that this is going on and support team members in sorting out the “critical few” priorities form the “important many” barking at their door. Otherwise even if they do a great job they still end up feeling like crap! – Kimberly Wiefling, Author, Scrappy Project Management

    2. It’s often even worse
      In the described environment, one survival approach would be to “pad” our estimates — “realistic” estimates would factor in the probability and impact of resource poaching. Unfortunately, this can easily lead to schedules and budgets that are more based upon game theory than on good estimates.
      Alan Tsuda

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