PM Perspectives | Optimizing Billable Resources – Q&A with a Tenrox Resource Manager

Whether you’re new to Project Management, or have been in the business for years, and whether you manage a small team of resources, or a large and diffuse one, there is always something to be gained by hearing how others manage their operations. We all have our ways of doing, but in a business, that requires structure and consistency, nothing should be set in stone.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Brendan Holland, a tenured Tenrox Resource Manager. With over 15 years’ experience managing large project teams, Brendan has a wealth of insight how to maximize billable resources. To hear the full story, check out the webinar  Stop Guessing, Start Managing: Improve Project Outcomes with Better Resource Management. 

Resource manager interview how to optimize billable resource utilization

Heather Black, Interviewer: Thank you, Brendan, for taking time with us today. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate these days, as you gear up for the new quarter, so I’m delighted to have you here today, to talk us through your experience and strategies for how you manage your project resources to optimize their overall utilization.

Brendan Holland, Tenrox Resource Manager: Thank you Heather. Absolutely. I enjoy sharing what I do, and hopefully someone will take away some tips to help them improve their own processes. So, on that note, when I work with our customers to implement Tenrox, one of the most interesting questions we are asked is “Who owns the work plan?” For us at Upland Software, the answer is that it’s a collaborative effort. We ask the project manager to figure out how many hours are in the project and when people are needed. But then we ask the resource manager to make the initial booking.

So, how does that work? Let’s say that someone comes to us, asking for a consultant. Great. We need to be able to ask what kind of consultant do you need? What kind of skills do they need to have? Based on this information, we identify who is available, but also, whether that resource is a good match for the skills. So that’s the first step. Next, once we make that initial booking, it’s up to the project manager to determine how many hours per week that resource needs to be available. Once we’ve got that on the system, we’re good to go.

We’re going to get to this a little bit later, Heather, but one of the best things we do is that we enforce a bit of discipline around our processes. Our data is only as good as our processes. So, we are constantly comparing the data that’s gone into our work plan with the data that comes out in our time sheets… Are we within 10%? That’s good. A 10% margin is great. If we book 10 hours and the person worked nine hours, that’s great, eleven hours is also great. So, we set our margins of error and we enforce the process.

Heather: I like that: you’re not just managing your resources, you’re managing the cost of those resources against the project, to make sure that you’re staying on budget and not over- or undercharging the customer.

Brendan: That’s right. One of the main reasons we are using the PSA system is to make sure we are staying on budget for the project. We need to make sure we’re not overcharging our customers for the work that we’re doing, at the same time we need to make sure we’re not undercharging our projects and leaving money on the table.

Heather: Working in a PSO, one of the most important questions you need to be able to answer is what is your resource allocation, and specifically, if any resources are benched and how can you get them back in the field as quickly as possible. Can you talk about how you manage this in your role?

Brendan: Managing bench time is absolutely one of the most important things that we do. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s much easier to manage bench time when you can see it coming. In fact, there are two things you can know in advance. If you’re managing your work plans and your resources correctly, then you can actually see which resources will be overbooked in about a month’s time, and which ones will be under booked.
But let’s focus on the under-booked right now, those resources that are sitting on the bench. Many organizations operate just like us, with a go-live on January 1. Everyone wants to start the New Year right. But then, on January 2nd, the team is sitting around waiting for the next projects to kick off. If you know that in December or November, you can start scratching around, to find new opportunities, new projects. Look at past implementations, where they may have expressed an interest in a certain area that was out of scope, or consider a client that may be struggling in another area. These may be opportunities that can feed your next projects, and help keep your resources off the bench. So, preparation is everything when it comes to managing the bench.

The #1 question I get asked by my executive team is: “How busy are your guys next quarter?” A PSA provides me the discipline and the rigor to have a work plan that I can look at and know instantly what is going on with my team. I’m able to provide an intelligent answer because the data is in front of me.

On the other side of the coin, when I see that my project team is overbooked, we can be proactive, and start looking for ways to shift start dates or delivery dates. We can review those projects where clients asked for minor changes, and recommend extending the start date, but incorporate some of the additional effort they are asking for. So, you turn it into a benefit for the customer, and they walk away happy. And, in the meantime, we’ve eased our internal schedule. So, we both walk away happy. The key to this is being able to see it coming, well in advance.

Heather: So, it gives you that flexibility to adapt quickly and be very nimble with your project delivery, helping your customers, easing your internal resources when you need to, and balancing the supply and demand loads.

Brendan: We’re a nimble team.

Heather:  Very good. So, over and above, what are some of the kinds of information that the executive team is asking you for about utilization rates?

Brendan: That’s a great question. So, I’m always being asked to provide information about bench time. “How busy is your team? Are you spending a lot of time on the bench?” And they’re also asking about cost alignment, when I have an expensive, senior resource, they want to know why that person has a lot of bench time.  By centralizing and automating all of our resources, we can be proactive and make decisions about who to book on a project, based on their skills, availability, and cost to the organization. For example, we may choose to book someone on a project that requires less skill, but at least we can keep them busy. Or, alternatively, we can push back and make decisions around what projects are coming, and decide not to book a resource, because we can see bigger ones coning along, and we need them to be available. So, you can talk about risk benefits with your executives and they take that very well.

Heather: Thank you Brendan for taking the time with us today. It has been a treat to get an insider perspective from someone like yourself.

Brendan: My pleasure.

To hear the full story, check out the webinar Stop Guessing, Start Managing: Improve Project Outcomes with Better Resource Management.

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