Productivity

How Service Agencies Can Improve Resource Management in 4 Steps

Resource management is like human accounting. If you’re in a professional services field, resource management should be as important to your management staff as accounting is to your financial staff.

Speaking from personal experience, resource management tends to be overlooked by growing agencies because, in the beginning, you probably didn’t need it. However, as your business grows, resource management takes its place at the table of crucial business practices that can make or break your organization. So where does effective resource management start?

Management is decision making. If you run a business, department or team you are a professional decision maker, and one of the most important things a decision maker can have at hand when making key decisions is visibility.

The general idea behind resource management is to improve visibility for key decision makers by providing an “at a glance” overview of where their resource allocation stands at any given time. That said, here are the four crucial steps to effective resource management:

time_tracking1. Everyone Needs to Track Their Time...All of Their Time.

Many service agencies bill by the hour so time tracking isn’t a foreign concept. (Learn what billable time is, and every other project financial term you'll ever need to know.) If you aren’t tracking time for any particular reason (maybe your firm bills by output or milestone), be prepared for some inevitable push back from your team.

Employees often view time tracking as cumbersome and, in some cases, intrusive. It is extremely important to have the complete buy-in of your entire staff in order to ensure that the results you get from your time tracking are as accurate as possible.

There are a couple steps you can take to mitigate potential resistance from employees. First, help your staff “begin with the end in mind” by explaining the need for resource management. Let them know that resource management will actually protect them from overload by keeping their full scope of responsibilities visible to management.

Additionally, make sure to employ a project management application that is intuitive and easy to use. It should only take a few seconds at most for your employees to switch between tracking time for individual tasks. We use Mavenlink for our project management because its onboard time-tracking capabilities and interface are extremely intuitive, easy-to-use and adopt companywide.

Moreover, just because a task isn’t billable doesn’t mean that it’s not payable. If your employee is spending their time on something, you are paying for the output.

When our staff first started tracking time, there turned out to be a number of surprises in store for us. First, it was shocking how much time our staff spent on email.

Once we realized this, we were empowered to take some corrective measures to mitigate the number of emails being sent back and forth (including a group mock for interoffice chat) and we also made sure to account for email management as a time requirement when we took stock of available hours.

manage_resources2. Manage Resources by Task

We manage our resource allocation on a monthly basis since the majority of our initiatives tend to roll out every 30 days. Depending upon the size of your projects and how long each associated task takes, you might decide to manage resources by the week, month or quarter.

Break all of your initiatives up into individual tasks; for larger organizations, this might be easier to do by department or even by project. After breaking up your tasks, be sure to determine the following:

  • Assign an hourly estimate to each task. If you don’t have historical data to assist with your estimates, take an educated guess. This will allow you to compare how long you thought tasks should take versus how long they’re actually taking.
  • Determine if the task is stand alone or interdependent. Interdependent tasks rely upon each other for completion (i.e., “task B” can’t begin until “task A” is complete so “task B” is dependent upon “task A”).
  • Determine the due date for each task. Make sure that your due dates are consistent with your dependencies. In the example above, if “task B” takes two full days to complete you have to make sure “task A” is finished at least two days prior to the due date for “task B”.

Once you have a complete breakdown of all of your tasks, you now have a full representation of your entire workload. The next step is to define your available resources. Determine the number of hours you can reasonably expect out of each of your employees.

Once you have defined your tasks and available resources, put them together. Allocate the tasks to resources according to their bandwidth. In our organization, we have our employees take the tasks that are allocated to them and assign each with specific dates and times on their shared Google calendars. This provides us with instant visibility into their daily task allocation, bandwidth and availability.

working_document3. Use Your Resource Management Tools as a Working Document

Don’t simply perform resource management at the beginning of every month and then lock it away. The information you now have available to you should be utilized on a daily basis to make ongoing management decisions.

When we first began resource management, a frequent piece of feedback I received was that it would be very difficult to feasibly schedule every single task at the beginning of every month. This is even more reason to undertake resource management.

Use your resource management blueprint as a working document. Accept that it’s inevitable that changes will be made on an ongoing basis. As unforeseen situations arise, you are now readily equipped to postpone tasks or bring tasks to the forefront as needed.

The benefits of using Google Apps and Mavenlink together:

At our firm, we utilize Google Calendar as our relative “working document”. Every employee has their own shared calendar which is made available to everyone within our organization. Since our employees load all of their tasks into their shared Google Calendar it allows for immediate visibility of any single employee (or group of employees) in an instant.

Google Calendar allows users to view multiple calendars at a single glance as well as toggle calendar views “on” and “off” quickly and easily. This allows our staff to view each other’s schedules as well as identify availability for one or multiple people instantly.

Google Calendar is also a fantastic “working document” for resource management since it features an extremely easy drag-and-drop utility. Throughout the month, as tasks are pushed, pulled and otherwise “played with”, it’s extremely easy to drag tasks around in Google Calendar; it ensures that there are no conflicts or overlaps.

Another critical piece of this puzzle for us is the fact that Mavenlink – our growth management software for online project management – syncs seamlessly with Google Apps. A few of the reasons we use Mavenlink to track the status and progress of our tasks and project collaboration is because it provides high-level reporting and comprehensive Gantt charts (which show task and project dependencies) in a visual, intuitive interface.

Now, using two applications could potentially result in redundant processes, but as mentioned, Mavenlink offers seamless integration with Google. All of the tasks loaded into Mavenlink sync to each user’s individual Google Task list. Google displays a user’s Task list alongside their Calendar, which gives our employees the ability to cross-reference their master task list with their Calendar to ensure adequate reconciliation.

The real “take home” message is that your employees’ task lists should be reflected on their schedule. As obvious as that may sound, I find more often than not that people tend to think of their “to-do” list and their daily schedule as two independent tracking mechanisms. Ironically, the daily schedule is meant to reflect what it is you mean to accomplish for that day. If a “to-do” item never finds its way to our schedule how can we plan on getting it done?

reporting4. Reporting

As with all things in the digital world, resource management should be measurable. Make sure to utilize the information you gather on an ongoing basis in order to shed further light on your business.

Effective reporting on resource management will allow your business to leverage a world of metrics. You can define profitability on projects with near pinpoint accuracy, determine which tasks are taking longer than estimated, identify clients who require more iterative processes, manage scope creep and measure employee efficiency. The reporting can be completely tailored to your business and should be tied back to your resource management as you further clarify the metrics used to allocate your resources.

Reporting should also assist with high-level management decisions, such as how much more work you can feasibly handle with your existing staff or when you should begin onboarding additional resources. Having these numbers available to you keeps the “when to hire” dilemma from becoming a guessing game.

The value and depth of your reporting will be tied directly to the software and applications you use. One of the reasons I insist on the continued use of Mavenlink at our firm is because of the reports and analytics that Mavenlink provides.

For example, I can immediately query utilization metrics and determine which members of my staff are being over or under-utilized for any specific window of time. This is extremely helpful in the event of client emergencies or “fires” as it provides me with a real-time view of which of my resources is available and how much of their time I have available to allocate.

This is also helpful when determining “when to hire” as it allows a snapshot of how busy my employees are over a specified period of time. Mavenlink’s time tracking reports are absolutely invaluable to my ongoing resource management initiative as they provide me with a very clear picture as to how long tasks are taking and what my expectations should be of my employees moving forward.

resources_lrg

The time tracking capability is also helpful in our profitability reports as it allows me to determine the exact total resource expenditure for each client or initiative. Mavenlink allows me to apply a “cost” to each of my employees (as well as a billable rate) so I can view the amount billed as well as my hard costs to ensure we remain in the black.

While resource management isn’t a magic bullet by any means, it has become as crucial to our business as accounting is. The clear line of sight that it provides when managing our staff and contractors is absolutely invaluable to providing the highest level of service to our valued clients.

For additional information on Mavenlink, please visit Mavenlink.com. For additional information on Solutions 8, please visit Sol8.com.

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