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Effective Project Management vs. Effective Resource Management...Tomāto vs. Tomăto

It’s 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon and you've been in meetings all day. You’ve got a long list of unanswered emails and your voicemail light is flashing. You begin to get that familiar stress pang in the pit of your stomach. Right now, your top priority is to prepare the stack of weekly progress reports requested by your leadership team. But, as you review your messages, you realize your day has taken a turn for the worse. You hang up slowly and sit back in your seat, deflated.

You just learned that your development team has lost an extremely valuable member, and with him, a deep knowledge base and a hard-to-find skill set. This means you are now responsible for rallying his troops, boosting their weakened morale and keeping them on task. Meanwhile, you’ll need to find, hire and onboard a backfill.

There is a tremendous sense of urgency to find a replacement, but your outlook is grim because you are already having trouble recruiting for several other empty positions on the team. Some candidates you’re seeing don’t live up to their resumes; some aren’t a good cultural fit; others don’t seem to exist in the local market for your price range. Meanwhile, you are accountable for deliverables and timelines that are in serious jeopardy of being missed.

In sum, things are not progressing as planned and you can’t seem to figure out where you’ve gone wrong. Effective resource management is a critical component of any comprehensive project management plan. Yet, too often, it’s an afterthought. Partnering with a global services provider that is certified in project management and also specializes in resource management can dramatically increase the probability of project success.

As illustrated in the case of the overwhelmed IT manager, effectively selecting, managing and retaining talent plays a huge role in the overall success of an IT undertaking.

Resource Management — The Heart and Soul of Project Outcomes

Many organizations adopt the belief that successful IT initiatives are a direct result of using tried and true methodologies for effective project management. The highest performing organizations, however, have deepened their focus on a fundamental component of project management: managing the human resources who enable project outcomes.

Resource management is one of the nine knowledge areas clearly described within the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®). PMI defines it as the efficient and effective deployment and utilization of an organization’s resources — when they are needed. From a functional perspective, resource management is a specialized discipline that requires superior competency in everything from finding and screening new employees, to ongoing performance management and retention of these resources once they are in place.

An organization’s proficiency at managing its resources becomes exponentially more important when projects are time sensitive and deliverable-driven. It also complicates matters when IT leaders must heed the directive to “do more with less” or if they need to respond swiftly to sudden fluctuations in workflow. To deliver the expected outcomes under such constraints, the vast majority of IT leaders embrace the option to outsource IT projects and services. This trend is expected to grow, as 63 percent of IT leaders report they would like to purchase more services from fewer vendors.1

Resource management has become a key competitive differentiator in the IT services industry. An organization that fails to recognize its importance will inevitably experience the consequential pain of disregarding it.

My 18 years of experience have taught me that outsourcing your IT projects to a service provider that possesses true expertise in resource management offers much greater assurance of success. Technical competency cannot be understated. However, it doesn’t matter if your team has all the technical skills in the world if you can’t tap into them and bring each person’s talents together into a cohesive whole. You want to count on your providers to get work done right — and that means having the right team of people, managed the best possible way.1

The Right People…

A vast majority of employers (93 percent) indicate there is an overall skills gap, the difference between existing and desired skill levels, among their IT staff. Unfortunately, nearly six in 10 companies report being not close or only moderately close to where they want to be with IT skills.2 While some hiring managers can feel so stressed about skill gaps on their teams that they pull the trigger on hires they know are not 100% right for particular roles, these managers will grow inevitably more stressed dealing with the consequences of a poor hiring decision—elongated learning curves, lower productivity, weakened morale, decreased customer satisfaction, etc.

Even if IT leaders opt to partner with a service provider, the importance of sourcing and deploying the right people is not diminished; responsibility is merely transferred. To accomplish the work that needs to get done, IT leaders should scrutinize a provider’s ability to find and place the most qualified personnel on their staff. From my experience, that ability is inhibited by the following common resource management pitfalls:

Business and Cultural Understanding:To assemble the best teams, providers need to go beyond the “tech talk” and project requirements. They must truly understand the client’s business and culture. Only with this knowledge can a provider act as a seamless extension of the client’s core team. This insight is also necessary for the provider to identify the best technical and soft skilled resources that will work well within the client’s environment.

Sourcing Capabilities: Studies show that it takes an average of 52 days to fill a full time IT position. The wider your access, the better your chances of finding your perfect match. A good provider will find suitable resumes from a pool of applicants. But a great provider will be able to handpick qualified matches from an existing network of vetted talent. The ability to tap into its existing talent pool and effectively source new talent requires providers to be masters of the local labor market, understanding talent supply and demand dynamics, hiring trends and air market pay scales by skill set. While knowing the local labor market is key, it’s even better when a provider can offer this knowledge on a national or international scale. Such reach can help reduce the transportation and lodging costs involved in getting resources to the desired work site. It can also be helpful when an outsourced engagement requires coordination across many locations.

Flexible Staffing Plans: As project workload and scope can undulate within a given engagement, the best providers can efficiently respond to ebbs and flows in resource needs. Some projects require full time placements for long-range programs, while others may require a core team that’s augmented by various specialists for short clips at a time. To be true partners, providers must be skilled at identifying the optimal resource mix for different work requirements. They must also be dexterous, able to quickly scale resources up or down according to changes in workload.

Thorough Screening: While finding the right resumes is one thing, finding the right people is another. The urgency to fill openings can prompt many managers and outsourced providers to circumvent screening procedures. However, the importance of screening cannot be underestimated. Outsourced providers should be able to describe the quality process by which they vet each team member selected to work on your engagement. While it will be their problem should a team member not work out, it will also be yours if that team member impacts project outcomes.

Quality Onboarding Process: Onboarding can be defined as the process of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating new employees so they may be immediately productive in their new roles. Experience has proven that the best methodologies for onboarding go beyond a contact list and document-sharing sites. Rather, they include training opportunities to brush up on key skills, a mechanism to capture and communicate deep client insight and team bonding activities to build relationships between the outsourced team and the client’s team. Onboarding best practices require that these activities be carried out systematically. In other words, outsourced providers should have an onboarding methodology that ensures team members have all of the knowledge, understanding and resources required to quickly become productive on a new engagement.

Take a look at a symphony orchestra. Each musician plays a key part and contributes a distinct sound. However many would argue that the most important person in this orchestra doesn’t play an instrument at all. Wielding only a baton, the role of the symphony’s conductor is essential to create a harmonious melody. The talented team of musicians relies heavily on the conductor to keep watch of the big picture, coordinate the beats and, most importantly, inspire players to be the best version of themselves. This is yet another example proving that if the right people are managed the right way, they can make beautiful music together!

…Managed the Right Way

Of course it’s important to align with an outsourcing partner that has a proven history of effectively managing similar projects. What many IT managers fail to recognize, however, is that it is of equal importance to align with an outsourcing partner that knows how to manage people, in all of their complexity.

I recommend clients consider the following attributes of their outsourced providers before deciding to align with any one of them:

Understanding of the People – Not Just the Work: How hard would you work for an employer that doesn’t seem to care about you? When selecting an outsourced provider, pay attention to how well the engagement and project managers know and look out for their teams. Do they know who they are from a personal standpoint? Have they met their family members or know the names of their significant others? Do they know what their team members want to do in their careers long term? Are they invested in helping them get there? Do they know the strengths and weaknesses of their people, and what motivates each? People will tirelessly aspire to please those who care about them and inevitably grow tired of working for those who treat them like mere resources required to complete a task. Thus, a provider that takes the time to understand and care for its people will not only experience less turnover, but also, it will offer its clients more energy, productivity and personal commitment from its individual team members.

Managers who Teach and Coach: IT tools and methodologies change frequently as technology evolves. Moreover, regardless of the number of times I have managed similar IT projects, new lessons can be learned from each engagement. An IT services provider that recognizes this truth and values the ability to reflect, teach and coach its teams is positioned to stay ahead of the learning curve on subsequent assignments. Expecting managers to offer guidance and instruction reinforces the organization’s prioritization of its human assets, thereby provoking more personally-driven motivation within team members. It also fuels innovation and creativity as a team feels more supported and more confident in tackling new tasks; they aren’t just expected to do what they are told, they are encouraged and empowered to do what works best for the client. It is important to align with an outsourcing partner that knows how to manage people, in all of their complexity.

Facilitating Careers: A provider who is committed to facilitating its peoples’ careers, has more committed people. You can delineate providers in this respect by examining how much they know about their people’s skills, goals and interests – and by how much they are willing to do to advance each individual toward a better future. Does the provider offer clear career path options? Does it know what skill sets are growing in demand and will be necessary in the future? Is it offering training and development opportunities to its people to ensure they are positioned for success long term? Does it promote from within? Those providers that are focused on facilitating careers will not only have a higher performing team in the near term, they will also be able to keep growing that team’s high performance for years to come.

Open, Honest Communication: We’ve all seen how back-stabbing or gossip can introduce unproductive and damaging “drama” into a team. We’ve also seen situations in which individuals’ personal flaws negatively impact a project. Unfortunately, many IT service providers do not value providing constructive, critical or direct feedback as outsourced teams are frequently seen as temporary – assembled for an engagement for a finite period of time before team members go their separate ways and secure new positions on new assignments.

What’s the point of having tough conversations with people you may never have to work with again? Well, in my opinion, the point is the high-quality service owed to a paying client. IT service providers that get the most out of their teams, and consequently provide the most value to their clients, are those that are adept at creating an atmosphere of open and honest communication. In these settings, problems are confronted, addressed and overcome. People meanwhile, grow and feel more connected to the team as it is dedicated to helping them be better professionals. A model of operation absent of honest feedback tends to avoid, accept and allow problems to interfere with the team’s overall success.

Values and Integrity: When money is to be made or saved, some IT service providers can get cloudy judgment – covering up mistakes, taking short cuts, selling solutions that won’t fix the real problem, charging for expenses the client shouldn’t have to cover, etc. Such unethical actions will certainly detract from the value the client receives; they may even harm the client or prevent it from achieving its long term goals. Thus, clients should pay close attention to an IT service provider’s integrity. By “integrity” I do not just mean the provider’s official “code of conduct” or booklet on employee ethics. Instead, I am talking about the profile of the people the provider hires and allows to represent it. Does the provider walk and talk its “code of conduct?” Does it hold its employees accountable to it? Do they treat each other fairly? Are they honest individuals with a strong sense of right and wrong? A good rule of thumb I use to gauge someone’s integrity is would you trust him or her to tell you the truth about a situation even if that meant he or she could be negatively impacted?

Resource management is where the rubber meets the road and the truth is that many of today’s IT leaders are constantly challenged in this critical project management function. Outsourcing your resource management tasks to a competent IT services provider enables you to maintain focus on your core business operations and provides a strategic advantage by increasing your ability ensure the successful completion of your IT projects.

Maximize Project Management with Talent-Focused Resource Management

In conclusion, it is imperative that we remain mindful of the unique complexities involved in effective resource management. While just a component of an overall project management plan, dealing with the human side of IT projects requires specialized expertise and a commitment to what matters most in the big picture: finding the right people and managing them the right way. Working toward these two actions diligently and with sincerity enables an IT services provider to offer its clients a true and inspired partnership. Criteria for selecting the RIGHT service provider:

The Right People:

✓ Solid understanding of your business, culture and project requirements.

✓ A massive national / global network of highly skilled and thoroughly screened candidates.

✓ A documented and quality-infused onboarding and training plan.

✓ Ability to support surge requirements and flexible / scalable staffing options across all locations.

The Right People Managed the Right Way

✓Company with uncompromising integrity and a team it holds accountable to the same values and core beliefs.

✓ Deep understanding of people and the ability to build, lead and motivate the team.

✓ Mentoring and coaching approach to professional development and performance management.

✓ Communication strategy that fosters open, honest and ongoing dialog.

The Right People Managed the Right Way Creates the Right Results

✓ A trusted global services partner with a proven history of performance.

✓ Stable team of consultants who act as an extension of your internal team.

✓ Peace of mind that all parties are fully committed to the project’s success.

✓ Quality assurance program aimed at continuous improvement and consistent outcomes.

✓ Resource retention strategy that ensures consultants:

(A) perform well within their assigned project areas;

(B) stay current on certifications and professional development; and

(C) not only stay engaged through the life cycle of the project, but also potentially, beyond.

Author: Charlie Hall, Executive Director, Project Management Office, TEKsystems

1 ITEO, Q1 2011

2 CompTIA State of the IT Skills Gap