Agile Resource Planning: The Definitive Guide

Agile resource planning

Right now agile resource planning is a hot topic – but one that many people struggle to master.

However, I will let you into a secret.

Agile resource planning is not that hard to master if you follow some basic principles.

In fact, it is a lot easier to manage than traditional resource management models.

So read on to learn the actionable steps you can take to set up an agile resource planning process that really works.

What is agile resource planning?

Resource planning is a process used to allocate teams and people to work based on their availability, skills and best fit for the job. It also involves keeping an eye on resource utilization to ensure people don’t have too much slack time or are over burdened with work.

In an ideal agile environment, the need for resource planning should be unnecessary as people should be dedicated to one team and a team dedicated to work on one project at a time.

But in reality, this is rarely the case.

Resource planning in an agile environment

Let’s step back a little and cast our eye over our perfect agile environment…

We should have our people assigned to teams. And the teams should be pretty stable – we try to keep the same folks together as they get more done that way once they gel as a team. We queue up our work and allocate it to our teams. And we let the team member’s work out the nuts and bolts of how the work gets done.

And we focus our teams on one thing at time. We don’t have them multi-tasking on different projects, support and other stuff.

But here’s the deal. It rarely if ever works out like that in practice.

  • People and teams often have to divide their time across different projects.
  • There is often a mix of agile and non agile work going on.
  • Support and business as usual activities happen alongside project work.
  • Specialized resources may be shared among teams.

And when you get into this situation, you need a way to manage your resources. And the answer is resource planning.

The question then becomes how to set up an agile resource planning process without impeding the benefits of agile.

Resource planning and agile work together

When resource planning in an agile environment there are a couple of extra things to consider.

  • The focus of planning becomes teams as opposed to individual resources.
  • Sprint planning involves allocating work to the sprint based on the capacity.
  • Short term the capacity of teams is relatively fixed.
  • There is still a need to make longer range forecasts of resource needs.

Kelloo's agile resource planning tools

Resource planning, forecasting and reporting in one place. We help you get the most from your projects and people.

Agile resource planning process

Ok, now let’s get under the hood and explain how to do agile resource planning.

Step 1: Work out your resource capacity

Working out your resource capacity is pretty straightforward. Broadly speaking it is your people’s working hours minus vacations and time off minus time spent on other activities and distractions.

In agile environments, people are normally organized into teams. So calculate your capacity for both teams and individual people.

Capacity is another name for how much work people can provide you over a period. Work out the capacity per week or per month as it will vary over time.

Remember that people don’t work all the time. They chat around the coffee machine, take vacations, have meetings and have un-planned absence. So remember to take this into account when calculating your capacity.

Step 2: Plan your sprints keeping an eye on capacity

Take each sprint in turn and allocate the people or teams needed. Sprints normally have fixed durations (one or two weeks) and run concurrently. So this makes scheduling when they happen pretty straightforward.

Given the people or teams assigned, you can now work out the capacity for each sprint. The capacity is how much work can be done through the duration of the sprint.

It is normally easiest to work this out in days, but you can also use points if that works better for you.

Now add your work to the sprint from the backlog, keep an eye on the sprint capacity vs the amount of work you are allocating. Add highest priority work first.

Keep adding work to the sprint until the sprint is full.

Sprint capacity planning

Did you know? With Kelloo, as you plan your sprints the remaining sprint capacity is automatically calculated for you.

Step 3: Plan your projects and other activities

The chances are your people won’t be just working on sprints.

Work through your projects and any other activities and allocate the people or teams needed.  Schedule when the work needs to happen along with an estimate of the effort involved.

And finally add anything else to your resource plan that your people need to do.

A Kelloo resource plan can include agile and non-agile work.

Step 4: Check your resource utilization status

Now the plan contains all your work, the chances are you will have resource constraints or periods when people have too much work to do.

So now you need to resolve any capacity and utilization issues. A great way to manage this is using a heatmap.

If any sprints have too much work, simply move work to a later sprint.

Then look at the utilization of your people and check if any people have too much work allocated. If so, re-allocate some of their work.

Allocations and utilization

A heatmap is a great way to check on utilization issues.

Step 5: Forecast future resource needs

Until now we have focused on resource planning sprints and projects. But you still need to look further down the line and make commitments to dates, decide on what projects you are going to start up and make decisions about what resources you will need.

So how can agile, a method based on frequent, continuous delivery exist with long-term, big-picture planning?

The answer is to lay out a roadmap of your future work which sets out the major goals you want to achieve, the big ticket items you want to work on and when they are happening. Remember you are not planning features here so keep it high level.

Then start estimating the resources needed. Rather than focus on people or teams, think in terms of roles or skills. So how many developers, testers etc. will you need all together.

Finally, compare the level of skill demand to your skill capacity. Any shortfalls can be plugged by developing hiring or training plans or deferring or putting projects on hold.

Product Roadmap

In Kelloo it is easy to combine your resource forecasts and roadmaps to get a big picture overview.

Agile resource planning software

When it comes to using a tool for resource planning you have a few options.

Spreadsheets. If you have a small team and a handful of projects, spreadsheets may be an option worth exploring. Just consider the time you will spend trying to create a plan vs the relatively small investment in a dedicated tool.

Gantt chart planners / MS Project. These types of tools are not great for resource planning as their focus tends to be planning projects and task as opposed to planning resources.

An agile project management tool. Tools like Jira are great for managing the day to day activities of an agile team. But they all have significant gaps when it comes to resource planning. To address this various plugins are available that bolt on resource planning capabilities. However they simply provide an alternate utilization view of your Jira data.

A dedicated resource planning tool. Last option is to take a look at something like Kelloo. Kelloo is built from the ground up to support resource planning across agile and non-agile environments.

Features of agile resource planning tools

Here are some of the things you should look for when evaluating agile resource planning tools.

1. Plan resources for multiple projects

Organizing and planning a single project within your team is easy. But once you have multiple projects going simultaneously, resource planning starts to get a little trickier. Changes to resource or projects have knock on effects across your plan.

Resource planning tools are built to handle this complexity.

2. Try out different solutions

There is no right answer when it comes to how your resources should be allocated to projects. Resource planning involves trade-offs while trying to get the best balance of workload, dates and utilization.

Resource planning tools help you evaluate different resource and schedule options.

3. Accommodate different ways of working

Agile teams often work on non-agile projects and other day to day activities. Agile resource planning tools accommodate different ways of working and scheduling so you can fully account for all of people’s time and availability.

4. High level view of availability and capacity

Chances are your team’s availability changes week to week. Keeping current with who is available and when is crucial to your resource planning strategy and keeping your projects on track.

Agile resource planning tools let you set up working patterns for different teams and resources meaning you don’t have to track things manually.

Wrap up

Whether you are new to agile, or ready to scale agile across your organization, getting your agile resource planning working is a must.

By all means, try and put a resource planning solution together using spreadsheets, templates, Google Sheets or Excel.

But if it doesn’t work out remember to take a look at Kelloo.

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