Why do projects run out of resources?

lack of resource

Google the top reasons for project failure and we can guarantee that a shortage of resources will figure quite high in the results.

But what causes projects to hit the resource scarcity roadblock? 

Well, it’s often a result of inadequate planning, overambitious timelines, and unexpected changes in project scope – the triple threat to resource availability. 

But here’s the kicker: It’s not hard to dodge these hurdles and keep your projects cruising smoothly. Let’s break down the nitty-gritty of why projects run short of resources and how to flip the script for uninterrupted success.

Table of contents

Top five reasons projects run out of resources

You take on more than you can do

Probably the most common issue and the one with the biggest impact on your ability to deliver projects is having unrealistic expectations about what your resources can achieve.

Organizations will always be able to generate ideas for new projects. Innovative organizations do that, and we don’t want to kill that innovation.

But we need to review and prioritize those ideas and ensure we don’t commit to more work than we can realistically achieve.

How do we do that?

The trick is to know when you have reached the capacity of your resources and stop taking on new work.

A problem resource managers often run into is proving resources are maxed out and cannot take on more work when challenged by senior management.

There is often a huge disconnect between what the organization believes is the capacity of resources to take on work and the reality. Capacity planning helps resource managers fight their corner.

To do this you need to know how much your resource pool can provide in terms of productive hours and compare this to the estimates coming in from your projects.

This analysis should form the cornerstone of your resource capacity planning process. 

Capacity planning is tricky to do as rarely is there one correct answer to the planning puzzle. It requires you to model different mixes of projects, resources, and timescales to get the most work done within the resource constraints you have.

Capacity planning is one of the main features you will find in Kelloo.


Kelloo's resource management tools

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

Your resources are working on the wrong projects

A follow on from the point above is that organizations are often working on the wrong things.

This is normally a failure to prioritize and select projects effectively. More often than not, the person who shouted loudest or did the best sales job on their pet projects gets the resource.

When working out what projects you can take on, make sure you backfill resources onto the highest priority projects first.

This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you.

Often resources work on projects that are no longer important to the organization because no one has questioned if previous priorities are still valid. 

Prioritization and re-validation of work should be an ongoing part of the portfolio planning process.

High performing organizations constantly question if they are working on the right projects and are not afraid to halt projects to make way for others. In many organizations, once a project has started its soundness is never questioned.

Resources are over stretched

Once projects are selected and approved, the next common resource management issue crops up when managers start allocating actual resources to projects.

Often resources are not dedicated to one project at a time, they may be working on multiple projects concurrently each managed by a different project manager.

The solution is quite simple.

The challenge is to ensure that resources are scheduled within their daily capacity for work and there are no cross-project scheduling clashes.

Planning resources across multiple projects can be a bit like whac-a-mole. Changing one thing just leads to another issue popping up.

This is where a resource planning tool such as Kelloo can really pay dividends as it allows you to take a multi-project view of the resourcing landscape and understand how making changes in one area can impact another.

Resource planning software

One common mistake is to try and use a project planning tool like Microsoft Project to do resource planning. Microsoft Project is a great project planning tool, but when it comes to resource planning it really is not a great choice.

Agile makes it difficult to forecast resource needs

Another factor, especially in IT organizations is the use of agile development techniques.

We love agile at Kelloo and it is how we develop our software.

However, agile has a near-term focus and does not lend itself well to helping organizations figure out what resources they need in the medium to longer term.

And here is the rub.

Organizations are often working out their road maps 6 to 12 months in advance and need to start making commitments to customers about what they are delivering and when.

And this often leaves a gap in terms of what resources the organization needs to deliver its projects.

Tools like Kelloo can help with this process as they let you build longer-term resource plans and forecasts and include your agile, waterfall, and business-as-usual activities in the same resource plan. Meaning you get a holistic view of your resource needs.

Your plans and resource forecasts get out of step with reality

Once a project is kicked off, it is essential that work estimates on the project are monitored and changes incorporated back into the planning process.

Things change and work often takes longer than expected.

But too often a plan is put together and never reviewed once the project is underway.

The bottom line is – your capacity and resource planning drift out of line with reality.

There are various reasons why this happens, but often people choose tools like Excel or spreadsheets to do their resource planning when a better use may be resource planning software.

The problem with Excel or spreadsheet-based resource planning is that it looks simple and efficient at first but quickly becomes a major headache to maintain.

So it does not get done.

It is essential that changes can be easily incorporated into the resource planning process and the impact easily understood which is where resource planning tools like Kelloo can really help.

How to overcome a lack of project resources

Improve your resource planning and capacity planning

The best way to reduce the risk of not having enough resources on your project is to start with a thorough plan of the resources you need and when you will need them.

The two key tools in a resource manager’s toolbox are the capacity plan and the resource plan.

Capacity plans are used to help you understand what capability your resources have to take on new projects and work. So they are a longer-range planning tool used to compare the supply of your resources vs the demands being made on them.

Resource plans are a shorter-term tactical tool used to balance resources across projects.

The aim of resource planning is to ensure that the projects you have decided to run have sufficient resources when they need them.

Learn to say no

Organizations will always generate more ideas for projects and work than they have the resources to do.

So it is important that the resource manager knows when to say no to more work.

Without facts and figures to back up their position it is hard for resources managers to prove that resources are maxed out.

And how do they do that?

Resource planning tools like Kelloo enable the resource manager to work with stakeholders and executives to help them understand what their resources can realistically achieve.

Prioritize projects

Monitor resource utilization throughout the life of the project

It is key that resource managers spot resource issues early. 

Typical solutions to resource issues such as hiring more people or re-allocating resources to alternative projects all have a lead time. 

So getting an early heads-up about resource constraints or hot spots is essential.

This involves monitoring your project resources throughout the project, keeping your resource plans updated with current resource estimates and requirements, and monitoring resource utilization.

Portfolio management utilization

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