Agile resource management
Ultimate Guide to Resource Management – Chapter 8
The need for agile resource management
Some people question if resource management applies to the agile world.
Agile teams are self-organizing, so at the team level resource management is relatively straightforward and happens within the team itself.
People work on the higher priority work items first and limit the number of things they work on at once to limit over utilization issues. Also, agile teams have a fixed resource capacity which naturally controls the run rate of the work.
However, that ignores the wider needs of the organization.
Irrespective of the delivery mechanism (agile, waterfall or hybrid) organizations need to plan.
They need to plan what products they will be launching, how they will invest their money and how many resources they will need. And these plans often extend months or even years into the future.
In this article we focus on agile resource management and planning and how this becomes a key process when attempting to scale agile.
Focus resource on the right things
Organizations need to ensure that their resources are working on the right projects and products.
And that they have the balance right in terms of how they allocate their resources. For example are they striking the right balance between new projects and products, ongoing business activities and R&D.
While strictly speaking a process within portfolio management, effective resource management is used to help make these decisions.
Agile needs a plan
There are competing tensions when doing resource management in an agile environment.
Agile is flexible and works on the basis that things will change. Agile teams have a near term view.
While resource management requires a longer term view. It can take many months to recruit and form teams and organizations budget resource hiring many months ahead.
It is a common misconception that agile does not require a plan. It does, but a plan that can change.
With agile resource management the focus becomes understanding what level of resource capacity you need over the coming months to work on the projects and products you want to deliver.
Start with the vision of what you want to work on
The starting point is understanding what you want to be working on over the coming months. What do you want to focus on over the next quarter, six months or even year?
This is a high level vision. Not individual features, but describing the big ticket items. Launch a new website in June, release a new version of your product in September – you get the idea.
The work should also be prioritized. It is unlikely you will be able to do everything due to resource and cost constraints.
Often this is called a product roadmap.
This gives executives some clarity as to what is happening when and also ties the agile team into the overall vision of what the organization wants to achieve.
It is important that the roadmap at this point is not talking about specific features. You don’t want to get locked into building a specific feature set.
The next step is to roughly estimate the work involved and the likely types of resources needed to do the work.
When we talk about resources the focus is either on the skills or teams required. Not individuals.
You may not really know the effort level behind the work you’re considering. But at this point the estimates are just being used to get a rough idea about how much work you can consider taking on.
When you get round to doing the work, the teams can refine the estimates if necessary.
Balance your resource needs to your resource capacity
Your resource supply will be relatively fixed. And the chances are your road map will be showing more work that you have resources to complete it.
You only have a few levers you can pull to fix this problem:
(1) Change the priority of work
(2)Adjust the timing of work.
(3) Adjust the supply of resource (either by hiring or re-allocating from lower priority work).
So using your work priorities as a guide pull the levels until you get a balance between the resource demand (coming from the work) and the resource supply.
As an example of this in action, take a look at the resource planner in Kelloo. Work (agile, business as usual and waterfall) is organized by priority and the demand compared to the resource capacity. Decisions can then be made about which work you can do, if work needs to be defered or additional resource hired. As priorities, timelines and capacity are adjusted in the plan you see the impact straight away.
Ongoing resource management
What is important on the road map today may not be important in six months’ time. Some work may get done faster, other work will take longer.
Resource management in an agile environment should be a continuous exercise.
As the road map changes and work is completed so the resource plan should be re-visited.
Resource management and agile working together
By combining longer range high level planning with agile we get the best of both worlds. But this does require meeting in the middle.
Stakeholders need to accept that the high level vision driving the resource management plans will change. While agile teams need to raise their sights and recognize that organizations do need some form of planning.
The trick is finding the sweet spot.
Agile resource management tools
Agile resource management requires tools that raise the focus above the day to day working of the agile team. Tools like Kelloo blend resource management, capacity planning and agile into an integrated toolset and provides the higher level portfolio and resource view of work necessary to scale agile.