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Dealing with resource-constrained project scheduling issues

A few years ago I was consulting for an engineering firm in the entertainment industry.   They create mechanical devices for use in movies, theme parks, broadway shows and many shows on the Las Vegas strip that rotate globes, drop superheroes from dizzying heights, and provide the audience with a seamless entertainment experience never realizing the amount have high-tech engineering and equipment that went into putting on the spectacle they were viewing.

While it’s an incredibly interesting arena to manage projects in, it also presents extreme difficulties in managing resources.  Why?  Because resources aren’t just developers or engineers or machine workers that you can go out and hire tomorrow, train for two weeks and then put to work.  Not quite that easy.  What you also have are the actual machines themselves, the resources that create the parts and pulleys and the cabling, and the wenches, and everything else that this company manufactures themselves in their shop to use on these projects they deliver on.  From a project management standpoint, and speaking as a PM who has mainly dealt with human resources on projects, this was a new difficulty to overcome. 

The root problem

I was working closely with the general manager at this organization because the headaches were mostly his to deal with.  The President and CEO of the organization – the creative force behind the company that was bearing his name – was a great salesman…traveling the world making new sales in other countries while production was going on back home in the US.  But the GM found himself trying to deliver on promises the CEO was making in these sales.  This GM was trying very hard to deliver on promises made using a finite amount of equipment that was already booked solid and this presented interesting delivery issues.  What they were left with was a resource-constrained project scheduling issue that was threatening to turn this industry-leading state of the art organization into a company that couldn’t deliver the goods when promised.

A solution

To remedy the situation, I created new ‘standard’ project schedule templates that could be used as starting points for all the PMs in the organization.  I did this after carefully studying all current projects and several recently completed efforts…so I understood how they delivered on each project and what some of the standard components were to each engagement.  I then inventoried all of the equipment – something that, unbelievably – had never really been done in a project management sense.  And from that, I created a common resource pool that could be tied to all projects…allowing the GM to see what machines were overcommitted and under committed at any given moment in time. 

Summary

It’s nice to have lots of work.  It’s usually easy – if your organization is thriving – to hire more human resources to perform work such as application development, testing, data integration, and research or engineering tasks.  But don’t forget about the non-human resources.  Especially if you’re working in a specialized industry where you may not be able to just go out and buy whatever you need to fill in the gaps.  If something has to be designed and developed or crafted – as was the case for this organization if they wanted to meet higher demand – then the lead time for something like that may far exceed any learning curve you would need to build in when working solely with resources of the human type.


This is a guest post from Brad Egeland who is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 9, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.