Becoming a Resource Manager – A Firsthand Account of My Path to Success

Jun 03, 2021

Becoming a Resource Manager – A Firsthand Account of My Path to Success

Guest blogger Jordan Warren shares her personal story on becoming a successful resource manager.

So it all started with that one loaded question:

“Hey Jordan, we’ve realized we need a Resource Manager, do you have any interest?”

I’m paraphrasing here, but that is essentially how I became a Resource Manager (ok, I was actually a Traffic Manager, and while I know now this is a pretty common title in the industry, it always made me feel like I should be working at the airport).

At the time, I was working at a digital agency. I had worked there for about 3 years at this point and seen the company grow from 40 people to 150. I had also pioneered a few other roles, so trying something different wasn’t scary, but I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into or how much I would love Resource Management.

Next came a high level briefing of what they wanted me to do:

  • Work with department leads to figure out who should be working on each project: CHECK
  • Work with Project Managers to understand the current status and resourcing needs for active projects: CHECK
  • Monitor and improve utilization: OK!
  • Inform HR when we need to hire – … Alright (getting a little nervous)
  • Evaluate project profitability based on team make up: Sure!

Google to the Rescue … Well Maybe?

So, eager to jump in and get started, I went back to my desk to prepare and started looking over the documentation they had shared with me, and I googled “Resource Management.” Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t find very much information. A lot of the results were about Human Resource Management or Project Management. This was back in 2014, so it was difficult to find articles or a community that could tell me more – I think Resource Management is an emerging practice even today. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the Resource Management Institute (RMI).

Communication

One of the very first things I established as Traffic Manager was weekly meetings with every department lead, every project manager (PM), and the business development team. A weekly meeting with directors and executives to discuss escalations and potential new projects in the pipeline followed.

It was in these meetings that the work really got done.

From PMs I learned about the current state of their projects. Were resources really going to be ready to roll off a given project or join for their portion in the next couple of weeks? Were the current allocations correct, too high, or too low? I learned quickly that PMs were very eager to get more, and much less willing to admit when they needed less. If I did not ask directly I could be missing some key information about the overall picture. They were also always vying for the best possible resource for their projects, which makes sense given their priority was the success of their own project. However, my priority was evenly and effectively distributing the resources across all projects. I learned quickly how to negotiate with them. I could give them the senior developer they wanted, if they would also take on the new associate developer we had just hired that no one wanted to trust just yet. At the end of the day, they got what they got, but my working relationship with the PMs was important, too. I needed them to trust me, because when they trusted me, they told me more. I also learned a lot of things that a resource manager never put down on paper, like personality clashes between different team members, or even who was dating! (I never put people in relationships on the same projects.)

My conversations with the directors were different. Here we focused on new projects or projects at risk. We aligned the needs of the given project to the skillset and career goals of each individual. Finally, we reacted to changes in project timelines and figured out how to realign resources based on those changes. How do we fill a two-week gap in someone’s allocations or what happens if a person cannot complete one project in time to begin a new one as we originally planned? At first, I had to lean on the expertise of each director and their knowledge of their own teams a lot, but eventually I found myself going to them with my suggestions and just seeking their buy-in, instead of asking them to make the recommendations themselves.

It was always a juggle to understand which potential projects were real enough to start planning for and which were still very unknown in my meetings with the Business Development team.

It was everyone else’s job to focus on their individual pieces and I was adding value by bringing all the information together and evaluating the big picture.

The final piece of communicating around Resource Management came in managing change and emergencies. On any given week something would happen that we hadn’t planned for, and I would be walking all around the office to discuss the situation with all affected parties. It’s the hope of every good Resource Manager that these types of things don’t happen, that you’ve planned well enough that everything runs smoothly. However, there are just some things that will never be certain. Estimates could be off, meaning that the planned timeline for a particular resource or phase will need to adjust. The company could win a new high profile project that needs to be staffed with “the A-team,” but the A-team was already staffed across three other projects. Someone could quit or get fired. As Resource Managers, we simply cannot plan for everything.

The MS Project Worksheet

When I referenced documentation before, what I got was a Microsoft Project document, filled with all the current resource allocations across all the projects in the company. Overall, the document itself was a nice way to visualize everyone’s work. It had an hours by week view and could be filtered in a bunch of different ways. However, the challenges came in communicating the changes made to the document. It was just a standalone document, it wasn’t online, it was just in a shared folder on our network. So each day I would create a new copy, clean it up from yesterday’s changes, and then for every new change I made that day, I would highlight the fields that changed. This document would then be shared back out to all executives, project managers, department directors and business development managers at the end of each day. It was painful!

Finding a Real Tool for Project Management & Resource Management

After dealing with daily copies of the MS Project file for about four months, I asked my manager if I could evaluate a tool dedicated to resource management. There was already an initiative within the project management team to find a better tool for them too, so we joined forces. We evaluated a lot of different tools and eventually selected Mavenlink for our needs. Mavenlink helped bring communication and resource visibility into one shared, unified location, which added a lot of value to our overall process. Mavenlink did not entirely replace the need for all those conversations I was having. However, it did help me memorialize all those decisions and make them visible to all team members who needed that visibility. It’s worth noting that Master Planning and forecasting hours in Mavenlink in 2015 was quite different than it is today. However, it’s my belief that there is a human aspect to being a Resource Manager that can never be entirely replaced with technology.

Reports!

The other things that Mavenlink allowed us to do was align our actual time tracking data to our estimation and forecasting all-in-one tool for the very first time. The opportunity for reporting was amazing and this is when I really got to dive into how well we estimated as a company, what our projected capacity looks like for each team, as well as what is healthy for us to have booked three months or six months into the future, how does this year compare to last year, when do people take the most vacation time, how many projects do we open per month, and which months are busiest. This data really empowered us to become better.

Becoming a Resource Management Certified Professional

It wasn’t until 2019, after I had joined the Mavenlink team, that I was given the opportunity to actually attend a resource management training, hosted by the Resource Management Institute (RMI). I highly recommend this training to new Resource Managers who are trying to figure out the role and the best way to do things. For me, it was a validation. RMI teaches about “Interlock Meetings” and the “Interlock Report.” These were all those meetings I had been having with PMs and directors and the evaluation of the resources that each project needs. They talk about having a skills inventory and matching the resources to the right projects. I was doing this in coordination with the directors and later storing that information in Mavenlink. They talk about forecasting and modeling the pipeline. I was doing that in talking to the business development team. I was also introduced to some new concepts, like establishing governance rules: formalizing the processes surrounding Resource Management at your company and ensuring follow through. Creating rules around which projects should get higher priority or when to escalate to executives.

Attending the training also gave me an opportunity to meet and connect with Resource Managers from other companies and other industries and learn more about how people are approaching the same problems in different ways and how the Resource Manager role differs. In some companies, Resource Managers do take on some aspects of HR, as well. In others, they are responsible for margin analysis and project profitability.

At the end of the day, I think we’re all still figuring out the best way to manage our most valuable asset: our people! Let’s all do our best to help each other.

A Solution For Your Resource Management Career

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