Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 19;   May 11, 2011: Guidelines for Sharing "Resources"

Guidelines for Sharing "Resources"

by

Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
Vortex cores about an F18 fighter jet

Vortex cores about an F18 fighter jet. The figure depicts vortex cores overlaid with streak lines. The vortex cores are represented by black line segments and the streak lines are colored by time at release. Creating turbulence drains energy from the aircraft. So it is with organizational turbulence — the chaotic group behavior that happens when too many different tasks compete with each other for people with skills that are in high demand within the organization. Even though all the projects might eventually be completed successfully, we can consider organizational turbulence to be the scurrying related to finding people and holding onto them until their work is complete. That activity (the scurrying) drains energy from the organization by adding costs to almost everything it does. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

First things first: when referring to people in the abstract, I prefer words like "someone," "person," or "people." I dislike the word "resources," which, to me, evokes things like equipment, timber, and coalmines. OK. That's out of the way.

When team members have responsibilities to multiple teams, those teams all face risks. The unexpected happens. Priorities change. Schedules change. Time commitments cannot always be honored. We might try to schedule our efforts, but when team members belong to multiple teams, the plan and the reality are sometimes wildly different, even if the root cause of the trouble is elsewhere.

Here are four guidelines for sharing people more effectively than we often do.

Front-load the activities of shared people
Trouble sometimes arises in partner efforts. If resolving that trouble requires additional time from someone you share, you could lose access to that person. Moreover, even if the partner project goes smoothly, difficulties in other projects could result in schedule changes for the partner project, and the shared person might not be available at the time you scheduled.
If possible, schedule your own efforts so that the work that shared people do happens early.
Adjust effort estimates for interruption of flow
During planning, when we estimate effort, we often assume that the person doing the work is doing nothing else. Since that assumption is invalid for people with divided responsibilities, and since juggling multiple assignments does have associated costs, our estimates tend to be lower than the actual time required.
Make estimates that realistically account for the loss of time due to multiple assignments. When tracking actual effort data, track assignment multiplicity, too.
Combine hours into the longest possible contiguous bursts
To minimize Combine hours into the longest
possible contiguous bursts
losses due to interruption of flow in the context of split assignments, combine hours of effort for each person into the largest possible contiguous chunks. Instead of one day per week for six weeks, schedule two days per week for three weeks, or four days in one week, and two days three weeks later.
You might have to negotiate with partner team leads, but when they understand the advantages of contiguous bursts, the negotiations are likely to be smooth.
Avoid the "MS Project flat rate syndrome"
Planners tend to use as weekly effort estimates for each person, the total estimated effort for each person divided by the task duration in weeks. Rarely does work actually proceed in this way. Even if it did, such a pattern maximizes the losses due to multiple assignments, because it maximally interrupts flow.
Actual work is usually performed in bursts. Use your project planning software to schedule those bursts.

People with multiple assignments are usually less effective than they would be if they had only one assignment. And they might be called away at any time. Plan for it. Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Create Distrust  Next Issue

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