Planning resources based on skills
Why, when and how do you do that?
You don’t have to be a huge organization to have a large pool of resources, because a resource is not only a permanent employee, it can also be a freelancer or a subcontractor. From experience, we’ve seen from our users that when a planner has more than 25 resources at his or her disposal, it becomes a greater challenge to keep track of who is good at what. The problem is that planners who lose track of their available resources usually lack a skill matrix and thus an overview of what skills their employees possess.
An employee’s skill encompasses all the knowledge, insights and skills that they possess, which have a direct bearing on completing projects. He or she may have obtained their skills in several ways: from work experience, education or training.
A skill can therefore be wide-ranging. For example, it can be experience in the use of specific programs, writing in certain program languages, but can also include the certification required to perform certain skilled tasks, such as an electrician.
In this article, we will look at when and why you need to plan projects with the help of skills. Then we will look at how to best set up a skill matrix and keep it up to date.
Why would you even need skill-based planning?
For that matter, why work with skills in your organization at all? There are actually three important reasons why you should consider it.
1. Better planning
The first advantage is that you will be better able to plan the right resources for a project. This has many obvious benefits. The overall quality of the work will be better, because the employee has the right knowledge and experience. It is more likely that the project will be delivered on time, because the employee will spend less time trying to figure things out. The customer will be more satisfied, because the project is likely to be delivered on time and to a sufficient standard. And finally, you’ll have a happier employee because he or she can work on their projects, confident that they have the necessary knowledge and experience to do the job.
2. Faster planning
It also means that as a planner, you are able to make changes more rapidly, and you won’t have to search through long lists to find the right resources for a project. If you have a comprehensive and up-to-date list of skills, you can quickly filter resources by the desired skills and expertise.
And finally, the knowledge about available skills won’t rest with a single person within the organization, such as the planner. Furthermore, if there is a shortage of staff with certain knowledge or skills, it would be important for management to be aware of this. This will ensure the timely hiring of additional staff with the appropriate skills. This means that the company won’t be caught short by not executing projects properly due to a lack of the right resources.
When are you going to plan based on skills?
When will it be beneficial to start a skill matrix? When do you need to pay attention to defining what your employees, freelancers and subcontractors can do? Our opinion is, always – but with two exceptions.
The first exception is when you have a limited amount of resources. From experience, we set this limit at 25. For example, if you are working with five employees and two freelancers, then the benefits to be gained from setting up a skill matrix are minimal and don’t outweigh the effort it would take. Another factor is when your planner knows their resources well enough to know y heart when he or she can best use someone. If you cross the 25 mark, then it becomes difficult to remember all the skills of everyone. That’s when it becomes useful to structurally record skills.
A homogeneous resource pool
The second exception is when your pool of resources is homogeneous. This means that all resources have roughly the same skills. With a homogeneous resource pool, you do not have to filter by skill. Here, availability is the only element you need to look at as a planner. In this scenario, the effort of capturing and maintaining a skill matrix does not really offer any tangible advantages.
How do you go about working with skills?
If you decide to start a skill matrix, how will you set it up and keep track of everything? It’s actually a waste of time if you just set up a matrix, do an inventory once and leave it at that.
1. Link it to your planning
In 1950, we did the tracking of skills on paper. These days, the first step is to use a software package such as an HR system. Preferably choose a system that can be integrated with your planning or choose planning software that includes skill management, such as Timewax. Your skill matrix will thus really be an addition to your resource planning.
A while ago, we wrote a blog post titled Selecting Planning Software – 3 Essential steps. The essence of the selection process described in there can also be used for selecting the right software for skill management.
2. Keeping the skill matrix up to date
In order to reap the benefits of skill-based planning, you will need to put some effort into it. Once the skill matrix is done, it is crucial that it is continually updated. A skill matrix quickly loses its value when it’s no longer current. Planners soon stop using this feature if they notice that the desired resources cannot be found.
3. Make someone responsible
Once the skill matrix is in place, it would be wise to give a person or department the responsibility of keeping it up to date. Set up a process for this. For example, you can link the updating of skills to regular interviews with your employees, such as performance appraisal interviews.
4. Stay in touch
Resources that gain experience and expertise outside of your organization, such as freelancers or subcontractors, require a different approach. It is important that you stay in touch with them and that they are aware of the need to pass on any changes in experience or certification. A change in their status may make them eligible for better assignments in your organization. Sending out periodic mailings in this regard can also be effective.
5. Begin at the biggest point of impact
Do you need to make an inventory of all the skills that your employees possess immediately? No, that’s not advisable. If you’re going to start, begin with the most commonly used skills. Planners, project managers and resource managers will derive the most benefit from this and it will have the biggest impact on your organization. The effort you put into setting up a skill matrix will quickly yield rewards there.
A final word
Taking skills into account when planning is a technique that can bring many benefits to your organization. Projects will run smoother, customers will be more satisfied and employees will be happier. If you want to get the most out of this technique and not squander the effort needed to get it off the ground, then you really need to set up an ongoing process for it. Your skill matrix will quickly lose its value if you do not give it the ongoing attention it needs and, quite frankly, deserves. Remember, knowledge is power!
Mark de Jong
Mark is Sales & Marketing Manager at Timewax. He has a background as a project and resource manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers Management Consultants with expertise in the field of Professional Service Automation (PSA).