Resource conflicts are very common, especially when managing large complex IT projects.
For this write-up, I will like to site a personal experience from about 3 years ago when I was leading the implementation of an AI-powered chatbot for a leading financial services company. I experienced a major resource conflict that threatened the success of my project.
AI projects typically require that a machine learning model be trained with domain knowledge from domain experts also know as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). So, it was critical that we had the SMEs engaged to train the ML model so that we could build a chatbot with optimal performance.
The client SMEs are also needed to test the system because they are the people that can tell if the systems is producing the right outcome.
My major challenge on this project was trying to get the SMEs to be available as needed to carry out the annotation exercises and ground truth building needed to train and testing the ML model.
I found out the SMEs were committed to another one of their internal project that limited their availability to participate fully in my project. The schedule and cost projection on the project based on the SMEs unavailability came to additional 3 months and over $300k in cost.
You can either try to prevent a challenges on your project and when you can’t, address them as they come with mitigation steps.
- Preventive measure –Set the right expectation at project initiation: At project initiation, always be sure to set the right expectations with clients for the required amount of their commitment at different phases of the project from the client team during the kickoff call. I can’t stress this enough for initiating projects. More than establishing the commitment needed from the client, you also want to make sure that they agree and commit during the kickoff call or at any time before the project starts. Any negotiations for accommodations can be done at this point and should be reflected in the overall project plan. Though it is easier said than done, I dare say if this aspect isn’t resolved, you shouldn’t start the project expect you have a contingency plan that can immediately be implemented if the risk happens. On this project, I had set the right expectations during the kickoff call and also included their tasks to RACI (responsibility matrix) and I got their commitment. Setting the right expectation from the kickoff call for every project is covering the bases.
- Escalate to the Project Sponsor. You always want to be forthcoming with the progress, challenges, risks of a project with project sponsors and key stakeholders. This can be done during the weekly status calls, executive steering committee meetings, and in very critical situations on an emergency 1 on 1 meeting with key decision-makers. I had a meeting with the project sponsor to explain the resource challenge I was experiencing with his team and explained the effect to the schedule and the budget as a result. As the project manager, you always want to present the issues in a challenges- possible solution format to help the sponsor in their decision making. I allowed the sponsor to decide what they were willing to compromise on. As for most IT projects, the compromise is usually in added cost, resources, schedule or reduced quality and scope. For this particular case, the sponsor got approval to onboard some lower-level resources from within their organization to shadow the SMEs and who thereafter will augment the SMEs efforts. We lost a few weeks on the project to training and bring the new team up to speed on the ML process but it would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t escalated to the sponsor when I did and offering him options for mitigating the risk.
With that little experience, I started including ‘SME unavailability’ to my risk register from the project onset. With the help of the client team and my delivery team, we try to come up with a viable mitigation plan which is approved by the project sponsor.
Another way of handling issues like this, is if you are within the same organization with the PM of the conflicting project, you can work out a schedule where the resources can conveniently go back and forth between both projects without any conflict.
Also, for IT projects there are many other comprises that you can make if must meet a deadline. For example, reducing the project scope and features, with plans to include them in future releases post production.
Requesting additional resources is another way but comes with increase in cost. The possibilities for tackling project challenges are endless so long as you are will to accept compromise in some other areas. Decide what is more important.
Whatever you do manage project risks on your project, always ensure the project sponsors are updated regularly and approvals are in place.