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Here’s the context. A project’s deadline is being moved up and it was decided that more of the shared resources (artists) will be  shifted to work on it. Another project is ongoing but it only demands a couple of days a week of select people.

A project leader asked, “How many artists are you really putting to task at my project? I want to project how long would for us to finish.”

The head artist replied, “We can’t say how many and when. There are too many projects going on.”

Needless to say, projects are failing – a key reason as to why there’s a reshuffling of resources going on. Still, for any decent project manager, it’s quite disappointing when people always say it’s impossible to estimate, anticipate, or simply monitor what’s going on when it comes to resourcing and scheduling at work.

True that there are some innate challenges to things like estimation, particularly at the start of projects when requirements are still hazy and all you can come up with is a rough ballpark. This case is different though since these are active and ongoing tasks.

Sure, simultaneous projects might be failing but the last thing that all of these need is to have shared resources not having any real idea of what’s going on. It is not even about estimation any more.

Here’s my take on what has gone wrong with the situation.

First, there seems to be a poor understanding of how matrix relationships work. It appears that this organized as a balanced matrix organization, meaning the project leader determines the skills needed for the task and the function manager (the head artist) assigns those resources.

If one are tasked to manage your resources functionally, then one has to accurately know if they have the skills to work on particular projects (and augment them if need be) and what active projects they are working on. Function managers still need to be involved and informed of projects. It isn’t just the project manager’s work.

Second is the problem of monitoring. The tasks are ongoing and you can therefore observe how much work is coming in and how long is it taking each resource to complete. This can already serve as a basis for computing how much it would take the tasks to be completed that is if baselines have been a challenge to establish at the start of the project.

Third is not controlling. It’s a common pitfall of this phase of a project – monitoring always comes with a sibling – control. Projects are inherently volatile and, as such, changes need to be managed especially when they are needed to get the project back on track.

One key problem is when some simply accept delays like that is the way things are. Perhaps one of the nasty Filipino habits when it comes to deadlines – that they often are treated as optimistic estimates.

The result of the failure to understand how teams should work and failing to monitor and control is exactly this – a tunnel of uncertainty instead of it being a cone. A project supposedly in the home stretch should not bear that much uncertainty.

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