In large organizations, or on large projects, you may have the luxury of full-time resources for your entire team. However, in many (or most) situations, the project manager must utilize shared and part-time resources to complete the work. Some resources may be working on multiple projects, while other resources may be working in support (or operations) roles as well. The process of gaining and retaining resources in this environment can be difficult and is related to the way your organization is structured.

In a matrix organization, people are assigned full time to a functional organization, but can be temporarily assigned full time or part time to a project as well. In this case, the functional manager may be responsible for part of a team member’s workload and a project manager may be responsible for assigning the work associated with the project. If you are in an organization where you have a project manager that is different from your functional manager, you are working in a “matrix” environment. The matrix organization is especially efficient if your project does not need a full-time commitment from people in the supporting organization. These people can be used part time on one or more projects while also continuing to report into another organization structure.

The matrixed organization can be the most efficient at utilizing and leveraging people’s time and skills. However, it only works if the functional manager and project manager (or multiple project managers) recognize the challenges and work together for the company’s overall benefit.

You need to maintain a planning window of upcoming projects and an estimate of their resource needs. If your staffing requirements fluctuate a lot from month-to-month, or if the projects cannot be forecast many months in advance, you can at least plan using a three-month rolling window. You then update and refine the plan on a monthly basis. The closest month should be pretty firm. Two months out should be pretty close. Three months out and beyond is best guess.

On the other hand, if the projects in your organization are typically longer, and your staffing plan is well understood, you may want to maintain a nine-month planning window and update the plan every quarter. The planning process should include the appropriate project managers and functional managers who tend to share a common pool of resources.

After the planning comes the proactive communication. Remember that in a matrix organization, project managers need resources to do their work, but they do not own them – the functional managers do. So, the onus is usually on the project managers to make sure that the resources are available when they are needed, and that there are no surprises. For instance, if you and the functional manager agree that a specific set of people will be available for one of your projects in two months, don’t just show up in two months and expect them to be ready to go. In fact, you should expect that they will not be ready if you have not communicated often and proactively. The project manager should gain agreement on resources two months in advance. The resources should be confirmed again at the next monthly staff allocation meeting. The project manager should double-check resources again two weeks before the start-date, and follow-up with a reminder one week out. You are much more likely to have the resources available when you need them if you take these proactive steps.

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