After a project is sold and the customer has indicated their readiness to start by a certain date, the next challenge is staffing. In Episode 7, we share our thoughts around pulling together a project team and the considerations to keep in mind.
These are our Top Plays with respect to staffing:
- In the sales cycle, it’s important to tailor the roles necessary for a successful project based on the nature of the work to be performed. There are certain core roles you might always have – a Project Manager, Technical Architect, or Quality Assurance resource, for example – but let other roles be defined by the unique makeup of the project. If there is a lot of business process work, for example, include a business architect, but if it’s more collecting requirements, include a business analyst. Let the nature of the work dictate the suggested project staffing.
- Delivery can, and should, look to optimize the staffing plan after receiving an LOE (level of effort). Our approach is to combine roles where possible (based on staff availability and skillsets) in order to minimize partial resources. We are always careful about making bigger changes than necessary to the staffing plan developed in sales discussions, but combining roles tends to be low-risk high-impact win.
- Geography is important, even for remote work (because of timezones). Ignoring geography adds complexity, so if you can avoid crossing time zones, you should.
- Availability is not a skill. Yes, it’s important to take into account whether or not you have a bench, and what available resources you have, but staffing should always be about more than identifying a body to fill a hole. Ultimately, successful project execution hinges on relationship. So, look at the culture of the customer, and the potential fit of team members at the customer. Consider what the individual team member wants to do, what’s going to feed his or her spirit, and what that resource’s unique needs are at the current point in time. Have they been on the road and need break? Are they looking to grow a certain skill? Do they get excited about working in a particular vertical?
- Consider a way of systematically identifying, reviewing, and making decisions based of what the resources what to do, what their short and long-term goals are. Consulting Operations then becomes more than fulfilment. There can and should be two-way dialog. As you scale, you may have to break these discussions out regionally or by team, but have them.
- Be mindful that customers will sometimes expect to meet resources during the sales cycle who will later be staffed on the project, and that’s okay to a certain extent. Especially for big projects, customers want to ensure that people are going to mesh (again, our persistent theme: it’s all about relationship!) But this has to be balanced with the notion of buying capability and the business realities that in consulting firms, people are our products who need to be utilized and can’t be held indefinitely (if at all).
- Unicorns are really important in a services organization. Unicorns are multi-purpose, multi-talented person that can work magic. They can wear multiple hats, do multiple roles, make customers happy, all leading to successful projects. They are hard to find and hard to grow, and you should take good care of these unique, important players.
- Be thoughtful about when you start a project. It may be beneficial to delay a start date to get the perfect project team in place, especially if you find yourself having to talk yourself into a resource for a certain project. A rolling start may be okay too, under certain circumstances, to start initial activities as soon as the key roles become available, adding additional resources as they become available.
- Take into account the complexity of a project when staffing, and always consider the balance of experienced to inexperienced resources. Large projects can typically absorb more junior, less experienced people, and provide opportunities for mentorship within the context of an actual project.
- Consider building a training and ramp plan that includes a project simulation, especially if you consulting staff is growing quickly.
- Remain flexible when staffing, but be careful about how you handle resource contention, and carefully consider how and when you roll individuals on and off projects.
- Have a matrix of who you have, what their skills are, and what their past experience has been. Document this in some form, rather than relying on tribal knowledge.
- Understand the customer resources and the roles they will play in the project, identifying gaps and overlaps. You’ll then have greater insight into what your staffing plan needs to consider.
- Ultimately, staffing is never just about matching technical skills to the initial project plan built during presales. It is just as important to identify the right soft skills, resources who can build trust. Staffing is a about finding the right mix of soft, technical, process, expert, and leadership skills.