Whether your company conducts planning on an annual or a continuous basis, the approach is usually the same: identifying and mapping demand against a finite supply of financial and human resources. High-level effort estimates get derived and aggregated across cross-functional project wish-lists to help governance bodies make decisions about project selection and prioritization.
Estimation and capacity-determination usually focuses on the staff that will be producing key deliverables on these projects and a key role that often gets neglected is the project customer. In some organizations, this role may also be called the project sponsor if the sponsor’s responsibilities extend beyond providing funding for the project to acting as the main organization advocate, key decision-maker and default point of contact for issues and risks escalated by the project team.
While a customer is not (usually) responsible for producing project deliverables, if they have insufficient time to commit to the project, the impacts of this capacity shortfall could include:
- Delayed decisions resulting in project schedule impacts
- Reduced organization awareness, buy-in and operational readiness to fully benefit from the project’s outputs
- Deliverables rework with accompanying cost impacts based on changes in direction or resulting from decisions that were made with insufficient thought or focus
- Frustration on the part of the project team or project manager when escalated issues, risks or actions are not addressed in a timely fashion
What is especially challenging about this is that while it may be possible (if project budgets have flexibility) to bring in outside assistance to address shortfalls in producing project deliverables, it is rarely possible for a hired gun to easily take over the role of project customer as it usually requires significant specific operational or functional knowledge coupled with well established relationships with peers and executives.
To avoid this issue, a rule-of-thumb for appropriately planning for customer allocation could be developed based on the assessed complexity of the project.
Low complexity, routine projects or those which will result in minimal change to the organization may only require a marginal commitment from the customer, but as complexity or the magnitude of change impacts increase, the customer’s involvement will also increase. On highly complex or transformational projects, it would not be unrealistic to expect the customer to spend almost all of their time focusing on the project, especially at critical phases in its lifecycle.
This is another advantage for those organizations which have embraced agile approaches – the significant involvement of the project customer throughout the lifecycle is recognized as a guiding principle of agile implementations, and they will be less likely to take on more projects than can be adequately supported by their available customer capacity.
It pays to cut your coat according to the availability of team member and customer cloth!