A Business Technology Place

The Resource Constraint Conundrum

It’s the most over used term in the office.

“We have resource constraints.”

“We can’t do that project due to resource constraints.”

“We missed the time line due to resource constraints.”

The rationale behind this line of thinking is that there isn’t enough people. If we just had more people then we could do all the projects and hit all the time lines. We don’t have enough programmers. We don’t have enough architects. We don’t have enough testers. I think the excuse is just too convenient. In a way, it’s lazy.

Here’s why.

Organizations can’t employ an unlimited number of people. Even if the organization hired more programmers, it would only shift the bottleneck to another group. Think about that. If you hired three more programmers then the programmers would ultimately sit with no input because the existing business analysts couldn’t feed them work fast enough. Or the programmers output would increase so much that the QA testers would not be able to keep up with it. There has to be a slowest step. So this is an apparent conundrum. If only we could do more with less by working smarter.

A better way to think.

I find that this conversation parallels budget and financial processes. There is a finite amount of money in the budget, home or work. Is that a budget constraint? If we answer yes, then we have a mindset that there shouldn’t be limits. We should just be able to spend money whenever we want no matter the cost. The reality is that we have a set amount of money and we establish a budget as a guideline for how to spend it. The budget is what we choose to do with our money.

It's really about how we allocate what we have

It’s really about how we allocate what we have

I use that rationale for the home budget. We have X dollars each month. We choose how we will spend those X dollars. The budget isn’t a constraint. It’s a guide and a plan.

The same principle applies to people in the office. We have a set number of people on staff and a book of work to process. How we choose to allocate people to that work is our choice. It isn’t easy and requires tough decisions. But it’s a choice.

The conversation changer.

So the conversation changes from resource constraints to resource allocations. We should be talking in terms of customer retention, ROI, revenue, etc. The allocation of staff is a choice based on a plan. That’s a better conversation to have with everyone. Instead of complaints we talk about acknowledging current state and making choices.

Hiring more people or buying more equipment is always possible if the allocation of funds support it. Businesses are drawn to ROI. If the business case supports it and those in charge of managing the money believe the risk is worth taking, then the funds will be allocated. Businesses exist to make a return.

When it’s all said and done we work within the boundaries of what we have. That includes people, money, tools, equipment, and knowledge. Is that boundary a constraint? I sure hope not. I like to get stuff done!

Learnings and Takeaways from Product Camp Atlanta 2010

I attended Product Camp Atlanta last weekend hosted at the Georgia Tech Research Institute Conference Center. Product Camp AtlantaIt was my first product camp, so the only knowledge of format and content I had going in was from the description on the web site. The topics of the conference focused on product management and marketing which are the two primary areas of my career experience and interests.

Overall I was pleased with my decision to go to the all-day camp. Time was given to the sponsors to introduce themselves since they provided the financial backing to make the event possible. However, it was very non-intrusive to the day and didn’t come off as a sales pitch.  Participants voted on a list of possible break-out session subjects that were submitted by other participants.  This allowed the group to discuss a variety of topics over the course of the day.  Each hour there were four choices so that participants could pick a session that matched their interests.  In my opinion, the best sessions were those where the speakers facilitated a discussion rather than giving a presentation.  I say this because my understanding and expectation in attending the conference was that the sessions would be more collaborative and discussion oriented. For the most part, I felt speakers honored this conference format.

Here are four random takeaways that I recorded during the sessions:

1. Value of business cases

  • Removes pet features
  • Keeps discussions on merits of the features
  • Removes emotion

I liked this thought because typically businesses case development gets a lot of groans and whining when people mention the topic. It’s not easy to complete a business case, but it does provide and important function for the business to adequately allocate resources to work. This bullet list provides a quick and easy-to-understand value for the effort expended on the business case.

2.  The voice of the customer is more relevant than your individual job tenure, experience, or credentials

The context of this quote came in a discussion about how a cultural shift is needed to take learnings from the classroom to the operations of a business. When we attend conferences, take classes, or receive training we often come back to our organizations with great ideas and learnings. But implementing these ideas is another story, especially if we are the only member of our business to receive the new knowledge.  It requires a cultural shift to implement learnings.  Tools that give us an insight into the voice of the customer are readily available, but often overlooked.

3. Google Wave was not in use by most of the attendees

Well, at least for those attending a break out session on this topic. The tool holds promise as a format for real time collaboration but needs to overcome concerns related to security of information to gain wide acceptance in a corporate environment. It should be noted that the product is still in Beta at Google and it hasn’t been publicized widely. Google is using a viral marketing technique to create awareness about wave. You have to be invited by an existing participant to join.

4. Solve for competing priorities by using a percentage based resource allocation strategy

In one session we discussed various methods and techniques for resource allocation and project prioritization. One way to complete development team resource allocation is by dividing the time against development areas on a percentage basis:

  • x% new development
  • y% architecture
  • z% support/defects
I liked this thought because its easy to overlook the need for architectural updates and support items in favor of new development. This is especially true for mature software products where the architecture may no longer be new or the list of defects may have grown with the passing of time.
I’m looking forward to the next Product Camp in Atlanta.  It’s a great time for sharing, learning, and networking.