Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

How do I trade off between cost and capacity?

In every organisation that I have worked in there has never been any argument that additional capacity can help better delivery of projects. But seldom are organisations in a position of luxury to have additional resources, which may not be contributing to the bottom line. For every staff hire, there is an expectation of revenue if it is a professional services organisation. Even for organisations where staff are not required to bring in income, like a ministry or a state services organisation, they add to the headcount the top brass are often under pressure to reduce. How then can we look to get a good balance of capacity and cost? Is this a pipe dream?

Let us explore that. Take the example of a professional services organisation. Cashflow is a key consideration for such organisations. Every staff you have that is not engaged in a fee earning work is contributing to an eroding bottom line. There is the temptation to therefore engage just in time sub-contract resourcing to minimise such risk. Because your sub-contractors are cheaper than the rate you are charging, your cashflow looks great and it looks like you are making a profit in markup as well. Why then bother about making any effort to have your own resources?

By relying more on sub-contractors, you are reliant on third party resources. Once the project is complete, hardly any intellectual property remain in your organisation. There may also be key customers that you do not want to expose to your sub-contractors. What is to stop them going directly to them the next time. You are also compromised in your ability to take on key projects that you want to, because you are operating little or no ability to be agile due to resource constraint. Then there is the challenge of getting time out for your key staff to up-skill, get certifications, do some research and development to keep your competitive edge. When you are resource constrained these are activities that go by the wayside.

Even though the cashflow looks good from month to month by having contract resources. If you do any analysis at the end of the year, you will inevitably find you would have made more of a profit over the course of the year by hiring your own resources. A particular month or two may have looked worse, but over the course of the year, your costs are so much lower because you are not having to pay premium contractor rates. In the bargain, you can also retain the intellectual property. Effectively the rate you have paid is to transfer the risk of potentially not having won this piece of work.

There is an alternative way of thinking. When we’re looking at resourcing, we always look at the right level of skill to apply to that. I have been thinking of ways to communicate the capacity challenge with dollar values, so I can make an effective business case for additional resources. For the cost of one senior staff, I can hire three graduates or at least two with some experience. And I have to get them only half (or a third) productive to have earned the same fee. After some months, whatever additional productivity they can provide actually adds to the capacity of my team. This is an approach that can only succeed if you have enough senior staff to mentor them.

If I get 120 billable hours from my senior staff, and I already have some, I would rather get three graduates and attempt at getting around 40 billable hours off them. My senior staff’s billable rate will suffer as he may end up mentoring them for 10 hours each. But even that requires me to get 50 billable hours each from the three new hires. Even taking into account the different rates I can charge for them would require me to be able to get 60 billable hours. Whatever I can get beyond 60 hours from these three new hires, is adding to the capacity of my team, despite the additional effort to integrate them and lower rates. And it is costing me little or no extra money.

What approaches have you tried? What has worked for you to make your case? If I have gone off the tangent and barking off the wrong tree let me know.

Image Credit: AshishGrover.Com


One response to “How do I trade off between cost and capacity?

  1. Pingback: What can accounting and finance teach project and program management? | Project, Program and Portfolio Management in Practice

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