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Why It’s Time for AEC Firms to Get Serious About Agile Project Management Practices

by Lucas HaydenA/E, AEC, Budgeting & Forecasting, ERP Software Best Practices, Project Management, Resource Planning

Nov 15, 2021

As smoothly as many architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms have adapted to the realities of doing business during a pandemic, and as plentiful as the opportunities for project work are heading into the new year, there’s plenty of reason to believe that 2022 will be even better for AEC firms than 2021 was. The X factor in that outlook, of course, is the intense competition for new business. To capitalize on those opportunities, firms must find a competitive edge. Gaining that edge, and keeping the pipeline full and moving bottleneck-free in 2022 and beyond, could well come down to how a firm manages its project data, and specifically, its forecasting. To aggressively pursue new work in the current business environment, AEC firms need to be really good at resource management, project scheduling and forecasting. For many firms, however, that’s not necessarily a strong suit. In Unanet’s recently released AEC Inspire benchmarking report [available free to download here] 57% of firm decision-makers identified forecasting as their most difficult project management challenge. What this suggests is that AEC firms with strong forecasting, planning and resource-management chops — in short, those that are more agile in their approach to project management — will have an edge in the success of current work and the pursuit of new business. The more real-time insight that firm leaders have into project planning, and scheduling, and the resources required to complete their project backlog, the better equipped they will be to gauge resources, prioritize new business pursuits accordingly, and ultimately land the types of projects that their firm covets. Agile, data-driven project management practices (the Project Management Institute lately has elevated the athleticism of that metaphor to “gymnastic”) are the key to unlocking not only new business growth but also new efficiencies that go right to the bottom line. That agility comes from better forecasting and analysis in areas like budgeting, resource allocation and scheduling. Based on Unanet’s deep experience supporting AEC firms with the data-forward, insight-generating capabilities to implement agile project management practices, here are several guiding principles to point your firm in the right direction: Treat people as your most valuable resource. The common denominator for highly effective project teams is individual engagement with a common goal. To build project teams full of engaged people that function as an agile whole, firms and their PMs need to know their people and the specific hard and soft skills they bring to the mix, then leverage that knowledge to ensure they have the right resources on the right projects. Get started, then iterate. As an undertaking that spans all areas of an AEC business, achieving resource management maturity takes time. A good starting point for project managers is to adopt initial deliverables, then iterate from there, so they begin adding value to a project, teams and customers. For example, if you are not able to schedule your team out in detail, begin with higher-level month-by-month scheduling. Schedule for the quarter ahead, compare your scheduled to actuals worked, draw conclusions, then apply that learning to the next quarter. Wash, rinse, repeat! Collaborate around feedback. As you begin to leverage a more data-driven approach to project planning and resource scheduling, invite feedback early and regularly. Work with your internal customers first, then, as appropriate, engage your customers to ensure you are meeting their expectations from a service and deliverables perspective. Roll with the changes. Change is the one certainty in the AEC business. Change orders, reprioritizations, unanticipated leave or team-member departures, the weather — all these can impact a plan. A firm’s resource management and scheduling processes and systems should be flexible enough to readily accommodate changes on the fly. What does that mean in practice? Just like it’s easier to steer a moving car, once you are underway with your scheduling practice, you can ebb more easily, and flow as needed. And with a broader, more forward-looking view of your book of work, changes become easier to absorb. By embracing a data-centric approach to project planning and resource scheduling, firms and their project managers give themselves a distinct edge in forecasting, making better-informed, more agile decisions, greater ease in load-balancing resources with projected needs, and improved project performance overall. They also put themselves in a strong position to aggressively pursue new business and stay ahead of the hiring curve. While other firms with less forecasting savvy wrestle with unforeseen project overruns and issues with talent retention due to burn out, those with an agile approach to project management stand to capitalize on a surge in new AEC business that could sustain them for years to come. Thanks for reading the first post in Lucas’s blog series for AEC firms about translating agile project management practices into improved project outcomes, better pipeline management and more new business wins. Check back soon for the second post in the series.

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5 Steps to Resource Management Maturity

by Kim KosterGovCon, Resource Planning

Sep 09, 2019

Where do you stand with your resource management maturity? About 55% of respondents in our 2019 GAUGE Report said they have reached resource management maturity for their organization. Does your business fit into this category? const t="undefined"!=typeof HTMLImageElement&&"loading"in HTMLImageElement.prototype;if(t){const t=document.querySelectorAll("img[data-main-image]");for(let e of t){e.dataset.src&&(e.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.src),e.removeAttribute("data-src")),e.dataset.srcset&&(e.setAttribute("srcset",e.dataset.srcset),e.removeAttribute("data-srcset"));const t=e.parentNode.querySelectorAll("source[data-srcset]");for(let e of t)e.setAttribute("srcset",e.dataset.srcset),e.removeAttribute("data-srcset");e.complete&&(e.style.opacity=1)}}{"image":{"layout":"constrained","backgroundColor":"#f8f8f8","images":{"fallback":{"src":"/static/faabdca78f13887cc43040e3d2c2f4d3/a8f41/resource-management-maturity-from-gauge.png","srcSet":"/static/faabdca78f13887cc43040e3d2c2f4d3/96642/resource-management-maturity-from-gauge.png 118w,\n/static/faabdca78f13887cc43040e3d2c2f4d3/7dc3d/resource-management-maturity-from-gauge.png 236w,\n/static/faabdca78f13887cc43040e3d2c2f4d3/a8f41/resource-management-maturity-from-gauge.png 472w","sizes":"(min-width: 472px) 472px, 100vw"},"sources":[{"srcSet":"/static/faabdca78f13887cc43040e3d2c2f4d3/d39f7/resource-management-maturity-from-gauge.webp 118w,\n/static/faabdca78f13887cc43040e3d2c2f4d3/52648/resource-management-maturity-from-gauge.webp 236w,\n/static/faabdca78f13887cc43040e3d2c2f4d3/a4d54/resource-management-maturity-from-gauge.webp 472w","type":"image/webp","sizes":"(min-width: 472px) 472px, 100vw"}]},"width":472,"height":259},"alt":"","className":"aligncenter wp-image-8330 inline-gatsby-image-wrapper","data-wp-inline-image":"1"}   Resource Management Maturity People really are the most important asset a company has, yet so many companies struggle to truly manage this resource. How much more profitable would you be if you increased utilization of your resources? How much more on-time would your projects be if you had the right people at the right time for the right tasks? In this blog, we’ll walk you through 5 steps to resource management maturity so you can see not only at what level your organization currently sits, but where you’d like to go in the future.   Resource Management Maturity Level One – Ad-Hoc or Initial At this level, achieving resourcing goals depends on individual effort and heroics. Work gets done but it is not sustainable for the long term, and key staff may be lost to burnout. How to move from Level One to Level Two: Agree as an organization that you are ready to mature your resource management practice! Create and document policies and procedures Policies should establish best practices for your organization Assure they will help the teams be successful Make sure there is a repository for easy access Feedback loop to make sure policies are being followed Create a self-audit plan Concentrate on the basics – resource names, availability, skills, and utilization Define Key Performance Indices (KPIs) for your project Provide role-based training on policies and procedures Evaluate tools and evaluate future needs   Resource Management Maturity Level Two – Project by Project or Basic In level two, resource management processes are in place and the necessary process discipline exists to repeat earlier successes on projects with similar applications. How to move from Level Two to Level Three: Measure adherence of enterprise policies and procedures Information is shared across projects with modern tools Enterprise wide labor categories and skills inventory/classifications Defined skill levels used for resource selection People, processes & tools provide an enterprise wide resource forecast Resources are budgeted and forecasted at the task level Supply and future supply of resources is visible Resource demand is visible to all project stakeholders Projects are being planned with resource constraints in mind Decide on a common set of enterprise wide and project level KPIs Automation of the process with the right tool   Resource Management Maturity Level Three – Organization-Wide Processes are documented and standardized at level three, with approved tailored approaches being adopted as needed. How to move from Level Three to Level Four: Use data (historical and current) to drive hiring and placement decisions Common tool for enterprise level resource and skills budgeting and forecasting that all stakeholders have access to Formal resource requesting process Standard resource management metrics/KPIs with visibility of performance goals/thresholds Self-reporting on utilization Align resource forecasts and plans to corporate goals and objectives Realtime resourcing information – reports and dashboards Utilize KPIs to directly influence achievement of business goals and to make great business decisions Pipeline is also resourced for full look at the total needs of the business Tools now support the process with minimal manual touches Continue role-based training for all stakeholders Tools training is a recurring activity   Resource Management Maturity Level Four – Quantitative/Data Driven At level four, detailed measures on process of resourcing practices are quantitatively measured, understood and managed. How to move from Level Four to Level Five: Invest in your people with training and a career path Establish a continuous feedback loop from all stakeholders Incentivize employees to be creative and listen to the suggestions Continue to evolve your processes looking for areas to improve Collect and utilize lessons learned and drive them into your process You will feel the organization firing on all cylinders   Resource Management Maturity Level Five – Continuous Improvement At the final level of the resource management maturity level, continuous process improvement is enabled by quantitative feedback from the process and from piloting innovative ideas and technologies. “Sounds great, but do we have to be a Level Five?” As an organization, it is important to decide what level is needed to achieve your business objectives. You might not need to walk through all 5 steps to resource management maturity. Some may say that level 3.5 is adequate and it will meet their needs. Others might need a complete managed process that is striving for optimization, so a 4.3. Making that decision is key to establishing a roadmap and overall timeline.   Benefits of Adopting a Resource Management Maturity Model: Improved visibility and control into enterprise resource needs and utilization Improved predictability and understanding of overall performance Common organizational standards ensuring consistent reporting, reduction of rework, and reduced dependence on heroes. Optimization of the project management staff, allowing them to focus on their customer, not on turning the crank. More efficient communication within project teams and to senior leadership. Delivery of real-time insight on project financials and enable resolution of identified risks. More on-time and on-budget projects, which equals a delighted customer.   Mature Your Resource Management Process with Unanet Understanding that resource management is a true discipline that should be practiced and matured can be the difference between successful or failed projects. We all know what happens with failed projects and none of us want that. A resource management system can greatly aid your mission to improve your resource management maturity. An integrated comparison of actuals with budgets, plans, plans and variances gives project managers unparalleled insight into their projects. Dive deeper into how to improve your resource management maturity by watching our on-demand webinar.