Manpower management is a crucial skill for PMs. Maintaining a keen eye on workforce availability—including both internal employees and external resources—enables them to know if the project is adequately staffed and if their projected timing of needs, such as craft labor, is accurate and efficient.
The team should always know which activities each facet of the labor pool is supposed to be working on and when. Deep manpower visibility helps the center of excellent to manage costs and ensures that resources aren’t sitting around idle, either waiting to begin work or waiting to finish it.
Project managers essentially have two areas of focus when it comes to manpower support:
- Knowing that they have enough of the right resources to execute the amount of work planned, ensuring they aren’t caught short-handed at a critical time.
- Understanding when those resources are needed—and when they’re best used—so they don’t have expensive labor resources onsite without anything to do.
If the team isn’t adequately staffed with the right level of labor resources to complete the amount of work being scheduled, the activity durations will ultimately take longer. This often leads to some of the project’s scope being sacrificed toward the end of the project as the team runs out of time leading up to the target completion date.
When activity durations are extended, downstream tasks are likely to be delayed, which impacts the second factor—idle labor. If a laborer, especially an outside contractor with a fixed bill rate, arrives on site to work on a specific activity on a specific day, only to discover that upstream tasks have taken longer than expected, that labor resource may have nothing to do. The earlier delays are thus further perpetuated and, if the work must then be scheduled outside regular business hours to try to stay on track, the costs can quickly exceed the forecasted budget.
In the quest to effectively manage resources and have good visibility across the manpower needs of the project, Project Teams can begin by asking a few targeted questions.
Is labor being assigned to the right activities? The most effective labor allocations are made with an eye toward maximizing the time and expertise of each resource group.
Are activities efficiently sequenced and timed? Consider, for example, where activities—especially those that are labor-intensive or that require specialized skills—may be shifted from a busier time to a less hectic one, thereby effectively smoothing the labor demand curve without impacting other areas of the project.
How can internal labor resources be utilized most effectively? In-house support staff fill an important role, and it’s up to the project team to protect and maximize that labor resource. Can after-hours work be accomplished at a lower cost if in-house employees are used? Does the project call for highly specialized experience that is available on staff but difficult to find (or expensive) externally? Is it possible to pull internal staff from other duties for quick activities, rather than pay trip charges or similar fees for an outside contractor?
Are labor schedules monitored in real time and dynamically updated?
To avoid downstream delays and limit the extra expenses associated with off-hours work, real-time status reports should be coming in from the field about how each activity is progressing. Any potential changes in the schedule can then be accounted for and remaining tasks resequenced to maintain forward momentum. This keeps the project team on track for the final completion date and the labor required for downstream activities can be shifted to ensure that idle time is eliminated and additional costs are avoided.