Ever witnessed a project succeed without diligent resource planning? That’s a rhetorical question. Resource planning is at the core of successful project delivery and organizational efficiency. It ascertains that the right workforce with the right expertise is allocated to the respective projects. Multinational corporations and growing businesses are investing substantially to streamline their resource planning process.
A study revealed that 53% of decision-makers consider enterprise resource planning an investment priority.
Like every other industry, engineering firms require a systematic resource planning process. Engineering projects demand niche skill sets and need heavy and expensive equipment during various stages of the project lifecycle. Resource managers and project managers strive from the very beginning to identify the appropriate resources, understand their availability, and fulfill these demands.
If they fail to form a full-proof resource plan, they may encounter bottlenecks in the future, bringing the projects to a halt.
Thus, engineering resource planning is an integral part of successful project delivery within time and budget.
This article emphasizes the significance of resource planning in engineering projects and some strategic tips to get the process right.
1. What is the need for Resource Planning in Engineering Projects?
Supposedly, you are building an automobile with the help of automobile engineers, mechanical engineers, some heavy manufacturing equipment, and so on. When the project reaches a crucial stage, you realize that you don’t have one of the equipment to proceed to the next step.
A challenge like this can catastrophically hamper the entire project’s progress, as acquiring new equipment at such short notice can easily blow up the budget. Since this falls in the project’s critical path, it will also adversely affect the billable utilization of other resources. However, had you foreseen this requirement and planned for it in advance, your project’s course would be continuing seamlessly.
Engineering resource planning is a process of forecasting, allocating and utilizing resources for engineering projects and operations.
When managers follow a definite system and equip modern, intuitive software to fulfill the project demand even before the project initiates, it keeps these challenges at bay, in turn, leading to a successful outcome. In addition, resource planning helps control project financials and timeline and strengthens data-driven decision-making.
2. The required resources in engineering projects
Unlike other industries, projects that fall under the engineering domain require diverse skill sets and resources. Let us understand these requirements in detail:
1. Human resources
The employees are the most critical asset of any project. Their talent, skills, and capabilities allow the execution of assignments with the best quality and within the deadline. Engineering projects specifically require a wide array of personnel to work on different types of tasks. Here are some of the core competencies vital for an engineering firm:
- Mechanical engineers-
Projects encapsulating machine expertise or manufactured technologies need mechanical engineers.
- Mechanical engineers-
- Automobile engineers
As the name suggests, automobile engineers work in the automobile industry and work on vehicle designing and production.
- Automobile engineers
- Electrical engineers
Any project that has specific tasks pertaining to power system engineering, instrumentation, signal processing, etc., has a demand for electrical engineers.
- Electrical engineers
- Software engineers
Software engineers are needed for tasks like web designing, software and app development, and so on.
- Software engineers
With the advent of AI and Machine learning, the demand for analysts has escalated. Any engineering industry that requires interpretation of data to make strategic decisions needs an analyst.
- Construction workers, and so on
Engineering projects require an array of equipment, machines, and tools to build a finished product. For example, heavy machinery is needed for the automobile manufacturing unit. These tools are expensive, and thus, some firms rent them from other companies and integrate these costs under project estimates. Managers need to carefully plan the projects and determine the equipment required well in advance to prevent last-minute hiccups.
Materials are the building blocks of the final product and part of the finished goods. For example, construction materials like brick, cement, etc., are the necessary blocks to form the entire tower or database to develop a web application are the materials. The onus is on managers to enlist every constituent required and accumulate them before the project’s onset.
Other than the above-mentioned primary resources, engineering projects require additional resources like:
- Organizational resources in terms of financials
- Contractors and vendors to procure the unavailable demand from external sources
- Extrinsic software for the overall management of projects
- Facilities like office space or warehouse, etc., to carry out the project tasks.
3. What are the steps of efficient engineering resource planning?
As mentioned above, resource planning in engineering projects goes beyond managing the workforce; it is a conglomerate of human and non-human resources. It escalates the complexities of the process, and managers must therefore formulate a solid resource planning strategy.
Here are the steps you can follow to achieve the same:
1. Document the engineering project resource plan
Meticulous, detailed planning is the stepping stone to a successful project. The same applies to engineering projects. Even more so because it entails tasks from multiple dimensions and domains and has a diverse set of resource demands. Therefore, managers should first document a comprehensive project resource plan. This plan constitutes all the project phases (from initiation to execution), tasks under each phase, and the resource requirement (along with its cost and timeline) against each task.
Consider an example of an automobile project to build a hybrid drone. Its project resource plan will encompass the project tasks like forming a prototype that will include automobile and software engineers with hands-on experience in relevant software. The next task in the execution phase can be assembling the right parts that is a job of both mechanical and automobile engineers, and so on. Along with the workforce demand, equipment, materials, and other resources are also mentioned and their quantity and timeline. Formulating these details in advance will provide an overview of resource requirements and other attributes, giving enough leeway to resource managers to fulfill the demand.
2. Find the right engineer for each project task
Now that the project demands are in place and order, the next step is to find the right resource for the right task. Managers must note resources’ roles, skills, level of expertise, experience, location, cost, and so on while identifying them. This process is tedious when the resource profiles are logged in siloed spreadsheets. Thus, firms must invest in a sophisticated resource planning solution to filter their search and get a centralized view of enterprise-wide resources.
In engineering projects, a dedicated engineering resource management software comes handy and is tailored to suit the same industry’s needs.
In addition to finding the right employee, managers must also find the right equipment, materials in the correct quantity in advance. It will give a clear picture of the deviation between the existing supply and demand and allow them to take the adequate resourcing treatment in time.
3. Bridge the engineering skills gap in advance
One of the essential benefits of proactive resource planning is that managers get enough lead time to bridge the skills gap. It eliminates potential project bottlenecks and promotes seamless execution. The next critical step after identifying the resource pool is implementing the suitable measures to align the resource supply and demand.
With the resource plan, we know building a drone requires mechanical, automobile engineers with core competencies in operating specific software, heavy equipment, and so on. Let’s suppose you have a shortage of 4 engineers and one piece of expensive equipment which cannot be bought due to budget constraints. With enough time in hand, you can hire the resources with niche skills or upskill the existing resource to reduce the project costs. To ensure that the equipment is available at the time of project execution, you can find out firms that have it and take it on a lease, keeping in mind the project budget.
4. Foresee the utilization and availability of equipment and workforce
It’s not always necessary that the resources you found from the internal channel are available to take up the job. They might be scheduled for a high-priority project or applied for a planned leave. It is therefore essential to foresee resource (human and non-human) availability and utilization. If critical resources aren’t available during the project timeline, you can take corrective measures to ensure the project position is filled.
Let’s say the engineer who is responsible for designing the prototype isn’t available or utilized to his/her total capacity. What would you do? One of the solutions is shadowing, in which a lesser-experienced resource learns from the required engineer. And once the learning is enough to keep the ongoing project on track, you can out-rotate the prototyper without hampering the other project’s progress and backfill the position with the resource who shadowed him/her. Another solution is training the benched resources who have a similar background.
5. Allocate the competent engineers with the right domain expertise to the tasks
After overcoming the resource constraints, it’s time to define the resource schedules. Referring to the project resource plan, managers can see each task’s timeline, and by keeping a buffer of 10%, they can book the resources accordingly. Some tasks that are not interdependent and can happen in parallel can be scheduled on the same timeline. In this case, one resource with appropriate competencies can be booked for multiple tasks eliminating the need to procure more employees.
However, in case the tasks are interdependent, ascertain that employees’ schedules are aligned with the next task to prevent future discrepancies. Similar to human resources, you should schedule the equipment and materials (or assets) after procuring them from vendors. To ensure that no one else books them during the same course, you can use an equipment scheduling solution to provide visibility to the other managers in real-time and avoid conflict.
6. Implement the right optimization technique to balance the workload of critical engineers
Engineering projects are agile. Not every code or circuit works as planned. Maybe the circuitry you designed for the drone is disrupting the electronic speed controller from doing its job. So one needs to revisit the prototype and make it more efficient. These processes are time-consuming and may overload the employees, posing a risk of burnout. However, most of the projects are time-sensitive, and delays can have a ripple effect causing the project to fail.
To ensure that it does not happen, managers can procure an additional resource to reduce the workload on one and still get the job done on time. It is known as resource smoothing, which is one way to optimize the resource schedule. In case when projects are not time-sensitive, managers can reduce the workload by extending the deadline. It is known as resource-leveling. These resource optimization techniques keep a tab on the resource health index and allow you to ensure that no resource is overutilized.
Given the ad hoc changes and agility of engineering projects, resource planning is always a continuous process. Let’s discuss how one can improve their resource planning strategy,
4. How can you improve your engineering resource planning process?
Often your estimates and actual attributes are misaligned. It means there is a need to improve the planning process. Either the forecasted values are inaccurate, or you haven’t gauged the project tasks’ criticality well. To rectify these errors, you can adopt a modern resource planning solution. It provides strong data-driven insights that are accurate and allow you to plan with precision. You will get precise forecast vs. actual reports for resource utilization, costs, etc., in real-time that will give you enough time to do the damage control.
Moreover, you have the liberty to form a ‘plan before the plan,’ i.e., you can simulate multiple scenarios by varying different resource metrics to get the best-fit plan. It is known as the ‘what-if’ analysis. In addition to this, since experience is the best teacher, managers should learn from similar projects that were executed previously and make a note of the mistakes made. Learning from history is the best way to improvise the future.
These simple steps and the right tool and techniques will enhance your resource planning process’s efficiency.
Here is the wrap-up with a small listicle of proven tips to get your engineering projects to the finish line,
5. Takeaway- Proven Tips
- Deploy the right engineering resource management and equipment scheduling tool to suit your business needs.
- Form a work breakdown structure (WBS) or a project resource plan to list the resource requirement accurately.
- Allocate cost-effective global resources to keep the project costs in check.
- Consult multiple vendors before taking equipment on lease to get the best deal and control the financials.
- Keep a tab on resources’ progress using the resource scheduling tool and forecast vs. actual reports.
- Take corrective actions ahead of time to prevent the cascading effect on the project’s progress.
- Implement the right optimization technique considering the project timeline to avoid employee burnout.
- Resource planning is a work in progress. Revisit the plan at regular intervals to get the possible outcome and maintain the resource health index.
6. The SAVIOM Solution
SAVIOM is the market leader in providing an Enterprise Resource Capacity Planning solution. With over 20 years of experience leading the market, Saviom is actively used by over 15 highly-esteemed global companies worldwide. The tools within the suite include project portfolio management, professional service automation, and workforce planning software. It also entails supporting solutions to schedule equipment and assets seamlessly. Re-engineer operational efficiency with a system shaped around your business!