Mangement For Design

Business Journal 110

How to Increase Your Productivity and Reduce the Need for More People


“How do you manage in today’s challenging economic climate and how do you access skilled and capable people to work on your projects?” Yes, things are challenging fiscally for Architects, Engineers and Consultants — because they rely on people and skills!

Through good or bad times, the equation that defines business success for professional service businesses remains the same: optimising people skills and capacity = increased profitability. While the math may be simple, of course, the realisation of this potential can be a lot more challenging.

Great resource management is the key to solving this equation. It effectively provides a framework within which businesses can easily and effectively plan, implement and deploy their people skills. This business journal explains what resource management is, and outlines the ‘Best Practices’ to adopt to optimise resources and therefore maximise profitability.


Great resource management is the key to solving this equation. It effectively provides a framework within which businesses can easily and effectively plan, implement and deploy their people skills.


What is resource management?

You may already be familiar with acronyms such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), PM (Project Management) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management), and the business solutions that underpin these disciplines.
Resource management (RM) is often seen as a ‘sub-set’ of these processes. Resource management may also be known under other names, such as ‘people planning’ or ‘utilisation’ — but in-essence, it is a solution for planning, managing and deploying the right people and skills on the right projects for the right amount of time.

In our experience, only around 20 percent of firms recognise and use resource management as a high-value, stand-alone discipline in its own right — which is surprising given that the management of resources is a design firm’s raison d’etre. According to our latest survey results, a surprising 40 per cent of design businesses admitted to having no overview of their resource situation more than one month ahead. In Architecture, Engineering and Consulting businesses, planning resources at least six months in advance enables firms to get the most out of their business.

Resource management is therefore a ‘must have’ in project-focused companies. More than ever, there is a need to provide key executives, leadership and project managers with proactive, analytical information they need to support efficient and effective decision making.


Best practices to increase your resource utilisation

So, what are the key ‘Best Practices’ that businesses should adopt and be aware of to increase people utilisation and attain higher profitability?


1. Recognise that ‘busy’ doesn’t necessarily mean productive

There’s a very big difference between people being busy and being productive. Look around your studio and you’ll see people who are busy, yet their utilisation rates — and therefore their productive hours — are at an unsatisfactorily low level. No doubt you will also experience a complete disparity across the resource pool, with some people overloaded, while others remain under-utilised.

When your key resources are people, it’s imperative that you make it easy for your people to manage activity and maintain other relevant data in your business systems solution. This should be a familiar, shared and easy to access system. Also, a simple report that gives an overview of historic performance — e.g.. out of the planned hours, how many were chargeable? — can also ensure that when people say they are ‘busy’, it really does mean they are ‘productive’.


2. Don’t manage projects on ‘guesstimates’

All too often Architects, Engineers and Consultants do not align project estimation, scope, execution and existing capacity. Making ‘guesstimates’ on projects is often the key driver in resource under– or over-utilisation. Underestimate and you’ll be scrambling to find additional resources. If you are in danger of missing a deadline on a project because resource management hasn’t been at the top of the agenda, you can too easily add additional people to projects or recruit unnecessary additional people.

Both actions can obviously have an immediate impact on profitability and a ’flow-on’ effect on subsequent projects. New people hired for one project may not be needed for the next, so you end up carrying additional and/or unnecessary overhead. Either way, the impact on project costs and profitability can be significant. The lesson? Short-term resource management and planning, combined with a narrow view, can seriously impact the bottom line. By integrating your future work requirements including potential projects/pipeline with effective resource management you can achieve a better understanding of resource impacts, both short- and long-term.


3. Don’t over-service clients

One of the biggest challenges facing design businesses is assigning too much resource to a client, and effectively putting in time that isn’t chargeable just to ‘keep the client happy’. This often happens because there is no clear overview of planned resources and fees against what your people actually deliver — the gap between the two can mean the difference between profit and loss on a project. Integrating your “Resource Management System” with your “Project Management System” provides improved insight into the critical path — thus allowing you to focus on the sub-tasks in the optimal sequence.




4. Match your long-term project forecast / pipeline with your planned capacity

It always surprises Management for Design how many design businesses have ineffective controls for tracking work generated and forecasting future workload. It is absolutely essential to ensure that the projects in your backlog and pipeline can be forecasted, planned and resourced efficiently. Again, integrating your opportunity tracking system with resource management means you can achieve an increased understanding of resource impacts, as well as effectively support your strategic and tactical recruiting, out-sourcing and organisational development.


5. Avoid different versions of the truth

Having a uniform management system that encompasses all elements of the business will help ensure consolidation of all finance, client and project information. More importantly, it will provide you with a single and accurate version of the ‘truth’. In addition, by having consolidated information ‘based on facts’ in one place (rather than on a myriad of MS excel spreadsheets from project managers and project accountants) there is visibility of project progress across the business, from project manager to senior management level.


By integrating your future work requirements including potential projects/pipeline with effective resource management you can achieve a better understanding of resource impacts, both
short– and long-term.


6. Consider resource management as the ultimate in Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence (BI) technologies can now integrate historical, current and predictive views of business operations. Resource management really represents the ultimate in Business Intelligence (BI) in your organisation. How do you forecast your current and future work and how do you turn this into your resource requirements? And how do you compare this with your current resourcing and utilisation?

An effective resource management system will underpin and drive your business operations. You can bring in timescales, role-requirements and other key elements to your resource planning and link this to your overall BI strategy. Resource management needs to be effective in terms of short, mid and long-term analysis and reporting, adding real depth to your BI efforts.

For example, managers can have a dashboard they look at every day when they log into the system, displaying KPI’s such as chargeability, fees per hour, hours worked and project / resource requirements 3/6/12 months out.


7. Be prepared to take advantage of market opportunities

Resource management doesn’t just mean managing today’s work. In identifying skills that the organisation may not have been unaware of, you can create new market opportunities for tomorrow. When you integrate your work pipeline and opportunities with your “Resource Management System”, it gives you the necessary information and confidence to bid on new projects. The very fact that you already know if you can fulfil a project — should you be selected — puts you in a much stronger position to succeed with new proposals.


8. Take traditional ERP, CRM and PM systems to the next level

You might be thinking “we already have a traditional ERP, CRM or PM system to manage our client and project-based operations. Why should we bother with resource management?” The fact is that, while some resource management functionality can be found in traditional ERP systems, it tends to be very much focused on managing resources on single projects, rather than looking at resources across the business.

What’s happening with resource management is the same that happened with CRM many years ago, when firms started to realise that they didn’t have a structured way of interacting with clients (and many still don’t).



Once you accept that effective resource management is ‘best practice’ in terms of running your people-centric business operations, it’s time to look at investing in appropriate solutions. What the right solution does is effectively provide a real-time overview of resource availability that is fully integrated with your project plans. You can monitor availability, workload, chargeability and revenue across all employees, and easily assign people to tasks relating to projects and opportunities.

You can avoid projects based on ‘guesstimates’ and target your resources accordingly. You can develop project plans and estimate the cost and revenue of opportunities and real projects, as well as monitor progress with actuals against baseline at any time.

When you have a long-term overview of your capacity situation, you can work smoothly between operational, tactical and strategic planning horizons and view revenue forecasts based on the plans. Overall, with an effective system you benefit from having a highly visual, intuitive and transparent resource overview across your business. This can be accessed by the leaders and project managers, as well as employees, in real-time and based on facts.

The Return on Investment (ROI) is compelling. For example, if you have a resource pool of 100 people, with an average hourly chargeable rate of $150, finding just one extra hour per month, through the use of effective resource management will result in $180,000 extra revenue per year.

It is evident that when you have a single, integrated solution supporting everybody in your organisation in their project planning and resource-related work, you can really look at increasing profitability.


With the right solutions, you can:

  • Become less prone to the changing economy as you gear your business to match the current market situation.
  • See who is doing what at any given time.
  • Monitor availability, workload, utilisation, and revenue of all employees, and easily assign people to projects and opportunities.
  • Reduce the risk of lost profits caused by under-utilising resources.
  • Get a resource overview that is fully integrated with your project plans.
  • Tap into the hidden profitability potential of your people as you start billing more hours to clients with greater accuracy.
  • Gain a clear insight into long-term capacity plans.
  • Formulate exact revenue forecasts based on your resource allocations.
  • Have one integrated solution that supports everybody in your business in their project planning and resource-related work.

Ready to take you take your business to the next level?

Arrange your complimentary consultation with the aim of assisting you to make the most effective decisions for maximising your business performance.