The 3 Most Important Concepts To Grasp About Resource Management In An Agile Environment.

In this short article we share the 3 most important concepts to grasp about resource management in an Agile environment.

We show you how resource management is actually easier in an Agile environment, and how to make the transition to a simplified world.

Let’s get started!

How does resource management work in an Agile environment?

Resource management in Agile is significantly easier to manage than in more traditional resourcing models.

There are some simple Kanban visualisations that balance the demand against team capacity, and some simple principles to guide you.

Portfolio decisions can have a direct and significant impact on team performance.

Concept 1: Think capabilities, not roles.

When building teams, think first about the capabilities required to fulfil the desired outcomes.

Then, look at the individuals who can deliver those capabilities. For example, there are software development teams without any Testers – but these teams have a very mature test capability.

The opposite is also true – there are dev teams with Testers but have large gaps in their testing capability.

The key to creating a high performing Agile team is to create a cross functional team able to provide the capabilities to meet the demand placed upon them.

This cross-functional team is fixed.

That is, each team member remains in the team for the lifespan of the product or service they are creating.

Another benefit to this approach is the simplification of costing. On a month by month basis your team costs are fixed.

Given the fixed cost nature of the team, the focus then shifts to delivering as much value as possible, i.e. throughput.

Concept 2: Think capacity, not resource utilisation.

The transition from traditional resourcing models and portfolio management approaches to new Agile ways of working is tough.

It’s tough because there are two intertwined forces at play – resourcing and demand.

It’s as if you need to reverse the polarity of both forces at the same time without losing stakeholder confidence to get to the new world.

With cross-functional, dedicated teams, you create fixed capacity.

This fixed capacity is easily quantifiable with the use of work in progress (WIP) limits at the team level.

Once you can quantify your capacity on a per team basis, you can look to reduce the number of projects in progress (PIP).

Reducing your PIP, will reduce the team WIP.

A reduction in team WIP should in most cases increase team throughput.

With a quantified fixed capacity you can shift to a pull system.

Concept 3: Think People, Not Resources

If you’re new to Agile, it’s often hard to change your language, let alone your mindset. 

In Agile teams, people are referred to as people, not resources.

A pen is a resource, a pack of post-it notes are resources, people are people.

You’ll feel the wrath of the team if you refer to people as resources in an Agile team. Be warned!

How to transition to a new Agile approach

Step 1 – The team

Set up a new cross functional team with the required capabilities to meet a purpose.

Step 2 – Visualise your current portfolio

Visualise your current portfolio of work using the Kanban system below. You will learn a lot from this important step towards an Agile portfolio:

portfolio capacity step 1

It’s highly likely the team will have more than one project in progress.

Step 3 – Queue & Prioritise

Introduce the concept of queuing to your stakeholders. Queuing and prioritisation are critical principles in keeping your stakeholders onboard. To do this, we simply add a queue between TO DO and PIP. We then decide which project we’d like to finish next and shift all other PIPs to the QUEUING column.

portfolio capacity step 2

The projects in the queuing column are organised into priority order. It’s a useful (and interesting) discussion to have with key stakeholders. Each team is limited to one project in progress. That one card in the PIP column breaks down into many cards at the team board level.

Now repeat these steps until you’ve made the full transition. Once you’ve fully transitioned to cross functional teams, you can then start to look at tweaking and optimising the teams.

These transition steps are just the beginning of a long journey towards Agile portfolio management and a better resourcing model. Remember to focus on getting the basics in place –

  • cross functional dedicated teams
  • capabilities not roles
  • capacity not resource utilisation
  • people, not resources
  • visualise your portfolio
  • queuing and prioritisation

Getting the basics in place takes time, but in the long run it’ll set you up for success.

Portfolio Kanban

Take a deep dive into Portfolio Kanban on our  instructor led online course. Take your Kanban game to the next level learning about how Kanban deals with Dependency Management, Risk Management, Portfolio Visualisation, Scheduling and sequencing work across multiple teams at scale, Resource Management and more.

About Ian Carroll

Ian consults, coaches, trains and speaks on all topics related to Lean, Kanban and Agile software development.

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