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One of my friends, who is a project manager of an external product, is facing an interesting dilemma. He asked me a question and I thought I will post it to a wider audience...

Their current project depends on an internal resource and two different groups are asking for the same resource/capacity. Only one can get the resources so how best to handle this situation?

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This is a common issue where the PM needs a scarce resource, and there is insufficient capacity to allow all demands on that resource to be met. Ultimately, someone in the organisation has to make a judgement call. There are several options including the following - and there may be others:

  • Allocate the resource to one or other project;
  • Split the resource's time between the projects;
  • Augment the resource with a suitably skilled resource from elsewhere, either internally or externally;
  • Re-sequence some of the tasks within the project to use the scarce resource at a different time, thereby removing the conflict.

Some of these may not be practical: for example it may not be possible to re-plan if the tasks to be done by the scarce resource are on the critical path, but some of these - or some combination of these - may work.

Ultimately, if the PMs of the competing projects cannot reach a consensus on how to deal with the issue, they need to escalate to a higher authority, presenting their case and all of the facts, including the impact (cost / time / quality) of the various options, and let that higher authority decide how to allocate the resource. If handled properly and professionally, this should not be confrontational. It is simply a case of allowing the right person to make a business decision that everyone else agrees to accept, with no recriminations.

One final point is that if the specific risk of such a resource conflict can be foreseen in advance, this should be raised in the project's risk register, and escalated early to allow the decision to be taken early. I don't mean a generic risk such as "there is a risk that resources won't be available" - that is not detailed enough to allow action to be taken to offset the risk. Rather, raise a risk such as "there is a risk that resource X will be unavailable due to being allocated to another project" - which should be sufficient to allow steps to be taken to mitigate the risk before it materialises.

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Both projects should have business cases tied to them. It should be relatively straight-forward for an appropriate authority to use these together with knowledge of your organization's priorities and decide.

Example. Project A should deliver $100 benefit. Project B should deliver $50 benefit. Resource goes to Project A.

Example. Project A should deliver $100 benefit. Project B should deliver $50 benefit, but is a higher priority in your organization. Resource goes to Project B.

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When this happens, this is either a non-issue or the tip of a broader issue.

If both projects want Bob, but they don't need Bob and could use Jason instead but he's not quite as good, it's a non-issue. Maybe Bob goes to the harder project and Jason reaches out to Bob if he has questions.

Now, this becomes much more complicated if there is no Jason. If you have one person in your organization with a skill needed by two projects and no one else can do that thing at all, you have extreme knowledge and skill siloing in your teams and it's going to have these impacts on projects and you're forced into a bad situation where either one project is out of luck or you're splitting Bob's time, which has a long list of negative side-effects.

If it's the second case, you probably can't fix it this second, but I would definitely look to start knowledge-sharing and bringing someone else up to speed as soon as possible. Maybe any work Bob does he's pairing with someone.

I see this a lot with skills like a DBA or UI designer. A lot of times organizations assume they're in the second situation when really they're in the first. Often times, developers can handle UI just fine if there's a working style guide, as an example.

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