3 Workforce Planning Tips for Project-Based Businesses

Here's how professional services organizations can develop capacity flex—the ability to rapidly increase or decrease staffing levels or to shift quickly from one project to another.

Working at 100 percent capacity might sound like the dream to some, but savvy business-service leaders know that being maxed out can actually stunt growth. When every team member is tapped and every resource stretched thin, new deals can’t get off the ground, projects get backed up, and customer satisfaction scores dip. That triple whammy can ding a company’s bottom line.

Some leaders guard against that risk by trying to pad their human capital bench just in case. But, of course, too much of the team sitting idle isn’t ideal, either. Whether it’s a law firm or marketing agency, tech consultancy or accounting team, when you’re dealing with business services, people’s time is what makes money.

Stop missing opportunities or wasting money by over- or under-utilizing the existing team. The best businesses develop capacity flex—the ability to rapidly increase or decrease staffing levels or to shift quickly from one project to another. Here’s how professional service organizations can cultivate this superpower:

Tap Newer Tech and Automation for Real-Time Analysis and What-If Scenarios

Face it: Personnel planning is never going to be super flexible if you’re stuck using static, error-prone spreadsheets. With Excel, modeling different scenarios is a time-intensive undertaking—manually manipulating data and cross-checking assumptions. That means your team is unlikely to do it—instead assuming a reactive rather than proactive stance.

But if you swap out those clunky spreadsheets for the right business planning tool, scenario planning takes mere seconds and a few clicks of a button. That makes it easy to scope out exactly how your team could adapt to a new retainer client or major project, what the capacity would be if an existing contract wrapped early, or whether you can afford to reduce certain resources. That analysis isn’t something that happens in the rearview mirror—it happens before decisions are made, so those insights can steer the best strategies.

Rely on Partners and Contractors to Augment Service Capacity

Rare is the professional services organization in which all team members are interchangeable. In reality, certain staffing levels are more costly than others—and the best way to meet customer expectations while maximizing your company’s margins is to closely track time allocations against project ROI. You can then augment any capacity gaps with third-party partners and contractors, armed with exact data on the price point at which it makes sense to bring work in-house or make additional hires.

Keep in mind, getting granular with that sort of personnel data can be a slog if you don’t have the right systems in place. Asking people to estimate their hours can be an invitation for fuzzy estimates and incomplete records. And using spreadsheets to calculate the ROI on any project means manually crafting formulas that might span multiple sheets and dozens of cells. One broken link or accidental typo can throw the veracity of the entire endeavor into question.

Mine Historical Data for Seasonal Trends and Internal Challenges

In the constant scramble to get capacity levels right, it can be hard to step back and notice the larger patterns. But spotting patterns like seasonal or cyclical pain points can make it easier to prepare for them in the future. Accounting firms know that tax time will be a crunch, of course, but other industries might find their patterns aren’t quite so obvious.

Maybe an IT consultancy mines its personnel data and realizes that junior hires tend to stay for two years before seeking positions elsewhere. Knowing that might help the firm either create an internal career path to lower turnover or time its recruitment efforts to the same cadence. Maybe a marketing agency combs through its data to find that hours tend to plummet in December and then skyrocket in January. Armed with that info, management could decide to proactively close the office for an extended break in December to bolster morale, then line up contractors for January to handle the expected surge. Those strategies to get ahead of the capacity problems are only possible, though, if teams have the personnel data at their fingertips—and the know-how to unlock those insights.

The ebb and flow of projects is par for the course for professional services organizations. But with capacity flex, seizing the right opportunities and adjusting to client needs doesn’t have to be a constant scramble. That means less time worrying about who is going to do the work and more time getting it done.

This article first appeared on the blog of Adaptive Insights, a Workday company. 

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