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So when can you start?

Team members names with their capacity highlighted.

As a delivery manager one of the hardest things I used to get asked by a new client was ‘so when can you start on our project?’ This might not sound like a tricky question on the surface of it. But it means figuring out when team members will be free to pick up a new project, will their current project definitely finish on time and what annual leave does someone have to mention a few things that you need to consider. Also we don’t use recruiters to find and sub-contract team members on our projects (sometimes called body shopping) so we need to know when Lagom team members and our close affiliates are available to start on a new project.  

Up until a few months ago we were using a Google Sheet to plot out all of our projects. This worked ok but it was difficult to update, there was no tracking of dependencies between projects and you couldn’t easily see the impact on other projects if another project moved. There was lots of scrolling to see when someone was on leave. Also we have recently grown our team so this means more team members to consider the capacity of and more projects to keep track of. Reflecting back on this now it was a bit of a pain using the Google Sheet. 

So we decided to try and improve how we managed our capacity as part of our continuous improvement work that we have blogged about previously. We started by having a session with the team who needed to be able to track capacity to capture their user needs. We then went away and did some googling to find potential software applications that might meet our needs. We drew up a list and each did a demo of the applications to each other, checking them against the user needs we had captured to make sure they would solve the problem we were trying to solve. 

We eventually landed on a tool called Forecast. We actually already use the sister tool Harvest for time tracking and invoicing. We set up a free trial and added our project and resource data into it. We then noted down the questions we needed to be able to answer from the data based on our needs. The questions were things like what has changed project wise in the last week?, has anything slipped? Who in the team is over or under capacity? And the all important questions of when could we start another project? 

We decided to meet once a week to review Forecast as a delivery team. We use the questions above to work through the data. We did this for the month while we had our trail and over the weeks it started to go well. We did have a few false starts getting the hang of how to enter the data but we have just about cracked that now. 

For me two really good things have come out of us using Forecast. 

Firstly I feel like when a client asks ‘so when can you start a new project?’ I am able to confidently give them a date when we could start and I know who in the team would be working on the project. 

The second great thing to come out of using Forecast and arguably the most important maybe, is that we can see who is over or under capacity clearly flagged in red and light green. This allows us as a team to discuss this, make decisions and then take action to manage capacity so we are not just leaving members of the team with too much work or team members under utilised and feeling demotivated. 

It feels like we have come a long way from the dreaded questions of ‘so when can you start?’ and battling a Google Sheet!


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