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We Need More People! Or Do We?

In my experience assisting organizations with portfolio operations, a prevalent belief is that the key to solving workload issues is simply adding more staff. It's an intuitive reaction: too much work, not enough hands. But is this the real solution, or are we missing a fundamental piece of the puzzle?

Many organizations, when faced with overwhelming workloads, instinctively look to quantify the additional headcount needed to meet their goals. This often leads to a perceived need for a significant increase in staff – sometimes as much as 30% more – a figure usually beyond the current budget's reach.

However, even if the budget permitted such an expansion, the slow process of onboarding new employees suggests a different question: Are we maximizing our current capacity effectively? This requires a deeper investigation into our habitual approach to workload management.

Through my observations, two primary issues frequently emerge in organizations:

  • Excessive Approval of Work: Approving too much work at the portfolio level leads to missed commitments, slow delivery, and a diverted focus from the desired outcomes.

  • Misguided Focus on People Management: Organizations often concentrate more on managing people rather than optimizing the system of delivery.

⠀To highlight and begin to address these issues, I recommend two simple yet revealing exercises:

  • Demand vs. Capacity Analysis: Determine the demand by listing current portfolio initiatives and estimating the remaining work required. Assess the available capacity by calculating the actual time team members can dedicate to these initiatives. Compare the demand with the capacity to gauge whether the workload is realistically manageable.

  • Throughput Analysis of Initiatives: Track the number of completed initiatives within a certain timeframe. Use this data to forecast the time required to clear the existing backlog of initiatives.

At one organization, these analyses led to the startling revelation that, despite having adequate staffing, the backlog of work would take over two years to complete. This prompted the VP of portfolio management to acknowledge a crucial problem: poor execution.

Further analysis highlighted several areas of concern:

  • Misalignment on priorities.

  • Lack of a unified view of the value delivery process.

  • Frequent interruptions and shifts in priorities.

  • Excessive ongoing work causing additional interruptions.

  • Dependencies across various organizational units hindering smooth delivery.

  • A reactive rather than proactive approach to planning.

  • High staff turnover impacting consistent delivery.

These tools – demand vs. capacity and initiative throughput – are straightforward methods to challenge the perceived need for more staff. They are simple and fast, often requiring no more than a couple of hours with the right people to generate the data. They facilitate constructive discussions about focusing on crucial initiatives, making informed decisions on future approvals, and improving current delivery practices. Ultimately, the goal shifts from "how do we get more people?" to "how do we effectively utilize our current capacity to focus on what's most important?"

If you're interested in applying these methods to your organization's challenges, feel free to reach out for a deeper discussion on their practical implementation.

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