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Three capacity planning strategies for project managers

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Project managers have a lot to juggle when it comes to successful project completion. They need to optimise their resources, and consider the staff and skills available to them. But even if all of these factors are lined up, a project can still derail.

That’s because the final, and perhaps most critical element, is capacity planning. It’s essential to know if a business or team, even one with the right skills and resources, actually has the capacity to complete a project.

Keep reading as we reveal some of the most effective capacity planning strategies to turn your next project into a success.

What is capacity planning in project management?

Before we look at some strategies for capacity planning, let’s clarify exactly what we mean by capacity.

Capacity is often confused with resources, but they are two fundamentally different concepts. If you talk about resourcing a project, you’re talking about the equipment, goods, technology, finances and even human resources available to you. Capacity, on the other hand, is the available time and production capacity that a company, team, or production line can make available to a project.

Needless to say, the job of the project manager when it comes to capacity is to ensure that a project can be realised on time and within budget through the best possible use of resources, as well as excellent team management. 

There are various tools a project manager can use to run things smoothly. For example, there’s technology such as planning software and IP phone service, and there are tactics such as creating a project roadmap. But there are also capacity planning strategies that can ensure a successful conclusion. 

Three strategies for successfully planning capacity as a project manager:

1. Lag strategy

This strategy is best suited to businesses where demand is reasonably predictable. It’s an approach that necessitates careful cost planning and control. With a lag strategy, you’re planning the capacity to meet the current, rather than predicted, demand.

In other words, you’re only spending on resources you’re sure will be needed. There is less waste and overspending with a lag strategy, and it’s a popular choice for those projects that demand a more conservative approach.

Lag strategy works less well for projects where surprises surge and resource requirements may suddenly change. Not having anything to spare, and not working on predictions, means project managers can be caught out and find themselves coping with a delay. This is why this strategy is referred to as “lag”.

However, the approach of having sufficient but not spare resources works very well for many projects, especially those with tight budgets and finite resources.


2. Lead Strategy

Lead strategy is the opposite of lag. It means anticipating capacity based on forecasts and predictions. With a lead strategy, a project manager is looking to meet future demand rather than just current.

This strategy is agile enough to meet demand that occurs unexpectedly when aspects of the project change or evolve. For example, the project may suddenly require extra staff located in the target area, more office space, or even a localised domain — which might mean you need to buy a domain if your project takes place in the United Arab Emirates.

For a lead strategy to work, resources can sometimes stand idle in case of demand. This can be a drawback for businesses where resources and capacity are tight.


3. Match Strategy

Match strategy is a happy medium between planning for current capacity and forecasting the future. To make match strategy work, you need to closely monitor current demand and be ready to adapt accordingly. The advantage of this strategy is that you avoid wasting unneeded resources, and at the same time don’t face delays through not having resources in place, as can happen with a lag strategy.

Successfully adopting this strategy means keeping a very careful eye on trends and developments, as it may require you to modify your approach informed by what the market is doing. 

How to create a capacity plan 

The first step to creating a capacity plan is to calculate your current capacity. To do this, you’ll need the cooperation and input of your team, and a unified business communication approach can be helpful to achieve this.

The benefits of unified business communication mean that you can more easily ask crucial questions about each team member’s available time. For example, you could find out how much time they have to commit to the project after attending meetings, carrying out admin, and day-to-day activities.

With your teams’ input, you can calculate exactly how much time each worker has to commit to the project in question, and leverage content planning tools and communications software to ensure efficient communication and collaboration.

It’s also essential to have a firm idea of each staff member’s skill set and expertise. With this information, you can better match human resources to project requirements. Make sure, though, that communication is seamless — you could set up a business toll free number to facilitate easy interactions.

Matching the demands of the project to human resources gives you a firmer idea of capacity than simply looking at the tasks that need to be completed. You might discover that you need to take on extra staff or plug a skills gap through training or freelance employees.

Creating a successful capacity plan requires some basic steps, such as analysing current resources, staff availability, and skills, as well as anticipating problems before they arise. Finally, you’ll need to look at the demands and stages of the project, and compare this information with what you know about your resources and staff.


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