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Is this chaos really necessary? Planning of people

Thomas Schlereth
17.10.2022 | 6 min reading time

Project Management Office

project management software

skill and resource management

hybrid project management

artificial intelligence

Agile project management, classic methods, hybrid project management, PM software and artificial intelligence: (digital) technology supports project managers in a wide variety of ways, and PM professionals are always on the lookout for new, efficient ways to plan, manage and control projects. But what sometimes gets short shrift is the human factor. Can Do has set out to change that and make resource management more practical, more realistic - and therefore more human. In this blogpost series, Can Do founder Thomas Schlereth talks about the (supposed?) chaos in resource planning. And about the ways to overcome this mess.

Blog cover image: The Can Do Resource management: Is this Chaos really necessary? Planning of people, Part 1/5

Companies essentially consist of people who go about their daily work. Since not all employees can simply come to the company in the morning and then take a look at what's coming up today, there is a personnel planning, or more precisely a personnel deployment planning.

The result of this planning is always a "who does what - and when".

It's actually quite simple - after all, we're all more or less proficient with our electronic calendars. Unfortunately, the complexity of workforce planning increases not only with the number of employees. There are a number of other obvious factors that make planning resources more and more complex, cumbersome and less reliable.

Obvious challenges of workforce planning

This can be understood as aspects that are clear to everyone when he or she coordinates with several people and plans work in coordination. It is necessary to find a common spare time when everyone has enough available working time. This is already difficult enough when it comes to meetings. Furthermore, the right people must also be available, i.e. the people must have the necessary skills to complete the work.

Another important component is the interdependence of work. Some employees can only start their work when other people are finished with their task.

Everything together is framed by conditions such as time and quantity. You cannot work endlessly on something with any amount of effort - at some point you have to finish. When and how much has to be done is often specified. And these specifications often come from people who are not able to estimate the amount and time correctly.

Increased challenges of resource planning

The points mentioned above are quite easy to recognize and are obvious to every project planner. The next level of influencing factors is not so obvious.

People in companies are sometimes simply not present. They are on vacation, on parental leave, or sick. Some of these absences are predictable, such as summer vacation. Others are difficult or impossible to predict; such as an illness.

Another issue is that work can change in tasks between the time it is scheduled and when it is started. This can happen due to the client revising their opinion or due to knowledge gained in the meantime that modifies the work that was actually planned.

In this case, the plan must be adjusted, which may mean that the entire work chain must be changed. This can become as costly as the initial planning.

The bad things - planning by people is flawed

The real challenges seem almost philosophical, but they make planning difficult or even impossible. In order to become aware of these real challenges, it is necessary to also understand the planner, i.e. those who have to estimate the effort, as a human being.

Eine Gruppe Mitarbeiter plant gemeinsam den Ablauf eines ProjektsPeople are not "programmed" to be able to foresee exactly the future we are talking about here. Because they don't have to, and haven't had to for a very long time. In very early times people - hunter-gatherers - lived from day to day (so to say agile). Later - in the age of agriculture and animal husbandry - it was the seasons that provided a very basic planning, so to speak. The decisive necessity of time planning was shaped by temperatures and daylight.

In the industrial age, under the dictates of the clock, the number of pieces to be produced and the time for the work step, work was done on a piecework basis and planned just like that. This was not so difficult, even without a computer. The time required for a work step was known (REFA time recordings), the sequence (assembly line) was always the same and there was always light (electric current). The sequence of work, the delivery of parts and the automation could be optimized further and further, in more and more detail. The job was above all monotonous, but predictable and measurable (memories of Charly Chaplin's "Modern Times" come to mind).

However, even back then there were jobs that were not subject to this model, e.g. research and development. Here, work could not and was not done on a piecework basis. Other aspects such as creativity and chance were decisive in these "projects". Which brings us to today's times.

The human factor

An essential attribute for a project is its uniqueness. Even if this can no longer be absolutely assumed for all projects today, we must note that constant - chord-like - routine is rather rare. In many cases, each work in a project is unique (even if not across all projects in a company).

Further, much work is novel, such as in research. This means: this work has never been done before. Such work is difficult to predict, both in terms of time and effort. In a research project, the first attempt may be successful. Or the thousandth. Or even none at all.

In addition, people today no longer work in a factory as they did in the past, in a recurring work step. They are not so much specialized, but can, due to increased qualification, perform many completely different jobs.

Just think of a software developer: no one specializes in just inserting "yellow buttons" into forms. In principle, a software developer can program anything, from a simple data entry mask to artificial intelligence (just as any human being can, in principle, formulate any text in his or her language(s)).

But now, above all, the real human factor kicks in, at least in our living environment: most people want stimulating work, which in this context equates to "variety". This varies from person to person and is influenced or overlaid by non-work-related interests (work-life balance).

It is precisely intellectual activities in the information age, i.e. activities and characteristics such as creativity, dynamism and ideas, that make a job seem valuable. And the best of these workers want to be challenged, but not overburdened. In a country where the shortage of skilled workers affects companies in some industries more than raw material prices or unit sales, this interest cannot be ignored in management planning. An anecdote at this point: We at Can Do also used to set up one of the almost obligatory foosball tables in the office, because the management thought that this would boost the morale of the "high potentials". It only worked to a limited extent ...

But let's take a closer look at the issue of the predictability of activities and work.

How predictable is planning?

In the 1920s, Werner Heisenberg formulated a principle in physics:

The measurement of the momentum of a particle is inevitably associated with a perturbation of its location. And vice versa.

This contradicts the assumption that if someone knows all atoms in the universe (and their interactions), he can predict the future exactly. Because by this observation itself this future is changed (physicists may forgive me this interpretation).

So in the economic environment of planning of works by humans, the plan is changed by the planning itself. This sounds contradictory at first sight, but it is the actual reason for planning.
Namely, man creates a plan in order to detect problems of this planning early, before they occur. Then he modifies this plan so that the plan becomes more "probable". Thus, a probable picture of the future emerges, but not an absolute one.

Another element of this scenario is the time period by which we try to look (plan) into the future. The temporal perspective of content-related, interdependent work to be implemented by people does not allow for a temporally linear view. Rather this view has the form of a trumpet: The further into this future one looks, the higher the variance of the deviations, thus the more improbable the assumptions become.

This is conditioned by the gain of knowledge in the near future, by more and more external influences, which affect the planned work more and more complex, up to human factors. The motivation of people in projects is namely not linear, i.e. always the same. Higher at the beginning, then weaker, highest before the end of the project (time pressure). This is one reason (although perhaps unconsciously) why milestones are placed in projects, namely to build up time pressure and to place goals temporally in a nearer, more foreseeable future.

So we want to plan ahead; and if there are problems in the future, however distant, we want to identify them while still in the planning phase and avoid them by rescheduling. In this way, we want to increase the probability of success, but we do not achieve certainty.

But how is this supposed to work if there is an almost unlimited dependency between the work itself and also between the people involved?


So, after we have dealt with the human factor in projects and resource management in this first part of our blog post series, we will devote part 2 to the question "What can the computer do?". 

You already want to know everything about Hybrid Project Management, Can Do and Resource Management under human aspects? Let us advise you without obligation - just get in touch!


Overview of our blog post series:


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Thomas Schlereth
Written by

Thomas Schlereth

As a member of the management board, Thomas is responsible for the operative management of the development including conception, design and further development of the software. He also advises customers on best practices and supports the roll-out.