Getting the Best Resources: A Fight to the Death?

retain employees

I am often amused when I hear project managers say that they will fight for the best resources they can get when assigned to a new project. This comment happens most frequently with new or inexperienced project managers. I then ask them, “Why do you believe that you need the best available workers?” The answer is always the same. They tell me that the best resources are needed in order to increase the chances of the project being completed successfully.

While there is some merit in their response, they may not understand the ramifications of having the best people assigned to their project. Several years ago, a colleague was placed in charge of a two-year project involving the implementation of a total quality management (TQM) system. He knew the skill levels of most of the workers and told me there were three people that he “absolutely” needed and he would fight to the death to have them assigned full time on his project. I told him I believed that this would be a mistake but he refused to listen to my arguments.

He pleaded with the functional managers and was fortunate enough to have the three critical resources assigned full time to his project. They were three of the best workers in the company. His morale was at an all-time high. He never dreamed that he would win the argument and get all three people.

By the end of the first year, his morale went from an all-time high to an all-time low. The three workers were such good workers that they were promoted and removed from his project or permanently assigned to other projects that were in trouble. To make matters worse, the replacements who were assigned appeared to have come from the bottom of the worker pool and could not effectively fill the void that was created. The last time I chatted with my colleague, he was in the third year of his two year project, and very unhappy.

The length of the project is usually the determining factor in whether to fight for the best resources. On short-term, high-risk projects, you can most likely get the best resources assigned and keep them for the duration of the effort. The longer the project, the less likely you will be able to keep them, regardless of the project’s risks.  You also have a much better chance of keeping them if they are used on a part-time basis rather than full time. That way, their functional manager knows that he/she can still have access to these people in case of an emergency.

It has been my experience that the best workers normally seek out the complicated solution to a problem, often adding unnecessary bells and whistles. This way, the project can increase their chances of fame and notoriety.

My preference is to go after the average or above average workers, knowing that I can most likely keep them for the duration of the project, and that if a problem exists they will most likely look for the easiest solution. Of course, I have made the assumption that the average workers can get the job done.

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