TTT – Time to Team


Time to Team – TTT

(A new approach to Program Recruitment by Andrew Ogura)

TTT Definition: In recruitment, the time it takes for a flexible/agile workforce to come into being in order to deliver a project or a piece of a project.
Usually measured in days starting from the understanding of the requirement and finishing at the time when the entire new team is in place and effective.

Hypothetical Scenario: You are a Program Manager, and your client realizes that they are not able to commit the internal resources that they agreed that they would to some major undertaking such as system testing or a help desk to support a new product launch.
Your Steering Committee is getting nervous as tasks are slipping, the client starts blaming you for not planning properly, the project team is blaming the client for not delivering the resources that they promised. It has the potential to turn into a big mess.

This is the point at which many projects make the wrong decision. Most projects, in order to observe the budget restraints, try to make do, limp along, and fear of embarrassment prevents looking for the optimal solution. The client proceeds with business as usual oblivious to the delay they are placing on the project. The project wonders how to overcome the lack of client input – and it is here that your project starts to slip. The initial reaction is to press the business users into participation. So they do the minimum required to get through but you know that this will lead to problems at go live time if you have not tested or supported your initiative properly.

No one has a pool of people just sitting idly by ready to jump on whatever task you have in front of you. So what can you do?

You need people, on your project, with the right skills – and you need them like yesterday. So you call your recruitment agency or consultancy suppliers and say – HELP!
The problem is that they will normally just ship you whoever is available and you are so thankful for anyone that you don’t interview properly because interviewing takes up so much of your day.

TTT will help make sure that this isn’t your last project. Firstly, let’s look at the process.

Team Recruitment Process

The barrier, and therefore the problem that you face is the time it takes to go through the process to insert new people on the project. This is what the process entails;

1. Resource Requirement Definition
2. Budget creation
3. Conceptual management agreement
4. Steering committee approval to recruit
5. Recruitment vendor selection
6. CV review
7. Price point analysis and budget review
8. Candidate triage
9. Initial interview
10. Candidate short list
11. Final budget approval
12. Facilities and infrastructure setup
13. Second interview
14. MSA contract
15. Legal agreements
16. Specific statement of work
17. SOW legal check
18. Commitment to proceed
19. Availability re-check
20. On-boarding process
21. Team training
22. Useful member of the team

The Time-to-Team is then calculated as the time it takes from action 1 to action 22.
In your organization how long would this take? Perhaps one month? Perhaps two months? More?! Too long!

I don’t know about your projects, but the running cost of my projects can’t sustain such a long delay while we wait for new resources.

Agency and Consultancy Proposition Value

Our basic assumption is that a recruitment agent or consultancy has done their due diligence on everyone they offer and comprehensively understood that individual’s capabilities and attitude. Our other assumption is that they continually update this assessment based on work completed and that the price they intend to charge for that individual is representative of that person’s capabilities and the market conditions at that point in time.

Plainly these assumptions are false and why so many recruitment agents have a bad reputation.

Resetting the agency/consultancy value proposition

A recruitment agent/consultancy’s value will come in analysis they conduct prior to interview time. Analysis that will shorten the TTT duration.

Agencies need to change the way they work. They need to put together a resourcing package by skill, experience and psychological attribute among other criteria. But we will look at that in a moment.

For example, “strong excel skills, reconciliation experience, independent thinker, team worker“. How long would it take your agency to form a 7 person team for interview where you would have 80% confidence at least?
Or perhaps “USGAAP experience, TOEIC 850 English, native Japanese speaker, good excel, logical, good documentation. 3 people, for 15 days, start Monday”.

Unfortunately I have not come across a recruitment vendor or consultancy that has the ability to do tag searching based on a variable number of qualification/skills/experience and psychological profile tags.

So we have a problem of conflicting priorities;

a) You don’t have time to write a job spec
b) You want targeted, qualified candidates by just sending a few lines of text to the vendor
c) You don’t want to spend a long time interviewing
d) You need a hard working and cohesive team
e) You want it now

Time-to-Team is an approach that will assist you in addressing these problems.

TTT Action Plan – 6 Simple Steps

Action 1 – Recognition & Relationships

As with all major process breakdowns, recognizing that you have this problem is the first step. You need to understand that inserting variable labor to address unforeseen problems is a viable option and can be done quickly and cost effectively.

All business is based on a certain level of trust. Before problems arise, spend time to identify 2 or 3 recruitment agencies/consultancies in the market that are well respected and trustworthy. Create a relationship with them and express that you would like to work with them proactively in the future should requirements arise.
Meet with them regularly to appraise them of the status of the project and advise them to provide any CVs of good people they may have from time to time. You can keep a pool of names handy should a “situation” arise.

Such a strategic alliance will take care of points 5, 7, 14 and 15 even before the project has begun. A significant reduction in the TTT duration.

Action 2 – Onboarding & Documentation

As with any large project, over time, people will come and go.

Invest some time at the beginning of the project to take care of the on boarding process. i.e. when new members join the project, what do they need to know to become useful. e.g. Organization charts, login details, security application forms, PC request, telephone voicemail setup. All these things in one pack can get a team member up and running in hours, not days.

Training materials, strategy documents, project protocols etc… are all important items that if prepared earlier (and maintained properly) will allow resources to quickly integrate with your project.

Such housekeeping will take care of points 12, 20 and 21.

Action 3 – Senior Management Support

Now, with the improvements you have made through actions 1 and 2, your project is well documented and suppliers are ready to support you.

There are a couple of other internal items to take care of before you can respond quickly.

a) Senior management support. One of my favorite sayings is “Success is not found in your ass, it’s in your shoes. You need to wear out some shoe leather and go and see people”.
Put into place meetings with senior management on a regular basis. Make sure that they are continually appraised of the status of the project and are aware of the risks posed.
Prepare a risk matrix and a dashboard. (I will discuss dashboards in a separate post). Once senior management can also see the train wreck approaching they will look to you to solve the problem.

Such activities  will take care of points 3 and 4.

b) Budget management. There is nothing that will drive a CFO mad than lack of clarity around the budget. Agree with the CFO the reporting format of the budget up front and keep it up to date!
When you have changes therefore you submit them in very clear terms and provide the reasons for the change. Highlight precisely what went wrong and be open about the reasons why you are proposing changes.
(Sometimes do try to go to the CFO with good “under budget” news. This will offset the other times when you need to ask for more money. Of course, accurate estimating up front is always better.)

Such activities  will take care of points 2, 7, 11 and 18.

c) The Legal Department. They can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Create relationships ahead of time because when the time comes to crunch the TTT duration, this is where good support can really pay off.
Follow their process and get master services agreements in place ahead of time. Make the SOW layout agreement up front so the actual hiring process is a piece of cake.

Such activities  will take care of points 14, 15, 17 and 18.

d) The Facilities Department. If you don’t want to be left sitting in the basement next to the boiler go and see the facilities manager at the beginning of the project and include them in your planning cycle.

Such activities  will take care of points 12, 20 and 21.

Action 4 – Seeing it coming

So, now you have a well supported, proactive, clear project with great documentation. All great. So why does it go wrong?

To being with let’s look at the project timeline. You are of course familiar with the milestones outlined in the following diagram. A fairly typical ERP implementation flow.

Milestones

We understand the periods of peak work volume at the project outset. These are some of the major assumptions upon which the project was conceived.
We are provided with the industry standard project management tool – Microsoft Project. This is the problem. We are managing our project on a “work within duration” framework. i.e. you must get task A done in time period B.
Seems simple right? These issue arrises because not every task is on the plan and the project does not always have every skill required nor the free capacity to absorb all the tasks that arise.

So we have 3 major risks that we are simply not tracking;

  • Unforeseen Tasks
  • Unmapped Skills Requirements
  • Unknown Workforce Capacity

To address this risk, the Program Manager must create a project workload grid. This should be in-line with the project plan and therefore not take much time to do.
A good project manager will always be looking at the variance between upcoming work and the capacity of people assigned to do that work and the skills that those people possess to get the work done.

Now for the part where the project starts to fall off the rails. Usually the problem is that tasks are not getting closed because workload is spiraling, those who are addressing issues do not have the skills needed and items are missed because everyone is over 100% capacity.
There are a number of reasons as to why this may happen of which I have summarized just a few in a previous post (Asian Implementations and the Program Office).
However in our scenario, we are not being provided the resources we had assumed would be provided for various reasons to get the testing done.

Never be caught looking behind you. A good program manager looks into the short, medium and long term and understands the trends of the project and will see a resource shortage coming and speak with Senior Management about the resolution.
The first reaction is of course to save money and use the resources that you have. There are often a few issues with this.

  1. The resources are pulled from elsewhere and have other jobs that prevent them from properly completing the task you have for them
  2. The resources’ skills do not match the needs of the tasks at hand
  3. The number of resources actually needed to do a task is often much less than those you will be provided with

Create a resource matrix budget just as you would a financial budget, with the types of skills needed, the roles to be performed and the duration required. A kind of skills budget.
Next, match this with the resources available and this will show the variance in terms of time and skills. Be careful as this is not a task/duration variance it is a skills/work variance.
Share this with Senior Management and highlight this skills deficiency.

This is essentially the time when the TTT calculation starts. The requirement definition in point 1 above. There are very few project/program management tools that allow you to budget by cost, availability, skill and time.
I will discuss this process in a different post.

Once Senior Management understands the skills shortage, the next logical question is “what are you going to do about it”.
The prepared program manager will now, having addressed the actions above ahead of time, be able to address the issue with a much shorter TTT. The only item left unaddressed is the human capital vendor’s capability to respond to your new requirements.

Action 5 – Recruitment Management

Lets look at the list again in light of our previous actions and only focus on the ones that will still take time.

6. CV review

8. Candidate triage

9. Initial interview

10. Candidate short list

13. Second interview

19. Availability re-check

So not surprisingly, through judicious management ahead of time, we can see that the TTT calculation now is solely dependent on the human capital vendor to deliver what you need in a short period of time.

Experience has shown me that this is the point where your vendors let you down. They don’t really understand what you need and they don’t have their own databases in order so you spend lots of time doing their job for them.

Let’s see how we can reduce the TTT in this area;

a) Get the skills budget over to the vendors asap. The skills budget for your project discussed previously, send over the skills shortage portion to the vendor as soon as Senior Management give you the go-ahead and the vendor can use this as part of their search criteria.

b) Interview management. This is the crux of the decision. Just as candidates want to prepare for interviews, so do you. Write a list of questions that you will be asking in the interview and send them to the vendor.
There is no point wasting time by beating around the bush with a candidate. Get to the point and send them the questions so they can prepare relevant answers ahead of time.

c) Prepare an evaluation scoring matrix. This is the list of your pre-defined questions with space for a score in addition to scores for other areas such as presentation, language use, logical answering, clarity etc…

d) Schedule your interviews in a tight window and spend 30 minutes per candidate one after the other until you have your team. Avoid “having a chat” as there are lots of candidates who will simply talk about areas that are irrelevant to your project but may sound interesting.

The candidates that are chosen are therefore those that have the best score, match the skills matrix, have personality characteristics in line with the project and organization and meet the price point.

Action 6 – The Candidates

The real time spent today is in step 8. Candidate triage. This is where human capital vendors can be of better value.

What we are attempting to match is several things;

  • The Candidate’s Experience to the Skills Budget Matrix. (Not open tasks, but required skills)
  • An Organizational Psychological Profile to the Candidate. (Will the candidate fit into the organization and not the other way around)
  • The Candidate’s Availability to the Skills Budget Matrix. (Sometimes you cannot afford to wait for the best candidate)
  • The Candidate’s Adaptability to the work required. (Some consultants can be used in many places as they are adaptable to project work changes)

We can summarize these areas as – Experience, Skills, Psychology, Availability and Adaptability.

When we receive the CVs from the vendor therefore I would expect to see an initial 80% confidence rating from the vendor applied against my Skills Matrix in these 5 areas.

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1. Experience Rating
2. Skills Match Score
3. Psychological Match Appraisal
4. Availability Timeline
5. Adaptability Score

When I receive a CV today, I get simply cost and availability. I need more from the vendor in order to shorten my TTT duration.
I need high confidence tachometers to address these 5 areas.

The vendor knows of my project from our regular catchups, they have my skills budget, they know the price point. Time for them to send pre-qualified CVs to me.

1. Experience Rating

An experience rating can encompass many areas that you can fine tune. Experience with the work at hand, the skills needed, experience in the industry, experience in short term high pressure project work… etc…
The vendor should use my areas of concern and provide an Experience Rating.

2. Skills Matching Score

My skills budget is very specific about what skills I need for what duration. The vendor should apply this within the price point to find the most skillful candidate. Experience length does not mean the same thing as degree of skill.
The vendor should use my Skills Budget to provide a score of the consultant’s skills as they relate to my needs. i.e. I need a VBA programmer who is an 8/10 among other skills. If this programmer scores themselves a 7, then this is a -1 score.

3. Psychological Matching Appraisal

Each company is different. Each project is different. Spend some time to determine the character qualities that you need in your candidates. This will benefit you in the long run and you can do it ahead of time.
It’s easy to say “team player”, but if you are asking someone to crunch some numbers, is that really a requirement? If your company insists on shirt and tie every day, does the candidate feel comfortable with that?
Define your psychological traits and ask the vendor to provide an MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) assessment for all candidates. This is not definitive, but will help.

4. Availability Timeline

Make sure that your consultant is available to start when you need, work the hours that you need, will be OK with rolling off the project when you need and will promise to keep to that definition. There is nothing more costly that consultants that jump around.
The degree to which the consultant matches my Skills Budget will determine the score here.

5. Adaptability Score

When I choose consultants, I always am partial to those that are positively motivated. Those that want to learn and work and don’t mind what kinds of tasks they are shunted on to. A positive attitude is better than any qualification in my book.
Similar to the psychological profile, here a score is gained based on the consultant’s preferences for certain kinds of work. i.e. well defined vs try-and-see or regular wave-like pattern vs something new every day.

The vendor’s usefulness therefore is gauged in providing basically;

  • A spreadsheet with variances in experience and skills to my skills budget.
  • A Myers-Briggs Type Indicator scorecard.
  • A work pattern preference and workflow applicability scorecard.

If the vendor is able to provide these at 80% match and above within hours of receiving the skills budget, you will have covered the remaining steps to shorten the TTT.

Let’s look one more time at the TTT with our new process;

Team Recruitment Process

The barrier, and therefore the problem that you face is the time it takes to go through the process to insert new people on the project. This is what the process entails;

1. Resource Requirement Definition – Minimal as we are maintaining a skills matrix.
2. Budget creation – Minimal as we have pre-defined rate tables with vendors.
3. Conceptual management agreement – Minimal as we have regular catchups with Senior Management.
4. Steering committee approval to recruit – Minimal as we have regular reporting to the Steering Committee and report honestly.
5. Recruitment vendor selection – Minimal as we have already identified our approved suppliers.
6. CV review – Minimal as the vendor is providing 80%+ Confidence
7. Price point analysis and budget review – Minimal as we have already agreed the basic price points
8. Candidate triage – Minimal as the vendor will only send targeted matches
9. Initial interview – Minimal as we have a targeted group to interview
10. Candidate short list – Minimal as we should already have the short list in the beginning from the vendor.
11. Final budget approval – Minimal as we are keeping Senior Management up to date.
12. Facilities and infrastructure setup – Minimal as we are keeping the facilities management department up to date.
13. Second interview – Not needed as our first interviews are very targeted.
14. MSA contract – Not needed as we have done this ahead of time.
15. Legal agreements – Not needed as we have done this ahead of time.
16. Specific statement of work – Minimal as we know the details already and have the MSA in place.
17. SOW legal check – Minimal as we have agreed the format ahead of time.
18. Commitment to proceed – Minimal as we are keeping senior management up to date.
19. Availability re-check – Minimal as we have such a reduced TTT we can make offers very quickly.
20. On-boarding process – Minimal as we are keeping this up to date on the project.
21. Team training – Minimal as we are keeping this up to date on the project.
22. Useful member of the team

In Conclusion

Prepare in advance, even if you never need to call on your human capital suppliers, you will be ready if one day you do. Agree the process up front and work with those suppliers that are able to integrate with your TTT goals.

You should be able to stand up a team within days using this approach.

Kind Regards

Andrew Ogura
Saturday April 14 2012 – 1753 JST

One thought on “TTT – Time to Team

  1. Hi Andrew,

    This is one of the most comprehensive articles when it comes to team building and resource allocation in project management. I would really like to republish this post, in full, on PM Hut where it’ll get the exposure it deserves.

    Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with the republishing

    Like

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