How to manage the project when the needed resources are not available?


25 Nov
25Nov

In project management workshops that we lead in different companies there is always a question about one of the common challenges in project management – how to manage situations in which the required resources for project success are not available.

Junior managers in the beginning of their managerial path usually expect to get the needed resources and accordingly manage the relevant tasks to meet objectives. In this case, when the needed resources are not available it is legitimate to raise a flag and escalate to senior management who is expected to handle the situation, including budget requirements, people, etc. This is a junior manager state of mind, and it is usually acceptable also by the company/organization. 

But when you go up in scale and become a senior manager this changes completely. 

The expectation from a senior manager is to ensure the needed resources are allocated and available in time, and to find options and solutions even when resources are missing. “I don’t have enough resources” is not legitimate anymore. The responsibility for all project initiation activities and preparations for the project start is yours, including all the means to achieve success.   

When the organization indeed enables the manager to act freely and do that – that is probably fair enough. Usually in small-mid size companies it is so. Managers can recruit, decide on candidates, move between projects, control the budget framework, and more, and that enables them to resolve shortages and absence of resources. 

But in many situations and mainly in bigger and more bureaucratic organizations this is not the case. Managers then, do not really have the means to handle the problems. What is left is a growing risk in the project towards a failure and an increasingly concerning expectation from the stakeholders to resolve the situation.

 Is this expectation reasonable? 

What is actually expected from the manager? 

To do magic? 

Many managers assume that yes, that is what is expected of them, and they will do anything they can and sacrifice much to handle this. They will demonstrate “can do” approach, make extreme efforts, push forward and try to produce the maximum from the problematic situation as much as they can. They internalized the expectation.   

But professionally, this is not necessarily the right approach. There should be a balance, and there should be transparency to the real situation, that is sometimes hidden by the extreme efforts that are made. The manager indeed is expected to find solutions and think creative, to promote and suggest alternatives, But there are few additional things that are mandatory and sometimes forgotten- 

To re-plan 

Raise flags

 Document and manage risks

Use data and metrics to build realistic prediction

 Communicate to stakeholders

 And do what we define – manage expectation. 


Why is this important? 

Because when the situation is complex, not everyone understand the complexity. Your job as project managers is to ensure that the severity of the problem and the risk level is known and clear to everyone, that the real prediction is shared, and that you engage the relevant stakeholders to help and maximize success. 

The best way to do it is in an educated, professional, data driven manner. And by using different communication channels – project reporting, status meetings, 1:1 meetings with key stakeholders, steering committee if needed.  

 Let’s sum it up with five steps that we propose managers in our project management workshops to do when key resources for the project success are missing: 

  • Centralize efforts on bringing the missing resources (recruitment, budget allocation, shorten processes, etc)
  • Create alternatives and creative solutions (Vendors, outsource, task forces)
  • Re-plan and cerate a new feasible plan
  • Project an update prediction including options and potential changes (scope reduction for example)
  • Update stakeholders frequently and hold a joint forum for decision making.


Good Luck !

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