Running your business alongside dealing with individual client projects is a common struggle. According to Bethan Vincent of Open Velocity, it’s one of their biggest challenges:
“One of the biggest challenges of running a consulting business is managing client delivery alongside keeping the business ticking over. Client needs understandably have to come first, but this can leave you with limited time for your own business development, administration and housekeeping tasks.”
A great way of dealing with these kinds of issues is having robust capacity planning and management strategies in place to reduce admin time. In this section, you’ll learn about what capacity planning and management are, different types of strategies, and best practices.
What are capacity planning and management?
It might seem like capacity planning and management are the same as resource planning on the surface. However, while resource planning deals with each project individually, capacity planning looks at the long-term bigger picture of the business as a whole.
For example, you may have a resource manager within your business looking at allocating resources for your client projects — whereas it’s a capacity planning job to make sure the resources are there in the first place. Whether that’s the same person is dependent on your business.
So a capacity planner/manager is mostly concerned with the following:
- Workforce size and skill diversity
- Materials and I.T needs
- Future-proofing tools
In small businesses, there doesn’t need to be much distinction between resource management and capacity management. But in larger or enterprise businesses, it’s not uncommon to see even these splintered areas of capacity planning have their own dedicated managers.
Different types of capacity management
As mentioned above, capacity management can be broken down into separate areas or specializations.
If you don’t want to have different people working on each area, you can instead block off time in your schedule dedicated to each one. So let’s go into the specifics of the different types of capacity management.
Understanding and managing human capacity can often be the first priority for many organizations. It involves thinking about whether you need to increase the size of your team, or if you have too many people.
In most cases, as your business grows, so too does the size of the team or workforce. So then the job of a capacity planner is to think strategically about how and when to bring more people into the business according to upcoming business needs. It also works vice-versa with advising a decrease in the number of employees if the business isn’t going as well as hoped.
The importance of managing material capacity depends on the type of professional service business.
For example, a professional SEO service isn’t likely to need to think about raw materials, products, and logistics — whereas a professional cleaning service will need to think about these to be able to do its job.
So if your service business depends on the use or sale of physical products, you’ll need to spend more time and effort thinking about material capacity as your business grows.
The last main type of capacity management is tool capacity — which every type of professional service business needs to think about. Even if you’re working with only your knowledge, you need a way to communicate your expertise.
The difference between tool and material capacity is mainly the long-term intended use of tools; such as computers, software, or even an army of forklifts. Another difference is that while materials often stay the same, you might find that you outgrow tools and they need to change as your business develops.
Thinking of each type of capacity planning separately, with equal importance, gives you the best chance of not missing any details that might otherwise slip through.
Capacity planning and management best practices
Regardless of what type of capacity planning and management you’re working on at any given time, there are a set of best practices to keep. These practices help ensure your business stays afloat in the long term and cuts down ad-hoc administration tasks.
So here are six of the main best practices you’ll need to keep in mind when it comes to capacity planning and management.
- Understand the business demands.
This is the most basic best practice — if you don’t understand your business demands now, you won’t be able to plan for future demands. That said, it does take conscious efforts to get both the details and the big bigger of what your business needs are going to be.
The art of understanding business demands is taking a holistic and flexible approach based on the way teams work together.
As projects come to a close, it’s best to work with the resource manager to discuss what resources were allocated and if it was enough for the project. That way you’ll know exactly what you need for future similar projects.
- Analyse current capacity.
Similar to the point above, you need to understand whether the current capacity is working for your teams. By working with a resource manager you’ll be able to get a better idea of what is going well and what could be improved.
On the more practical side, to work out if your current capacity is working, you can look at working hours minus time-off and unplanned work.
Employees will almost certainly be interrupted by ad-hoc admin tasks or impromptu meetings. That time all adds up, and if you don’t have enough people working on a project, the ones that are can end up feeling the effects of burnout.
- Use corporate strategies to prioritize work.
Sometimes it can feel like you’re managing a growing capacity or trying to maintain capacity levels without any clear goal — other than making sure projects get done. One place to look for overall direction is the organization or corporate strategies.
When you look at your business goals, objectives, and even marketing strategies, you get a better idea of where the business is heading. You’ll also be able to see which projects are working towards those business goals and those that aren’t.
With Cloud Coach Enterprise and Ultimate tiers, you can rank projects, get ROI scorecards, monitor demand requests, and a “big picture” dashboard to help you.
- Plan for the unexpected.
The business world can move fast, so you need to be ready to deal with any changes and distractions that come your way. The common phrase “expect the unexpected” is applicable to a lot of areas in business, including capacity planning and management.
One way you can try to expect these changes and interruptions is scenario planning or simulation. Asking “what if?”. The most obvious scenario to think over is “what if the budgets are cut?”, and potentially “what if senior management or organization strategies change?”.
Big or small, unexpected changes have a knock-on effect on individual projects. So it’s always wise to consider those “what if’s”.
- Maintain capacity management as an ongoing process.
The next best practice is another of the more obvious ones — making sure capacity planning and management is an ongoing process.
It’s easy to have the “set and forget” attitude with tasks that don’t immediately impact your day-to-day. But it’s essential that capacity doesn’t fall to the wayside to avoid future complications like not having enough resources to take on the next project.
In decades past, it was common for companies to have annual capacity planning activities or exercises. Nowadays it’s better to have more frequent capacity planning tasks thanks to the level of uncertainty the world (and businesses) have faced in recent years.
- Use automation where possible.
The final best practice for capacity planning and management is to use automation wherever possible. As mentioned previously in the guide, using automation helps to reduce overall time spent on admin tasks and communication.
For example, with Cloud Coach, you can set up a demand request function via email, web forms, or self-service portals. These can then automatically feed into tasks needed to be completed by the capacity planner/manager. On top of that, you can also track project execution on a high level to see if project delays are a trend so you can do something about it.
These best practices will help you achieve the maximum benefit from your capacity planning and management activities. The job is never easy, but it’s essential for a professional service business to regularly monitor its capacity, to get the most value out of teams and resources.