The essence of optimal resource allocation for any professional services firm is getting the right people working on the right client, at the right time.
That covers the three ‘rights’, but unfortunately, quite often at least one will be ‘wrong’. This could be a miss-matched skillset, lack of availability, or budget limitations.
Every firm has its own resource allocation system. There will be tried and tested formulae, spreadsheets, and a liberal use of ‘gut feel’. But have you really stopped and questioned how it operates? And what are some resource allocation best practices?
Here, we set out 10 key questions that will challenge the status quo of resource allocation.
1- Is our resource allocation process static, or is it a dynamic process that can be changed in real-time?
This is a really good starting point: just how flexible is the firm’s resource allocation system? Quite often, the process produces a staffing result that is fixed for a certain period of time. This makes it difficult for the firm to switch resources from one client to another, if and when required. And there can be knock-on effects of this switching process; for example, moving your people from one client to another leaves unexpected gaps and might trigger a budget review. A dynamic system can both fill the void and ensure any resource changes maintain set parameters.
2- Does our process result in the best skills match?
‘Best’ is a subjective concept, but your clients will expect to see the right people working on their engagements. That means those with appropriate skills, experience, and knowledge relevant to the client’s business. It could be technical skills or sector experience, and more often a combination, with particular ‘soft skills’ required on top. But these skills do not all have to reside in one person; an optimal resource management system will bring together a team with a cross-section of skills, benefitting staff and clients alike. Making sure these details are in the system will move you much closer towards what best means to your firm.
3- Can your resource allocation system resolve clashes easily?
As hard as you try, your staff cannot be in two places at the same time (though arguably this is changing with the widespread adoption of remote working). Nonetheless, they certainly cannot work on two or more clients at the same time. Optimal resource planning requires a system that can resolve clashes without creating additional knock-on conflicts. Something many might view (incorrectly) as an insurmountable task.
4- How easy is it to explore different/alternative scenarios?
It is not unusual for unexpected changes to occur, or for a client to suddenly need extra resources. How do you balance those situations with other requirements? Or maybe you want to set a travel limit, to make sure your staff don’t spend too much of their lives on the road for better work/life balance? A dynamic resource planner will let you explore different staffing options without disrupting existing workforce plans. And it won’t take weeks of your time.
5- Is your resource allocation a transparent, visible process?
Without appropriate checks, how do you know that resource allocation is the result of favouritism and unconscious bias? We’ve written about the diversity problem in accounting before, and technology can play its part in redressing the balance. An open system, which can be accessed by all appropriate team members, will allow a high level of transparency across the process. With the right system and governance in place, staff can see that work is assigned based on skills and experience, rather than connections or recency bias.
6- How sensitive is it to changing budgets, requirements, and skillsets?
Client work is rarely a static feature; there will always be shifts in requirements that mean new team members need to be drafted in, or additional hours allocated to provide appropriate solutions. A process that can pivot to client demand will ensure that skill sets are maintained, while budget alterations can be clearly tracked, managed, and communicated, both internally and externally.
7- Is resource allocation integrated with other core systems, such as HR and timesheeting software?
All too often, a holiday request is accepted but not relayed to the staff allocation system, or budget vs. actuals can’t be trusted because there are multiple sources of truth. An integrated system can avoid such cracks, ensuring all systems of record are in sync and accurate.
8- Can we be more efficient and improve utilisation rates without asking too much of our people?
Optimal utilisation rates will lead to optimal profits for the firm, but great care must be taken to ensure people are working at their best levels. An intelligent and objectives-driven staff allocation system will ensure maximum utilisation rates without overburdening your people. Or indeed, leaving other capable members of the team ‘on the bench’ or assigned to engagements with a lower potential margin.
9- What are the blockages, and why are we not using more automation in the resource allocation process?
As we’ve seen all too often, the attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ can come into play in many workplaces. The firm has survived well enough using existing systems, so why change? Well, as Ted Needleman, writing in Accountancy Today, says: ‘Processes are designed and implemented haphazardly over the years to meet needs as they occur. And in many cases, business practices have been created based on expediency, not efficiency or productivity’. His point is that, even if a process appears to be working, it can always be improved by examining how things are done and how well or poorly they work in practice. For most firms, there’s room for improvement when it comes to creating optimal resource allocation.
10- Can we improve staff and client retention by getting the right people at the right time?
Accountants are officially short on numbers. Services firms run on the specialised skills of their resources, but it’s not enough just to have these employees on the docket. It is just as important to be able to place the right people on the right engagement.
If you can build a system that will utilise your people in the best way, then your people will give you their best; they will stay, and so will your clients.