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  • Francois Joubert

Ad nauseam - the "Skills and resources risk"

This article discusses why the risk name "Skills and Resources" may not be the correct risk on your project risk register. This list below may be used as a checklist to identify possible project risks.

This risk falls into the "compliance" or "usual suspect" project risk, with (i) Inclement weather, (ii) Procurement delays and (iii) Industrial Action as the other happy family members. I once did an analysis on 86 project risk registers and the risk "Skills and resources" appeared on 30 of them. Before writing this article, I did an analysis on the risk sources of these "risks", and I found the following types of risk sources:

  • Insufficient contractor resources and capacity. This means that either (i) the appointed contractors don't have the number of resources, or (ii) are unable/unwilling to supply the names of the resources on the original tender documents.

  • Resources in the market are too expensive. I saw this two weeks ago from a well known project management company where they wanted a person doing quantitative risk analysis for R500 per hour. The counter-risk is that the resource costs are way below market value and is then made up by "more hours". We all know what that means.

  • Resources not available in the market. I have seen this regularly, mainly related to anything with this word "skilled" attached, and can cite specific cases involving signaling engineers, commissioning engineers and planners.

  • Appointment delays: Contractors/Consultants. A good example of this is when there are delays in appointing consultants which are supposed augment internal resources. This is normally a specification/supply chain related delay.

  • Appointment delays: New personnel. We have all seen this. I once experienced an HR department which took 18 months to make an appointment. In my experience, this is more prevalent in the public sector.

  • Internal resource availability: Quantities. This is where suitably experienced resources are available, but in insufficient numbers.

  • Internal resource availability: Quality and type. This is a horrible one to have to deal with and means that we have "bums in seats", but those bums are only keeping the seats warm.

  • Internal resource availability: Resignations. This relates to experienced resources leave the company for greener pastures.

  • Inadequate resource planning: Process starts too late for new requirements. Good examples include (i) when HR is unable to plan a replacement for an experienced resource, knowing that he/she will leave in 18 month's time and (ii) HR being unable to plan and appoint the required project personnel when required. We have all seen this one.

I also reviewed a risk register dealing with ex-pat work, and the following additional "Skills and Resources" risks came up:

  • Work permits and related delays. This deals with strenuous work permit requirements, as well as related delays in obtaining work permits and visas.

  • Client requests the removal of an employee. This of course, may happen on local projects as well, but is more problematic when a suitable resource has to be mobilized to go and work in a project in, for argument's sake, West Africa. The work permit risk then also applies.

  • Staff fatigue. This includes fatigue causing SHEQ risks, due to project duration, long working hours, as well as time away from home.

Based on this analysis, the risk "Skills and Resources" is not the correct risk description, as it may mean any of the items on the above list. Each of the above may have separate risk sources, consequences, treatment plans and treatment plan owners, and it may not be effective or efficient to just have a risk called "Skills and Resources" on the project risk register. It should rather be treated as a category of risks, as illustrated from the above list. It may be the correct term on an enterprise risk register, but does not provide the detail which one would expect to identify and manage specific resource issues. There is also an argument that it is not only "Skills and Resources", but should rather be "Skills, Resources and Experience". I have seen many young, well trained project managers being set up for failure, by being given projects which they simply don't have the experience for.

The majority of the risks on the list above may be treated by identifying the risks early enough and then allow sufficient planning and treatment plan implementation. One should also take into consideration that some of these risks may be systemic, and therefore difficult to treat by the project team.

Copyright 2020, Dr. Francois Joubert

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