Navigating the Marshaling of Resources

Gary Hamel, a renowned management expert(we blogged about him recently), has spoken out against the term "human resources" in the context of business. He argues that this terminology reflects an outdated and industrial view of employees, treating them as interchangeable assets rather than as unique individuals.

Hamel emphasizes that in the modern, knowledge-driven economy, creativity and innovation are key, and these qualities cannot be captured by viewing people merely as resources. He advocates for a shift in perspective, where companies recognize and leverage the individual talents, passions, and capabilities of their employees.

This approach aligns with his broader views on management and organizational structure, where he often stresses the importance of decentralization, empowerment, and innovation at all levels of the organization. However, in the greater view of Product Development, we tend to use the word "resources" to imply everything required to build our products; including humans. The collective is the challenge I want to explore. So for now, I want to use the word resources to imply all things that come together that a product team has to use (but want to also state I am not a fan of referring to humans beings as resources all on their own).

Resource allocation, the strategic distribution of assets and personnel within an organization, is a critical aspect of business management. However, it's often fraught with challenges. From budget constraints to shifting project priorities, the path to efficient resource allocation is complex. Let's dive into some of these challenges and offer practical, real-world strategies to mitigate them. My experience suggests these challenges to marshaling resources for the greater good of the product.

Limited Resources

Every organization has finite resources, whether financial, human, or material. Balancing these limitations with the demands of multiple projects is a constant struggle. We have an infinite list of things we would like to accomplish, but a finite amount of time and capacity to achieve them.

These constraints are not just financial but span various aspects of the business environment, including human talent, technological assets, and time. Understanding and effectively managing these limitations is critical for sustaining growth, achieving strategic objectives, and maintaining competitive advantage.

Mitigating the risks associated with limited resources requires strategic planning, efficiency optimization, and innovative thinking. I like to call this effective Roadmap Planning in agile. Top down priorities of the work and bottom up reporting on capacity to create a united view of what can be delivered within the partnership of product and development. Utilizing the many prioritization techniques that we have talked about on our blog can ensure stakeholders are aligned and ready to utilize the appropriate capacity that the team believes they can achieve.

One last point for our teams. Given that agile usually demands a cross-functional team environment, we need to ensure multifaceted skills are trained into the people. This will help create a more versatile workforce that can be allocated in the unique ways our products need to be delivered. Cross-functional of course doesn't mean that everyone knows everything, but strive to find the bottlenecking skills and cross-trains for those.

Changing Priorities

In a dynamic business environment, priorities can shift rapidly, often leading to reallocation of resources which can disrupt ongoing projects, leading to several challenges and potential disruptions in operations and project outcomes. This dynamic is influenced by factors such as market trends, customer demands, technological advancements, and internal strategic shifts. Being agile truly tries to address the changes in the market we see in this hyper-competitive world.

When priorities shift, resources often need to be reallocated to align with new objectives. This can disrupt ongoing projects, as they might be deprioritized or put on hold, leading to inefficiencies and the potential waste of already invested resources. These changes can also create uncertainty and confusion among team members regarding project goals and expectations. This uncertainty can hinder productivity, slow decision-making processes, and affect team cohesion.

Stakeholders, including customers, investors, and partners, may lose confidence if they perceive the organization as lacking direction. This can affect customer satisfaction, investment levels, and the willingness of partners to engage in collaborative projects.

Agile has adaptable and flexible planning built in, but ititss not always easy to implement given the variables in the organization and teams. It is important to provide effective communication, strategic management of our capacity (using prioritization frameworks), and building margin into the plans. We also need to provide support and recognition to employees affected by changes in priorities, including training for new roles and acknowledging their flexibility and contributions.

Inadequate Visibility

Lack of transparency in resource availability and utilization can lead to overallocation or underutilization, hindering project progress. Can we expect to fly planes or drive our cars without information telling us how fast we are going and in what direction? We need the same information for product delivery.

Inadequate visibility into an organization's resources—spanning financial, human, and material assets—can significantly impair its ability to marshal and allocate resources effectively. This lack of clarity can lead to a range of challenges that affect the organization's operational efficiency, project success, and strategic decision-making. In this case we tend to sub-optimize the team for a problem or issue that affects impact on a larger goal.

This often leads to lead missed deadlines, budget overruns, and lower quality outputs. Managers may not have the information needed to identify potential issues early on, preventing proactive adjustments. In addition, organizations with poor visibility into their resource capacities and project demands may find it challenging to prioritize projects effectively. This can result in critical projects being delayed or deprived of the necessary resources, impacting overall strategic goals.

While all of those issues are bad, I think the worst is when lack of visibility into workload distribution and project priorities lead to employee frustration. Some team members never recover from that and may feel overworked while others are underutilized. This imbalance can decrease overall morale and productivity, affecting project outcomes and employee satisfaction as well as affect our ability to retain top talent.

Just some high level ideas on how to mitigate some of these issues are of course software tools that allow for this visibility. I love tools if used correctly; just don't let the tool run your process. Build your process and force the tool to enhance your processes. Dashboards and regular check-ins really help ensure multiple people have an opportunity to raise issues and address them.

One company I worked for had a meeting called "Tech Ops" on the last FRI of every month. Over 52 products had schedule time throughout the day to dial in and provide an update on how everything is going in their teams and products (included product, development, and agile coaching). The CTO would lead the call and have an opportunity to review things, ask great questions, and more importantly offer his help. Some situations require the hierarchy to get involved and make things faster. Encouraging collaboration and open communication between departments can help improve visibility and coordination.

Lastly, engaging in regular forecasting and capacity planning activities can help organizations anticipate resource needs and adjust allocations accordingly, even if we are wrong, we are usually not completely out of left field. Taking the time to plan these activities helps ensure we are keeping our eye on the prize and sharing ownership between departments on the deliverables.

Skill Mismatch

Assigning the wrong resources to a project, especially in terms of skillset, can significantly impact its outcome. This can include organizing teams around a silo'd skill set or subset activity of overall development and lead to bottlenecks and idle capacity. Skill mismatch is a situation where there's a disparity between the skills employees possess and the skills required for their roles or projects, can significantly impact organizational efficiency, employee engagement, and overall project success. This mismatch can manifest as either a surplus (over-qualification) or a deficit (under-qualification) of skills.

In agile teams we typically like to create teams with a working agreement canvas and hold a market of skills exercise to determine our skills, who can teach skills, what gaps we have, and plan knowledge based learning appropriate to our schedule. People working in roles that don’t match their skill sets will not perform optimally, leading to decreased productivity and inefficiencies. Persistent skill mismatches may drive employees to seek employment elsewhere, where they feel their skills and career aspirations are better aligned. In addition, skill gaps in project teams can lead to delays, increased errors, and compromised project quality, impacting client satisfaction and competitive advantage.

Ways we can mitigate these are to conduct regular assessments of team skills and compare them with current and future role requirements. We can use the market of skills mentioned earlier or skills inventories and competency frameworks to map out existing skills and identify gaps. As leaders we can also iImplement targeted training programs to address identified skill gaps, offering courses, workshops, and online learning opportunities.

We also need to encourage continuous learning and professional development, supporting employees in acquiring the skills needed for their current roles and career progression. This might also lead to us refining the recruitment processes; ensuring new hires possess the skills needed for their roles, including thorough job analyses and competency-based interviewing techniques. Consider potential candidates' adaptability and willingness to learn as key factors in the selection process.

Managers need to ensure they develop clear career paths that allow employees to understand how they can grow within the organization. We need to use succession planning to prepare employees for future roles, aligning their development efforts with organizational needs. Too often managers are actually managing projects and don't have time to do these things. Agile ensures they know that the team owns the delivery, let's let the managers get back to doing what they need to be doing.

Lastly, fFoster an open feedback culture where employees can express their aspirations, concerns about skill mismatches, and receive constructive feedback on their performance and development needs. Regular one-on-ones and performance reviews can facilitate ongoing dialogue about skills development and alignment. This might also help people embrace cross-functional projects or rotations that allow them to develop and apply new skills at a rate we can digest it in the schedule.

Communication Barriers

Poor communication between departments can lead to misunderstandings and inefficiencies in resource distribution. This happens quite a bit when organizations choose the remote / global distributed environments, but fail to determine the impact of time zone / cultural barriers.

These barriers may arise from a variety of sources, including differences in language, culture, unclear messaging, technological limitations, and organizational silos. They can lead to misinterpretations, delays, and inefficiencies, ultimately impacting project outcomes and organizational performance. Communication barriers can lead to misunderstandings and conflict, affecting teamwork and collaboration; leading to frustration and disengagement among employees, as they may feel uninformed or overlooked.

There are ways to help mitigate issues when we have to be globally distributed. One of the more important ways is to minimize how many time-zones a team is dispersed. Dispersed teams are the type of teams who have each person tucked away in a time-zone that might not be advantageous for collaboration (one person in NYC, one person in London, one person in Japan, etc...). Distributed teams are where we have 5 teams with the people on the teams within 1-3 time zones but the 5 teams might be dispersed across the global. Day to day communication of the team can continue and the few times teams have to collaborate across teams we can schedule it at a convenient time for all.

Adopting modern communication tools (e.g., Slack, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams) that facilitate easy and clear messaging, file sharing, and collaboration can help ensure collaboration within the team. We also need to ensure accessibility of these tools to all employees and provide training on their effective use.

Developing and disseminating clear guidelines on how information should be communicated within the organization, including the use of specific channels for different types of communication. Setting standards for response times, document sharing, and meeting management to streamline communication processes. As leaders we can also provide communication skills training, including active listening, effective speaking, and clear writing, as part of professional development programs. Offering specialized training for managers and team leaders on effective communication and conflict resolution techniques can also strengthen their communication.


Navigating the complexity of marshaling resources within an organization is a multifaceted challenge that requires strategic foresight, adaptability, and continuous improvement. Overcoming obstacles such as limited resources, changing priorities, inadequate visibility, skill mismatches, and communication barriers is essential for ensuring efficient resource allocation and utilization.

By implementing robust resource management tools, fostering a culture of transparency and continuous learning, and embracing innovative strategies for optimization, organizations can not only mitigate these challenges but also turn them into opportunities for growth and competitive advantage.

Ultimately, the successful marshaling of resources hinges on an organization's ability to align its human, financial, and material assets with its strategic objectives, thereby enhancing productivity, employee satisfaction, and the delivery of value to stakeholders. We can do it!