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What's your Capacity for Planning Capacity?

Tiffany Scolnic
Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
Nov 07, 2023

Hi everyone, @Tiffany Scolnic and @Alex Frost here! 

We’re Atlassian program managers and we'd like to talk one of the trickier deliverables in the program management space: capacity planning.

As we all know, capacity planning plays a crucial role in successfully delivering projects on time and planning for future work so we would love to hear your insights and experiences on this topic.

To clarify, when we say capacity planning, we’re defining it as the process of determining the production capacity and resourcing needed to meet goals and milestones.

As of now, Alex and I have tackled capacity planning by:

Tiffany - Start by auditing all the work that’s currently in flight and what’s known to be coming down the pipeline for the next quarter. From there, determine the project’s t-shirt size and estimate how long we anticipate each project to take to completion and sign off. Next, plan and prioritize our work and determine the delta between the demand and the resources available. Finally, revaluate and pivot to determine how to best close the gap.

Gotcha’s include: unforeseen priority shifts that impact the roadmap, changes in resource allocation (extended leave, teammate departure, etc)

Alex - In the teams I work with we face different types of capacity challenges across our Department. As a result I employ different methods and tools to fit the need. Are you a service lead team who has to deal with issues as and when they arise? Then in that case I suggest utilizing Kanban boards and WIP (work in progress) limits. Are you a team that works in a cross-team large scale delivery environment then maybe T-shirt sizes which are then converted to Story Points is a better option.

Whatever option you choose the biggest gotcha for me is the data that comes from it. Insights out are only as good as the data that is put in. That is why I also utilize Automation to promote good data hygiene and also Atlassian Analytics to constantly monitor our Capacity Landscape.

Now we want to hear from you! 

  1. How do you approach capacity planning in your role as a program manager?

  2. What factors do you consider when estimating resource requirements?

  3. Do you have any tips or best practices for effective capacity management?

  4. What tooling do you use?

We’d love to hear about any challenges you've encountered, success stories, or lessons learned along the way.

1 comment


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Capacity planning (and resource optimisation) is without question a critical aspect of ensuring successful project delivery. In my experience, there is no one framework or methodology that is universally correct, but there are a few practices that can help build the foundation for capacity planning. Answers to questions from the original post noted below - I've tried to keep it as succinct as there is quite a lot to cover.

1. How do you approach capacity planning in your role as a program manager?

  • Holistic Assessment: Review current workload, ongoing projects, and future initiatives comprehensively. Understand the scope, complexity, and dependencies of each project.

  • Collaborative Planning: Work closely with team leads/resource managers to gather insights on upcoming projects, deadlines, and potential constraints.

  • Data-Driven Analysis: Leverage historical project data and performance metrics with a focus on timelines and bottlenecks that may have occurred. Use this data to identify patterns and trends that can inform future capacity planning.

  • Scenario Planning: Anticipate potential scenarios that could impact capacity, e.g., project scope, unexpected resource constraints or shifts in priorities (this was mentioned as a 'gotcha', and it can be mitigated through effective Portfolio Management which is a whole different discussion). Develop contingency plans to address these scenarios and ensure flexibility in resource allocation.

  • Tooling: Track and monitor resource capacity and utilisation /assignments. Maintain comprehensive awareness of both work progress and resource availability, to optimise scheduling, planning, and management, ensuring alignment with appropriate projects and timelines.

2. What factors do you consider when estimating resource requirements?

This has broadly been covered under question 1. However, there are some specific nuances to consider:

  • Project Scope and Complexity: Consider the size and complexity of each project. Larger or more complex projects may require additional resources and time.
  • Skillset Requirements: Evaluate the skills and expertise needed for each project. Ensure that the team members assigned have the necessary skills to meet project requirements.
  • Dependencies and Constraints: Identify dependencies between projects and potential constraints that could affect resource availability. Addressing these dependencies is crucial for preventing delays.
  • Historical Performance: As mentioned above.

3. Do you have any tips or best practices for effective capacity management?

Generally speaking, I'm not a huge believer in best practice. I consider them more as 'utopian practices', but they do provide some useful guidlines and guardrails that should be adapated to the people and culture of an organisation:

  • Regular Reviews: Conduct regular reviews of project status and resource allocation. This helps in identifying any deviations from the initial plan and allows for adjustments as needed.
  • Communication: Ensure that everyone is aware of the current capacity status, potential challenges, and adjustments to the plan.
  • Agile Adaptation: Embrace agile methodologies to quickly adapt to changing priorities and project requirements. Agile frameworks provide flexibility in resource allocation.
  • Continuous Improvement: Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of capacity planning processes and make adjustments based on lessons learned from completed projects.

3. What tooling do you use?

In my opinion, it is incredibly important to have the right tooling to enable effective resource management. Historically, I have used PPMs such as Clarizen (bought out by Planview), Clarity, and HP PPM (a very long time ago) and of course, Excel. All of these applications have their positives and downsides, but all had yielded positive results. 

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Miles Tillinger
Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
Nov 13, 2023

Agile Adaptation

@Faraz Moin Within the myriad of frameworks out there, are there any specific practices you like to use that have helped to adapt to changing priorities?

@Miles Tillingerdo you mean changing priorities at a portfolio or programme/project level? Its quite an interesting topic, so I'll do my best to cover both.

Portfolio Level - Scaled Agile (SAFe)

I have used both conventional (MoP) and Agile (Scrum of Scrums and SAFe) Portfolio Management practices, and in my experience, SAFe is the most effective in allowing for changing priorities and planning at a portfolio level.

The SAFe approach is quite a lengthy discussion in and of itself, but in short, organising delivery teams around Development Value Streams and Operational Value Streams coupled with Agile Release Trains delivering in 8 to 12 week cycles will allow you the assess and shift priorites on reasonably short notice.

Having said this, while I recognise that changing priorities is a fact of life in all fast moving and fast growing organisations, if it were to happen too often then it can be disruptive and yield negative outcomes, e.g. impact team morale, slows progress, loss of confidence in leadership.

In my previous roles as Head of PMO/Transformation, I would push executive teams to embrace longer term plans to allow my team to focus on a static set of high-priority, high-impact projects where a change of priority can only be agreed through consensus by a Portfolio Investment Committee.

Programme/Project Level - Rolling Wave Planning (RWP)

I'm a strong believer in having an overarching Programme and Project Plans (typically feature based) for Agile projects, which are underpinned by the sprint/cycle plans. In my experience, the best way to integrate a more typical waterfall style plan and Agile delivery plans is to use the Rolling Wave Planning approach.

In short, RWP is a planning approach where by plans are developed in detail only for the immediate and near term, while the plans for the future are left at a higher level of abstraction. The greatest benefit of this approach is that it acknolwedges and embraces the dynamic nature of projects and encourages teams to remain flexible and adaptable to changing priorities.

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