Project Managers on the Bench? What Do You Do?

Most organizations (especially IT) have the problem that projects never happen in a smooth, even manner. Projects seem to start in waves. Staffing requirements for projects have peaks and valleys—sometimes you don’t have enough staff, and other times they are sitting on the “bench or beach.” Too often organizations don’t actively utilize this ‘downtime,’ especially with project managers. I have often worried about what to do with a pm who is inbetween projects.  The trick I’ve found is to think about this problem before it happens.  You should create a list of excellent options for how project managers can invest this downtime to create value for your organization.  Here are six ideas I’ve come up with.  I’m looking for more ideas from you.

  1. Have them upgrade their skills. They can take classroom training, online training, read a book, sign up for webinars, or work on a certification:  Microsoft Project, Microsoft Project Server, or PMI’s PMP.  Find classes on soft skills that people overlook, but are critical to project team success, such as leadership and conflict management.
  2. Let them implement those processes and templates you need, but have never “gotten around to” creating.  Do you have a standard project start-up document?  Do you have a risk register? If not, have them build these and other processes and templates while they’re on the bench.
  3. Have them evaluate new tools to help you fill gaps you know you have.  If you don’t have a resource management tool, but have been considering one, ask your bench PMs to research different tools.  Or perhaps you’re tired of using a file server to store project documents—examine collaborative tools that could be easily implemented to provide better collaboration and communication for your project teams.  Do you desperately need a conference room scheduler because your project teams are always complaining and fighting over available rooms? Have them research and find a low-cost solution for this problem.
  4. Take the time to archive and close out recent projects the right way. This includes making sure that all of the final artifacts are available, that the financials have all been closed, and that any security issues have been dealt with (badges, access, etc.).
  5. Have them conduct a “lessons learned” on your existing projects to discover and document internal best practices that would help the organization on future projects. Or, find a “lessons learned” tool that they can use to gather this information.
  6. Have them talk to your clients to discern what the pipeline looks like. Make sure they are asking about upcoming projects and requirements. Get the conversation started on requirements and you just might get a project going sooner than otherwise expected.

Hopefully, these ideas have spurred you to think of other ways to effectively utilize bench time for project managers. Please post a comment with your ideas to help me build a more comprehensive list!

2 Responses to “Project Managers on the Bench? What Do You Do?”

  1. Roger Says:

    Bruce, thanks for this thoughtful listing of ideas. Too often the employer doesn’t take the time to be creative and use the bench talent available to add real value. How many of your organizations just do layoffs of PM staff to manage the peaks and valleys? I’ve seen that way too often.

  2. Bruce McGraw Says:

    Thanks for the reply Roger!

    Unfortunately layoffs are a frequent part of larger organizations process for managing the “beach or bench”. Our company deals with a lot of large corporations who don’t view bench time as an opportunity to invest.


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