Not a lot of organizations seek to have a group of individuals “on the bench” but it’s a fact of business where there will be downtimes. While smaller organizations may not be able to withstand much bench-time before headcount reductions take over, organizations that are built to have a bench can actually turn some benefit out of having lower-than-desired utilization of some individuals. Here are some tips on effectively managing your bench.
Define your Strategic Priorities
In order to make the best use of bench time, you need to have your team organized and following a strategy. Some of the best run companies I’ve observed have a leadership group that provides the team a vision and a strategy of where they want to be and then leave it to the people who actually have to do the work to decide on how to get there. Regardless if you anticipate having bench time or not, it’s vital to have your strategic priorities defined and communicated to your entire organization. When your team finds itself without billable work (or if there is enough demand for an internal project) there can be action taken to make these strategic priorities a reality. Perhaps it’s a new product you wish to build or a new market you want to explore, regardless of the endeavor and whether or not you can bill for it you need to have your team all focused with the same goal in mind and by defining and communicating strategic priorities and how you want to identify as an organization is crucial to helping steer your team in the right direction.
Build a Backlog of Tasks
Once your strategic priorities are set and understood by the team it’s up to someone to take that vision and turn it into an actionable plan that can be executed. By constructing a plan that accounts for the fact that your resources may be re-allocated the moment that shiny new contract is signed, you can plan a backlog of tasks that can be picked up and executed by your bench staff when they find themselves not immersed in a customer-facing project. By having a set of deliverables that are aligned with the vision of leadership and comprised of tasks that are easily portable and transferrable you are setting yourself up for success.
Treat it Like a Project
An organization I once worked for had the motto of “what gets measured gets done”. That can be said for internal bench projects. The general perception of these types of initiatives is that they are “filler” tasks that can be done at the convenience or leisure of the team. This perception needs to be squashed immediately once these types of tasks are assigned. Other than the “threat” of billable work coming in that would take precedence, there should be zero excuse for not treating bench tasks like any other project task. Estimates should be given, deadlines should be set, risks and issues need to be identified and mitigated. Just because it’s “internal” doesn’t give anyone a free pass for less than exceptional quality.
Having a bench of staff can sometimes be a good thing for your organization. Besides giving your delivery staff a bit of a breather from the constant pressure of customer-facing project work, it will allow you to take an organizational breath and focus on some internal priorities to help make your company better so that when the work does come in, your team can quickly execute and execute with better quality and results.