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A Capacity Planner: How Many Can You Lift?

“If I am a capacity planner, then I am always looking for optimal functionality, but really, what do I do?”


Who is a capacity planner? A capacity planner gathers performance data and measures the output to determine optimal fit within the production scheduling. A person in this position is normally at the business unit level, but there are enterprise level capacity planners that look at the whole organization, such as Resource Forecasters or Resource Estimators. A business unit capacity planner may be called a Performance Manager or a Performance Engineer among other titles, but who are they really? Every job is more than just a title.

In previous posts, I have determined the best way to describe a project manager to a child is to classify them as a superhero, like Batman. So, if a project manager is Batman, then a capacity planner is a lot like Alfred, Batman’s butler. Don’t be mistaken, Alfred was way more than Batman’s routine servant. He pretty much raised him. If Bruce was being foolish, then Alfred efficiently reprimanded him. In the background, he never stopped guiding him in the right direction. This is a capacity planner.

A capacity planner can go by many different names, but at the end of the day, the goals are still the same. As a capacity planner, you are here to understand the priorities, the resources available, the true cash flow, as well as the intricacies of the time frame. Alfred understood Batman’s true priorities. Batman wanted to destroy all his foes and save every single maiden, but it took Alfred to continuously remind him that he is only one man. As one man, he only has so much capacity. This inevitably led to the introduction of Robin and later Batgirl. Batman increased his capacity to match the increasing demand.

It might seem trivial to say that the capacity planner needs to understand priority, the cash flow, the time frame and everything else, but it is more complex than you think. It is a balance of continuously fixing the past, adjusting the present actions, and planning for future growth. Planning for growth could entail adding more physical locations, adding personnel, or capital to raise for any given expansion. This plan is always a factor in determining how many transformational/major change projects you can accomplish in a year. How many projects can you really afford given the resources as well as the budget? Sure, you could run yourself and your team down, but as Alfred understood, you still must eat and sleep, even if you're a superhero. In capacity planning, you can’t invoke only major change if you have requests for maintenance/utility or compliance mandate projects.

Your business unit and organization needs a continuous spectrum of projects. If you can do three transformational projects given your organizational constraints than you would need to sufficiently space them across the next few quarters. In between these major projects, you always have a spot for last minute projects or required maintenance projects. A capacity planner is working to design an optimal project schedule by weighing the risk, priority, cash flow, and organizational capacity.

Capacity planning involves looking at what resources are being utilized and making sure these are being allocated correctly for optimal functionality. Managers with this mission are leading their Batmans’ in the direction that means success and growth of the organization by considering the priority, resource availability, and the fluctuating cash flow within a given time frame. Alfred is the only real father figure Batman has in his life. The one force that Bruce Wayne knows will always have his back in any situation. He is the man behind the man. He is the capacity planner.

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Capacity Planning: How Much Can You Lift?

“If I invest significant resources to capacity planning, then I understand the production capacity needed to meet the changing demands, but I am not sure what capacity planning really entails.”

My morning is never complete without a cup of coffee. So, when I first came across the term “capacity planning,” I automatically went to my regular morning struggle, how much coffee can I put into this travel mug without burning myself? This might seem trivial, but it is a delicate process. How big is the mug? Do I want to leave room for cream? How much cream? If your calculation is even slightly off you burn yourself at some point, have a subpar cup of joe, or you managed to cheat yourself out of some coffee.

After some research, I now understand that capacity planning is slightly more complex than filling up a cup of coffee. Capacity planning is the process of determining the production capacity needed by an organization to meet changing demands for its product or services. The goal of capacity planning is to understand the capacity of the organization, and the demand of the customer, to minimize a discrepancy between the two forces.

If only it was as easy as filling your travel mug in the morning, but really, most of capacity planning comes down to two questions. Given the resources I have, how many projects can I do? Given my projects, how much resources do I need?

You might be reading those two questions and think it is that easy, but just like pouring coffee, there are lots of variables involved. The cream to coffee ratio and the size of the travel mug, turns into skill sets, number of projects, strategic plans, as well as the number of resources. If the path to high performance is a pipe, then each of these variables are something blocking the flow.

The key to successful capacity planning is identifying the biggest blockage. You could have a reasonable number of employees and projects, but have a gap in the job roles that can be filled by your resources. Alternatively, you could have resources that are being severely overworked. You have too many projects and not enough resources, in which case, you can reevaluate the number of future projects that can be attempted. The first step to unplugging the pipe or filling that mug is to understand what you have, and what you can do with it, and that is capacity planning.

The luckiest of us out there no longer need to worry about filling up our coffee mugs to the appropriate level. We have Starbucks or an automatic machine that fills our cups to that perfect full, but not too full point. If only real world capacity planning were the same way. The more you understand the more you can plan for at your organization. Capacity planning ensures the long and short term success of key business initiatives at a reduced cost, and who doesn’t want that?


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Capacity Planning: How Long Can You Lift it?

“If you want to determine the production capacity and the plan necessary to meet the changing demands for its products and services, then you have done sufficient capacity planning, but what strategy and steps were taken to develop your plans?”

It should be self-evident as to why an organization should care about capacity planning. No one wants to be in the situation where they have tons of people with nothing to do or to have too many projects and not enough people. As work piles up you are unable to become more efficient or grow as a company. You are unable to do much more than fight the fires. A company that has done sufficient capacity planning understands their priorities, the resource availability, the cash flow, as well as the intricacies of their time frame. Every project matters!

The repercussions of a poorly planned product launch are not just some unplanned operational costs, but a battlefield of ruthless customer reviews as well as negative impacts on the company’s image. The goal of capacity planning is to reduce that possibility, by minimizing the discrepancy, and provide satisfactory service levels in a cost-efficient manner. In other words, you are checking the system, and determining if you have the roles and skills needed before scheduling the work. Regardless of the situation, capacity planning involves three basic steps:

  1. Determine Capacity Requirements: Understand what will need to be supported.
  2. Analyze Current Capacity: Determine if it is meeting the organizational requirements.
  3. Plan for Future Capacity: Forecast future business activities and requirements.

There is lots more that can be said about each of these steps, but to begin you must understand your limits. After that is determined, you can start to understand your organizational constraints, the true project priority, and further speculate on production holdup. Companies use one of four general strategies to determine the production capacity, and produced the plans necessary to meet the changing demands for its products and services:

  1. Lead Strategy: Loading the system in anticipation of an increase in demand. The Lead strategy has the goal of luring customers from your competitor by improving service level. You are ensuring that the organization has adequate capacity to meet all demands even during high growth periods.
  2. Lag Strategy: Add the capacity after demand has increased beyond existing capacity. This strategy decreases the risk of overbuilding, greater productivity due to higher utilization levels, and the ability to put off large investments, but it may result in the loss of possible customers due to the product being out of stock or low service levels.
  3. Match Strategy: Add the capacity incrementally in response to changes in demand. This is a more moderate approach to reach the same advantages as in the lag strategy.
  4. Adjustment Strategy: Add or reduce the capacity in small or large amounts due to the consumer’s demand, or do major changes to product, or to the organization.

You made the resources available to really look at the capacity and demand in your organization. You even allowed others to adjust a few of the associated variables such as hiring a new copywriter and adjusted a few projects. So… you’re done with capacity planning? Right? Not so much.

We live in a fast paced world were nothing ever stays the same for too long. The capacity is defined as the maximum amount or number that can be received or contained. This could be about the amount of data on a hard drive, or the maximum amount of work that an organization can complete in each amount of time. It is important to know those numbers, but it is more important to know that capacity requirements can fluctuate between peak and limited demand. You might not require the same number of resources in normal operations as you do in peak demand. You are only human, to ensure the success of business initiatives and reduced cost, capacity planning should be actively done semi-annually, but with this concept, should be continuously in the back of your mind as things change!


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