Capacity planning for startups

If you ever heard questions like: "we have a new customer asking for a project, when can we start implementing?" and you started worrying about the answer, this article might be useful! I'll introduce some nice planning tools and a simple spreadsheet-based approach to team capacity planning.

Estimated time reading
3 m 41 sec

First of all I must admit I am a management novice, I am a technician! But if you ever heard questions like the following, this article might be useful:

  • “uhh! We have a new customer asking for a project, when can we start implementing?” ( maybe without "uhh" :)
  • “what if I go on holiday the second week of next month?”
  • “could we postpone the frontend implementation by two weeks?”

Oh great! At this point I opened some gantt charts, spreadsheet files and Redmine, sketched some drawings on paper, polished the crystal ball, trying to figure out what would be if.. This has been working so far, but now the team is growing and projects are getting more and more complex. I definitely needed a better way to estimate the resources in a simple way. Gantt charts are very useful but they gave me a view on project based activities and not on team load; even Redmine is a great tool but very task oriented as well. Spreadsheets are easy to use but I could not find a good way to clearly represent the information I needed. I started to search on internet for tools and models to adopt: there is plenty of them! I subscribed to a lot of them, watched tenths of video tutorials. But every time there was a piece of the puzzle missing: too expensive, too complex, good for some specific reasons but bad for others.

During this “trip” I found some very interesting solutions that I’m going to list:

  • http://wrike.com very great tool, intuitive and with a good interaction, good planning features (interactive gantt, team load) but this required to bring the staff on it,abandon our redmine and change the task management procedures.
  • http://thehubplanner.com very good for capacity planning features but not so straightforward to use (maybe just to me).
  • http://10000ft.com My favourite! Amazing interface/ux, easy to manage and learn, great schedule (interactive gantt) and reporting capabilities. It would be wonderful to have a schedule view of tasks!

Anyway this gave me the opportunity to better focus on what I needed and to realize that first of all I had to build my own model of it. Therefore, despite these wonderful tools I finally decided to build my simple solution. This had to be very easy to manage and to explain to my colleagues. We need to be fast! Basically it is a spreadsheet commonly used in capacity planning with a row for each project and a column for every resource of the team, repeated for every week of the month.

In each cell you have to put the amount of booked days per week of a given resource (column) involved a given project (row). If the sum of booked days of each resource exceeds the resource capacity, the cell turns red, otherwise it stays green. Between each week I put a check column with the remaining effort for each project. On the leftmost side of the sheet you will find a monthly resume, in order to have an higher level view.

In this way, you can book resources on your projects for the next weeks and have an overview of what will be happening. Obviously this approach works for small teams (up to 10 people) and for a limited number of projects (maybe 10).

The spreadsheet is composed of three sheets. The first one is an overview of your ongoing projects specifying estimated effort (in man days), deadlines and anything else that is needed. The second one is a list of resources, specifying the average week capacity for every one of them; I assumed 18 working days per month, considering leaves and holidays. The third one is the planning sheet, grouped by week, resource and project.
You can clone this sheet on gdocs here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AnbEkSMDrX8YdDViZzkzSHlZMUt...
You can use this document as you want following cc-by-sa license. It would be very interesting to hear from you about possible enhancement or flaws and of course if this has been useful.

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