Project Resource Planning Lessons: Vacation Planning
Recently, I went on a vacation to Montenegro. One night while I was sipping local wine on a porch with a roof entirely made of grapevines, I came to the realization that my boyfriend and I had planned a hell of a vacation. There had been no running around and no disappointments. The only time we were anxious was the morning we were driving to the airport and thinking if our flight is actually on the schedule since there was no online check-in. If you have ever traveled anywhere, you know that’s an achievement.
A part of the contentment was definitely an effect of all the wine but as I thought about how we had planned the trip, I understood that a lot of the wins we have had were because we had somehow applied project resource planning principles to planning our vacation.
Sadly, it wasn’t a conscious decision to do so, but I figured project resource planning is something I think about day in and day out, it was bound to find a way to be a part of my holiday.
Since vacation planning can be stressful and I got very excited about my realization there on the grape entwined porch, I thought I’d share with you the 5 project resource planning principles we applied to plan our vacation.
1. Have a budget
Even before we knew where we are going or began to for plane tickets, we had settled on how much money we are willing to spend on the tickets. After we had decided it’s going to be Montenegro, we used the average income of the country as a reference to understand how expensive is it to stay there.
Then, we moved on to the other core costs. We knew we had to eat, sleep somewhere, and rent a car (and buy gas for it). We researched a bit and calculated rough budget estimates. Only then we added the expected wine expenses and little more for the unexpected.
If budgeting is not your favorite part of project resource planning, I have good news for you. In my experience, estimating a vacation budget doesn’t have to have as many rows as a project budget, you basically just need a bigger number divided into smaller numbers that you can be happy with.
However, since money can be a stressor, having a budget is definitely a must.
2. Do some long-term high-level planning
It was probably somewhere in the middle of the winter when we decided we wanted to start looking forward to a holiday in someplace warm. That’s when we started scanning for plane tickets. Since ‘it should be warm there’ and the budget we had agreed upon left us with plenty of rope, we considered many options from Vietnam to Southern France. Somehow, the country that we kept going back to was Montenegro. We had already planned our annual leaves to the start of August and got an offer that matched those dates. It was settled.
As soon as we had bought the plane tickets, we began with the groundwork. Since we didn’t know much other about the country than that it has a gorgeous landscape, we searched for travel blogs that featured Montenegro.
We quickly understood that there are basically two sides of Montenegro: the south with the beaches and the north with the national parks and the rafting. Although we are the hiking kind of people, we decided it made more sense to stay near the coast. We knew we didn’t want to stay at one place, so for each day, we agreed on a city/village we would overnight (according to the things we could do), and booked an Airbnb or found a camping site.
We didn’t wait until everything was figured out to the details. We did some long-term high-level planning with the bookings and then got to short-term planning with actual activities we should do. And that’s how it goes with project resource planning, isn’t it?
After you have imported the project, you book the resources you know you are going to need. No custom data. Simply dragging and dropping Gantt charts to let other project managers know that the resources aren’t available for that time. Once everything is set, you get to the details.
That’s the second project resource planning principle you should apply while planning your vacation. Lay down a framework. Book the resources (travel mates, tickets, accommodation etc) that you can book without having to have everything set in stone.
3. Don’t overestimate the capacity
The reason we decided to stay near the coast was capacity. Since we were there for only a week, we knew we had to make some choices. We read about the slow traffic and the number of tourists there during the peak season. We knew that it would take us about a day to drive across the country.
Since we hadn’t been on the coast before either, we decided to start from there - explore the area and not spend two days driving. Although it was tempting to still try to fit it into our plans, we didn’t. I like to think that it was project resource planning knowledge that was holding us back.
When planning resources for projects, you know how important it is to get the capacity utilization just right. Not too high or too low. Just right. Even if you are juggling multiple ongoing projects at once, you find the way to allocate resources across the portfolio to achieve the utilization that ensures efficiency.
You would never pile on tasks in a short time period. You know that kind of ‘approach’ to project resource planning gets you nowhere. The only thing it does do is create a bottleneck that will lead to projects falling behind on schedule.
Admitting it’s understandable why there’s a tendency to force as many activities as possible to your vacation, it’s not a way to go. When trying to do everything, there’s not much time left for actually enjoying the things you do. It’s always about the next destination, the next activity, the commute, the traffic and the tickets. But it should be about being in the moment you are, the things you see, and the people you are with. That's why optimal capacity utilization should be something you aim for when planning for a vacation as well.
4. Be transparent
Another project resource planning lesson is that transparency is the key. While planning resources and planning a vacation. If you are working with other people, they need to know what you are planning. They need to be on the same page.
To be on the same page, we used a shared document for the budget, all the travel information (tickets, accommodation etc), and the activities and information about the activities. We added all the options to the document and then decided together which ones we would go for.
For me, that’s a lot like using a resource management software. You add everyone that needs to edit or view the plans. You have all the necessary information in one place. You plan. They plan. Then you have a meeting to discuss what’s planned, you confirm the project resource plan or reallocate resources. No one is kept in the dark.
Since transparent organizational communication has been found to drive employee engagement I wonder if transparent holiday communication drives relaxation engagement. It certainly did in our case.
5. Be prepared for the unexpected
While planning resource for projects, you have probably learned that you can do all the estimating, forecasting, and correcting to only find out that something still found its way to go left. It’s the same way with planning a vacation.
And the thing is, you have to be okay with it. Nothing ever goes exactly how you plan it, even more so if the something you have planned is a perfect vacation.
For us, the time everything really didn't go the way we planned was when we were driving with our rental car along the coast from Budva to Ulcinj. I was reading the map and since a number of the roads in Montenegro are not on Google Maps, we missed our exit. Not the worst right?
Well, the next thing that happened was that our car broke down. We found ourselves in the middle of a street with a car that wouldn’t start. Thanks to the all the mountains in Montenegro (or that one mountain in particular) the car just rolled downhill to the nearest parking lot which happened to be a parking lot a hospital.
We called the rental place and they suggested getting more gas. Since we couldn’t find a taxi number that would actually work, we thought we’d just walk to the nearest gas station. As we had come to terms with our fate, a taxi drove to the hospital parking lot. Minutes and many hand gestures later, we were able to explain to the lovely lady driving the taxi where we needed to go and what we needed to do.
As we had tanked the car from a plastic bag like container (which by the way is a wonderful couples activity), the car still didn’t start. The rental company said they would bring us another car but it would take them 3 to 4 hours to get to us. So there we were. In a hospital parking lot with a car that had let us down.
In these moments, you can either moan or have lunch, go to a museum, have walk in a city you didn’t plan to walk around in, and accidentally make friends with a cute dog who appears to live in a ditch.
We chose the latter since when something goes wrong with a project, you’d never just sit around and feel disappointed that it isn’t a perfect project. You would do something to fix it.