The perpetual state of being understaffed - does it really exist?


The last few months have been a staffing challenge for me and my team.  I lost a quarter of my team in a 3 month time period due to reorgs….and I couldn't replace any of them.  Due to the economic climate, things are tight and that includes headcount.  Then, my team was affected by lay-offs and I lost some more people.  So at this point, as a test manager, I think the expectation is that I would be frustrated and screaming for more people.  But what good would that do?  It is what it is.  It's a serious situation and it needs my focus, but being the squeaky wheel right now given the economy will not be beneficial.  What I need to be concerned with is the amount of work and project scope within my team.  With the help of my very-capable counterparts, we continue to scope project down, lengthen deadlines, communicate expectations to our business stakeholders, and review our budget numbers.  The most important management goal I have right now is to make sure that my team members aren't killing themselves to get all the work done that was left from the multiple vacancies on the team, and to make sure necessary work isn't falling off and not getting done (it's instead getting prioritized correctly).


So here are some ideas to help in situations like this:

  • Creative staffing:
    • Contractors/vendors - beyond just hiring them, have them do more overtime especially on weekends to give full-time  employees a break
    • Offshore employees can allow the business to run day and night and shouldn't cost too much
    • Internships is a great way to bring people in with a fresh perspective and a lot of energy and cost less than fulltime employees
    • Job sharing allows a manager to have two team members for the price of one and even though they both will do half the work, the manager gets two different perspectives and there's less likelihood for burnout
  • Clearly and visibly communicate changing expectations and deliverables
  • On reports (status reports or quality metrics), show some red - raise some flags around risks and tradeoffs being made.  This will allow upper management to agree with the decisions that were made to deal with the staffing issues.
  • Review processes on the team and dig into the details.  This will help uncover inefficiencies.  Gaining efficiencies will allow the team to do more with less people.
  • Specifically for test teams: automate, automate, automate!
  • And finally, be patient and think strategically.  At some point, the economy will get better and managers need to have a plan on where to add resources and what work to put back on the schedule when that happens.

Every manager would love to have more people and get more work done.  And some managers use that desire and their team situation to become the victim and create excuses for not getting work done.  Or they continue to complain about being understaffed.  What I've learned is that being understaffed is a perpetual state that every team is in and it is the responsibility of the manager to work through it and accepted it.  That is why I question if the state of being understaffed really exists?  Or isn't that just the norm?  As I continue to change the amount and the way we work to accommodate team size, then we are never truly understaffed.  If managers let this block them, they do a disservice to the team members that are there ready to do great work!