4 Capacity Planning Challenges in L&D (And How to Overcome Them)

capacity planning challenges

Capacity planning may exist for your L&D team or it might be something you’ve never really considered. Either way, most training teams are estimating their availability to fulfill training requests with a quick mental calculation to see if they have room for more work.

But guessing your team’s capacity only leads to frustration for all. It’s too easy to overpromise and underdeliver. Deadlines are missed and your training team ends up under pressure or having some of their individual skills underutilized. The long and short of it is that course quality, the learner experience, and your training team suffers.

However, while proper capacity planning might seem like the solution to these issues, it’s not without its challenges. So, before you start building a capacity planning and resource management model for your learning department, here are some common challenges to look out for: 

1.Data Collection & Maintenance

Capacity planning is about accuracy. It helps you to pinpoint exact resource requirements and availability. 

But precision takes a lot of something we have been slow to embrace in the learning industry: data.

Firstly, collecting the data you’ll need to make capacity planning worthwhile is challenging for several reasons. The data is:

  • Not currently being collected at all
  • Scattered, collected and/or stored across different systems
  • Not granular enough

Secondly, one of the trickiest parts of data collection is deciding the various levels of detail you’ll need to accurately scope the L&D team’s capacity and the resources required per training project.

For your team, you’ll have to decide at which level you’ll assess capacity by:

  • Team
  • Skill
  • Role
  • Individual team member

On the project side when a training request comes in, will you be assessing the resource requirements by:

  • Time (weekly/monthly predicted time requirement?)
  • Project level and complexity
  • Project phases
  • Individual tasks per project

The more granular your data collection, the more work there will be to maintain it. However, granularity also means a higher level of accuracy for planning and analysis.

Source: Clarizen

2. Calculations

The type and granularity of data that you collect will also have a significant impact on how you go on to calculate capacity and demand.

It’s often instinctual to turn to spreadsheets for data capture and calculations such as these. But what you end up with next is an unwieldy workbook with multiple sheets. Your calculations may be working, but with such an unreliable system you cannot rely on the accuracy of the numbers produced.

Take this simple example of capacity Vs. demand. It only calculates available hours of staff members to complete training projects. A useful snapshot, but certainly not the full picture.

(Q2 2020)DemandCapacityAvailability
Active FTEs (headcount)37.6336-1.63
Period Capacity (hours)14,67714,040-637

But as soon as you start adding other elements into the mix, the calculations (and the data needed to make them) becomes infinitely more complicated.

3. Collaboration

Lots of people have a stake in capacity planning for L&D. From the instructional designers fulfilling the project work to the learners waiting for the courses they have requested and all the levels of management in between.

Those on the L&D team in charge of capacity planning and resource allocation sit between the suppliers and consumers of learning experiences and must use capacity planning to manage expectations and maximize what the training team can deliver.

This means sourcing data from multiple places and combining it to get the best birds-eye view of training demand and the impact it’s fulfilment will have on the organization as a whole. You may find that the data you need from outside the L&D department either isn’t collected or is maintained in a difficult format for your purposes.

Overcoming this challenge of collaborating over capacity planning is worth spending the time to overcome. The more complete and accurate picture you have of training demand and existing capacity, the more precise and valuable your resource management and allocation will be to various training projects.

4. Change

The concept of change and it’s increasingly fast pace is a subject of much debate and conjecture, not just for L&D, but for the business landscape as a whole. 

Today’s speed of business throws a spanner in the works for many business processes, but for capacity planning, too much unforeseen change can be disastrous. 

And yet that change is happening whether we like it or not. Dynamic market forces and a highly competitive business environment are forcing organizations to be more agile in their approach than they have ever been. 

In terms of capacity planning, one of the challenges for L&D is to build a model that is highly responsive to these pivots in strategy and can provide accurate snapshots of your team’s capacity as demand changes. 

The more flexible and dynamically built your capacity planning model is, the more useful it will be in responding to inevitable change.  

How can L&D overcome these capacity planning challenges?

These quick tips will help you stay focused while building resource management and capacity planning for your training team:

  • Begin with only critical resources

Rather than trying to capture any and all data, start with data that is easy to source and maintain. Once you have a picture of your team’s capacity built, you can start to add in things at a more granular level.

  • Identify high demand objects

Whether it’s a staff member with a particular skill, a training topic that is requested again and again, or an existing course that needs to be updated regularly, begin with tracking the demand and capacity for frequently used resources or high ticket items.

  • Stay high level with your projects

When examining the resource requirements for individual projects, starting small is a good idea here, too. Begin with phase level estimates rather than individual task requirements.

  • Start using it straight away

Capacity planning is rarely done to perfection. There are too many moving parts and frequent change for it to be so. But as soon as you have a workable model, start using it. You’ll still see immediate benefits even from the highest level of pictures. And seeing that benefit will encourage those involved in capacity planning to keep up the good work.

  • Spread the word

Keep your whole training team in the loop. Although capacity planning is most useful for upper level management and decision making, sharing it with the team can help to set expectations. You might also get some insightful input into some of your estimates around project requirements. For example, if you have over or underestimated the time required for a particular project phase, who better to point it out than those who are fulfilling the requirements?

Want to learn more about capacity planning challenges in L&D? Check out these articles:

Spot the Difference: Capacity Planning Vs. Resource Planning

Meeting Training Demand: 5 Benefits of Capacity Planning for L&D

L&D Capacity Planning Checklist: 5 Steps to Effective Resource Management

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