Dear Management Doctor:
I am hoping you can point me in the right direction: What information/research is available on bench marking criteria that is used to set staffing levels in municipal planning or community development departments? Specifically, I would be interested in mid-size cities charged with responsibilities relating to current planning, advance planning, regional transportation planning, economic development, administration of CDBG grants, and building permits and inspections.
Mary L Holton, AICP
My short answer is none!
This is the kind of questions City Managers and elected officials like to ask. It is also the kind of data Planning Directors want to have to try to justify staffing levels or increased staffing. You could try to do some comparisons with other communities that have similar characteristics to yours but it would still likely be apples and oranges. However, if you try this and it serves your purpose, go ahead and see if you can sell it.
Every community is different and every function is different. Let’s take a few examples.
You will find a few other ideas on how to calculate staffing levels on our website search engine at and also in my book, The ABZ of Planning Management.
If you or my emailers come up with a good answer, please share it with me.
I sat and wrote several paragraphs agreeing with your answer to Mary Holton about staffing levels, but I dropped it as I think my City Manager said it far better than I could. Follow the first link.
FYI – there have been a couple of studies of staffing arrangements for Metropolitan Planning Organizations.
I would think of your task in terms of projects and operations. The difference is that projects have an end date and operations do not. As the doctor says, operations can be forecasted in terms of workload and staffed accordingly. In this hopper I would put current planning, permits and inspections and code enforcement.
For economic development and long-range planning, there is no way to set force structure independent of the question about what you want to do. To answer the force structure questions, you need to think about work program first. Frankly, no one values long-range planning for its own sake. I don’t, and I’m a long-range planner. They greatly value solutions to problems that long-range planning can help tackle. I think you start by engaging your council with the question of what they want to accomplish and get them and the larger community engaged in a conversation about work program.
Getting buy-off on work program does several good things for you:
I’d say start by researching ways to scope and resource planning projects and then build them up based on a work program.