Solving the resource scheduling problem

By - 29 Dec 2011

What is Resource Guru and why are we building it? If you work in a company that uses a spreadsheet for resource scheduling then you will understand the problem we are trying to solve.

Before co-founding Resource Guru, I used to work as a digital project manager in various marketing and digital agencies. One of my tasks was to book resources to work on projects. You know the type of thing – I need a designer and a copywriter for 5 days starting next Monday. Then I need a programmer to work for 10 days starting in 2 weeks time. Etc, etc.

All these bookings need to be recorded somewhere so that a) other project managers can plan their projects, b) scheduling conflicts can be avoided and c) resources know what they will be working on in the next few days. Is this sounding familiar to you?

Most companies keep these sort of details in a spreadsheet that looks something like this:

Resource scheduling spreadsheet

Ugly isn’t it?

So, what’s wrong with spreadsheets?

Well, being ugly is the least of their problems? There are so many things wrong with resource planning spreadsheets, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are just a few of the main ones:

Not a proper calendar

Spreadsheets were designed for number crunching – not calendar-based planning. Sure, you can enter calendar dates yourself and then drag cells across – but you have to do this every time you want to add more dates. Plus you will need to copy across any special formatting that you use. Not easy!

Moving bookings around is a nightmare

As we all know, schedules change constantly as clients change their minds, people get sick, people underestimate things etc. Spreadsheet schedules are very difficult to edit if you want to change a booking or move it from one resource to another. Especially in a busy office with multiple project managers. For example, copying and pasting a 5-day booking from a resource on row 27 to one on row 5 can be a very tricky operation. Especially when the resource on row 5 doesn’t have all the time available. This type of thing leads to mistakes which are sometimes only discovered on the day that the resource is due to start some critical work for a client.

Seeing the big picture is difficult

If there’s a long list of resources, it can become very difficult to navigate around and get a picture of what’s going on. It takes time to find and hire freelancers when gaps appear which is one of the reasons why effective planning is crucial. Spreadsheets also become bloated with previous bookings. All of this leads to confusion and wasted time.

Poor clash management

Let’s say you see the following on Wed 25 Jan for Anna – 1.5 hrs Project W, 2 hours Project X, 2.5 hrs Project Y, 1.5 hrs Project Z. Did you notice that Anna is over booked by 3.5 hours? Did anyone stop the project manager from adding the last booking? Did anyone realise that Anna only works for half a day on Wednesdays? See what I mean?

Low visibility

In addition to the hassles of using the spreadsheet, you’ve got the  problem of communicating the schedule to resources, project managers, account directors etc. If these people don’t know what bookings and  availability exist, they will find it very hard to do their jobs  efficiently. You can keep a file on the network but there are a couple of problems with this. 1) how will people know if a booking has changed – you can send out  regular emails but how often do you send them and to whom? 2) Sometimes the spreadsheet is on a part of the network that can only be accessed by project and resource managers. People generally like to know  what they’re working on in advance so they can prepare for the job – this tends to lead to higher quality work too.

No reporting

It’s not possible to generate utilisation or profitability reports. If you can’t see utilisation levels, ie how busy people are, then it can lead to poor control of staffing capacity, lost revenues and missed opportunities.

Mistakes are easy to make

I once worked in a company where someone, who didn’t understand the spreadsheet macros, accidentally deleted a whole week of bookings while trying to add some extra calendar entries. A very angry company-wide email then went out to try and find out who did it. Oops!

Meetings are toxic

As 37Signals say, meetings are toxic. Complex, clumsy spreadsheets lead to an increased need for more resource planning meetings. A 1 hour weekly resource meeting of 10 people with a billable rate of let’s say $100 per hour each costs a company $4,0000 per month in time that could be spent on billable work.

Vacations are hard to track

Spreadsheets are often controlled by a project or resource manager who doesn’t always know when people are on holiday or when they have to go to a dentist appointment. It would be much better if resources could add this info themselves.

Do we have someone with HTML5 skills available next week?

Spreadsheets usually have no details about people’s skills. They usually just have a name and maybe a job title. This can make finding the right resource for the job pretty tricky.

Cryptic codes

You typically need to add the following for each booking:

  • Project
  • Client
  • Hours booked
  • Name of person who made the booking
  • Job number

Try fitting all this into a tiny spreadsheet cell – not easy. So, what you often end up with is something that looks like this – “3 (FS) Coca Cola BTGD #93YJ8DS”. Slightly cryptic isn’t it? Who or what is FS? What project is BTGD? Now, what if you have 3 or 4 bookings for one resource on one day? Now imagine this type of info repeated every day for the next few  weeks just for this one resource. Then, if you have 20 or so resources,  you end up with quite a complex looking spreadsheet! You’ll find yourself scrolling up and down, left  and right trying to find dates and compare different resources with each  other. Not very friendly is it? Not only that but these things are also typed in manually and inconsistently. This makes it impossible to search and find bookings for particular projects. I think you get the point!

Simultaneous users

Lots of companies use spreadsheets that can’t be accessed by several people at the same time. This is a serious issue because people can’t add or edit their requirements as and when they arise which causes serious inefficiencies and mistakes. People have to wait for other people to close the file before they can progress. This can lead to time that isn’t booked resulting in missed deadlines which have a knock-on affect on client satisfaction. Google spreadsheets can help to solve this problem but it still suffers from all the other problems above.

testimonial saatchi

Bad for business

When you have inefficient resource bookings, it has all sorts of  knock-on effects. It slows project managers down when they’re planning projects. This  means that projects take longer which, in turn, affects clients who  can’t understand why it takes you so long to get things done. This then  affects your ability to win repeat business. In addition, if resources  don’t know what they’re meant to be working on, this can have a huge  effect on efficiency and the company’s profits.

When I worked as a freelancer in a number of different companies, I encountered this type of dreaded spreadsheet all over the place – and people really hated them. It was only when I discussed it with my co-founder, Percy, that we decided we just had to build a better tool.

Meet Resource Guru

We plan to breathe fresh air into the stale old world of resource scheduling. After extensive research and development, we believe we have created a kick-ass web app with a simple, user-friendly interface. And it’s coming soon!

Resource Guru will help you quickly add, move and delete bookings while bringing a smile to your face – we hope! :) It will be available to customers through a very affordable monthly subscription fee.

There will be loads of other great features that I can’t talk about just yet. If you’re experiencing this problem or have any particular needs, please feel free to comment below. It’d be good to hear from you.

To find out when we go live, just sign up on our homepage.

Hi, I'm Andrew, one of the co-founders of Resource Guru. Please feel free to leave comments or get in touch - I'd love to hear from you.