Imagine you could peel back the roof from two fictional businesses to gain a bird’s-eye view of how they manage their projects.
In the first business we see people sitting at their desks watching Youtube videos while they wait for work to be assigned; those that are needed are working on projects that are not a great match to their skills, and the remaining few have so much work piled up they’re going to be in the office all weekend. Unsurprisingly, this business’s projects are often delivered late and their clients are unhappy.
Now let’s take a look at the second business. We see happy people working on projects that match their skills and availability. By 7pm this office is quiet – everyone left some time ago to relax with their friends and families. Their projects are efficient, executing on time and budget. What’s the primary difference between these two firms?
The effectiveness of their resource management.
Table of Contents
- Resource management
- Resource and project planning
- Resource scheduling
- Allocating resources
- Managing Availability
- Vacations, sick days and other kinds of leave
- Monitoring resource utilization
- Tools of the trade: resource management software
Resource management: defined
Resource management is the process of efficiently and effectively deploying an organization’s resources where they are needed. The ‘resources’ in this context can cover people (this is often referred to as human resources), financial, inventory, production and information technology (IT) resources. For the purposes of this guide we’ll be focused mainly on managing people.
Why we need to manage resources
We manage resources because they are scarce; even the Apple and Alphabet’s of this world are limited in the way they deploy the vast resources under their control. Every new project we start involves a series of decisions and tradeoffs – if we use a resource in one area, it’s not going to be available for use in another area; if we spend money on one project, that money isn’t going to be available for another project.
“Lost time is never found again.” – Benjamin Franklin
How can we manage resources?
Over time, a number of systems and techniques have been developed to help us plan and allocate resources more effectively. We’re going to explore these in more detail throughout this guide.
Resource management in action
- How an award-winning team at Specsavers improved efficiency and boosted morale
- Managing resources more effectively at Publicis
Resource and project planning
We’ll start with resource planning, a process where we will identify all of the resources we will need to bring your project home on time and budget.
What is a resource management plan?
Regardless of whether you start your plan from scratch or with a template, the idea of a resource management plan is to take some time to map out the number and type of resources required for each element of your project. The plan isn’t going to be perfect – as we’ll discuss later, there are many reasons why your plans can change during the implementation stage – but rather to try and decreases the odds of luck being the primary factor in your project’s success or failure.
“Luck is for the ill-prepared”- Arnold Schwarzenegger
Where planning gets difficult
1. Your resources will probably be involved with multiple projects at any one time.
There is a good chance your team-members are going to be working on multiple projects, which means they will have competing priorities and changing availability.
2. As projects increase in complexity, so do the chances they will suffer some sort of delay or setback.
For example, a late change in a project’s requirements means you may need to take on new resources at short notice, or you may need to use existing resources for longer than initially planned. These changes are likely to have further knock-on effects, requiring modifications to the plans and schedules of downstream projects.
3. Throwing additional resources at a problem might make things worse.
Summed up well by Brooke’s Law, which states that “adding human resources to a late software project makes it later”. It takes time for someone newly added to a project to become productive, so if you find yourself under-resourced midway through you can’t simply add additional people and expect everything to work out.
Fortunately there is a way we can minimise these potential issues: resource scheduling.
After creating a plan outlining the number and types of resources required for a project, we can move on to seeing how this plan fits within our resource schedule.
Our schedule gives us a high-level view of our resources, along with the work that has been assigned to them. This visibility makes it easier to view our resources relative availability so we can adapt to situations within projects as they change.
With the schedule in view, we can move on allocating project work to our resources.
As the name suggests, resource allocation is the process of efficiently assigning resources to project work across your schedule. Using our project plan and resource schedule as starting points, we want to find the most suitable resources that will be available at the times needed, and then assign project work to them. For example, if our plan tells us we’ll need a designer in the second week of our project we can look through our resource schedule for designers, find a designer with availability for the work, and then allocate the work to them.
“Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” – Steve Jobs
When allocating people to projects we need to consider their availability – whether they will actually be around when needed to do the work. Do they work 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday, or do they have a different schedule? They may have a series of ongoing projects taking up a chunk of time each week, while still being available to work half-time on new projects. These are all important factors to take into account when allocating resources.
We also need to remember that people aren’t robots, and while they may be at work for 8 hours per day that doesn’t mean they have 8 hours of productivity available. Lunch and coffee breaks, meetings, and other distractions all quickly add up to decrease the amount of time people will be available for work. If you don’t take this into account then you’re quickly run into another problem – overallocation.
Overallocation occurs when a resource is allocated work that causes them to work beyond their normal capacity. When people are forced to work late and on the weekends to try and keep up with an excess of work, the long-term outcomes are sadly predictable – decreased morale, leading to eventual burnout and increased staff turnover.
The solution is to set realistic expectations for both your projects and your resource’s availability.
Managing vacation, sick days and other kinds of staff leave
Another factor that can sneak up on project managers is time off. Planning a project and allocating resources on your schedule is a good start, but if you haven’t taken into account holidays, maternity and paternity leave and other types of time off then you’re leaving yourself open for some nasty surprises. The easiest way to to make sure your resource scheduling tool has a leave management system that shows time off alongside project bookings, so you can take future time off into account while you are allocating resources.
Taking time off soon? Grab our handy Project handover template
Monitoring resource utilization
Resource utilization is calculated by dividing time allocated to projects by a resource’s availability. A utilization rate of 100% would indicate that a resource is fully utilised – that is, every moment of availability has been allocated. While this seems like a good target it’s important to remember that if your resources are fully allocated then you won’t have any slack in the system when things change, like when someone is sick or an important meeting changes dates. On the flip-side, low utilization shows your resources are not being used effectively – like most things in life, it’s best to aim for balance.
Now that we understand the basics of resource allocation and utilization we can take a look at tools designed to help you manage resources more efficiently.
- 5 Ways top project managers allocate their resources
- 9 Women can’t make a baby in a month
- Are you treating your staff like robots?
- Why Wunderman Colombia allocate projects with Resource Guru
Tools of the trade: resource management software
In days gone by you may have scheduled your team on paper or a whiteboard, and even today, many organizations try to make do using scheduling with a spreadsheet or by sharing subscriptions to each other’s calendars. These approaches might work in the beginning, but as projects scale in size and complexity you’ll start to encounter problems.
Moving from spreadsheets to specialized tools
As an example, let’s say you’re planning a project that will need 10 people, out of a total resource pool of 100 people. Each person is unique: they have a set of skills, experience and varying availability, all of which will impact their ability to take on new projects.
If you try to schedule many people on a spreadsheet you’re going to quickly run into trouble. The first problem is the initial allocation: how will you find the right person for each element of the project? Specialized resource scheduling software will usually give you the ability to filter your schedule by your resource skills, letting you see who 1) has the skills required and 2) is available for the work. By comparison, spreadsheets were not designed for scheduling, and if there’s a long list of resources it can become very difficult to navigate around and get a clear picture of what’s going on.
You’ll run into further problems whenever a resource’s availability changes, like when someone is sick, or an important meeting is moved. Not only is it difficult to manage resource availability on a spreadsheet, but actually moving a booking from one resource to another takes some effort – try copying and pasting a multi-day booking from row 5 to row 55 and you’ll understand what I mean. It’s much easier (and faster) to simply drag and drop bookings as needed within your resource management software.
Time and cost savings
When you add up the potential time saved using a dedicated tool over a spreadsheet you’ll quickly see large savings in both time and cost. As an example, if resource management software helps a team of 25 people charged out at an average hourly rate of $112 to save just 15m each per day, the company will end up saving 125 hours, or $14,000, per month.
Discover how much you could save when you scheduling resources with Resource Guru
Resource scheduling in practice
- Scheduling projects at Isobel London
- Scheduling international projects with Swiss Post Solutions
- Scheduling a TV station with Resource Guru