Resource management is easier said than done. In fact, it's the tetris of project management. Every project requires some serious efforts when it comes to planning, allocating, and scheduling resources. Think the last time you were about to take a new project. Did you know for sure who was going to execute on it, taking into account everyone’s skills and capacity? Were you able to distribute work fairly and evenly?
Research proves that lots of companies built on projects haven’t developed a thorough understanding of how to do it right. Shamefully, resource allocation and scheduling still remain a shot in the dark rather than a set of intelligent decisions. Yet the need to learn to master it is paramount for contributing to the success of your project and a company as a whole.
We’ve made this practical guide to help you take the plunge and become a better version of a resource manager that can maximize efficiency without putting a strain on people and finances.
So what is resource management, exactly? Resource management is a process that covers pre-planning, allocating, monitoring, and optimizing resources to maximize operational efficiency. In most cases, “resource” is a nerdy management way to speak for a person (referring to human resource management), but it can also stand for material objects and facilities, depending on which industry you’re in.
Whatever you need to complete your project falls in the category of resources. Knowledge-heavy companies, such as digital agencies, consulting businesses, or software shops would mostly rely on human skills, while for a construction company, special equipment would also count as a resource.
Now that we’ve explained the definition of resource management, let’s look into its objectives. The ultimate goal of resource management is to ensure that the company is operating at its full capacity with no one sitting on the bench idle, and vice versa, having too many tasks their schedules can’t fit in.
It’s important to note that resource management is not micromanagement. It doesn’t aim to observe every move staff members make. Resource management seeks to solve a completely different problem, such as leaving employees with tasks they have skills to do, so they can feel empowered. Projects don't just need enough resources, they need enough of the right resources.
To say the least, resource management answers the question who can be booked and when. You could do all kinds of planning, but without available resources, your ability to deliver projects on time and on budget would be a wild guess.
At the same time, it creates transparency and visibility into your current workloads and capacity. The overview of resources can help you make the most of your team’s time, spot resource shortages, and solve various conflicts.
Well-rounded resource management is also a way to set realistic goals and map out when things can be done. It forges superhuman organizations, as you become better at predicting deadlines.
Well-established resource management processes get everyone into the habit of planning work fairly and efficiently, taking procrastination out of the picture. Shedding light on the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, you can then fine-tune your plans and make better promises to future clients.
In fact, having resource management closely tied with projects, executives can tell which roles bring in the most revenue and profit to their companies.
We’re sure that companies practicing resource management experience even more benefits than stated above, as it gives them visibility into the bandwidth and informs their hiring decisions.
Efficient use of resources comes with many challenges. In the ideal project scenario, every resource has a schedule and is assigned to tasks in a way that doesn’t cross the boundaries of their work hours. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
But on closer inspection, there’s more to it than you might think, especially if you need to oversee and manage hundreds of such schedules with thousands of tasks. So it’s not just a matter of delegating assignments. There are other factors that affect the process, like resource availability, estimations, dependencies, priorities, change requests.
Seeing only the tip of the iceberg, managers often make a mistake allocating resources by virtue of situations. Strategic resource management decisions that should take into account resource utilization and billability rates are often ignored:
The fundamental need to have the right people in the right place at the right time is difficult to consistently meet. There are many reasons for these difficulties, but organizations often create an environment where challenges are more likely to occur simply by not being strategic enough in their approach to resource management. - Dennis, CEO at Forecast
Now couple it with the fact that on average, one resource is assigned to as many as 18(!) projects simultaneously, as proven by Forecast’s recent survey. In this scenario, resource management may turn into a nightmare without a process put in place.
There are a number of principles that become critical success factors in resource management. For starters, this is the mantra you need to follow:
My resources’ workloads are balanced.
Nobody is idle or overallocated.
Nobody is spreading themselves too thin.
None of my team members is expected to be in two places simultaneously.
Every team member has a clear understanding of priorities.
Tasks aren’t delegated to the same people over and over.
Everyone has access to the project timeline to see their contribution to the big picture.
The communication lines are open.
Everyone is aware of the need to register time and is doing so on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, none of the above can be achieved without the right tools.
When putting your shoulder to the wheel, you have to know one golden rule of resource management: spreadsheets have no happy endings. This is not to say that you can’t use them. Of course you can, but as your company will start scaling, overlapping a spreadsheet over spreadsheet is not the best solution, as sooner or later you’ll lose the big picture.
Even if you’re not much of a resource manager, state-of-the-art resource management tools can be a great help in connecting all resource puzzles together and regaining control of resources. When choosing a software vendor, we always highly advise everyone to look for full-suite platforms that can accommodate you with all the necessary functionalities.
A good resource management system is connected with projects and timesheets, rather than designed to manage narrow slices of projects. It then gives you the power to reduce admin tasks, improve the reliability of data, and streamline reporting.
Project and resource management software with a real-time overview of the entire portfolio of resources could not only give you a snapshot of who’s fully booked with work or underallocated, but also inform your hiring decisions by answering the following questions:
Is there a person available for the date required by the client?
Where can I adjust to meet the deadline?
Can my schedule squeeze in another project?
If you are resource-strapped and there’s no holistic overview of who’s doing what, it will help you introduce clarity into your capacity, among other benefits.
To master the art of resource management, it’s critical that you shine at each process involved. Namely, it’s resource planning, resource allocation, resource scheduling, and resource tracking each with its twist and turns. In this section, we’ll look at them and present some of the best resource management practices out there.
Effective resource management starts with resource planning. Every new project involves planning so that only available resources are assigned to it. Together with other project management initiatives, it can save companies 28 times more money, according to Project Management Institute. This is achieved through organizing your company’s people and time in the most efficient way.
Resource planning always goes hand-in-glove with scoping a project. Before drilling down to specific people, it’s always easier to identify the roles needed for each project milestone first, and move to making the next decisions from there.
Once you’ve decided on roles, to get the full benefits of resource planning, you need to know your resource availability months in advance, and the only way to do so is by keeping track of every project in your pipeline and connecting it with the resource calendar, like we do in Forecast below. This includes a real-time view of current project and task allocations together with leave days:
The heatmap gets you a long way in knowing what your full scope of resources is doing and who will be available for the required date. What’s more, it calculates utilization levels, so you can stay on top of everyone’s allocations.
A resource management plan is not only a good way to illustrate who will be working on the project, it’s beneficial for predicting the price of the project, calculating the profit, and keeping projects on budget. Start a free trial of Forecast to check resource plan examples.
Let’s assume you’ve identified the roles necessary to deliver the project. The next step on your list will be to figure out if you have people with the right skills at your disposal to allocate to the project. At this point, gaps in resource availability are identified.
Most of the time, allocating resources involves collaboration with multiple different departments, as project managers rarely have people that report to them. This is where the nightmare often begins. When the company is not using a single platform for resource allocations and every department has a disparate spreadsheet, it’s hardly possible to find assignees. Couple it with the urgency of other projects and dependencies. Forecast’s survey, for example, has shown that companies delivering services typically run 43 projects at the same time.
To make critical resource allocation decisions amidst all these factors, you must think both holistically and granularly. Make a ballpark estimate on how many hours the project will require and then work back from it, or use a bottom-up approach, estimating tasks first. What we can tell from the data in our system is that an average digital project lasts for 167 days. Check our full perspective on resource allocation best practices here.
Resource scheduling is the process of assigning people to tasks and identifying dependencies. It enables you to monitor a project from start to finish and assess delays. Every task should have a start and end dates, assignees, and an estimate to contribute to the project timeline efficiently.
To succeed with resource scheduling, you must first and foremost pay attention to two things: priorities and capacity. Define what should come first on a timeline, and don’t overlook the need to calculate if your task duration corresponds to a normal daily, weekly or monthly schedule of a resource. The span of a task should never exceed the person’s capacity, as it further results in overtime and frustration.
Projects often have surges of activity and work. It's not always a steady level of workload throughout the whole project, and as a famous saying goes, anything that might go wrong, will go wrong. Project plans are never perfect, neither are resource plans. In fact, our in-house research has shown that 71% of tasks are created after the project start date. What does this mean for your resources? At all times, it has meant one thing: you need to get better at optimizing where your people spend time and looking into their workloads, because there will be occasions of peaks and troughs, as on the following image:
To address different resource constraints, you may benefit from using resource optimization techniques, such as resource leveling or resource smoothing. In general, they solve the roadblocks such as delays, over-allocation, or budget overruns as you go along with the project. Read our guide dedicated to the long and short of resource leveling here.
How do you know if you’re utilizing resources effectively? As resource management is a complex process that involves so many different things, there are multiple metrics that extrapolate the progress from resource activities and measure everyone’s efficiency. Here are some key metrics worth paying attention to, especially in companies delivering services:
Resource utilization, a common north-star metric used to see the percentage of time people spend productively.
Revenue per employee, an important ratio measuring how much money each employee generates for the firm.
Cost and schedule variance, not measuring individual performance, but indicating if the team is ahead or behind the project plan.
To wrap it up, you might have the impression that the secret weapon to effective resource management is in the ability to be everywhere at once. To some extent, this is true. You should always keep your fingers on the pulse of the workloads, at the same time looking deeper into everyone’s skills and capacity. To juggle multiple things successfully and never lose vigilance over what’s happening, you’ll eventually come to the point where you’ll need a real-time solution, capable of organizing data across the entire resource pool for you. Only then you can focus on tasks technology can’t replace yet - creating a culture of psychological safety and openness that supports people.