“I’m allocated at 125%,” my project lead sighed as he pointed to the column on the Gantt chart. The project lead was not alone: All of the other team members had similar percentages in the same column. At the time, resource allocation was just another undecipherable column on a Gantt chart for all of us.
Sure, he was a busy guy, and in fact, every member of his team did the work of two to three people. So management decided to explore resource allocation in order to get a better grasp of how much people were working in terms of numbers—rather than relying on idle complaints.
Resource allocation (also called resource management) is the process of assigning team members and assets (like hardware) to balance the competing needs and priorities of a team. Management then determines the most effective course of action to maximize the effective use of limited resources and gain the best return on investment.
Resource allocation 101
Technology, like project management software, isn’t the sole resolution to resource allocation issues. It starts with knowing your staff and their roles. During my first exposure to resource allocation, we tried to answer the following questions for people on the team:
- Which team members do we need for the project?
- Who are the best people to fill those project roles?
- What tools do we have that can measure our resource allocation?
- What’s the best way to communicate our resource allocation?
- What are we forgetting?
Where resource allocation can break down is with communication. The practice of allocating resources was a foreign concept in the company at that time. Educating people (especially management) was a critical part of getting it accepted as a part of the project planning process.
One way to start communicating this need is to write a formal resource allocation plan. However, it’s a plan you might only find in larger, more established project management offices. A formal resource allocation plan might include:
- Resource allocation decisions
- Prioritizing tasks
- Allocating resources to those tasks
- Making business decisions around why resources aren’t allocated to other tasks
- Identifying tasks that need funding
- identifying tasks that don’t need funding
- Contingencies (aka, “Plan B”)
- Ranking prioritized tasks
- Identifying must-have staff for a given task
- identifying tasks that are transferable to other team members
If formal resource allocation reports aren’t an option, then I recommend that project managers and their teams speak to most of these points through internal project reporting and other communications channels.
Resource allocation for business and pleasure
When managing resources effectively, you need to take into account the work/life balance of your employees—even if the team and corporate culture relishes 50-60 hour workweeks. For example, my adventure into learning about resource allocation happened because the project lead had family issues to attend to and the architect was recovering from back surgery. These circumstances affected our project timeline.
However, outside of work/life balance, part-time employees, contractors, and freelancers are another reason to manage resource allocation since these workers are often tied closer to budget caps than full-time salaried employees.
A competitive market, the economy, and all kinds of other hidden factors may also complicate resource allocation. Too little work in your team’s project pipeline is also an issue that resource leveling can help. Team members not fully dedicated to a billable project can be shifted to a range of other tasks, which can include:
- Providing technical support to the sales team
- Assisting with proposal development
- Working with the marketing team to support corporate thought leadership including blog posts and article interviews
- Developing, improving and even documenting internal team processes
Allocating resources across projects
Where resource allocation gets truly complex is across multiple projects. Every organization has developers, engineers or other staff who are always in demand. The downsizings, acquisitions and other economic issues of previous years have made “do more with less” a mantra across companies big and small. The appropriate use of managing resources lets project managers schedule staff across different projects based on project priorities.
Enter resource leveling—and scheduling improvements
Nobody ever complains about having just enough work. Complaints start when people have too little or too much work. So, you need to follow up resource allocation with resource leveling. A project management team needs to examine resource leveling if just for sanity’s sake.
PMBOK defines “resource leveling” as the following:
“Any form of schedule network analysis in which scheduling decisions (start and finish dates) are driven by resource constraints (e.g., limited resource availability or difficult-to-manage changes in resource availability levels).”
Today’s cloud-based collaboration and project management platforms enable teams to have a greater amount of transparency into team member availability. This is in contrast to the days when information was locked in desktop project management applications. Now, managers and executive stakeholders can get a dashboard view into resource allocation amongst other project team data. I hope today’s generation of cloud-based project management applications democratize resource allocation; but I still think that project teams and their leaders need insight into what everyone is working on, and the level of effort involved in all of the tasks.
My first exposure to resource allocation, then later, resource leveling, was in an organization where project management was still maturing as a practice. Our team-based education into resource allocation and resource leveling led to some scheduling improvements over time. Overall, the improvements happened because the team could communicate resource allocation issues in terms that executives and non-project management staff could understand. Later on, tools and processes caught up to the issue.
Give your team an advantage
Resource allocation might always remain a challenge despite advancements in project management practices and platform technologies. However, if you and your team track the hours you work, keep scheduling concerns transparent amongst the team, and can communicate your resource allocation to management and others, then you’ll position yourselves ahead of the game—and ahead of other teams.
Tell us how you allocate resources in a way that makes a positive difference in your organization.