You’ve seen the reality TV shows. A person is air-dropped into the wilderness, with only one backpack filled with supplies. And with that one backpack (and maybe a camera man or two), they need to find their way home.
That, in a nutshell is resource management.
Your team or organization is like a backpack that holds a limited amount of people, equipment, or space (aka resources), and you can only build your product or run your project from that one source. Resource management is how you take those finite resources and organize them so you can successfully steer your project home.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, and it’s far more complicated than that.
Resource management involves creating plans and processes so that those resources can be managed. There are a number of ways to do this. You can create spreadsheets, documents, or use project management software (as long as it has planning and resource management features) or utilize a combination of all three. Your primary goal, whatever your method, will be to manage all your resources all the way through to the project’s completion, so that you manage the costs and the project timelines successfully.
This quick guide will how you just how to do that.
To better understand managing resources for projects and learn how to develop an effective resource plan for projects, we’ll first want to breakdown the different terms and processes that are often associated with the management of resources. Remember, resources can be human or non-human, like equipment or office space. It’s everything, in fact, that has a cost required to complete the project.
Just like every other aspect of project management, when you’re scheduling your resources you want to first start with a plan. This is the bedrock on which you’ll build your management process. Make a detailed list of all resources you think are needed to complete the project. The more detailed, the better. As this is a plan, you’ll want to involve others in this process, as certain team members might require additional resources than what you expect. Be sure to include essential and non-essential personnel and equipment. It’s better to plan for items and not ultimately require them, then have to scramble to, say, acquire an expensive piece of equipment at the last minute, and pay a premium price, accordingly. Resource planning, in short, is financial planning.
Resources Breakdown Structure (RBS)
Now that you have a completed list of the resources are needed to complete your project, you want to get them in some sort of order. You can create hierarchies of resources, also known as Resources Breakdown Structure (or, RBS), according to hiring organization (like a reporting structure or team hierarchy) or by geography (such as all the teams or equipment required in Asia or Africa). These basic hierarchies should include at least personnel and preferably all resources on which the project funds will be spent, but it’s up to you to define which type of hierarchies are relevant to your project. Note than an RBS differs from a Work Breakdown Structure in a typical project plan, which defines the tasks associated with core parts of a project.
Responsibility Assignment Matrix
With your resources listed and organized you can begin to start defining resources that have various levels of responsibility for completing project tasks or for the overall project. This is called a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (or RAM). Here is where you can clarify the roles and responsibilities over the entire project. You can break this down into who is responsible for doing what tasks, who owns that task, who can help if there are questions about the task and who needs to stay informed about the progress of this task. Many RAMs are simple charts with coded letters that define different functions of accountability, based on the RACI method. R stands for “Responsible”, A is “Accountable, C is “Consulted” and I is “Informed.” You can do this by individual or role, depending on the needs of the organization.
Overallocation simply means when a person is given too much work. They can’t finish it in the time you’ve scheduled or allocated for it to be completed. This can lead to overtime, which impacts the budget, or can block and even derail a project. It’s crucial that resources are balanced, so you’re going to need a way to stay on top of your team’s workload throughout the life cycle of the project.
A resources histogram can be used to provide a visual of the resources for anyone in the project who needs to stay in the loop. It’s a quick and easy way to view the allocation of your resources and note whether any are over- or under-allocated. You can then deal with the overallocated resource quickly, and reallocate as needed to someone who’s workload is lighter. In some project management software tools, however, this is more than a simple view. This is an actual scheduling tool to re-allocate work based on availability or over-allocation or under-allocation.
In the image above, you can see how in one view, you can see how many hours an individual resource has planned on which specific tasks, and whether they’re able to manage that workload. In simple color coding, with red signifying “over-allocated”, a manager can see in one view, who needs support and who needs more work. They can then change the task assignment or the hourly allocation right in this view.
Resource dependency refers to a theory that an organization should guard against having all their eggs in one team basket. That is, over-reliance on one team to accomplish core work, especially if it’s an external team, can lead to workload blocks and resource shortages. You want to plan against an unhealthy dependency on one team or one resource to accomplish the work.
You can mitigate this by distributing the work across multiple resources, or having backup plans if planned equipment resources should become unavailable. You also want to make sure your resources aren’t blocked by an over-dependence or over-reliance on one or more resources. If one team member has too many tasks and not the available time to get it all done, they could be blocking other people’s work. Remember, though, not every resource is only working on your project. They might have other work assigned to them. You need to be able to see across all their projects if you’re going to effectively manage resources. This is where Resource Leveling comes in handy.
Leveling resources is a juggling act, whereby you manage resource availability across a project or across multiple projects. It’s can be accomplished by extending the duration you had planned for certain tasks to be accomplished by adjusting the start and end dates, depending on whether you have the resources to complete them now or not. You want to have the right amount of resources for the time you’ve allotted to do the task. This is another way to avoid over- or under-allocating team members, which makes risks for the project and can burn out your team.
Creating a Plan
So those are the basic terms and processes. But how can you use them to create a process, schedule your resources throughout the project cycle, and monitor those resources within the boundaries of your budget, without overburdening them and risking team burnout? Lucky for you, we’ve covered the basics of resource planning before, and it can be distilled into a super basic three-step process:
First, note all your resources, including people, equipment and materials. Next, figure out how many of those resources are needed to get the project done. Finally, make a schedule for the resources. Drilling down, however, it’s important to make sure you have all the components of a good resource plan. It should include:
- All the resources necessary to complete the project. That’s everything from people to machines and even any office space you’ll need. Spend a good amount of time with this list, the more complete it is, the more accurate your schedule will be.
- Timeframes for the planned effort of each resource. By noting the duration of time needed for each resource, you have a clearer picture of how it will fit into your overall schedule.
- Number of each resources you’ll need per day/week/month. Again, you want to break your resource needs out on a daily, weekly and monthly rotation to better grasp what you’ll need and when.
- Quantity of resource hours required per day/week/month. You’ve figured how what you need, but how many hours for each of those resources are you going to allocate over time?
- Identify assumptions and constraints. An assumption is what you think might be true, while the constraints are the schedule, cost and scope of your project. So, you want to know what they are and how they’ll potentially impact your plan. Think strategically. Are you assuming a team will be available in 3 months? Do you know for a fact they won’t get assigned by another group leader for a separate project? Have you taken into account holidays and scheduling shifts? Identifying all your assumptions is a critical component to planning your resources wisely.
Pro Tip: Scheduling is a crucial aspect to managing your resources. But you need visibility. In order to align your resources with up-to-date work schedules, you need visibility across all their projects as well as their holiday calendars. Make sure your PM tools give you resource availability features so you can plan accordingly.
That’s the plan. Now you need to actively manage your resources in the midst of your project.
You can do this when you have visibility into resource availability and workload. Because work shifts from person to person, as people collaborate back and forth, work can easily end up on the shoulders of only a few key team members. This can mean others are sitting idle waiting for them to reply or toss the work back. You need to be able to monitor those workflow trends and be able to quickly reallocate idle resources.
So how do you do this? There are four ways you can keep on top of resources workload.
1. Manage work schedule calendars actively.
You need to be able to track hourly and daily availability of individual resources, as well as track their planned holidays and vacations. Be sure to take into account global or regional time differences, as well as different global holidays that might differ from your home office holiday calendar.
2. Monitor progress on Gantt and dashboard.
You can also consult the planned versus actual progress of your overall project to get a head’s up if there’s a problem with resources. A Gantt progress bar should tell you how much progress is being made on a specific task according to the planned effort. You can see an instance of that in the image below, where the orange bar has a white line showing progress of all the sub-tasks underneath. You can also see whether progress is made on individual tasks with shading on the larger task bars. In this view, all the these tasks are completed as planned.
You should also be able to get a view of the whole project’s progress both by looking at a rolled up view of the Gantt tasks or on a dashboard report. If you’re falling behind, usually moving around resources is a way to get back on track.
3. Review workload allocation.
The team’s workload is another metric you’re going to need to keep close. If all the work is being laid on the shoulders of only a few team members, while the others are idle, then you’re going to need to reallocate your resources. Another way of looking at this is leveling your resources by ensuring that they are equally distributed across your team. Checking on workload is a daily part of keeping your resources well-allocated.
4. Get resource reports to monitor productivity.
When you’re watching your resources in real-time, and the project’s success is on the line, then you’re going to need to make decisions swiftly. Use your reporting feature of your project management tool to produce reports on resource allocation, as well as task progress by individual. It’s important to monitor resources regularly with deep dives into data to measure productivity KPIs like output and actual effort.
Remember, resource management is heavily linked to your scheduling and management of your project management schedule. These are different but complementary disciplines, and the more holistically you approach managing your resources, the more you’ll be able to act in a timely manner to keep your project moving towards success, on time and within budget.
Therefore, you want to have the right tools to keep you informed of your resources while the project is in progress, whether that’s collecting data in an Excel spreadsheet or a more robust online PM tool. Using an online Gantt chart gives you a visual view into the project’s tasks, their durations, and whatever dependencies are linking one task to another, so you’re able to note bottlenecks and easily reallocated resources to get the project back on track.
When you’re managing resources on a project, there’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and that process can get complicated and confusing. However, with the right online tool you’re able to plan, monitor and report on your resources with great control and accuracy. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that gives you the tools you need to steer your project to a successful completion. Try it for yourself