Resource Smoothing Steps, Templates and Tools


Managing resources effectively is one way to deliver your projects on time and within budget. But what do you do when you don’t have enough resources and the deadline is quickly beating down on you? Project managers use a technique called resource smoothing.

What is resource smoothing? We’ll get to that in a moment and show how it differs from resource leveling as well as when to use it. There are many benefits to resource smoothing, which we’ll explain, and then provide the steps so you can use in your project.

What Is Resource Smoothing?

Resource smoothing is a time-constraint scheduling technique that helps to optimize resources and deliver a project without having to change the deadline. It can involve anything from hiring more team members to changing the scope of the project to stay on schedule. There are several things a project manager can do, but the goal is always the same: meeting the deadline without resources spiking or falling.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK), published by the Project Management Institute (PMI) refers to resource smoothing as “a technique that adjusts the activities of a schedule model such that the requirements for resources on the project do not exceed certain predefined resource limits.” You’ll find that resource smoothing is used in projects with resource conflicts, especially when work is prioritized.

Project management software helps with resource management. ProjectManager is award-winning project management software that helps you plan, manage and track resources in real time. Our resource management features include a color-coded workload chart. Not only can you keep your team’s workload balanced to have them working at capacity, but you can easily see their allocation and re-allocate them as needed for resource smoothing. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's workload chart
ProjectManager’s color-coded workload chart helps with resource smoothing. Learn more.

Resource Smoothing vs. Resource Leveling

Resource smoothing is but one of many resource optimization techniques. One of the more popular resource optimization techniques used by project managers is resource-leveling. It’s different from resource smoothing in multiple ways.

Resource leveling adjusts the project schedule, that is the start and end dates of the project so it can be completed with the available resources. This allows for a balance between the demand and the availability of resources, which avoids team burnout.

Therefore, resource smoothing and resource leveling differ in that the former is time-constraint scheduling and the latter is resource-constraint scheduling. Resource leveling is used when resources are limited and it can extend the project’s deadline, which means the project lasts longer.

Resource smoothing is used with deadlines that are strict and can’t be fudged. It can also mean having to increase your resources, such as hiring contractors to speed up the work. That means that the project cost can increase as opposed to the project taking a longer time as in resource-leveling.

When to Use Resource Smoothing

Resource smoothing is used when there’s a time constraint in the project, such as a hard deadline that cannot be missed. On the other hand, resource smoothing is also appropriate when the schedule is delayed and the work must now be completed over a longer period.

What you have to do in either situation is use the free and total float to meet the new deadline. By total float, we mean the length of time that an activity can be postponed without changing the project’s deadline. Free float is a period in which you can postpone an activity without delaying any start dates for its dependent tasks.

Therefore, you’ll use resource smoothing when the deadline can’t be changed and the critical path doesn’t change. It’s also useful when dealing with an uneven resource allocation and those resources must be allocated within a set timeline.

Benefits of Resource Smoothing

While resource smoothing isn’t without its drawbacks, such as the cost of adding resources, it has many benefits that make it a great tool to help manage your resources. Here are a few of the benefits of resource smoothing.

Doesn’t Affect the Project Critical Path

The critical path is used to identify the essential tasks that must be completed for the project to be successful. Resource smoothing doesn’t affect the critical path. Four factors will affect the critical path, such as estimations, task dependencies, set milestones to reach and critical deadlines, none of which are impacted by resource smoothing.

Helps Complete Projects on Time

Because resource smoothing doesn’t change the deadline to the project, only the resources used to get there, you’ll always be able to complete your project as scheduled. This is beneficial for projects that are tied to a tight timeline and need to meet it, such as delivering a project to the market when demand is high.

Allows Project Managers and Teams to Respond to Sudden Project Delivery Date Changes

Resource smoothing will help project managers and their teams when there are changes to delivery dates. That’s because it can add resources to ensure that those new dates are met.

Resource Smoothing Steps

To use resource smoothing in your project, you’ll need to follow these six steps.

1. Create a Project Schedule

First, you have to have a project schedule that organizes all your project tasks and guides your resource scheduling efforts. Each task should have a start date and an end date, which is its duration. You’ll also want to link all the dependent tasks. That is, tasks that cannot start or stop until another task has started or stopped.

2. Identify the Critical Path of Your Project

As mentioned above, the critical path is a method to analyze your project and determine which tasks are essential to the timely delivery of the project. These, then, are tasks that cannot be delayed or skipped, which also means that you now know those tasks that can be avoided if time is an issue.

3. Find the Float or Slack for Each Project Task

Float, also called slack, is the amount of time that a task can be delayed without negatively impacting the other tasks in the schedule or the deadline of the final delivery of the project. This is helpful as the project’s duration can’t change, but float lets you see which activities can be rescheduled.

4. Assign Tasks to Your Team Members

Once the schedule is done, the critical path found as well as any float for each project task, you’re able to start executing the project. This means that all the tasks you have scheduled will need to be assigned to a team member. You’ll need to be sure they’re available and then not over-allocate them, which will blunt their productivity and could even erode morale.

5. Use Float or Slack Time to Reallocate Resources if Needed

As you need to, resources can be reallocated by knowing the float time you’ve calculated for each task. Since you know the amount of time each task can be postponed without affecting the final deadline of the project, you can re-allocate your resources to keep the project’s deadline intact.

6. Track Resource Utilization Throughout the Project

For resource smoothing to work, project managers need to monitor their resource utilization. This is an ongoing process throughout the execution of the project. Real-time data will help one respond quickly to resource issues as they arise.

Resource Management Templates

Project management software is recommended for resource management, but if you’re not ready to upgrade we have dozens of free project management templates for Excel and Word that you can download to manage every aspect of your project. The following are those free templates that will help with your resource management.

Resource Plan Template

Our free resource plan template for Excel helps you identify, list and organize your human resources. You can organize them by team member, task, department, rate and overall cost. Then schedule them on our weekly or monthly calendar.

Gantt Chart Template

Gantt charts organize your tasks, resources and show your entire project on a visual timeline. But they’re notoriously difficult to build. Not with our free Gantt chart template for Excel. On the left is a spreadsheet to list your tasks and their durations, which are then automatically mapped on the timeline to the right.

Work Breakdown Structure Template

In order to know what tasks you’ll need to complete your project use our free work breakdown structure (WBS) template for Excel. It helps you identify all project deliverables and, in so doing, the tasks needed to create them.

How ProjectManager Helps With Project Resource Management

Our free templates are a great way to start managing your resource, but, like all templates, they fall short of a resource management process. That’s because they’re static documents that pull you away from the project to manually update them. ProjectManager is award-winning project management software that helps you monitor your resource utilization in real time to more effectively manage your whole project. You can see the availability of your human resources, which makes it easier to assign them tasks.

Track Tasks and Resources with Gantt Charts

When planning your resources use our robust Gantt chart to organize your tasks and the human and nonhuman resources needed to execute them. You can see the whole project on a visual timeline and then link all four types of task dependencies to avoid costly delays. It’s easy to find the critical path on our Gantt chart tool. There are no complicated calculations, just filter the Gantt to see those essential tasks. Then set a baseline and you can now track your planned resource use against your actual resource use in real time.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
Use Timesheets to Track Labor Costs

Another way to monitor your human resources is with our timesheets. These are secure timesheets that lock when submitted and streamline your payroll process. But they can also be used to track how much time your team members are spending on executing their tasks and how far they’ve gone, including how much it costs. This can help capture tasks that are falling behind and threatening your budget, which you can then reallocate resources to get that work back on track.

ProjectManager's timesheet

There are more ways to monitor your resources with our software. You can get a high-level overview of the project with our real-time dashboard, which tracks time, cost and workload, among other metrics, and doesn’t require any complicated setup like lightweight tools. For more details, use our customizable reporting features to get status reports, or portfolio reports if you’re managing multiple projects, and reports on variance, workload, timesheets and more.

ProjectManager is cloud-based project management software that connects teams whether they’re in the office, out in the field or anywhere in the world. They can share files, comment at the task level and stay updated with email notifications and in-app alerts. Join teams at Avis, Nestle and Siemens who use our software to deliver successful projects. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.