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5 Tips for Resource Allocation

Resource AllocationOne of the hardest parts of project management is dealing with resource management. That’s supported by findings in the latest ESI survey on the Global State of the PMO, which concludes that resource management comes out top of the list of challenges facing PMOs today.

Resource management is also an issue for project managers trying to deliver work successfully through securing the right resources for the job and allocating them effectively. Before we get in to how to make that easier, let’s first clarify what we’re talking about.

What are resources?

Resources include:

  • People
  • Equipment
  • Materials and other supplies
  • Venues such as training rooms or testing labs

There might be other resources specific to your project. Generally, when project managers talk about struggling with resource management they mean allocating people to the right work at the right time.

Here are five tips to help:

1. Use Activity Resource Requirements

While you might have heard of Activity Resource Requirements as a formal output of one of the processes in the PMBOK® Guide, you don’t need to be following that approach in order to get benefit from this useful tool.

Activity Resource Requirements simply describe the type of resources and how many of each of them you need to do the project work. You can create them as a simple list. Note down the task reference (use the work breakdown structure reference if you have one) then in the next column add the type of resource you need to do the task. Then add further columns to note the quantity required and any other comments.

This helps with resource allocation because you can’t allocate what you don’t know you need.

2. Use Resource Calendars

When you book a meeting room it’s likely that you consult a shared diary to see when it’s free and then reserve it for your meeting. That’s a resource calendar.

Calendars tell you when your resources are available to be used by your project. For non-human resources like cement mixers or the office projector you can consult a shared diary and book them out for when you need them. If the equipment isn’t available on the days that you require, it’s easy to spot and then you can make alternative plans, such as hiring another one or changing the day that you need it to a day that it is available.

For human resources it’s a bit harder. You probably have an electronic diary that makes it clear to your colleagues what you are doing when, but when you work on a project you won’t book out the hours available to that project in your diary. You book out meetings, or perhaps quiet time to prepare documentation or catch up with your plans. When you look through a team member’s diary you aren’t going to find three clear weeks where you can book them to carry out system testing.

The alternative for people is to use resource calendars at the level of the PMO. These are high level calendars that flag the start and end dates of major chunks of the project. They don’t specify who is doing what at a task level but they will say that Mel is booked for Project X until September, when she has a four-week gap before someone else has got her tentatively allocated for the launch phase of another project.

Resource calendars are useful when you are trying to find out who is available to work on the project because they give you a big picture view of who you can allocate to your tasks. You’ll have to work with each individual at a more detailed level to allocate them to individual activities, but at least it’s a start.

Resource Management3. Use Software

There are dozens of apps that purport to being able to manage your resource allocation for you. The most important feature is that they show when someone is over- or under-allocated. This information is useful because it lets you give them more work or take tasks away from them so they don’t drown under the burden of what you have asked them to do.

Time tracking apps (I know – timesheets aren’t the most popular decision you’ll make as a project manager!) will also help you understand where time is going and therefore be able to manage your resourcing of tasks more effectively.

4. Have a Regular Routine

Resource management is like any aspect of project management: you plan it, and then it changes. Build a regular ‘resource check’ into your project management activities. For example, every Friday run through the charts that your software shows you and check that no one is going to be struggling next week.

You can also do this verbally in your team meetings: ask if any team members have issues with what they have been allocated to do, and talk about upcoming holidays. This is helpful as it lets you plan in advance, and you’ll get information that you should have got weeks ago.

Checking in with the team leaders is also good as they’ll be able to take a view on their team overall. The resource allocated to your team might be at risk of being pulled off the project to help manage business as usual work because someone else is on paternity leave or suddenly off sick. Projects can stall because business as usual comes first (as it should – if you can’t keep the business ticking over, there’s not much point in doing projects to change it). A regular conversation with your team leaders will help identify potential upcoming problems.

Resource Profile5. Build Resource Profiles

Know what your team are good at, so you can allocate them to tasks where they can use their skills. Resource profiles can work in two ways. First, you can write a brief description of the ideal resource for your project. For example, for a tester, you’d describe the level of experience and skills that your ideal project tester would need, like a job description. Second, you can keep short profiles of each team member up to date with their skills and experience. When you need to match individuals to tasks you can consult the profiles to see who would be a good fit.

For more tips on how to choose the right resource for the job, read this article on how to allocate resources effectively

Resource management is more art than science but the companies that do it well must certainly have the advantage over organisations that allocate unsuitable resources to tasks at the wrong time. Getting resource management right is definitely a skill worth practicing.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

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