Project planning is one critical component of project success. But projects don’t happen in a vacuum: To get any project work done, an organization needs people to do the work, materials from which to build the product, and money to pay for the entire operation.
This is where resource management enters the picture. It goes a step beyond project management and proactively manages all resources required to successfully complete a project. In this guide, we’ll take a comprehensive look at project resource management including what it is, how to do it, and the top methodologies to employ.
What is project resource management?
Project resource management is a subset of project management that attends to the resources of a project (materials, labor, human resources, finances, equipment, technology, and facilities), not just the project itself. Like project management, project resource management involves planning, scheduling, and managing. The end goal is getting the most out of project resources and achieving maximum project efficiency.
This discipline is sorely needed: With around one in four projects going over budget across all industries, there’s certainly some failure to account for resources and costs.
To be effective at project resource management requires focus and effort. Many businesses that elect to address project resource management as its own discipline implement resource management software to track and manage the various resources attached to a project.
Why is project resource management important?
If you’re new to the world of project management — or you’re a veteran but haven’t yet explored project resource management as a formal sub-discipline — it’s worth discussing the value of effective resource management.
Put simply, building a quality resource management plan goes far beyond planning the “what” of a project: it tells you how you’ll accomplish the “what.”
Here are four ways applying resource management principles can improve your project planning.
Provides insight on the scope of your project
Project management alone can help you map out what needs to be accomplished and a project timeline for how to complete all project tasks and deliverables. But it often doesn’t account for who is doing the work, what their existing workload looks like, which machines or devices are needed and whether those elements are actually available when your project team will need them, and so on.
In other words, project management doesn’t go deep into available resources. Resource management does, so it gives you deeper insight into the true scope of your project. It’s one thing to determine you’ll complete a deliverable within six months. It’s another to know exactly who and what you’ll need, when, and for how long.
Helps monitor and balance your team’s workload
One key to project success is managing your project team (some of your most valuable available resources) well. Most businesses have more work or opportunities than they have resource availability (people to do the work), so overallocation is common.
Resource management helps project managers and other leaders understand both the resource requirements of a project and the resource capacity of individuals and teams. By better monitoring your team’s workload, you’ll be able to make adjustments where needed, allocating the right skill sets and competencies where they help most and helping your team members avoid burnout.
This last point is especially key in a tight labor market full of beleaguered professionals. Indeed finds that 52% of respondents feel burned out (much higher than numbers before the pandemic), and the Project Management Institute (PMI) finds that talent deficiencies hinder 40% of strategy implementation efforts.
Creates an efficient way to track project goals and milestones
Simpler project management tools like homegrown Excel spreadsheets can outline the basics of a project (and can even be configured into Gantt charts), but they can’t proactively track project goals and milestones and automatically deliver deeper insights.
Using more capable resource management tools brings all your project data into one central platform, allowing you to track resources, goals, and milestones more easily — and gain powerful performance insights along the way.
Improves project flows across your organization
One of the reasons that project management can be frustrating is that you’re never managing just one project. Your organization is juggling multiple overlapping project flows, and often each project operates in its own silo. Project resource management helps break down those silos so teams can learn from other project successes and understand the implications of overlap.
Resource management can become complex and overwhelming, but using the right tools for resource allocation makes all the difference. Teamwork is resource management made simple, allowing you to quickly estimate availability and find team members with capacity right away. See Teamwork’s resource management capabilities.
The different types of resources you may be managing
Resource management is about more than just stuff or people. The discipline touches every element that goes into a successful project — tangible and intangible.
This is the consumable items needed to complete a project. For wholly digital products, you might consider smaller assembled elements (illustrations, copy, code) as materials.
Human resources are the people available to work on the project. These include your team members, construction crews, contractors and freelancers, and anyone else who is contractually obligated to contribute to the project.
Labor can be understood as the cumulative hours or percentage of workload each human resource contributes.
Every project requires money to procure the other resources. Accurately accounting for what’s needed is key to a successful project.
Equipment, tools, and software
These are the non-consumable items (physical or digital) needed to create materials and/or craft them into functional deliverables. Managing and preserving shared equipment (such as industrial machinery) is a key way to avoid bottlenecks.
Land, office space, desks, home offices, meeting spaces — any physical environments needed for project completion must be managed, especially in shared environments (like most physical office buildings).
The project resource management process in 4 steps
If you’re looking to implement project resource management for the first time or dramatically improve your existing efforts, start with these four straightforward process steps.
1) Define your project scope and start resource planning
The first step will be familiar to anyone with project management experience: Start by defining your project scope. What will the project accomplish? What are the deliverables? What is the rough project timeline?
Resource management goes further, though: You also need to define resource requirements at this point. Resource requirements include the types of resources needed, quantities for each resource type (how many lines of code, illustrations, or tons of lumber), and sometimes a quality element (grade of materials, experience or skill of team members).
Those resources come at a budgetary cost, so financial resource estimation is also included in this first step.
Once you have both the project scope and a resource plan, you’ll submit or present both to the project stakeholders for approval. With resource management, stakeholders know far more than just what the project will accomplish. They have a deeper understanding of what level of resources they’re committing by greenlighting a project.
Some organizations may do detailed resource planning in phases for especially large projects.
2) Align your resource schedule with your project schedule
With a project scope document and a resource plan developed, you’re ready to build out a detailed project schedule. The project schedule element is something project managers have done many times before, but don’t get too comfortable — there’s more to do now that you’re adding resource management to the mix.
As you develop your project schedule, be sure to align it with any available schedules for resources noted in your resource plan. You might not know exactly which team members are assigned to the project yet (see the next step for that), but that’s okay because there’s plenty more to plan.
Remember that resources in this context are much more than people. You should know what kinds of shared equipment, tools, devices, and facilities you’ll need at this stage. You also know (or at least have an estimate for) what kinds of materials you’ll need. You probably don’t have an unlimited supply, so that means two projects can’t use the same lot of lumber or microchips or widgets.
Even if you don’t know your human resources yet, you can align all these elements with your project schedule (or, conversely, you can align your project schedule to when those shared resources or supplies will become available).
3) Acquire and allocate resources to your team
If you haven’t yet allocated specific human resources to tasks and functions within the team, now is the time to do so. This step is fairly automatic for smaller teams and organizations, but the larger you are, the more thought and effort is required for the human component.
Think of it this way: If you only have one graphic designer or machinist, there’s no real question about who’s going to do the machining or illustrating. But larger businesses with entire departments of specialists must plan who will do which illustrations, and so forth.
Once you have the team in place, it’s time to acquire and allocate the remaining resource types to that team. This is much easier to do now that you have a realistic schedule that aligns with actual resource availability.
4) Track & monitor resources across workflows
Just like with project management, resource management tracks progress, often across multiple workflows. The difference is in what you’re tracking. Here you’re tracking specific resources (in all the categories we covered earlier), not just the project as a whole.
Let’s say you’re overseeing two projects that share a graphic designer. Using careful resource management techniques, you’ve scheduled these two projects to allow that designer to complete all assigned tasks on both projects. That’s a good start, but you can’t stop here.
What happens when the first project gets delayed? It’s a story you’ve probably lived through countless times — when your perfect project and resource plan suddenly doesn’t look so perfect. Now both projects are simultaneously demanding the graphic designer’s time, which will never work.
For the sake of the poor graphic designer (not to mention her two projects, now on a collision course), effective resource management requires ongoing tracking and monitoring. When schedules change (and they will), look out for bottlenecks caused by the new schedule and proactively solve them.
Breaking down helpful resource management techniques
We’ve covered the four basic steps of project resource management, but how should you execute those steps?
While there are certainly more than four resource management techniques, these four methods or activities will be instrumental as you begin resource management for your team or organization.
Resource forecasting is the process of estimating and predicting what resources will be needed for a project and in what amounts. This technique applies to everything that can be considered a resource, from lumber to trucks and equipment to the people assigned to the project.
Resource forecasting begins early during step one above. You’ll start by defining categories generally and get more specific with amounts as you work.
Sometimes you start from scratch, or close to it. This usually means your company hasn’t done resource forecasting in the past, or you’re moving into a new product or service area. But most of the time, you’ll have prior project data to pull from.
Prior data is one of many reasons that using quality project management software is so crucial. You don’t want to dig through filing cabinets or search for that one missing Excel file when it’s time to start resource forecasting. You want it to be right at your fingertips.
Here’s an example, once again using a fictional graphic design department. In resource forecasting, you’ll identify that your project will need graphic design support. You’ll gather the necessary data (from past project data, department managers, and maybe even some graphic designers on the team) and then establish how many graphic designers you’ll need, how much of their workload you’ll take, and for how long.
Here you assign those resources that you forecasted to specific tasks and roles.
Take our graphic design department again. During resource forecasting, you identified you’d need two designers for around six months at 50% to 75% capacity. In resource allocation, you slot specific bodies into those positions and check their overall allocation against other projects.
Learn about how project management software like Teamwork can give you greater insights into your team’s workload at a glance, easily reassign tasks, and avoid bottlenecks.
Resource smoothing is the technique of choice when you need to balance workloads to avoid overallocation but cannot extend the schedule.
What happens if you go to the design manager and ask for two designers, but the manager says, “The best I can do is 0.5.”?
You resource-level. This could mean slowing down the pace of the project. It could mean cutting the scope so that 0.5 designers is sufficient. Or it could mean pushing for an expanded headcount or more outsourcing.
When you need to balance workloads to avoid overallocation but cannot extend the schedule, resource smoothing is the technique of choice. Resource smoothing can look like cutting time in a department with cushion or buffer to give that time to the department with the bottleneck. It can also look like adding additional resources to the team to keep the schedule on track and avoid overallocation.
Let’s go back to that graphic design department. You need two designers for six months at 50% to 75% capacity. Let’s say you get what you asked for, but it doesn’t turn out to be right. You need more design capacity, or delays elsewhere mean your project is getting delayed in design.
One method of resource smoothing is increasing capacity, like adding another designer or taking 100% of one designer’s capacity. Another method is to save time elsewhere, giving graphic design more days by taking those days away from the web team or the writers.
Plan, manage, and utilize your resources more efficiently with Teamwork
Project resource management is a complex discipline that touches nearly every element of one or more projects. In fact, it’s so complex that doing it well manually is just about impossible. You need specialized software that can help you track those resources over time and give you a record of past project data.
Teamwork is powerful project management and resource management software built for teams like yours, including creative teams and anyone doing project work. It’s a powerful platform that helps you scope out your resources and track them across the length of a project.