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Managing Schedules
Resource Calendars In Project Management: Complete Guide

As you've probably come to know by now, most projects fail to meet their original scope, schedule, and cost. According to a study conducted by The Standish Group, only about 30% of projects are delivered on time, on budget, and with the features and functions originally specified. What you might not know is that utilizing project management resource calendars can avoid some of the most common issues that lead to project failure. 

The most successful project managers take the time to properly plan out their project and how it will be executed in terms of tasks and resourcing. This planning can involve both a project calendar as well as a resource calendar. 

I plan and execute many significant projects in my work at Smarsh, and I love using resource calendars to plan my projects. These calendars help me visualize how my team members are allocated and how much work each team member can realistically take on. Using a resource calendar ensures that everyone is expected to work on project tasks during the time they are actually available. This avoids major confusion, finger-pointing, disappointment, and blame!

If you’re the type of project manager that wants to deliver desired outcomes without driving your team and stakeholders crazy, you need to learn how to use project resource calendars. This article will help you learn how to differentiate between project calendars and resource calendars, and will help you create a resource calendar for your current or future projects. Let’s get started! 

Here’s what I’ll cover:

What Is A Resource Calendar?

Resource calendars show team member availability and are used to determine feasibility and the availability of team members when looking to schedule project tasks, as well as to track when resources are available and how much time they have to work on a task. 

Think of it as the output of the resource planning stage of resource management. A resource calendar should be created at the beginning of a project and updated regularly as the project progresses and new information is learned. 

When creating a resource calendar, it is important to consider the team members who will be working on the project and when they are available. The resource calendar should also take into account any public holidays, non working days, or days when project team members will be unavailable (due to vacation time, planned time off, sabbaticals, leaves of absence, etc), along with any competing work priorities if the project team members are not fully dedicated to your project initiative. 

It is also important to consider the scope of the work and resource availability to determine whether executing the project with the specific resources you have is feasible in the desired time period, or whether you need to bring on additional resources or adjust timeline expectations with leadership. 

The Purpose Of A Resource Calendar

Resource calendars are an important tool for project managers when planning tasks and ensuring not only the availability of resources, but more importantly, that the right resources are available to be allocated to tasks.

Resource planning and resource calendars are especially important in complex projects with multiple dependencies. With each new project, it is important to consider what resources are required at a high-level, and then work down to the individual human resources that will be required to achieve the goals of the project. It’s not uncommon for a project manager to identify that a project is not possible in this phase due to resource constraints

In these situations, there are many options for adaptation, including adjusting scope, schedule, resource allocation, and cost. Even the best PMPs can get tripped up by resource problems—creating a resource calendar can help predict challenges and resource scheduling issues that may come your way. 

What Is A Project Calendar? 

Project calendars are used to map out major milestones, deadlines, and dependencies throughout the course of the project. Project calendars, or project management calendars, are an important tool for tracking project progress and ensuring the project is moving forward as planned. 

The project calendar contains all due dates for project milestones and deliverables, along with any other key dates pertinent to the project manager or their team. A project calendar, like the resource calendar, should be created at the beginning of a project and should be updated regularly as the project progresses and new information is learned. 

The Purpose Of A Project Calendar

A project calendar can help project managers track when tasks need to be completed, identify any potential bottlenecks in the project, and ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the project schedule or timeline. 

One of the benefits of using a project calendar is that it can help build stakeholder alignment. By sharing the project calendar with all stakeholders, team members, and other interested parties, project managers can ensure that everyone is aware of what is happening in the project and when tasks need to be completed. This can help reduce confusion and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal.

Tip: I've found it's best to build a calendar at the beginning, in the planning stage, and update it as you go. Keep a log of any big changes or decisions that cause material shifts in the calendar. This way, any changes can be well understood by others and you get to avoid the statement "I don't know why the date changed."

Resource Calendar vs. Project Calendar

As I mentioned, a resource calendar is a schedule of when team members are available to work on tasks and is used to track the availability of resources, while a project calendar is a schedule of planned tasks and milestones that is used to track the progress of the project. 

Both resource calendars and project calendars should be created along with other planning efforts at the beginning of a project, and are typically created by project managers. A resource calendar might also be created by the resource manager.

Team members use the resource calendar to indicate when they are available to work on the project, whereas project calendars indicate which tasks are assigned to whom and when the work is due to be complete. Project calendars get updated throughout the course of the project. Resource calendars are particularly useful when scheduling tasks or activities that require multiple team members or a particular set of skills. 

For example, if two different people have expertise in creating videos and conducting webinars, it would be critical to understand when both of these team members are available before scheduling video production or webinar activities. If one resource is not readily available, this can affect the entire project timeline and lead to major issues down the line!

Put simply, as their name implies: 

Resource CalendarProject Calendar
Created byThe project manager or resource managerThe project manager
Primary InfoAvailable time, time off, holidays, and leaveMilestones and timelines, according to the project plan
Used ForTracking availability of team members to work on tasksTracking progress of project tasks and milestones

Very few projects can be accomplished without resources. For example, I was once a stakeholder on a project where a key delivery resource went on a pre-planned 8-week sabbatical in the middle of the architectural design phase of a new billing system.

This team member was crucial to the team as they knew all the ins and outs of the existing system and what export, migration, or integration opportunities were available from the old system to the new one they were designing.

Without this key team member, the team was stuck waiting for their return. They couldn't complete the work to move forward on their project, and it all led to them not meeting their deadline—in fact, the entire initiative was pushed forward over 8-months due to competing priorities.  

Using both project calendars and resource calendars together is a secret weapon that allows a project manager to know when team members are available. By using both types of calendars, project managers can more easily assign tasks and ensure that team members are working on tasks that they actually have time to complete. 

Additionally, by tracking team member availability in addition to the milestones and timelines, project managers can identify potential bottlenecks ahead of time that may otherwise go unnoticed.

illustration of a Project Calendar VS Resource Calendar
Project calendars focus on tasks, whereas resource calendars focus on people.
Source: Edward-Designer.com

What Should Be Included In A Resource Calendar? 

When putting together a resource calendar, it is important to include all team members or resources that will be needed to achieve the goals of the project. Include team member (or in some cases, processing machine) names, titles, start dates, end dates (if applicable), typical working days and the specific days they are available to work on the project. 

As mentioned above, it is essential to track any planned time off, sabbaticals, leaves of absence, etc., along with any competing work priorities. 

Here’s an example of what this looks like:

Resource Calendar Screenshot
Resource calendars should include each resource needed to accomplish project tasks and their associated availability to work on your specific project. This tool, along with a Gantt charts, can be especially helpful in predictive projects.
Source: Gantt Excel

How To Build A Resource Calendar

1. Begin by creating a new calendar in your project management tool or calendar, or using a calendar template, maybe even in excel. This will be your resource calendar. Save it in a readily-accessible location! 

2. Add team members and resources, along with their working days and what percent of their working time can be allocated to the project. For example, a team member that works Monday-Friday might have ~3hrs/day of operations-focused work to do, so time available for the project on a weekly basis is 20hrs. 

3. Identify times when the team will not be available. This includes company holidays, public holidays, planned vacations, sabbaticals, leaves of absence, and any other time away from work. Mark this time as non working time for each person or resource included on the calendar. Remove all time away from each resource's availability. 

4. Publish the resource calendar and share it with the team and stakeholders. Transparent and wide visibility of the calendar will help project team members and stakeholders know what’s going on, and understand what challenges of availability the team might be facing in real-time. Are the winter holidays coming up? What does that do to project capability? Don’t expect your people not to take time off—rest is super important! 

5. Review the resource calendar regularly to ensure that team members are properly entering or updating their time away. If you let this run away from you, it's hard to reset and make it useful again. Update regularly!

Tip: Even if people are updating their own resource calendar availability, you as the project manager will want to keep an eye on things. Any tool that allows you to receive notifications when changes are applied is ultra-helpful! 

Resource Calendar Tools

When charting out your resource calendar, there are many tools at your disposal. In fact, most project management tools have options for managing resource calendars, however some might be more visual in their ability to display resource calendars, while others may simply flag warnings when a resource is overcommitted to project tasks.

Tools such as Microsoft Project allow you to set specific working time details for each person or resource on your project.

There’s lots of resource management tools out there:

Whatever you use, be sure the team can actively collaborate with you on the resource calendar. Don’t be the bottleneck! Enable each individual resource to add their expected project time, time away, and more.

This way, you’re not getting emails saying “I’m going on PTO next friday, please adjust the calendar”—that’s not a good use of your time as project manager! Enable each person to add their own calendar entries in the resource calendar.

You may even find it handy to have your calendar sync or integrate with various other tools such as Google Calendar or Outlook. 

Be sure to share! When considering storage and sharing locations for your resource calendars, think about where the team gathers along with where you store and share other project documentation and place the resource calendar in an intuitive place, especially as it will be updated periodically—make it easy to find! 

Visualizing Resource Calendars

Visualizing your resource calendar will help you to better understand the availability of team members and resources, as well as identify any potential conflicts. There are many different ways to visualize a resource calendar, and the most effective way will vary depending on the project management tool and team members involved.

Many project management tools allow you to set specific working time details for each person or resource on your project. This gives you a more detailed view of how much time each person has available for the project. You can also use tools such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to create graphs or charts of your resource calendar. This can be helpful in identifying when team members are overcommitted or when resources are available.

A simple bar graph is a great way to start visualizing the resource calendar to show the time each person is working on your project. This view is helpful for reviewing how many hours an individual will be working on the project or when someone’s work hours will overlap with another team member, promoting collaboration.

While a bar graph is a great start, other tools and methods are available for visualizing resource calendars. Learn more about visualizing resource calendars with DPM!

Resource Calendaring for Project Success

In order to optimize project productivity, it is important for team members to be aware of each other's availability. A resource calendar is an efficient way to keep track of when resources are available for the project. The resource calendar can also be used to identify potential conflicts and overlaps in work schedules. Different visualization methods can be used to help better understand the availability of resources.

In this article, we’ve discussed why a resource calendar is important and how to use it to spot problems before they happen and respect the people that will make your project successful by learning to work with their unique schedules. With a project plan and resource calendar in your toolset, you’re ready to make your next project a huge success.

Now, I’m curious, have you used both project and resource calendars in your project planning and execution? What helps or hindrances have you experienced in using these tools? I want to hear from you! Share your experiences in the comments below or engage with DPM on social media and don’t forget to subscribe to the DPM newsletter to stay up-to-date on news and happenings that could make or break the success of your next project.

By Liz Lockhart

Liz Lockhart is the Sr. Director of PMO & Training at Smarsh, leading the intersection of People and Project strategies and execution. She holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Portland and is pursuing a Doctorate in Organizational Change and Leadership at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. Liz holds numerous Project Management-related certifications including: PMP, PMI-ACP, CSP-SM, and a SPHR from HRCI to round out the people-focused side of her work. Liz has 15-years of experience leading people and teams across education, consulting and technology firms. The best place to reach Liz is on LinkedIn.

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