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Resource loading means dividing the hours of work required to complete a project by the available hours of your project team.

Piece of cake, right?

Like all things related to resource allocation, there's a lot more to resource loading than meets the eye. Let's dig into the details so you can understand how to use resource loading effectively.

What Is Resource Loading?

Resource loading calculates the time it will take to complete project tasks based on resource availability, that is, the amount of work your project team is programmed to take on.

Resource management software can help you build the equation, but it's good to understand the reasoning behind the formula. Thankfully, it's pretty easy concept to understand.

If it were a math problem, it would look like this:

Hours of work required for project completion

————————————————————

Available hours to perform the work

illustration of the equation for calculating resource loading
How to calculate resource loading, illustrated.

Obviously, the first step is to fill in your numbers. To estimate the numerator, check out DPM’s guide to the project resource management process.

Here, we're going to calculate the denominator—resource availability.

The wrong way to do it

Assuming team members are 100% available to the project and the standard work week is 40 hours, then you simply multiply 40 hours by the number of available resources, and then by the number of weeks.

What's wrong with the math there? We’re talking about humans, not robots. When was the last time you produced eight hours of work uninterrupted? What about meetings? Coffee breaks? Bathroom breaks? Never mind paid time off and sick leave.

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The right way to do it

So contrary to what your ex-boss thinks, resource utilization should not equal 100%.

the boss from the movie office space saying his catchphrase which is I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there
Spoiler alert: you'll have to disagree with your ex-boss if they claim that resources should be loaded at 100%.

If eight hours per day is not a realistic resource utilization estimate for project planning, what number is reasonable?

Stakeholders likely won’t object to a baseline of 5-6 hours a day, factoring in bathroom breaks, context switching between project tasks, and the inevitable fire drills.

Resource Loading vs. Resource Leveling

Now that I’ve covered resource loading, you may be wondering about another commonly used resource management techniqueresource leveling. The table below summarizes the key differences between resource loading and resource leveling.

Aspect of ProjectResource LoadingResource Leveling
Calculating the amount of work you expect team members to perform based on their available capacity (i.e., resource utilization)YesNo
Rightsizing resource allocation based on priority, project timeline, milestones, and budgetNoYes
Project start and end dateFixedCan be adjusted to accommodate resource conflicts
Table comparing resource loading with resource leveling.

Check out this article on resource leveling techniques to learn more.

When To Do Resource Loading

You should perform resource loading during the project planning phase to set a baseline for how much time people will have available to dedicate to the project. But, this is not a “set it and forget it” exercise.

illustration of the ronco rotisserie oven infomercial and its catchphrase to set it and forget it
Unlike using the Ronco rotisserie oven, resource loading is not a "set it and forget it" exercise."

You’ll want to reassess resource loading during the monitoring and controlling phase of a project, as many factors may impact resource availability:

  • New projects arise that take time from critical resources
  • Project requirements change, affecting the project duration and/or skill sets required
  • The team has optimized its workflow and is able to complete project tasks in a shorter time frame.

How To Create A Resource Loading Chart

Resource loading charts show how work is allocated across your team. The best part? A resource loading chart doesn’t have to be much fancier than a spreadsheet. Follow these steps to generate your template for a resource loading chart:

  1. Create a matrix comparing team members with project tasks
  2. Calculate the number of hours spent on project tasks
  3. Compare the actual number of hours with the target utilization rate.

1. Create a Matrix Comparing Team Members with Project Tasks

List the team members that support your project on the Y axis. List the tasks required for project completion on the X axis.

screenshot of a resource loading chart comparing team members with project tasks
Matrix comparing team members with project tasks.

2. Calculate the Number of Hours Spent on Project Tasks

Survey your team members to understand how many hours they spend on project tasks each week. For this example, I’ll assume a standard work week of 40 hours.

screenshot of a resource loading chart where the number of hours spent on project tasks is calculated
Calculate the number of hours spent on project tasks.

3. Compare the Actual Number of Hours with the Target Utilization

Now that you understand resource scheduling, you’ll want to compare that with the target utilization. In this example, I’ve decided that team members should aim to spend 6 hours per day on project tasks. Set up conditional formatting to alert you if someone exceeds their target utilization.

screenshot of a resource loading chart where the actual number of hours is being compared with the target utilization
Compare the actual number of hours with the target utilization.

Since the project start and end date is fixed, you’ll need to make some trade-offs. Descope some work or identify opportunities for process improvement if you want to reduce how much time Bertram and Lisa are spending on project tasks.

Why Is Resource Loading Important In Project Management?

Resource loading benefits your stakeholders and team members, in addition to the project manager. If done properly, resource loading:

  • Keeps your stakeholders happy by setting realistic expectations for project success. Factoring in resource constraints makes it more likely that you will overdeliver than overpromise and underdeliver.
  • Reduces the risk of burnout by ensuring that you’re not overloading your team
  • Simplifies your job as a project manager by accurately forecasting the work your team can perform.

Read more about the importance of resource management.

What’s Next?

Want to master the finer points of resource loading? Check out expert-created training from our DPM School.

By Sarah M. Hoban

Sarah is a project manager and strategy consultant with 15 years of experience leading cross-functional teams to execute complex multi-million dollar projects. She excels at diagnosing, prioritizing, and solving organizational challenges and cultivating strong relationships to improve how teams do business. Sarah is passionate about productivity, leadership, building community, and her home state of New Jersey.