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Throughout my career as a project manager, I’ve had the luxury of working with some of the best resource managers and traffic managers in the agency world. 

While I was looking at the big picture on a project-by-project basis, my resource management team was scrutinizing the details of my project needs and working their magic to orchestrate our entire organization’s resources across all the active and upcoming projects in our agency’s portfolio.

But the fact of the matter is that not every project manager has a resource management team. Heck, in my current role I don’t have that luxury anymore! 

So to help us, project managers, out, I decided to chat with a few of my former resource manager colleagues and get their insights on the most important things to consider when resourcing a project to help make sure your project goes to plan.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

Why Is Resource Management Important?

Before we get into it, it’s probably worthwhile to talk about the importance of resource management in the context of delivering digital projects. So let me set the table.

In a nutshell, resource management is what keeps your project moving by ensuring you’ve got the right people, materials, and finances to execute your plan. It’s tantamount to having the right fuel to put into your engine. No fuel? No power. Period.

And that may sound obvious, but a 2020 survey of project management professionals by Wellingtone revealed that “poor resource management” was one of the largest project management challenges. Mobilizing teams of people is difficult—for everyone!

Then add the complexities of the digital world, where technology, user expectations, and the competitive landscape are constantly changing. Teams are distributed, churn is high, and the emerging tech you require may still be scarce.

Sure, there are some excellent resource management software solutions out there that can help you plan, develop, and manage resources for your projects. But without the right considerations, the differences between a next-generation software solution and doing long division on a chalkboard are going to be negligible. 

What Does A Resource Manager Do?

A resource manager oversees allocation of resources (predominantly people, often of a variety of levels and sometimes skill sets) to several projects at once. Resource managers operate at the level of the company or organization and want to identify the resources that best fit each project. They support the project management team and the discipline leads to ensure the right decisions are made on a project assignment basis to benefit the individual, the wider team, the overall company, and the client.

Unlike a resource manager, a project manager oversees just one project or sometimes multiple projects at a time. In short, as a project manager, your project is your world (within working hours!).

You are responsible for ensuring your project gets completed within its given time frame. And you are concerned with details: project budget, project scheduling, specific project tasks, and milestones. You probably care that your team is happy too, but staying on the critical path is paramount.

In an ideal world, your agency or wider company would have a person dedicated to fulfilling that resource management function, but if not, factoring in some impactful resource management considerations can help you deliver your project within plan by foreseeing roadblocks, getting the right people involved when they’re needed, and keeping the team engaged.

Okay, with that in mind, let’s dive into some key resource management considerations for project managers.

6 Resource Management Techniques In Project Management

Here are six key resource management techniques for project managers to know.

collaborative project plan illustration of three hands placing letters in the word plan on a grid
Ensure your project plan is collaborative.

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1. Have A (Collaborative) Project Plan 

During the course of a project, one of your main responsibilities as a project manager is to make sure that project scheduling and the availability of specific people to do those tasks align. 

This isn’t a nut you need to crack on your own: sit down with your cross-discipline partner(s) in crime to discuss your estimate and general project plan before resourcing even begins. 

A well thought-out project plan will help make sure your project is clear from the start in terms of which levels and individual skill sets are needed, and when. This is especially important when there are competing projects that are all after the same peoples’ time.

illustration of shapes in a 3D box for capacity planning
Capacity planning is often a tricky balancing act.

2. Shore Up Your Capacity Planning

Capacity planning is the process you use to schedule team member hours against a fixed amount of work. The ongoing exercise is to balance the availability of your colleagues with what the project requires as well as, of course, your budget. 

You can’t effectively work out the time needed without breaking down those project tasks and understanding them, so use that project plan to establish a framework for the job as far as tasks go and then create your resource plan.  

Your team will look to you (and, ideally, their discipline leads) to clarify the specific nature of the tasks and who will be working on them, and when. 

For example, if your online advertising project requires a bunch of image cropping before going into more advanced animation, you probably want to assign the first task to one of the more junior members of the design team before it goes to a more senior animator. This should be worked out well in advance so you’re able to schedule in the right resources for the job, when you need them. 

Once you have assigned tasks, it’s critical to monitor progress to ensure the project stays on schedule so work out between your team the best way to communicate briefings, deadlines, and deliverables to make sure everyone is on the same page with expectations. 

It’s also worth being aware that too much oversight (or micro-management) can hurt morale. Try to strike a balance between overseeing the project and becoming an overbearing manager. A daily or weekly standup and regular communications over Slack (or another instant messaging tool), bolstered by rock-solid documentation and crystal clear task briefs, will work wonders.

illustration of a project manager balancing a plan document on scales with shapes on the other end of the scales
Workload management also requires balance.

3. Understand And Monitor Workload

Separate from capacity planning is workload. Workload management is the process of allocating the appropriate blocks of time that will allow a team member to succeed. Some tasks require longer periods of contiguous, uninterrupted time. Others are better when spread out and interspersed with other diverse tasks. 

For example, when you’re planning capacity, you might see that your technical architect is free for 1 hour per day for the next three weeks. 

  • If you start on Monday, on paper it looks like you can get that integration strategy done by the end of the month. 
  • But if that individual is context switching across a different project every hour, the likelihood of that team member being able to switch gears, get reacquainted with your project’s requirements, and be in the right headspace to get meaningful work done in that hour is very, very low. They may be within capacity, but their workload will be too heavy for them to be effective. 
  • On the other hand, you may have a team member available to do data entry for twenty days straight, but by the end of that twenty days, their engagement levels and productivity levels probably won’t be all that high. 

The bottom line here is this: just because someone on your team looks like they have capacity to get the task done doesn’t automatically mean that they won’t get overwhelmed with their workload. 

illustration of a team member with a bar for health, mental health, and experience
Keeping team members utilized ensures they remain engaged and satisfied.

4. Have Strategies To Keep Your People Utilized 

Underutilization can also do harm to productivity and general team morale. Burnout sucks, but so does being bored. And because labor is often a project’s biggest expense, you should take care to assign all team members tasks that optimize their talents. 

Part of this idea means adjusting the schedule so that they have just the right amount of work. Too much work causes stress, and too little work means sitting idle. 

If folks get through their work quicker than what was set out in your resource plan, keep a little to-do list of project activities that can keep them busy. 

If you’re part of a bigger company, work with your management and marketing teams to see if there are internal efforts that would benefit the greater good that could stop boredom settling in if work hits a dry patch.

The impact will be a more engaged team that isn’t constantly looking for the exit. 

Ever heard of self-managing teams? If you're wondering what that could mean for you, check this out: Project Teams Without Project Managers: Exploring The PM Dilemma (with Julia Ryzhkova from Railsware)

illustration of a project manager surrounded by Gantt charts and trackers
Equipment resourcing is also critical to project success.

5. Don’t Neglect Your Equipment Resource Needs

While people are the most important resource in project management, the management of equipment required for the project can’t be ignored, either. I’m reminded of a story a colleague told me of a project where they nearly forgot to order the servers in time for a massive ERP implementation. 

But it doesn’t have to be the big, obvious pieces of gear. For example, when bringing on new employees and contractors for your project, you may need to provide a laptop and the appropriate licenses for your cloud-based tools.

If it takes three days to get a tool subscription approved from the finance team, that could be three days of a team member being blocked from completing their task. That needs to get factored into your resource planning

To keep your ducks in a row when it comes to equipment, strong asset management and procurement processes should be part of that consideration set:

Assess What You Have

Is your company’s list of equipment up to date? It’s possible you already have what you need in your inventory. Make sure you compile a complete, accurate, up-to-date list of the equipment you have access to, real and cloud-based. 

Assess What You Need

Once you acquire what you need, there are other elements to equipment resource management. For instance, maintenance is an important equipment-related project resource management task. If you fix something before it breaks, you can avoid unnecessary and unexpected expenses down the road.

Reallocate When Necessary

Sometimes, if a piece of equipment is idle for one task, you can move it to a different task to keep the production moving along. It doesn’t always make sense to spread equipment resources evenly among tasks. 

Figure out how to deploy your equipment where your project(s) need it most. This is a fluid situation that could benefit from a resource scheduling tool. Software can help not only with the allocation of equipment now but also forecasting when you may need to reallocate down the road.

illustration of a project manager with a coin managing the budget
Budget will influence your resource management decisions.

6. Master Budget Management

The resource that is surprisingly the most overlooked when planning project resources is actually money. Financial resources are the enabler that allows you to have the people and equipment you need—it’s the fuel for the fuel. 

According to FinancesOnline, 28 percent of projects fail because of inaccurate cost estimates. Going over budget clearly will hurt the project’s bottom line. However, going under budget isn’t always beneficial either. Management may see the discrepancy and think that the company could have used the funds allocated to your project elsewhere. The most important principle in budgeting is accuracy.

For project managers, this places added emphasis on cost management. To keep costs in line, you have to allocate the right budget resources. In fact, your budget sets the boundaries for the management of your other resources.

Budget Resource Management Tasks

Budget resource management involves four primary tasks:

  • Planning: Identify the resources you will need before the project begins.
  • Estimation: Quantify the costs required to obtain the resources you identified in the planning stage.
  • Budgeting: Assign a financial value to each task, fit tasks into a timeline, and set milestones to judge efficiency.
  • Controlling: Measure the actual costs of the project against the budget and implement a plan for reining in any deviations in cost.

The alignment of finances with resources underpins a project’s success. If your resources don’t meet the necessary requirements, you run the risk of delaying your timeline and increasing costs. If your resources are overqualified, costs can spike.

Challenges Of Resource Allocation

Despite thorough resource planning, unpredictable situations may arise during the course of a project. Sick days, late shipments, and changing client demands are just a few curveballs that can force you to adapt your resource plan quickly. When these things happen, and the allocated resources aren’t going to meet the project’s needs, that’s a resource allocation challenge.

Resource management uses two main techniques to solve these challenges: resource leveling and resource smoothing. Resource leveling modifies or extends a project timeline to fit the resource’s availability. By contrast, when deadlines cannot be changed, resource smoothing finds a way to adjust resource availability.

For example, say another project is sharing the human resources you need for a task. With resource smoothing, you might change the schedule to delay the task until the workers are fully available. 

Or you can move up other tasks that workers can complete now. Another option is to hire more workers. In any case, you will complete the project in the same duration. In short, you have “smoothed” peak demand for the workers.

However, if you used resource leveling in the same situation, you might simply increase the duration of the task. In that case, workers commit fewer hours each day. Or fewer workers can  complete the task. This may or may not end up increasing the project duration overall.

Using Software For Resource Management

Remember how at the beginning I said that a great resource management tool was no good without the right resource management considerations? Well, once you’ve brought these considerations into practice, the right resource management tool can now start to do wonders for how you scale your organization’s project portfolio.

It can also be a massive competitive advantage. In another Wellingtone survey, a mere 23 percent of respondents in another survey confirmed that they use a resource management software solution for project portfolio management.

So how does it help?

Resource management software helps you schedule quickly and gain a better understanding of your project team’s availability and skills. It helps you get beyond the question “who’s available” so you can start asking “who is the best person for the job?”. 

For example, you can pair a data scientist who is passionate about data privacy for patients with that healthcare project coming 10 weeks down the road. Or you can decide to staff 2 intermediate designers with oversight instead of using your lead who bills out at triple the rate. Better still, you can explore your team’s skills to see if you can explore a new service offering. 

This is also a way to create a more positive and productive environment for workers: when your team knows that their interests, growth areas, and goals are being factored into the work that they get assigned to, they’re more likely to be engaged and excited about their day. 

Technology also helps in creating visual representations of workload. One of the most useful ways to illustrate project activities is the use of a Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is a bar graph that provides a visual depiction of the entire project, including the full project scope and timelines. If you bill based on day rates, it’s an easy way to visualize cost in the context of team member availability. It is also helpful for seeing where activities that are off of the critical chain can be rearranged to get the right person for the job.

But also, these visual aids help project team members prepare for and transition between tasks more easily. It also creates a sense of unity and personal responsibility—each employee can clearly see how an individual task contributes to the project plan.

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Resource Management Software Complements Your Work

So there you have it: if you’re a project manager with no dedicated resource management team supporting you, don’t just reach blindly for a technology solution and expect it to solve all your problems. 

Collaborate with your team to create a detailed plan, understand what’s involved in the project tasks so you can assess capacity and workload, be deliberate about keeping your project team utilized and engaged, and mind your equipment and budgetary resource needs along the way.

Once you’ve got those considerations nailed down, then start exploring a resource management software solution that will add efficiency to your approach to resource management tasks and keep your project moving with the help of the right people, equipment, and funding.

By Galen Low

I am a digital project management nerd, a cultivator of highly collaborative teams, and an impulsive sharer of knowledge. For the past decade, I've been shaping and delivering human-centered digital transformation initiatives in government, healthcare, transit, and retail. I'm also the co-founder of The Digital Project Manager and host of The DPM Podcast.

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