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One of the most useful skills that a project manager brings to a business is workload capacity planning. An average project manager can tell you who’s doing what on a given project. A great project manager can forecast who is best suited to work on which projects across your portfolio.

In addition to benefiting your business’s bottom line, proper capacity planning boosts team morale and improves output. In this article, I will explore how you can use capacity planning to improve project delivery and project success!

What Is Workload Capacity Planning?

Workload capacity planning is a management process that determines: 

  1. How many team members with what skillsets are required to execute tasks within your project portfolio and 
  2. Whether your existing supply of resources is sufficient to meet demand.

Why Workload Planning Is Important

There are many reasons why capacity planning (workload planning) is important. For one, it helps a business determine how much work to take on without negatively impacting quality and/or the bottom line. Capacity planning also helps ensure that employees have a positive working environment and feel valued in their jobs.

When you aren’t managing capacity correctly, project team members may become overworked and feel undervalued. Over time, this contributes to high turnover, a costly organizational problem.

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Workload Capacity Planning And Project Management

A project manager’s goal is to determine how many team members are required to execute a project and which type of skills they should have. The project manager should then use that information to create a workload capacity plan that allows for predictable work hours, shared responsibility among staff members, and a strategy for addressing any issues.

Capacity planning reports are a useful tool for determining capacity at the individual level, the project level, and across organizations.

How Workload Capacity Planning Works

This section describes what effective capacity planning looks like, explains how to avoid common pitfalls, and reviews the basic steps involved.

What Effective Workload Capacity Planning Looks Like

The following factors help determine whether a capacity management plan is effective:

  • Workload capacity is based on both project needs and team member availability.
  • Quantitative, historical data justifies changes in project staffing requirements over time.
  • Staffing needs are responsive to changing project conditions (e.g. you can get by with fewer hours than planned from your busy subject matter expert.)
  • You eliminate excess workload capacity so team members are fully engaged.
  • You can calculate project capacity with a degree of accuracy that meets key stakeholder requirements (i.e. your client is happy with your forecasts.)

Prevent Problems With Effective Workload Capacity Planning

Effective capacity plans solve for key project challenges, including:

  • Scheduling delays due to lack of resource availability
  • Higher rates of errors and accidents due to overworked team members
  • Unnecessary project expenditures and/or poor quality of project deliverables due to engaging resources that are misaligned with project goals.

Left unchecked, these project challenges can lead to organizational challenges, such as:

  • Employees feeling overworked and undervalued in their jobs
  • High staff turnover rates
  • Talent tech gap
  • Reputational risk to the company due to lack of employee engagement and/or poor customer service.

The Basic Steps Of Workload Capacity Planning

There are three steps to the capacity planning process:

  1. Forecast demand. What are your upcoming projects and the tasks that comprise those projects? What team members with what skillsets are required to complete project activities? How long will each activity take to complete?
  2. Determine resource availability and capacity. What team members are available to work on upcoming projects? How much time does each person have available to dedicate to your project? Capacity planning software may be useful for aggregating this information across your organization.
  3. Create a capacity plan. The plan should include the correct number of staff members needed for each project task that they will be assigned to cover. It should also provide detailed information about how many hours per day employees can work on the project and their skill set.

Techniques For Workload Capacity Planning

Project managers can create a capacity plan based on a variety of different workload capacity planning techniques. Examples of these techniques include:

  • Critical path method: identify which tasks take more time than others or that are dependent on other tasks for completion and calculate capacity based on estimated time to complete those tasks
  • Program evaluation and review technique (PERT) method: calculate the amount of time you expect it will take to complete each project task based on a weighted average of possible estimates (optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely)
  • Performance monitoring: measure existing capacity levels and use historical data to project how much capacity you will need in the future
  • Simulation modeling: create a workload capacity plan and test it out before implementing
  • Analytical modeling: compare capacity and workload levels with different types of events or tasks.

Choose Software To Help With Workload Capacity Planning

Check out our list of the 10 best capacity planning software for project managers to learn more about tools you can use to support your capacity planning efforts.

Resource management software also often has features that aid with workload capacity planning; check out this list of the best resource management software here.

Workload Capacity Planning Is An Ongoing Practice

Keeping your resources and work capacity in check has many upsides. Once your company is allocating its resources wisely, it’ll reap the benefits in no time.

But, like most project management processes, workload capacity planning is an ongoing effort. Project managers should continually review and update workload capacity plans to reflect changing project conditions and prepare for future opportunities.

For more information on workload capacity planning in project management, subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter.

Sarah M. Hoban
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.