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What Is Project Resource Management? Ultimate Guide + Best Tools

If the future of project management is people management, then it stands to reason that any PM worth their salt should be an expert at mastering project resource management. In this guide, I’ll introduce effective resource management techniques and share resource management tools and best practices to help you put your best foot forward.

What Is Project Resource Management?

Project resource management involves forecasting, assembling, and managing the team members, equipment, and other materials needed to execute a project.

lighting candles on a cake animated gif
Just as you can’t bake a cake without the proper ingredients, if you don’t have the right resources to do the work, you won’t launch a successful project.

What Is A Resource In Project Management?

Although the term is admittedly icky, a resource is a generic way of describing a person or piece of equipment (e.g., software, hardware) that you need to complete a project.

Types Of Resources

The major types of resources in project management include human resources (services or labor) and equipment or supplies. You could also consider money and time as project resources.

The Project Resource Management Process

The Project Management Institute defines several key steps in the project resource management process. These include:

  1. Resource Planning
  2. Estimate Resources / Resource Allocation
  3. Acquire Resources
  4. Develop and Manage The Team
  5. Continuously Evaluate Resources

In resource planning, you define the requirements needed to complete the project. This may involve creating a work breakdown structure or other resource planning visualization. You then estimate resources for project delivery and perform resource allocation (based on resource availability) to determine how much time team members will devote to the project.

Once project planning is complete, you acquire resources (whether internally or externally) to complete the work and then develop and manage the project team to perform the work. Finally, you continuously evaluate resources to monitor and control project progress.

Resource Management Techniques

No project has an infinite supply of resources. This is because not everyone assigned to a project spends 100% of their time on the project. Calculating resource utilization metrics, or what percentage of time people devote to a project, helps you plan, estimate, and allocate resources effectively. Besides time, other resource constraints include scope and budget.

You can use a variety of different resource management techniques to help you navigate these constraints when managing new projects. I’ll review some of the most common techniques here.

Resource Loading

Resource loading calculates the amount of work you expect team members to perform based on their available capacity, assuming project start and end dates are fixed. Note that capacity should not equal 100%—factoring in paid time off, sick leave, and bathroom breaks, not to mention time for meetings and other disruptions, reduces resource load to ~50% or 60%.

Resource Estimation

You can estimate project resources in two main ways:

  • Bottom-up: estimate the number of hours required by team member for each deliverable
  • Top-down: using your project budget as a constraint, allocate human resources based on the most critical roles required for project success.

Resource Allocation

To perform resource allocation, you’ll need to:

  • Determine what skillsets are required to complete project tasks
  • Estimate the number of hours these tasks will take
  • Perform resource capacity planning, or determine who will work on what based on forecasted availability and your project roadmap.

Check these articles for more information about resource allocation methods in project management and an example.

Resource Scheduling

In the resource scheduling technique, the project schedule is not the primary constraint. Review the results of the resource allocation exercise to schedule project or task start and end dates based on resource availability.

Resource Optimization

Resource optimization techniques balance resource demand with resource supply. The goal of resource optimization is to achieve project goals within a set time frame and budget. Two types of resource optimization include resource leveling and resource smoothing.

Resource Leveling

Similar to resource loading, the first step of resource leveling is to calculate the amount of work you expect team members to perform based on capacity. The primary difference in resource leveling is that project start and end dates are flexible based on available resources. Consult this article for more information on resource leveling techniques.

Resource Smoothing

When your primary resource constraint is time, meaning your project start and end dates cannot be shifted, you can employ the resource smoothing technique to try to reduce demand while staying within the given time constraints. An example of resource smoothing might be engaging a more experienced person who can complete the work in a shorter amount of time.

Resource Forecasting

Resource forecasting predicts future resource requirements for a project. To refine your forecast and avoid overallocation, schedule periodic project health checks to:

  • Compare actual costs against plan
  • Ensure team members are performing work aligned to their competencies and interests
  • Improve project processes based on learnings

Capacity Planning

Capacity planning predicts whether your existing supply of resources will be sufficient to achieve project objectives in the first place. Consult this article for a complete guide to workload capacity planning.

Tools For Managing Resources

Now that I’ve covered resource management techniques, I’ll go over several tools that you can use to help you manage your project portfolio.

Resource Management Plans

A project resource management plan outlines a strategy for how to allocate, schedule, and engage resources during a project. Resource plans maintain accurate information for project stakeholders at a glance to empower organizational decision-making.

Resource Calendars

Resource calendars show staffing availability and are therefore useful for scheduling project tasks. Project managers should create resource calendars at the beginning of a project and update them regularly as the project progresses and new information is learned.

Resource Breakdown Structures

A resource breakdown structure outlines the resources required to complete a project, typically in the form of a hierarchical outline or tree diagram. Whereas a work breakdown structure shows the tasks required to accomplish project deliverables, a resource breakdown structure lists the people, equipment or other materials, time, and money needed to perform the work.

Developing a resource breakdown structure aligns team members with required tasks to showcase dependencies and improve project workflows.

Resource Management Software

If other tools are not cutting it, consider using comprehensive resource management software to manage your people and assets more effectively and accomplish initiatives more quickly.

Resource management software tools specialize in different aspects of the project lifecycle and include tools focused on resource planning, resource allocation, resource scheduling (plus web-based options), and capacity planning.

If price is a concern, you could also consider free or open source resource management software options.

Learn about why you might use resource management software here.

Project Resource Management Best Practices

Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind when it comes to project resource management:

  • Be conservative. Things always take longer than we expect them to. Make sure to build in a realistic buffer to account for potential delays
  • Document your assumptions. It’s important to clarify what you were thinking when you composed your resource plan. This helps you align with stakeholders on scope and level of effort. 
  • Monitor and update your plan. Your resource management plan must be a living document for it to remain useful. When the project ends, you can also extract lessons learned that will help you estimate the level of effort for future projects.

Find more resource management best practices from the experts here.

Why Is Project Resource Management Important?

Project resource management is a fundamental skill for project managers. When done correctly:

  • Stakeholders are happy—the project is scoped and staffed with the right resources
  • Team members are motivated by and engaged in their work, improving productivity and reducing burnout and/or turnover
  • Successful project delivery improves business outcomes, leading to requests for new or repeat business.

What’s Next?

Looking for more information on project resource management? Check out Sarah M. Hoban’s blog or subscribe to the Digital Project Manager newsletter for more sources of great project management content.

By Sarah Hoban

Sarah is a project manager and former strategy consultant with 10+ years of experience leading cross-functional teams to execute high-risk multi-million dollar projects. She excels at diagnosing and prioritizing project problems and building and maintaining strong relationships to improve how teams do business. Sarah is passionate about productivity, leadership, building community, and her home state of New Jersey.

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