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Managing Schedules
Resource Loading In Project Management: A Helpful How-To

If you’re reading this guide, chances are you’re either: 1) a project manager frantically responding to a stakeholder request for a resource loaded project schedule—what the heck is resource loading, anyway?—or 2) you’re studying for the PMP exam. No matter what brought you here, you’ve come to the right place.

A resource loaded schedule considers the time it takes to complete project tasks based on resource availability, or the amount of work your project team is programmed to take on. Oh, and contrary to what your ex-boss thinks, resource utilization should not equal 100%.

gif of the boss from the movie office space
Spoiler alert: you'll have to disagree with your ex-boss if they claim that resources should be loaded at 100%.

In this article, I’ll explain a methodology for resource loading in project management, including the difference between resource loading and resource leveling. I’ll also help you develop your own template for a resource loading chart.

What Is Resource Loading?

Calculating resource loading is a simple math problem:

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.

To estimate the numerator, check out DPM’s amazing guide to the project resource management process, including resource planning, defining resource requirements, and resource allocation.

In this article, I’ll focus on calculating the denominator—resource availability. 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 by the time period (in weeks) for project completion. Right?

Wrong. We’re talking about humans, not robots. When was the last time you produced 8 hours of work uninterrupted? What about meetings? Coffee breaks? Bathroom breaks? Never mind paid time off and sick leave.

If 8 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. I should strive to optimize my team’s work environment to increase productivity over time.

Resource Loading vs. Resource Leveling

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

Resource LoadingResource Leveling
Calculating the amount of work you expect team members to perform based on their available capacity (i.e., resource utilization)X
Rightsizing resource allocation based on priority, project timeline, milestones, and budgetX
Project start and end dateFixedCan be adjusted to accomodate 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

The PMBOK guide identifies five phases of the project management life cycleinitiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Project managers 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 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.

Step 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.

Step 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.

Step 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.

What’s Next?

Looking for more information on resource loading and resource management as a whole? Check out my blog, and make sure to subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter to keep up with the latest.

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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