In project management, few things are as critical to a project as “resource planning.” Yet, as important as resource planning is, it is often misused, over, or underutilized.

The result is programs and projects with areas that have too many resources allocated, creating waste, or, in the other direction, not enough resources are allocated, creating a need and affecting final product outcomes.

Understanding the role of resource planning is vital to project success. The following is a rundown of resource planning, its role in project management, how a sound resource management plan can be created, and why automated help makes that process easier.

What is Resource Planning?

Within a project management framework, the simplest way to define the role of a resource plan is that the plan is the resource scheduling of “where, when, and how long” assets of the project are to be used to accomplish specific project goals.

For example, if project team members need to use a specialized tool for part of the project work, resource management would include scheduling the use of that tool among team members who need to use it. Team member number one might be scheduled to use the tool on Monday afternoon, while member number three might use it on Wednesday morning, etc.

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The more complex definition is that resource planning is all the planning of the resources available to the project team to complete the project. Resource(s) planning includes:

  • What is to be used
  • How it is to be used
  • How it fits into the overall project planning scheme
  • When it is to be used
  • How it affects the finances, schedule, and outcome of the project

It includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Human Capital asset management and planning
  • Physical asset management and planning
  • Monetary asset management and planning

In highly complex projects, resource planning can include intellectual management. Intellectual management involves mapping out the details of a project plan, doing research, developing critical data-specific team member’s utilizing specialized talent, etc. Each aspect of intellectual management resource schedules the use of the knowledge, skills, and abilities, but it is not a tangible resource.

Human Capital Asset Management and Planning

This includes using anything related to the physical activities of team members assigned to a project, project phase, or project task. It can involve team members from multiple organizational departments, accounted for when they are needed, and scheduled to complete a project task.

Often, this includes specific employees assigned to specific project tasks at particular time intervals. Resource planning for the human capital of a project must be adaptable as projects rarely follow the critical path of the initial estimate.

Physical Asset Management and Planning

This type of resource planning is the most recognizable because it is composed entirely of tangible assets. It is the planned allocation of whatever physical assets a project team has at its disposal when those assets are to be used and for how long. It can include scheduling the use of computers, testing equipment, conference rooms, tools, etc.

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Physical asset management becomes complicated when more than one party needs the same asset at the same time. Resource planning works out the schedule for each party or determines what needs to be adapted to accommodate all involved.

Monetary Asset Planning and Scheduling

Monetary assets of a project are the funds planned for:

  • The entire project
  • Phases of the project
  • Tasks within those phases
  • Research and Development
  • Physical assets
  • Human capital assets

Monetary assets are the budget of a project at the individual expense level. For example, a project plan might include $500 for phase two of a project, and the resource plan will separate that $500 into individual expenditures. This form of resource planning also factors into the development of budgets, project deviation plans, and requests for more funds.

Intellectual Assets

All projects have a certain amount of intellectual capital that allows personnel to complete the project successfully. Many projects, though, have needs that go beyond the normal scope of project and program management.

While the basics are assumed to be part of human resources management, special needs must be incorporated into the project schedule.

Team work, work colleagues, working together
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For instance, a project might need an expert in a specific form of engineering or legal analysis for a feature that expands beyond the scope of general project management. In each case, specialists must be scheduled and utilized and have a quantifiable cost in time and money. Those costs can be planned and tracked.

Why is Resource Planning so Important?

Imagine an organization with multiple projects that has multiple team members from disparate organizational departments, different, complex phases, specialized resource utilization, allocation needs, and timeframes, and requires each aspect of asset management defined above.  

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In addition to one project, imagine the same project managers have multiple and different projects. Each requires full-time management and frequent decision-making. All projects have personnel pulled in different directions. Now, imagine those same projects with zero capacity planning, human resources scheduling, forecasting, or financial resource allocation.

Chaos Defined

The result of the latter scenario would be chaos in a project management context. Personnel demands would create bottlenecks, the amount of time for each task would be a guess, and there would not be enough resources to go around to address all project needs. It would be constant chaos and conflict.

The likely outcome would be no better. In the chaos, if personnel ever finished a project, that staff would likely be disgruntled and exhausted, assets depleted, schedules missed, and the entire project would be over-budget. In addition, no stakeholders, from the personnel working on the project to the customer(s), would be happy with the process or outcome. Now, imagine that across multiple projects.

A Needed Framework

That scenario is the likely outcome of any project that requires more than one employee working on it. It is a principle of nature that the more components involved in a process, the more complex and conflict-prone a process becomes. In a project management context, that conflict can have dramatic and negative consequences.

By mapping out a project schedule that includes resource planning, most of the chaos of an unmanaged project would get addressed. More importantly, when plan deviation started, it would be quickly recognized and addressed. That includes accommodating project modifications and new budgetary demands.

How to Design a Resource Planning Process

Fortunately, despite what some project management curriculum will imply, resource planning is not all that complex. Ensuring a project stays on course and that project managers have the tools, resources, and personnel skillset they need to be successful is as easy as understanding a few metrics and how to apply them. The following is a breakdown of the data in those metrics.

Project Scope

The scope of a project is fundamental to that project's success. It is the roadmap for managers as the project progresses. Without a finite schedule, assigned tasks, resources, and a budget, a project is prone to run amok.

From this one metric, often defined in a formal project Scope of Work and occasionally a Gantt Chart, needed additional data can be derived, including available resources that a Resource Allocation Plan needs.

Resource Allocation Plan

Like the project scope, a Resource Allocation Plan has several components. The plan fits into the project framework, and the components included help determine resource availability. Additionally, resources costs and best practices for utilization can be calculated. Without each one, missed work or work that does not meet project quality standards is almost unavoidable.

At least three components must be known and understood to complete an accurate Resources Allocation Plan.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The WBS is important because it is the framework from which all resource needs can be identified, calculated, and planned. If a project manager does not understand the WBS of a project, they have no frame of reference from which to derive the utilization of any resources. They also cannot adequately create a project plan or schedule.

Available Resources

This is also key, not just a successful Resource Allocation Plan, but also to the overall project plan itself. Resources or assets are tools at the project manager’s disposal. They can use them as needed and freely, provided it is understood when those assets are needed elsewhere.

Available resources include all the asset planning and scheduling components covered above. Each one is factored into the WBS, and the need for that asset is estimated. That estimate is then calculated into the overall project schedule.

For example, if a project team needs 48 hours of use of a specific tool, but it is only available for 40, the project manager will have a decision to make:

  • Shift the schedule of the project to accommodate resource availability
  • Change the project scope to modify the need
  • Coordinate with other project managers to address the need

Without understanding the availability of the resource, however, resource planning is impossible to do accurately.

Resources Limitations

Understanding the limitations of a resource is as important as knowing its availability. A piece of equipment that exceeds its recommended hours of use before maintenance, for example, might be available but is worthless to the project team unless that team understands and assumes the risk.

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Another example is fiscal. If a project has an unforeseen expense, the project manager must modify the budget. However, if there are no available funds, the Project Manager must address the need, which may mean ignoring it or issuing a Budget Modification Plan for approval. Knowing the limitation, however, is key to being able to plan the resource adequately fiscally.

Flexibility of the Project and Associated Projects

Understanding the flexibility of project scope, other projects' resources needs and the flexibility in both allows the planner to accurately plan resources utilization. Additionally, it will enable them to account for deviations. Not knowing means conservative assumptions must be made, which can mean project tasks are ignored or an available resource is potentially under-utilized.

Why You Should Use a Resource Planning Software

Avoiding conflict is the main reason that project managers should use resource planning software. Given how much of a project is now automated through technology, doing the management and scheduling manually invites communication issues, conflict, project budget and time tracking inconsistencies, and errors. This is particularly true if the deliverables have a lot of moving parts.

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A single project that one person manages might not need a resource planning tool. In that case, every aspect of the project, including available resources and the best resource to use, is known by one person. While a resource planning tool would be helpful, in this case, it is not critical. Any project that has more than one person involved, though, should have resource management software.

Resource Management Addresses Unwieldy Parts

If the project involves multiple resources and personnel needs, each moving part is a potential conflict waiting to happen. Resource planning software specifically focuses on the various resources needed to do a project, the availability of those resources, and how that fits into the overall project need and schedule.

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Most importantly, it allows managers to select the best resource and manage its use while avoiding conflicts. A resource administration tool helps avoid the collision of multiple projects, personnel and resources need because it provides a clear “bird's eye view” of what is available and the schedule associated with its use.

Final Thoughts

Resources management is complicated. It has a lot of facets and particulars within those facets. A project schedule, for instance, must accommodate personnel, equipment, time, and budget demands, and each of those is driven by what is available and when it is available.

Because it is so comprehensive, resource planning demands a “one-stop” solution that lets the user map out what is needed, available, and when it can be used. The only viable solution for complex projects is to incorporate resource planning software into the overall project management scheme and use it to drive the rest of the project.