The Ultimate Guide to Resource Planning for Project Management

One of the most important questions a team leader can ask themselves when taking on a new project is: “How can we make sure we get this thing delivered on time and on budget?”

Juggling supply and demand is undoubtedly one of the toughest problems businesses face. So how do you make sure you’re able to deliver projects on time without overworking your team?

The answer is resource planning.

Resource planning organizes your team so that they know exactly what projects they're working on. More importantly, it makes sure you stay on budget, and ensures you're not burning anybody out. We won’t get too cheesy and mention that failing to plan is planning to fail—but you get where we’re going with the whole resource planning thing.

Let’s take a look at some numbers to back this up. Project management initiatives like resource planning save companies 28 times more money on average because their output is more reliable. Additionally, 83% of senior executives say strategically shifting resources is the top lever for supercharging company growth. Ultimately, though, the most important part of resource planning is organizing your company’s people.

In this guide, we’re going to look at:

Let's dive in.

The nuts and bolts of resource planning

If you looked up the definition of resource planning in a textbook, it would likely say something along the lines of: “Resource planning is a process of allocating tasks to human and non-human resources so that they’re maximized for efficiency.”

What does that look like for modern-day teams? In a nutshell, resource planning should help your business:

  • Be more efficient
  • Maximize all of your resources (e.g., an employee’s time)
  • Deliver the best results for projects by being more organized
  • Plan and predict your availability for future projects
  • Improve job satisfaction and retention in your team
  • Stop staff burning out
  • Improve your relationships with clients

But how?

Think about when your company starts a project. Before it begins, you need to figure out who can work on it, how long it's going to take, and how it will fit into your overall project pipeline.

To get the most out of resource planning, you need to be able to customize and keep track of every part of a project (like the creatives working on it), and what it’s going to cost you. We’re talking about “variable inputs” like:

  • Workdays
  • Contract start and end dates
  • Hourly rates
  • Title and job roles
  • Skill sets
  • Availability

This is where resource planning shines, because without the right tool, businesses can get lost in the weeds managing their resources. Some teams use spreadsheets. Some teams love planning on a whiteboard.

Whiteboard project planning. Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Those might seem like viable options, but when your team starts to expand, or you take on more projects, or God forbid something (anything!) goes wrong, planning this way can quickly become impossible. And that is when you and your resource planning tool become besties.

Organizing an event using a resource planning tool looks a little bit different than using a whiteboard.

Your team's schedules are kept within a budget, they can't be overstretched (unless you plan for them to be, of course), and most importantly, you're able to see what everyone is working on—at all times!

Why resource planning is important and what problems it solves

Completing a project is never easy.

To manage projects successfully, you need to be meeting deadlines and client deliverables. It’s a tough job, and it’s why project management plays such a critical role. However, when you’re juggling multiple projects, priorities, capacities and skillsets, you must also recognize how important resource planning becomes.

Resource planning can help you:

  • Maximize your budget spends
  • Optimize your workflows through reporting and forecasts
  • Take a more in-depth look at why you went over budget on a project (and what to do differently next time)
By using a resource planning tool, you can make sure every single hour of billed time on a project is planned and accounted for.

The connection of resource planning to project management

In 2018, PMI studied 4,455 project management practitioners to find out what their biggest problems were when planning projects. The results? Meeting project timelines and sticking to budgets were repeatedly highlighted as the main obstacles.

Image source: PMI Pulse of the Profession 2018 Survey

As the PMBOK® Guide states: “Resource planning is—next to cost estimating, budgeting and control—a part of project cost management.” That’s why we can’t talk about project management without talking about resource planning. If you can’t keep your budget on track and your people working towards achievable deadlines, your project is destined to fail!

A project’s profitability is directly linked to how many resources you need in order to complete it, right? When we talk about resources, it’s easy to think about stuff like hardware and infrastructure. But a lot of the time, the most important part of resource planning is accurately scheduling your team’s time.

Morgan Collett grew the team at Praekelt Consulting through resource planning. As CIO, he recognized the company needed a way to organize their tasks; some of which take a few hours, and some that take multiple weeks or months. They decided to use Float to plan all their resources in-house.

“Float handles all this, enabling us to see which of our team need work, and how we can juggle or reschedule work when things change,” he said.

A dedicated resource planning tool is way more convenient than running around trying to organize budgets and schedules using Google Sheets. It also means you’re less likely to get burned by having a dedicated resource planning tool that lets you schedule with accuracy.

How using a resource planning tool can improve your project management

A resource planning tool is like a really smart schedule. It can help you:

  • Identify the number of people you need for a project
  • Forecast how many people you need for every day/week/month and schedule them accordingly
  • Create a detailed project timescale
  • Stay on budget—all of your team’s rates are calculated automatically when you allocate their time
  • Maintain a live view of when team members are available, and when they’re on holiday

All of this would be impossible to achieve without some kind of dedicated tool. What does project organization look like using a resource planning tool, you ask? Let's map out a real-life scenario.

Let's imagine you've just landed a new client, and they need you to build them a new website. Your company has made similar sites before, so you know that you're going to need a developer and a designer to get this thing done right. You also know that it should take your developer roughly 20 hours, and your designer 10 hours, to complete their respective tasks. Using a resource planning tool, you can create the project and effectively forecast what you need in terms of resources (ahem, people).

Next, you need to assign the tasks to your team. You can search your team's availability and select people based on their job titles and skills (in this case, developer and designer):

Okay, now we've selected the team members you need to get the project completed, and you know the required hours. All that's left is adding the tasks to their schedules.

Create and assign project tasks in seconds.

Boom! Tasks scheduled.  

Once a team member has been assigned a project, they’ll be notified by email and can get to work on completing their tasks.You can keep tabs on their progress on your end, and make sure they’re hitting their milestones.

Keeping a project on track requires proper planning, and using a resource planning tool is one of the best ways to do it. But what does a great resource planning tool look like?

5 features of a perfect resource planning tool

1. It will give you the tools to plan for multiple projects

Organizing a single project within your team might be easy enough, but once you have multiple projects going at the same time, things start to get a little trickier.

According to a 2017 Project Management study by Wellingtone, attempting to run too many projects was the second-largest challenge faced by organizations.

Image source: Wellington State of Project Management Survey 2017

The reason is simple—our brains aren't made to plan and delegate thousands of tasks at once. Luckily, that's exactly what a resource planning tool is built to do!

Social media marketing agency Social Chain faced this hurdle when its team size grew from just a handful to more than 160 creatives across the UK and the US. The company’s Group Director of Video, Jason Fisher, realized as his team of videographers and editors grew from 3 to 12, he needed a system to help organize them all.

The agency began using Float to tackle its most significant hurdle—scheduling multiple team members on numerous projects.

Using Float, Fisher was able to manage his team’s time with blocked bookings, as sometimes multiple days were needed for a video shoot. As the agency is always juggling multiple projects at once, Fisher needed a way to coordinate projects efficiently and make sure the tasks were getting done.

Social Chain video team in Birmingham, UK

Social Chain’s accounts and sales team are also able to access their project pipeline using their resource planning tool (in this case, Float). This helped with another issue—selling above capacity. Because they could always check their team’s availability, it stopped them from booking projects without having the resources available.

"As a team, we can view the overall workload and time frames involved, while as an individual you can keep track of what tasks or projects you are working on and what projects you can (or cannot) take on based on your schedule," Fisher says.

2. It should give updates in real time

When a team member books a holiday or changes up their availability, who updates that spreadsheet? 🤨 After all, delivering projects on time (and on budget) relies on people completing the tasks they’ve been allocated.

Yet tracking project performance is still a massive problem for businesses. In fact, 55% of organizations say they can’t track their projects’ performance in real time. This can lead to overspent budgets and team members not hitting their milestones.

With a resource planning tool, updates should happen in real time. Using a tool like Float, any changes made on a project or a schedule will appear instantly in a live activity feed:

Never miss a beat with a live activity feed of updates made to your schedule, project tasks, and team members in Float.

And the next time a team member looks at their schedule? Yep, it will have already updated itself—automatically. It’s the easiest way to keep an eye on a project and its status, without bombarding your team’s email inboxes.

3. It will give you a true view of your resource availability

Or more accurately, your team’s availability.

Chances are your team's availability is varied. Some people might work part-time, others might only be available on certain days, and don't forget those lucky few who are on vacation. Keeping up to date with who is available (and when) is crucial to keeping your projects on track.

Do you remember the website development project we scheduled earlier? Let’s see what would happen in a resource planning tool like Float, if the lead designer’s availability suddenly changed from full-time to part-time:

Not only can you see this update to their profile in the activity feed:

It will also change their availability on the team’s schedule.

Of course, the real beauty of this comes when you're juggling a bunch of different projects and allocating tasks. With a resource planning tool, you can visualize your entire team's availability on one screen, and then decide how you're going to allocate tasks.

Have a last-minute marketing job entered the pipeline? No problem. Using Float, it's easy to see that Erin is available for the second half of Wednesday and Thursday. All the team leader needs to do is schedule the task in—and move on.

Pro-tip: Even if a project is still tentative, it doesn’t mean you can’t start planning it. Using Float, you can assign tentative tasks to team members. Not only is it an easy way to keep them in the loop, but once the project is confirmed, you’ll already have a head start on the project’s planning.

4. It will keep your budget in check

Keeping a project in line with budgets is one of the biggest challenges in project management. A study by PMI found less than 60% of projects are completed within their budget.

And one of the biggest culprits of going over budget? Not keeping track of how much you’re spending on employees to get the job done.

With a resource planning tool, it’s easy to keep projects within budget—automatically. Using Float as an example, every team member has their hourly rate saved into their profile. If you’re allocating a designer to a $2000 project and they charge $50/hour, you know you can allocate 40 hours to it. Once you allocate more than that, you’ll be warned that you are about to go over budget.

Of course, you’re likely to have a bunch of different departments working on a project. And their hourly rates might be different. Using a resource planning tool keeps track of them all. Once you set milestones for them to hit, a tool like Float will closely track the project's performance alongside its billable hours.

5. It will give you reporting tools to make data driven decisions

Having a birds-eye view of every project in your pipeline is the best way to keep your entire business on track.

Not only will you be able to predict if your projects are going to be successful, but it gives you an easy way to collate all your data. In fact, a McKinsey study found companies that used scenarios as a decision making technique were 36% more likely to become a faster growing company compared to their competitors.

Using a resource planning tool will give you a clear visual of:

  • Current and future project capacity
  • Scheduled/unscheduled resource hours
  • Project budgets (and if you’re sticking to them)
  • Team member’s scheduled hours and their capacity
The reports feature in Float gives everybody from accounts to project leaders a clear view of the company’s project pipeline.

Wrapping Up

Are you still planning your projects using spreadsheets or whiteboards?

If the answer is yes, chances are you’re not maximizing your team’s time or tracking your budgets efficiently. And this is exactly how project deadlines and budgets get thrown off track.

Using a resource planning tool to solve all this doesn’t mean you have to learn how to use a complicated new piece of software. In fact, planning your people on a tool like Float can save you up to three hours a week!

But the real win comes from keeping every member of your team on the same page. They will know what projects they’re working on, when they need to be finished, and what the overall project pipeline looks like.

Plus, you finally get to ditch that old, smudged up whiteboard and start delivering all your projects on time and on budget. What could be better than that?

Looking for a simple and fast resource planning tool without the learning curve? Float has been helping the world's top teams plan their projects and schedule their time since 2012. Try it free for 30 days—start your trial here!

Kimberlee Meier

Kimberlee Meier

In a previous life I was an award-winning Australian journalist. Now I live in Edinburgh and write research content for select B2B/SaaS companies. My workshop is located below.