Resource planning is a surefire way to optimize the use of resources across projects. You assign tasks to team members based on their skill set, capacity, and fit for the project in order to achieve maximum efficiency.
In other words, the process of planning resources helps you answer the two most important questions a project manager can ask:
- How do I ensure the project gets finished without overworking my team?
- How can we deliver this on time and within budget?
If you’re looking for ways to create a more effective project resource plan, let’s dive in!
What is resource planning?
In short, resource planning is a strategic method of organizing and allocating resources to tasks needed to complete projects.
Most of the time, resources refer to your people (often the most considerable expense), so you need to plan their time based on capacity, skill sets, and other factors.
Why is resource planning important?
Maximizing project outcomes by allocating tasks to both human and non-human resources is the textbook definition of resource planning. Did you know that 83% of senior executives say strategically managing resources is the top lever that powers company growth? Or that companies can save 28 times more money when they create resource management plans?
Creating a comprehensive resourcing plan (before the start of a project) helps you:
- Increase efficiency, as you know what resources you need and how they’re allocated to project tasks.
- Optimize the team’s utilization rates by matching the right skill sets to the right tasks.
- Track capacity and availability. If unforeseen resource needs arise, you’ll be ready to address them.
- Improve job satisfaction and retention in your team—no more burnout or overwhelmed team members.
- Monitor progress to keep projects on budget and work on track. You can see at a glance what each person should be working on and for how long.
- Plan and predict your resource availability for future projects, which helps your team become more organized in the long term.
Resource planning for teams provides a reliable basis to start projects and improves the chance of delivering them on time and within budget.
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How do organizations handle resource planning?
We’ll get into the specific steps in a minute, but generally speaking, planning resources can be done using something as simple as a spreadsheet. You identify and list your resources and track their availability.
A resource planning tool built specifically to make capacity management and time tracking easier can take things a step further by enabling easier sorting, tracking, and more accurate reporting on resources.
What are the methods of resource planning?
Resource planning includes various methods, such as resource leveling and resource smoothing (two popular resource management techniques). Resource allocation and resource utilization are processes that ultimately help with the complete planning of resources.
Whatever you use for resource planning, it helps to begin by knowing exactly who can work on what, how long it will 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 team members working on it) and what it’s going to cost you. We’re talking about variable resource inputs like:
- Contract start and end dates
- Hourly rates
- Title and job roles
- Skill sets
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How to create a resource plan: 7 steps in the resource planning process
Now, let's go through the steps for effective resource planning for any project.
1. Lay out project tasks and the resources you have
In the planning phase, you'll want to decide which project your team should tackle next. This is also when you'll determine and request the resources needed for the project.
You'll need to outline your project tasks and list your resources. Will some tasks take much longer than others? Are there tasks that need to be frontloaded?
34% of teams work overtime to complete their assigned work, 80% or more of the time. Carefully consider every task necessary to complete the project so that nothing goes unaccounted for.
2. Hold a resource management meeting
We all love to hate meetings, but they're a necessary part of the resource management process.
62% of leaders identify resource scheduling as their biggest project management challenge. So you need to hold a resource management meeting to ensure everyone is headed in the same direction.
If you're juggling multiple projects with multiple crossover teams, it might mean you'll need to take the time to compromise on the allocation of those resources with team leaders. As you make these decisions, it's crucial to have a point of reference for all stakeholders involved to give you a hand with resource management techniques.
Take MetaLab, for example. It took a long time for resource managers to update their spreadsheets as the team worked asynchronously through projects. Operations Manager Georgia McGillivray saved about three hours weekly once she switched to Float to manage the company's resources.
"Now we're able to plug tentative projects into Float and see three months into the future. That gives our executives and partnerships team a line of sight into how we'll staff future projects and our ability to take on additional projects."
3. Match resources to tasks
Managing team workloads means matching resources to tasks. However, it's important to remember that you'll never nail matching resources to tasks perfectly—but you can get close.
Social Chain's team knows matching resources to tasks is possible with the tools resource planning software like Float arms them with. "We use Float as a workload management tool to see where teams might need support, where we might need to hire, and where we might be able to shuffle things in terms of workload," says Managing Director Kay Leeson.
4. Set a budget and track time
If you've been in project management for more than a second, you know it's critical to set a budget and to take time into account. Time is paramount to planning because it's your team's most valuable resource.
For example, let's look at Social Chain again. The accounts and project teams can plan campaigns based on their crucial project data, including the budget and how many hours are required. "Every project and scheduled resource is managed through Float. Simply put, if it's not in Float, it's not getting done," says Head of Design Jamie Bryan.
As you set a budget, it's helpful to refer to post-project data from previous work to gauge how much you'll spend with the resources at hand. Reliable resource forecasting and reporting tools can be of great help here.
5. Create forecasts
Freelancers, small agencies, enterprise-grade businesses, and everyone else who manages projects need to get a handle on their future planning. Situations like these in the tweet below are all too familiar:
What's happening in the future that we must take care of now as we juggle ten other things? When you forecast future planning, it becomes easier to answer that question. You must decide on the approach you'll take first—whether that's lead, lag, or match. Then you'll want to use a tool like Float to prepare your team for each approach.
For instance, if you're matching tasks to resources, you'll need to know when you've hit a resource shortage, which might mean staffing your project workflow with outside contractors to help get the job done. Do you have room in the budget to do that? Float makes it easy to make that determination quickly.
6. Update your resource plan
Though it would be nice for it to be a one-and-done process, resource planning is something you'll constantly have to update as you go. Why? Not everything will go as planned, and you'll need to make adjustments along the way for things like:
- Slow approvals
- Unforeseen scope adjustments
- Team members dropping out of a project for unexpected reasons
- Getting the hours you initially allocated cut in half
Situations like these are when resource management software shines. Can you imagine handling slow approvals and scope adjustments while two team members drop out altogether without a tool to help you bounce back?
Project management can be challenging. There's no debating that. However, resource management software makes it a breeze to adjust based on resource availability.
7. Perform a post-project analysis
Now it's time to perform a post-project analysis to help you approach your next project armed with the knowledge to maximize resources even better. Performing a post-project analysis involves looking at the number of resources you budgeted vs. the resources your project took to complete.
Were you over or under hours? Did you need to bring in an outside contractor to help complete specific tasks? Is it possible that any hours went unaccounted for?
If you discover discrepancies between profits and resources spent on projects, a thorough post-project analysis makes it easier to course-correct as you move forward.
Do you need resource planning tools?
While spreadsheets can do the job if you don't have any other option, they're definitely not the easiest or most accurate method. Planning your resources this way can quickly become impossible when your team expands, and you begin to take on more projects. That's when you and a resource planning tool become best friends for life.
Consider the variable resource inputs you need to track over time—things like billable hours, skill sets, and ongoing tasks for each team member. With resource planning software, you can track all that and more and have a bird's eye view of capacity whenever you need it. You can see what everyone is working on at all times!
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How to use a resource planning tool effectively
A resource planning tool is like having a brilliant team schedule that helps you optimize. You can:
- Identify the resources and people you need for a project
- Forecast your resources required for every day/week/month of the project, and schedule them accordingly
- Create a detailed project timescale and resource schedule
- 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 extra challenging to achieve without some kind of dedicated software. 57% of agencies with a reliable resource planning tool say that their organization always schedules their team's workload and time on projects effectively.
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, so you know you will require development and design resources to execute the job.
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 regarding resources (ahem, people).
Next, you need to assign tasks to your team. You can search your resource availability and select team members based on their job titles and skills (in this case, developer and designer). Now that we've selected the team members needed and know the required hours, all that's left is assigning the tasks to each person on the schedule.
In Float, once a team member has been assigned a project, they'll be notified by email, push notification, and/or Slack and can work on completing their tasks. You can keep tabs on their progress on your end and make sure they're hitting their milestones.
5 key features of an agile resource planning tool
1. Multi-project organization features
Organizing a single project within your team might be easy enough, but resource planning gets trickier once you have multiple projects going simultaneously.
The reason is simple—our brains aren't made to simultaneously plan and delegate thousands of tasks. Luckily, that's exactly what a resource planning tool is built to do!
Social Chain faced this hurdle when its team size grew from just a handful of people to more than 160 creatives across the U.K. and the U.S. The company's Director of Video, Jason Fisher, realized he needed a resource planning system to help organize his growing team.
As the agency constantly juggles several projects at once, Fisher needed a way to coordinate projects and manage his team's calendars efficiently. Sometimes multiple daytime blocks were required for a video shoot. Using Float, Fisher manages his team's schedule with half, full, and consecutive blocked days for resource bookings.
Social Chain's accounts and sales team can access their project pipeline using the resource planning tool. This helped with another issue—selling above the team's resource 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," says Fisher.
Related: A Guide to MRM technology.
2. Real-time updates and tracking
Who updates that resource spreadsheet when a team member books a holiday or changes their availability? 🤨 After all, delivering projects on time (and on budget) relies on people completing the tasks when they've been allocated. Yet tracking project performance is still a massive problem for businesses.
With a resource planning tool, updates happen in real time.
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. High-level dashboard of team work schedules and resource availability
Chances are your team's availability is varied. Some people might work part-time, and others might only be available on certain days (and don't forget those lucky few on vacation). Keeping up to date with who is available and when is crucial to your resource planning strategy and keeping your projects on track.
With a resource planning tool, you can set and update your team's individual work hours. This availability is reflected in your resource planner so that you can schedule resources based on your capacity.
Of course, the real beauty comes when juggling different projects and allocating resources to tasks. With Float, you can visualize your entire team's availability on one screen and decide how to assign (and reassign, if necessary) each task to a resource based on skill sets and capacity.
4. Forecasting and budget tracking
A study by PMI found less than 60% of projects are completed within budget.
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 assigning a design resource 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 able to see that you are over budget within your project budget report.
Of course, you're likely to have several departments working on a project, and their hourly rates might differ. Using a resource planning tool keeps track of them all. Once you set milestones for them, a tool like Float will closely track the project's performance alongside its resources' billable hours.
5. Project reporting tools for smarter decision making
Having a birds-eye view of every project in your pipeline and resource capacity is the best way to keep your entire business on track. This is a vital role of resource planning software.
Not only does resource planning software help you predict if your projects will be successful, but it also gives you an easy way to collate all your data. A McKinsey study found that companies that used scenarios as a decision-making technique in their resource planning were 36% more likely to become a faster-growing company than their competitors.
Using a resource planning tool will give you a clear visual of:
- Available resources and future resource capacity
- Scheduled/unscheduled resource hours
- Project budgets (and if you're sticking to them)
- Team member's scheduled hours and their capacity
Resource planning made easy
If you’re still planning your projects with spreadsheets and whiteboards, chances are you’re not maximizing your team’s time or tracking budgets efficiently. This is exactly how project deadlines and budgets get thrown off track.
With a tool like Float, planning your team's time and scheduling your resources can save you up to four 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.