There’s more to a successful project than simply getting the work done. Delivering successful projects on a consistent basis goes beyond planning the work itself and completing a series of tasks. To work efficiently and optimally, you need the right resources to be available at the right time to accomplish the job so that it meets its objectives.
A successful project comes down to resource planning that ensures you have everything you need. When all of the resources -- including budget, people, skills, time, technology, and equipment – are able to come together in the right combination and order, the project can be completed with optimal results. Resource planning can mean the difference between a successful project and one that loses momentum and ultimately fails.
Today’s complex organizations are under constant pressure to deliver projects faster and at lower costs so that they can reach revenue and profitability targets. Projects are subject to risks and contingencies such as wasted time, production delays, cost overruns, and scope creeps. Too many of these issues can result in a lost momentum and ultimately project failure. Any project is subject to a variety of risks at any time.
Completing in-depth resource planning that complements a project planning strategy are key steps that organizations can take to minimize some of the risks that can lead to project failure. A solid resource planning and management approach is beneficial whether your organization uses an agile approach, waterfall approach, or hybrid approach to projects.
What’s the best way to handle resource planning? A comprehensive resource planning tool can help your project teams accurately plan, organize, and allocate resources with optimal results.
This guide covers the essentials you’ll need to select the best resource planning tool for your business, including:
- An overview of what resource planning is and why it’s critical to project success
- Elements of a resource plan
- Importance of resource planning
- The steps involved in resource planning
- Why spreadsheets and other manual methods fall short
- Best practices in resource planning
- Beneficial features to look for when selecting a resource planning solution
- How to use resource planning software
Resource planning vs resource management and project management
It’s critical to understand the difference between resource planning, resource management, and project management. Although they are connected and dependent on another, these terms are not interchangeable. Taking a closer look at each area will help explain the differences among these elements.
Resource planning refers to the process of gathering and allocating resources (people, time, technology, equipment, and more) necessary to the project, and then leveraging those resources to meet your goals.
A crucial part of resource planning includes identifying the resources that will be needed to complete the project successfully. Resources includes workforce resources, technology, equipment, materials, budget, and time. Resource planning also means allocating the right people, with the right skills, for the right tasks in order to keep team members motivated and challenged.
Resource management is the strategic approach to managing and using all of the project’s resources effectively and efficiently. Effective resource management is essential for project success and starts with a solid resource plan.
The process typically requires allocating resources based on availability and skill in order to meet the demands of the project. Resource management may also mean optimizing workforce and other resources by changing deadlines, creating staggered start and delivery dates, reallocating tasks, managing conflict, and taking other measures as needed to keep the project on track. Effective resource management keeps costs in check and avoids potential issues of overextending teams, which can lead to burnout.
Project management is the process of planning, initiation, execution, monitoring, and closing of a project. There are a variety of different project management methodologies and approaches, including waterfall, agile, and hybrid. Some organizations implement more than one project management methodology, which results in a complex process.
Project managers are responsible for managing the full project lifecycle process, including creating the plan for completing the project, scheduling resources, and ensuring the work is completed. The objective of project management and the goal of the project manager is ensuring that projects are delivered on time and budget, to the satisfaction of the client, while meeting business goals, and maximizing profits.
Resource planning is a vital first step in the project delivery lifecycle or process. Ensuring that you and your team have the right resource planning app will make the job of resource planning much more efficient and effective.
What are some elements of a resource plan?
An effective resource plan includes a number of elements to help project management teams make the most informed decisions about planning and utilizing resources in a project.
As the Project Management Institute notes, “the resource plan becomes a living document—one that gets revised throughout the project. And that plan tracks not only availability but also productivity.”
Project managers and possibly other stakeholders will work with both the recourse plan and the resource management strategy throughout the project.
A good resource plan will:
- Identify resources needed for the project including people, tools, and technology.
- Provide details on timing of resources, or at what stage in the project they will be needed and for how long.
- Include details of resources including availability, skill sets, and tasks they will be assigned.
- Provide an accurate view of demand and capacity, throughout the project timeline.
- Enable project managers to accurately prioritize work based on the project timeline.
- Communicate priorities and sequence of tasks to people on the project team.
- Foresee potential gaps that could affect the project in the future or even have an impact on additional future projects.
- Track costs of resources including internal and external/client billing rates
Effective resource planning can help project managers overcome some of the obstacles that often develop during a project and can help stop the project from delays or a loss in momentum. If resources are working on multiple projects at the same time, which is often the case, it’s imperative to include accurate details on when specific resources are available. Even if details of the project change, the resource plan can be adjusted as necessary. An accurate resource plan can assist with forecasting for additional projects as well.
Why is resource planning important?
Resource planning is one of the key steps that must be completed before starting a project. if resources are not defined properly, or if they’re not allocated in the most efficient and effective manner, the project can run into delays, cost overruns or other issues. Effective resource planning minimizes the risk of project failure and helps businesses meet their long-term goals.
Without resources, a project can’t even get started. It’s up to the project manager to make sure everything that’s needed to get the project in motion is in place, at the right time. Project managers need a reliable and accurate resource plan to determine if they have the necessary resources in place to schedule and begin the work, or if they will need to gather additional resources.
While resources also include elements such as technology and materials, in many project- focused organizations, resources means the workforce - people with the right skill sets for the required work. Resource planning allows project managers to identify gaps in resources or skills, and make a plan to add resources to fill the gaps.
What are some of the other advantages and benefits of comprehensive resource planning?
- Effectively manages costs by allocating resources efficiently.
- Allows projects to stay on track and on budget.
- Provides a realistic view of workforce and resource capacity.
- Allows project managers to organize work effectively.
- Enables project managers to identify capacity and skills gaps.
- Prevents overutilization and underutilization of workforce resources.
- Plans availability of resources for additional projects.
With successful resource planning in place, projects are more likely to be delivered on time and on budget. In addition, resource planning can ensure team leaders are optimizing the capacity of their workforce, which often prevents burnout and can improve job satisfaction.
What are the different stages of resource planning?
During the initial phases of a project lifecycle, the various stages of the project are set in. These initial phases include evaluating a potential project and then defining the project in more detail. This includes defining project scope, deliverables, and a timeframe.
At this stage, the project manager and other stakeholders on the team will need to get resources lined up and ready to go before the project start date. But before they dive into the project planning or execution phase, resource planning must take place.
Next, let’s break down the different stages of resource planning.
Stage 1: Once a project is approved and project scope and tasks are defined, the resource planning process begins. The usual first stage is to conduct a resource meeting with the project management team and other stakeholders to assess the project requirements. One of the aims of this meeting will be to discuss details including the project requirements and timetable, as well as identify tasks, skills, and resources that will be needed to complete the project. Resources can include people, time, budgets, technology, and materials, which vary depending on the needs of each project.
Stage 2: Resource planning team will assess available resources and identify gaps or shortcomings. This could mean identifying both skills gaps and capacity gaps by assessing the availability and capacity of workforce resources. Determine how to fill gaps (for example, with existing in-house staff, hiring new staff or outsourced resources or consultants.)
Stage 3: Begin matching available sources to project requirements. This also means allocating the right resources to the right skill and task and working within budget. Part of matching resources also means making sure you’re not overworking your workforce. It also means making sure that you’re allocating the right resource at the right time in the project.
Effective resource planning requires a system that can accurately identify the resources needed, project the costs of resources, identify capacity and skill sets, manage time including availability and start dates, and organize and communicate the entire plan effectively.
But all approaches to resource planning aren’t equal.
Why pen and paper or Excel won’t work for resource planning
For years, resource planning used to be done with either pen and paper or Excel spreadsheets. Planning resources using these methods is a cumbersome and time-consuming process, involving multiple sources of data that need to be manually input into a spreadsheet.
But the standard resource planning methods of the past aren’t adequate to handle today’s resource planning needs. Today’s complex project management environment involves many moving parts. Project managers are juggling multiple projects at a time, often involving many teams in the organization.
Meanwhile, resources (both internal and external) are typically involved with working on more than one project at a time, while siloed teams and processes can make it difficult to compile data. Excel spreadsheet planning methods are not effective or efficient enough for complex resource planning needs.
There are additional issues with using spreadsheets or other manual methods for resource planning. Here are some of the most common problems:
- Inputting data into a spreadsheet manually or by logging information about resources on paper is extremely time consuming and prone to inefficiencies.
- Using spreadsheets or paper to plan resources is prone to a variety of manual errors such as adding incorrect data, inputting incorrect values, or adding the wrong formula.
- Manual methods such as pen and paper or spreadsheets are unreliable. Multiple sheets of paper can easily be lost and difficult to maintain accurately and efficiently. Excel files can also be overwritten, “lost” in a system or stored in an unknown place, and files can be corrupted.
- Spreadsheets can cause problems when there are multiple versions of a spreadsheet created and users lose track of the correct version. With spreadsheets, multiple incorrect versions of resource planning can easily occur, leading to inaccuracies when determining capacity or availability of resources.
- Using spreadsheets or sheets of paper makes it difficult to collaborate with team members on resource planning. Waiting for multiple team members or managers to monitor or update spreadsheets creates bottlenecks that can slow or halt progress on a project.
- Excel (or paper) doesn’t integrate with other tools you already use. Having to retrieve data from multiple sources, reports, or other documentation that will then need to be manually input on a spreadsheet simply creates more work and wastes more time.
- Excel doesn’t give you a visual overview of all your resources, making it difficult to determine to accurately assess or forecast the availability of resources.
- Spreadsheets are static and aren’t capable of providing real time data or insights.
- Manual methods of resource planning are inferior to digital solutions, which allow distributed teams to collaborate on projects more effectively.
However, a comprehensive resource planning software platform or app can help avoid all of the issues that come with manual resource planning methods. A resource planning software solution saves time and lowers costs by providing project managers with visibility and insights that can’t be duplicated with a spreadsheet. With resource planning software, project leaders and other stakeholders have a better and more effective way to manage their resources.
What are some resource planning best practices?
Organizations and project teams should follow certain best practices when developing a resource plan. Taking steps at the start of the planning phase to ensure the resource planning is completed accurately will make it easier to make decisions about managing resources while the project is in progress.
In some organizations, more than one project methodology may be in place. However, resource planning and management typically works best when the organization adheres to the same principles for resource management. Siloed teams and systems can make resource planning less efficient and lead to less than optimal resource management.
Many of the recommended best practices for resource planning involve techniques to make the entire process efficient, accurate and visible. When developing a resource plan, project leaders and other stakeholders should keep in mind the following guidelines:
- Recognize that resource planning isn’t a “one and done” type of task. Project teams are often faced with unexpected changes in the project, or sudden changes in resource availability or capacity. In addition, other changes in project scope or conflicts that develop will make it necessary to adjust and adapt the resource plan to suit the new demands.
- Gain a full and current understanding of resource availability. When project leaders have an accurate view of capacity of resources, they can make better and more informed decisions.
- Make optimal allocation of resources a priority. This is critical from a time and cost savings standpoint.
- Commit to accurate time tracking practices for all resources in order to assess performance on the current project as well as improve and gain insight into future planning efforts.
- Avoid overutilization of workforce resources. Overworking your team members will lead to burnout and stress. Part of good resource management is making sure your people are thriving.
- At the same time, avoid underutilization of workforce resources. Having team members allocated at the wrong time is not only disorganized, it wastes time, drives up costs and creates friction among team members and stakeholders.
- Do not front load resources. Overestimating workforce resources drives up costs and creates inefficiencies that can cause the entire project to derail.
- Consider using an advanced resource planning software tool. Using spreadsheets and other manual methods are prone to errors and are inefficient. Advanced software solutions allow for better decision making, not to mention saves time and cuts costs compared to less effective methods.
Beneficial features to look for in resource planning software
Implementing software and apps that are designed for resource planning can help your team manage projects more efficiently while streamlining the planning process.
Resource planning apps should provide valuable and actionable insights that resource and project planning teams need to accurately and effectively line up what is needed to start a project and keep it on track.
A key benefit of using resource planning software is that it allows project managers, team leaders, and other stakeholders the ability to access and make decisions based on complete and accurate information.
Resource plans often change and need to be revised in the middle of a project. By using a resource planning software app, project managers, resource managers and other team members can more easily adapt and adjust plans as necessary while minimizing the risk of derailing the project. Accessing real time data allows resource planners to make more effective decisions and handle changes as they arise.
Resource planning software tools typically include built-in planning modules. Robust features such as visual planning, capacity planning, real-time analytics and forecasting allow resource planners and other stakeholders to produce an effective plan that can be modified to accommodate changes in project scope or parameters, skills needed, or resource availability.
Selecting a versatile and flexible resource planning solution that can work with multiple project planning methodologies can help organizations that are dealing with hybrid project planning strategies.
Visual planning is a core feature in resource planning software. Visual planning refers to a graphical representation of project tasks, timelines, and resources. A complete and transparent view of all project planning and resource details allows project managers to get a high-level view of the state of a project both currently and over an extended period of time.
Project managers can see at a glance what team members are doing when. Visualization can also help project teams identify shortfalls and weaknesses or watch out for under or over utilization of resources. Visual planning helps project leaders and teams make better decisions on how to optimize workforce resources.
Visual scheduling tools also keep existing employee workloads in mind, other projects, scheduling such as vacations and holidays.
A resource planning tool in practice
Here’s a scenario that illustrates one of the typical benefits of using a resource planning tool that offers visibility of all resources and capacity:
Let’s consider a project manager working on a 10-month project that requires a database architect to complete different tasks at different stages. The project manager determines that the database architect will be needed at three separate stages of the project: In the beginning of the project to create a new database; approximately 4 months into the project to merge databases; and then for the final database and software migration at the end of the project.
It’s not efficient or cost effective to have a database architect sitting around waiting during their downtime on the project. The database architect will certainly be working on another project while they’re not needed on the 10-month project. That means the project manager will have to figure out how to manage the risk of not being able to get the same database architect for all three stages. They might not have a choice but to find a new database architect. But scrambling in the middle of the project to locate a new team member, who will need to be brought up to speed, wastes time and can even stall the project from progressing.
However, with a good visual resource plan, the project manager will know about the risk of a possible resource gap in the planning stage. With a visible plan and view of all resource availability and capacity, the project manager can work hand in hand with the resource management team. Since they have the ability to view and forecast resources later in the project, it’s much easier to handle locating more than one database architect early on.
A resource plan with good visibility helps project managers set priorities, and plan when to start and stop resources, or schedule and allocate resources using staggered start dates to keep the project running smoothly.
Additional robust features to look for when selecting a resource planning solution include the following:
- Single view of plans and resources
- What-if capability to optimize workforce and resources
- Technology integrations
- Environment to suit your business: cloud, server, enterprise
- Insights and analytics
Resource planning software solutions that offer robust features and flexibility will be adaptable for a variety of project types and approaches. These capabilities also facilitate communication and collaboration among project leaders and other team members, further enabling projects to run more smoothly.
How to use resource planning software
With a resource planning software tool, the entire resource planning process becomes faster and more efficient while offering more visibility.
Using a resource planning software solution can help your team accomplish the various stages of the resource planning process, including:
- Identifying the workforce and other resources that will be needed for a project
- Identifying and assessing the capacity of your resources
- Track utilization rates of resources
- Forecast resource requirements for the entire project life cycle
- Assess detailed schedules, time, and availability of workforce resources
- Identify and manage skill and resource gaps
- Assess and track costs to stay on budget
- Use real time data to provide insights for assessing the project
- Forecast future resource availability
- Review historical project data
- Provides a visual overview of project status
For example, organizations with multiple locations often need to plan teams and resources for multiple projects. A transparent resource planning tool helps streamline the entire process of planning teams, including quickly locating available resources as well as maximizing utilization. Features such as capacity reporting allows organizations to plan out and optimize their workforce resources for a longer period of time, and forecast for future needs.
Resource planning software allows the entire resource planning process to be constantly optimized, even if project plans or timetables shift along the way. Better resource planning means that project teams can stay on track, delivering value and allowing the business to reach more of their goals.
Using Tempo to fulfill your resource planning needs
Depending on spreadsheets or manual methods for resource planning can be a risky prospect. With Tempo Planner, your teams can help your organization achieve efficient resource planning and workforce optimization.
A powerful, integrated solution, Tempo Planner is built to provide a clear view of plans and resources, allowing you to plan efficiently without burning out your teams. Fast-track your short term and long term planning, forecast future needs, and find the resources your team needs to meet your project goals.
With Tempo Planner, project managers can see the availability of resources in one place, whether they are in different office locations or working remotely.
With Tempo Planner, your teams can:
- Schedule individuals and teams on a project, task or ticket level.
- Allocate or request resources for high-impact initiatives while ensuring workloads are balanced and realistic.
- Align business proposals with resource availability and improve delivery efficiency.
- Get organized with simple and efficient communication of priorities.
- Plan and approve work or request time from other teams.
- Account for vacations, holidays, flexible hours, and distributed teams
- Efficiently find the resources needed to complete any project, including from other teams, in order to design the most effective plan.