Resource planning is a strategic approach to ensuring resources are used in the most effective way, across a single project or a portfolio of work. When executed properly, organizations achieve maximum efficiency and optimization in their use of resources, without under- or over-utilizing any one resource. They also achieve visibility into current projects, future resource requirements and shortages to inform capacity allocations, and potential project bottlenecks.
Resource planning allows organizations to respond with greater flexibility as markets evolve and projects change. As new disruptive technologies enter the market at ever increasing speeds, the ability of organizations to turn on a dime becomes paramount. Business goals that were important yesterday, may have little to no value tomorrow. Companies must do everything possible to achieve the flexibility necessary to pivot as goals and strategies shift.
The Savvy PMO’s Guide to Resource Planning
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Top 5 Challenges of Modernizing Resource Capacity Planning
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What is a Resource Plan?
A resource plan identifies, organizes, and lists the resources required to complete a project. Because most organizational expenses are resource related, it’s essential that they’re used as efficiently as possible.
A resource plan maps out how and when company resources will be used.
A resource plan acts as a blueprint to help ensure projects and work are executed on time and on budget. But that’s no easy task – especially when resources are numerous and various projects requiring an assortment of skillsets are in progress across an enterprise.
Many project and program managers use resource planning capabilities within project portfolio management (PPM) solutions. These tools assist them in aggregating the resources available within the organization, classifying them into categories, and adding specific attributes like skillsets, experience, and availability. This data allows them to assign tasks to individuals and teams based on those attributes, while maintaining and monitoring the utilization of the resources and ensuring they are contributing to the highest value work.
Importance of Resource Planning
Effective use of resources is among the most important (and often challenging) activities companies undertake. Resource planning that’s executed properly and managed carefully will help improve the overall health of the organization by ensuring:
Maximum resource utilization
In the past, people were often placed on teams simply because they were available at the time. Minimal attention was paid to their skillsets or the other work they were doing. The result was skills gaps that exacerbated project delays even when the skills existed somewhere in the company. And project delays often led to more project delays. To avoid this, companies have placed a strategic focus on maximizing resource utilization.
Companies strive to deliver projects on schedule. Doing so helps build customer satisfaction and loyalty, boosts internal morale, and ensures future projects start on time. Project resource planning is key to on-time delivery.
Companies also strive to complete projects on budget. Overspending can cause project cancellations, missed revenue, and reduced profitability. Without a clear understanding of resources and resource capacity, managing budgets is a shot in the dark.
Predictable project timelines
A deep understanding of available resources and skillsets allows organizations to estimate the amount of time required to perform individual tasks and to complete each project. That knowledge enables organizations to plan well into the future, as well as plan for changes, disruptions, or new opportunities.
Improved project flow
Faster project flow is a result of good resource planning. When the right people work on the right projects at the right time, projects move forward at maximum speed and with fewer mistakes.
Bridged capacity gap
A shortage or excess of resources can be identified by comparing resource demand against existing capacity. Detecting a lack of skillsets required for a future project allows managers to bridge the gap. This helps prevent organizations from hiring new talent when the problem is simply a misallocation of resources. It also prevents companies from experiencing unplanned stoppages in production.
More accurate estimates
Carefully managing resources and skillsets help ensure more accurate project timelines and budgeting. This can also help executives estimate when projects will begin to impact revenue, costs, and even profitability. The release of a new app, for example, may have a significant impact on company revenues, so accurate estimates are essential.
Core Elements of a Resource Plan
The goal of a resource plan is to identify and assign the resources necessary to execute the work. While largely focused on human resources and time, it may also involve equipment, tools, supplies, production materials and so on, depending on the nature of the project or program. The following five components are a part of virtually any comprehensive resource plan:
People are the core necessity of your business and your most valuable asset. They’re also one of your most expensive. Therefore, an important part of resource planning is understanding exactly who you have in your organization, their availability to deliver projects, programs, and/or keep-the-lights-on work, and their talents.
Skillsets, capacity, availability, and utilization
Besides identifying the people you have, you need a thorough understanding of their strengths and skillsets – especially when those skillsets are rare or in high demand. Experts in many areas are hard to find and can be very expensive.
That means the total capacity of individuals with specific skillsets must be clearly understood. For example, if you have only two developers with highly desired skills, you need to know exactly how and when those skills will be used. You must know when those developers have availability and whether the work they’re doing could be reassigned to others.
You may want to consider balancing workloads across teams versus individuals. What skillsets are needed on the team to deliver the work? Skills spread out across multiple teams are typically easier to work with than finding a single team member with all the required skills.
You may also want to consider moving to more agile, cross-functional teams to help mitigate the need for specialized skillsets. A dedicated, cross-functional team that stays together long term and remains focused on a targeted outcome is often more effective than constantly creating new teams with all the skills and availability you need. Small changes to the team makeup can be made as needed.
Time tracking is a mechanism that measures progress, and it goes hand in hand with resource planning. It helps organizations to set realistic expectations, anticipate deliverables, and meet deadlines. It also illustrates how the teams are performing against budgets and timelines.
As team members record the time spent on projects, managers can see how the work is moving forward and estimate the remaining time required to complete it. This allows for adjustments to be made earlier in the project rather than at the end when less can be done to address problems.
Data is the key to ongoing project success. It can be used to maximize resource utilization and ensure projects remain on time and on budget. Data collected from past projects can be used to forecast the cost and time requirements of future work. It’s important that the right data is collected, and that it’s fully leveraged to provide actionable intelligence.
For resource planning to be effective, you must have the ability to forecast. You must be able to anticipate the skillsets, time, and budget required to execute the work. Without these elements, your company can’t achieve the visibility required to operate at maximum efficiency. This comes back to the right tools collecting the right data and allowing you to leverage that data to the greatest degree possible.
Time and budget management
Your resource plan should include the following:
- The rates of the people scheduled to work on the project
- The estimated time required to perform each task (or group of tasks)
- The overall budget
Good resource planning software will enable you to capture actuals as the project progresses. This data can then be used to track and evaluate how the project is progressing in terms of budget and delivery. When issues surface, changes can be made to the plan. If part of the project is running over forecast, workers may be swapped out for those with lower rates. If the project is behind schedule, the possibility of incorporating additional resources – and the resulting impact on budget – can be evaluated.
Stages of a Resource Plan
A resource plan can be split into five stages, though these should not be viewed as stand-alone or purely consecutive activities. In fact, many of the following stages should be managed and updated through a continuous planning process.
1. Identify resources
Assuming team members, their skills and experience are already understood and entered into your resource planning software, start by understanding what skills will be required for the project you’re currently planning. This helps you determine the resources you’ll need, with what levels of expertise, and for what amount of time.
2. Procure resources
Once you understand project requirements, you’ll need to assign specific resources. To do this, managers use their resource management tool to check the availability of individuals that meet the requirements and assign them to the project. Smaller projects are scheduled out fully, while more extensive projects may be broken down and scheduled by quarter.
Either way, it’s important to remember that this plan will be fluid and subject to change as personal schedules alter, circumstances change, and some resources are pulled into higher priority work or are assigned to cross-functional teams. Adjusting the plan is a continuous process.
3. Visualize resources
The ability to visualize resources makes resource planning easier. While many managers still rely on Excel spreadsheets, a resource management tool simplifies the process by storing the information in one easily accessed, easily viewed location. From there, managers drill down into specific resources to understand current roles, skills, rates, and availability.
4. Manage resources
The ability to visualize resources and their attributes simplifies the ability to manage them. Part of managing these resources may involve repositioning them as high-value, high-priority projects come along that require the use of already booked individuals. This process ensures the best person is available for the project.
Due to its fluidity, this stage of managing resources runs throughout the life of the project – another reason why a tool that identifies the skills required, illustrates availability, and allows you to assign tasks with a click is invaluable.
5. Monitor resources
Once resources have been assembled into a team tasked with project execution, resource managers shift into monitor-and-adjust mode. In this phase, they respond to any changes in resource requirements, keeping a close eye on capacity and utilization.
Moreover, they learn from the plan, noting specifically what changes were required, for what reason and at what point in the process. This information is used to create future resource plans with the idea that each plan will become more accurate as time progresses.
How Resource Planning Software Benefits Project Management Performance
Resource planning tools empower organizations to deliver more projects, more rapidly, and with the best allocation of resources possible.
12 key features of resource planning software
Most organizations select resource planning software as a component of a larger PPM solution. So, pay close attention to the resource planning capabilities of the PPM software you’re evaluating. Ascertain the overall solution’s ability to solve the problems you’re experiencing, as well as its ability to perform the following resource management functions with ease.
Establishing and maintaining skillsets
Adding and maintaining resource skillsets is a primary element of resource management. The ability to easily enter and update this information is important. Comprehensive, up-to-date data allows resource managers to identify project candidates based on the skills they’ve acquired.
Allocate names and roles to projects and tasks
Another basic feature of resource planning software is the ability to assign specific people, teams, or roles to projects and tasks. Managers assign and schedule resources through a filtering process that can separate populations based on any number of attributes including skillsets, roles, availability, group membership, location, etc.
Powerful search capabilities
Finding the perfect resource may take some digging, so look for a solid search mechanism that can process one or more attributes, such as “Java” + “based in US” + “available in April.” The best search engines will return a list of qualified options scored according to the search criteria that’s been entered.
Workload balancing across a range of resources
Managers should be able to balance workloads across resources by using any attribute that’s been configured. The resource management tool should also allow them to simulate the impact of any changes before making them permanent, and to make real-time updates directly to resource assignments if deemed appropriate.
External resource management
If your organization employs outside resources, your resource planning activities must include managing them. Select a tool that allows both internal and external employees to be assigned work. Ensure there are no license restrictions on the number or types of resources that can be managed so that external resources can be properly configured as licensed users. The tool should also prevent them from accessing modules and data outside their scope.
Resource requests and substitutions
Managers looking to fill roles should be able to ask permission before scheduling resources. Other managers should be able to approve, decline, or offer a substitute – all from within the system.
Control over “maximum project availability” determines the allocation of effort to resources when they’re assigned to a task. This helps prevent overscheduling of the resource and helps managers maintain budget allocations.
Support for multiple methodologies
A flexible, methodology agnostic tool will allow for workflows, roles, and work that can be easily configured, managed, and adjusted for any delivery approach. This is important when organizations use a variety of techniques (agile, Scrum, Kanban, etc.) based on which is best suited for the work being delivered. Integrations that allow for the retrieval of data will be essential when delivery teams execute work in third-party delivery tools, as they are required for maintaining a single source of truth.
Collaborative resource management
Staffing request workflows should be designed to support collaboration between requestors and staffers. This should include support for a resource manager role (separate from line managers) tasked with resource planning, centralizing staffing and approval functions, and managing pools of resources.
Overall capacity management
Resource management tools should collect high-level resource data and calendars at the name, role, and organizational levels, allowing managers to calculate from either a top-down or bottom-up position. This enables both demand planning (Can our team take on this work?) and capacity planning (Do we have enough resources to take on this work?).
Ideally, capacity and demand planning capabilities should work together to identify when teams are taking on too much, prioritizing the committed work or projects, and highlighting gaps for training, maintenance, vacation, administrative and other non-project work, as well as for non-working time and events.
A capacity planning module provides real-time visibility and forecasting of resource shortfalls and bottlenecks. Future resource requirements can be defined by organization, role, skill, location, or any other attribute at the program, project, product, or service level.
Using this data, managers can compare current resource capacity against planned project requirements. This alerts managers to the potential for future bottlenecks and allows them to respond before project velocity is impacted.
When considering resource planning software, ensure the tool can forecast resource needs across projects or across a portfolio of projects or programs, if necessary. Managers should be able to view future demand and capacity requirements by project, role, skill, or whatever attribute is required.
Resource optimization algorithms
Some resource management tools use algorithms to automatically optimize resources. These may be applied to work scheduling scenarios using rank and available capacity to identify what can be committed.
What-if scenario modeling of resources enables project managers to re-plan and re-prioritize projects without disrupting work that’s underway. Search features should offer named resources to meet demand based on best fit and availability.
Resource Planning Tools
With the right guidance, the purchase of resource planning software doesn’t have to be difficult. For a detailed guide on selecting the right resource management tools for your organization, visit “Resource Management Software: What to Look for in a Solution.”
What Project Management Challenges Are Solved?
Many of the challenges associated with project management have been addressed by resource planning and management tools that provide the features and functions mentioned above. Following are examples of issues some companies have faced, insight into how they responded, and the benefits they experienced afterwards.
Reduced delays, greater visibility, better utilization
Many organizations struggle with a lack of project visibility. One financial services organization was experiencing significant project delays. They were aware that the problem was due to the underutilization of resources, but without the visibility to correct the problem, their only option was to reduce the number of projects and pad development times.
The company implemented resource planning tools and saw immediate results: Project delays were reduced by 92 percent, while project capacity increased by 50 percent. The result was a significant boost in organizational efficiency. And the development team’s reputation improved considerably.
Project delays were reduced by 92 percent, while project capacity increased by 50 percent.
Flexible, comprehensive resource management
Today’s labor shortages are leaving organizations struggling to locate scarce (or highly sought after) resources. Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of North Carolina didn’t have the visibility to understand why they were short of the resources needed to execute projects even though they were fully staffed and adequately funded.
Blue NC opted to improve throughput by fundamentally restructuring the way they approached projects, organized resources, and planned, funded, and defined work. Using a comprehensive resource planning and management tool, the company was able to increase product release velocity, meet timelines and achieve strategic objectives, all without incurring additional costs.
Accurate capacity forecasting
The ability to forecast capacity is essential for resource planning that’s effective. One medical and educational publishing company using spreadsheets to forecast capacity couldn’t easily line up the necessary project resources. And the spreadsheet approach was tedious and complex (not to mention always out of date).
Looking to integrate the planning and execution components of product delivery, they selected a portfolio and resource management solution with capacity planning. Today, they’re accurately forecasting capacity, easily prioritizing projects, and easily identifying upcoming projects where resources are lacking.
Improved prioritization through visibility
One large retailer was having trouble implementing workgroup plans that managers could update regularly to reflect actuals. Without that capability, they had difficulty measuring performance against the plan. They couldn’t reassign resources to higher priority projects because they couldn’t see how the changes would impact the work in progress. Moreover, they couldn’t accurately forecast future projects without knowing when a project would be completed.
After implementing the right resource planning software solution, the company was able to improve the entire work prioritization process. Today, changes are made with a complete understanding of how work being done in parallel will be impacted. The company now has a clear picture of the work underway, its current status, and detailed visibility into the projects and work planned for the coming quarters.
How to Ensure Resource Planning Software Is Adopted into Project Goals
People are typically reluctant to change. Even when presented with new technologies that will simplify their jobs and help ensure their success, they tend to use the tools and processes they’re already familiar with. To promote widespread adoption, evaluate solutions with the following criteria in mind:
Select a solution that meets the needs of your organization
First and foremost, you must understand the specific challenges your organization is trying to solve. For most, these challenges will include the ability to quickly pivot as the needs of the business change. Business today is very dynamic. Corporate goals and strategies shift regularly. If your solution does not comprehensively address key issues, people will be less willing to adopt it.
Pay attention to configurability
No two individuals, teams, groups, or departments are exactly alike. All are facing different challenges. So, the more configurable the solution, the better it works for everyone. Teams that can customize fields, add sections as needed, and tailor the resource management tool to meet their specific needs will be more likely to engage it. And the more effective your resource planning efforts will be.
Focus on flexibility
Teams use the methodologies and delivery approaches that best help them achieve their goals quickly and efficiently. For some, that’s agile; for others, it may be more traditional waterfall, or even a hybrid approach with different levels of agility and governance. Rather than force teams to change and risk disruption, select a solution that supports multiple methodologies.
Today’s users are tech savvy. Their expectations around usability are much higher than just a few years ago. The solution must be intuitive. Information must be easy to input, easy to access, and the overall user experience must be top notch.
Join the Ranks of the Modern PMO
Are you still using spreadsheets for resource planning? Are you using email to communicate with team members and collaborate with staffing managers? Or are you looking to upgrade your existing resource management tool to a full-featured solution?
Whatever your objectives, Planview can help. Start by downloading our free eBook, “The Savvy PMO’s Guide to Resource Planning.” This valuable resource will expand further on the topics covered above and provide you with important guidelines that will help maximize capacity, identify and respond to skills gaps, and deliver projects on time and on budget.