Accurate project planning and scheduling are the lifeblood of professional service organizations. Without efficient resource scheduling, however, these plans and schedules become nothing more than wish lists. Unfortunately, success can be an elusive target – and for many reasons. Two primary ones are (1) multiple projects being completed simultaneously and (2) limited resource availability.
Five Practical Techniques for Mastering Resource Scheduling
While resource scheduling will never be the easiest part of any project, five practical techniques can help you master this high-wire act so you won’t lose your balance on your next project.
1. Follow a Short-Term Approach
In the article “Resource optimization – a new paradigm for project scheduling,” Dan Gilbert describes the concept of schedule density, which divides project schedules into as many as three phases: long term (tasks more than 12 months into the future), intermediate (tasks more than three months out), and near term (tasks to be completed over the next one to three months).
The project schedule for the long-term phase should be low density (i.e., general) in nature. The schedule for the intermediate phase should be of medium density (more detailed than the long-term phase, but still not down to the day and week level). Only the near-term project schedule should consist of tasks planned at a high-density (daily, highly detailed) level: Who’s doing what? When will they start? When will the task be finished?
Gilbert’s point? It’s useless to develop a high-density resource schedule for project tasks that are more than three months into the future. In his view, “the only use for this type of schedule is measuring failure after the event.”
2. Follow the Appropriate Process
Many great project resource management and scheduling processes are out there. One of the best for scheduling the resources of a professional services firm is found in the article "Proper Methods for Resource Planning” by Ann Drinkwater:
- Use sound project management planning techniques (which includes developing a clear WBS, identifying required and available resources, and estimating completion time by task and resource).
- Involve the team assigned to the project in scoping and estimating project completion requirements.
- Communicate the plan to all necessary stakeholders.
- Control the project (in addition to charting progress, monitor the time remaining to complete each task).
- Dynamically determine the right balance of team collaboration for the project.
3. Use it as a Management Tool
The resource schedule shouldn’t be a passive, “set it and forget it” item. Rather, it should be something used throughout the project cycle to actively manage the completion of each project task. During project planning, the resource schedule can help you identify and resolve resource bottlenecks before the first project task even begins (mheducation.com: “Scheduling Resources and Costs”). As the situation changes after project kickoff, it can point out where resources have been under and over allocated so you can make the necessary adjustments to keep everything on track.
4. Use it as a Learning Tool
As the old saying goes, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Once a project is complete, the resource schedule – especially one that required significant adjustments – has great value in planning the next project. Comparing the types and amount of resources that were estimated for a project with what was necessary to actually complete the project can help you avoid the headaches from under allocating resources, and the inefficiency from over allocating them, on future project schedules.
5. Involve Senior Management
Like a project schedule without a resource schedule, a resource schedule without the support of senior management is basically a wish list. And the best way to obtain this support is to involve senior management in the resource scheduling process.
This involvement is more than just office politics; there are practical reasons for it as well. According to the Association for Project Management, the resource schedule may show that key aspects of a project cannot be achieved with the current resource allocations. If the members of senior management are part of resource scheduling, they are much more likely to understand and approve scheduling changes (apm.org.uk: “Resources”).
Keeping Your Balance
Developing an efficient project resource schedule doesn’t have to be a death-defying feat. By practicing the five common-sense techniques listed above, you can master the art so you can keep your balance when your next resource schedule comes due. To learn more about how Beyond Software’s professional services automation suite can help you optimize your resource management contact us today.
For additional information on Beyond Software please contact: