5 project resource planning best practices

Great project resource planning is a key factor in successful project performance. Just as a car needs fuel to run, a project depends on resources to get to the finish line.

Project resources include all the staff, equipment, budget, and even time necessary to execute a project. Yet the most valuable of all project resources is people. If a laptop or printer breaks down, you can easily replace it, but if a skilled employee decides to leave the company in the middle of a project, this presents a far more serious roadblock. Finding and replacing employees can be difficult, particularly in the middle of a time-sensitive project.

Proper project resource planning isn’t just about cost efficiency. It’s also about creating a working atmosphere where collaborators feel supported and positive about their role in the project. What’s more, good project resource planning pays for itself. When organizations use proven project management practices, they waste less money — 28 times less, in fact.

Here are five best practices you should follow when planning a project to get the most from your resources.

1. Break down the project into tasks

The best way to figure out what resources you need for a project is to first break the project down into detailed tasks. When you have a clear picture of exactly what you need to do throughout the project, you’ll be able to determine how to execute those tasks. Then you’re much better positioned to plan for and allocate the necessary resources.

For example, let’s take the project of starting a company blog. Do you want to launch with a backlog of content, or is it OK to start with just a few posts? If you decide you want to launch with 20 articles, how much time, budget, and staff will this require? What if it’s only 10 posts? Every decision about every task has an impact on resource planning, so be sure to create the most detailed breakdown of all the tasks that make up the project structure.

2. Examine the use of resources in past projects

If your company has completed projects before, you already have a lot of information about project resource planning at your fingertips. Examining the use of resources for past projects can give you solid, real-life indications about how to plan resources for future projects.

Take a look at various tasks that were part of previous completed projects and are similar to those you’re planning now. How much time did employees spend on those tasks? Their timesheets or email correspondence will give you a good idea. If you’ve used outsourced services, look at the contracts and invoices to find out how much time they took and how much they charged.

The advantage of using resource data from past projects is that it puts you in a position to plan project resources more efficiently today. For example, if the hourly rate of a contractor proved to be high for a previous project, then you know to shop around for a cheaper alternative this time.

3. See what you can automate 

In nearly every business, the most expensive resource is staff. For many organizations, staff salaries and benefits claim anywhere between 40 and 80 percent of their revenue. The same applies to projects. Of all the project resources, your employees’ time usually takes the biggest chunk of the budget.

When planning project resources, look into what aspects of a project you can automate. During the project resource planning stage, spend some time investigating the cost of automation tools and software, and whether acquiring certain tools will save staff resources and speed up the project schedule. Remember that automation software is a long-term investment; you can use it for future projects, too, so you should take that into account when looking at cost versus benefits.

4. Create a resource planning calendar

The resources needed at every stage of a project vary, sometimes drastically. Some tasks are labor-intensive, requiring input from many staff members at the same time. Others require just one contractor, so while they won’t use up office time or space, they can command a large chunk of the budget.

A resource planning calendar is a helpful tool to help project owners understand and forecast what resources are needed at every stage. Project resource planning should be a daily, weekly, and monthly task, depending on the duration of the project.

Mapping out resources visually on a calendar makes it clear when the use of specific resources overlaps, so it’s much easier to allocate them appropriately. Also, if you use the calendar with project management software, relevant collaborators can share and access it, so the project team can stay properly aligned about resource demand and planning in real time.

5. Use a resource management template

Planning resources for projects can be intensive and complex. There are many strands that must weave together to ensure every collaborator has what they need to do their job at any given moment.

Even a small gap in resources in one part of the project can cause problems and delays in other tasks — or derail the project altogether. That’s why it’s important to use an online resource management template that can help you organize the resource plan in the most efficient way while providing flexibility to adapt as new issues arise.

A good quality project management software program will include a tool for resource management. The project manager can upload and share the project resource plan, and all collaborators can access it. That way, you can plan for necessary resources in advance and use them during the project execution in the most optimal and productive way.

Smart project resource planning = profitability

A project’s performance depends on several critical factors. One of them is the proper use of resources. Whether it’s time, office space, employees, or equipment, project resources always translate into a monetary cost. With foresight and purpose, you can make sure no precious resource is at risk of going to waste. That requires smart comprehensive resource planning — before the project team gets to work.

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