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Eight Powerful Project Management Processes Part 4: Resource Allocation

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Eight Powerful Project Management Processes Part 4: Resource Allocation

May 21, 2014
Photo of resources being allocated in a project.

This is Part Four of our series on the “Eight Powerful Project Management Processes,” a look at the project management processes that we have found to be most crucial to project success. These processes are also available in our toolkit, Essential Gear for Project Managers. Last time, we looked at the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Now, we examine resource allocation.

Resource Allocation is the tools and techniques performed to assign available resources—people, equipment, and materials—in an efficient manner. Effective resource allocation should help you get the most out of scarce resources, avoid overallocating resources, and account for a project’s changing needs over time.

Project managers need to devote time to resource allocation to make sure that the scarce resources are allocated with care. No resources should be over- or under-allocated, and resources should be released when not needed. Taking these steps will help project managers win the support of functional managers, increasing long-term relations and increasing the odds of project success.

Best practices to follow with resource allocation include:

1. Allocating resources with the long-term project pipeline in mind.

This means to consider what other projects a resource may be engaged in, if any, as well as operations work under the resource’s functional manager. Remember that in many organizations, resources are committed to multiple projects and overlap between projects is common. Knowing what else is coming down the pipeline is helpful in designing a resource allocation that everyone can buy in to.

2. Allocating resources in a manner that minimizes frequent changes to assignments.

If a resource needs to be allocated in a way that the person involved will be performing different roles at different times, try to arrange his or her time so that he or she is not switching frequently between roles. This best practice also applies to equipment that has different roles; for example, a testing environment setup that might have different projects in it or that can accommodate different phases of testing. People are more comfortable in their work when they know their roles and responsibilities. Changing these introduces unnecessary uncertainty because people then need to adjust themselves to the new role. Changing roles and responsibilities frequently is likely to cause irritation.

3. Assigning or accounting for all categories of resource—people, equipment, and materials—to projects

Many project managers miss one or more categories, meaning that they are missing out on potential assets to their own projects. This oversight also means that if they suddenly need a resource, it may already be committed to another project. Before allocating resources, carefully consider everything that is potentially available and then select what is needed—and only what is needed.

4. Putting thought into creating a good team environment when allocating resources.

It is important to think about who works well together and who does not. When assembling teams, remember the Tuckman ladder stages—forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. In forming, the team comes together. In storming, there are conflicts as the team members accommodate different personalities. In norming, they learn to trust each other. Finally, on the fourth step, they get to performing, where most project work takes place. Picking people who have worked well previously may help lessen conflicts and reduce the “storming” phase on critical projects, lessening the potential for conflict.

Along with these best practices, some pitfalls to avoid include:

1. Allocating resources up to 100 percent.

This is not an ideal practice because it ignores other commitments a resource may have, such as attending functional meetings or conducting daily operations. A good rule of thumb is to allocate no more than 80 percent of a resource’s available time to a project. This rule is especially true in matrix or functional organizations when a resource reports to a functional manager.

2. Failing to plan for the resource’s release.

This pitfall is closely related to the best practice of keeping the long-term project pipeline in mind. Failing to plan for a resource’s release ignores the organization’s operations as well as other projects coming down the pipeline. Failing to release resources in a timely manner can lead to erosion of goodwill, the opposite of what a project manager needs to achieve in order to secure resources for future projects.

3. Failing to plan resource allocation for the entire project or phase.

Resource allocation is often uneven throughout the project life cycle. Project managers need to watch for times where resources are over- or under-allocated, and account for these through adjustment techniques. Resource leveling can reduce the peaks and valleys but may lengthen the project schedule. Resource smoothing can also reduce these peaks and valleys by working within float, which should minimize schedule increases.

What are some of your best practices and pitfalls with resource allocation? Let us know in the comments.

Essential Gear for Project Managers is a toolkit with the eight essential project management processes you need to deliver projects on time, on budget, and exceeding expectations. Delivered to you via intuitive templates and a handbook describing best practices and pitfalls.

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