Can Resource Scheduling Reduce Flexibility in Managing Projects?

by | 18 Sep. 2020

 9 min read

The real world is a messy, complicated place. So, it should come as no surprise why projects are so notoriously difficult to plan, manage, and deliver on time.

In recent years, companies like Visual Planning have developed resource scheduling software solutions to tame this unpredictability. When managers can see how they’re allocating resources, they’re better able to stay on the straight and narrow, delivering people, equipment, and locations precisely when needed. Our software allows teams to see who is working on what and adjust workflows, without the use of clunky, error-prone spreadsheets.

Critics of resource scheduling argue that it unnecessarily reduces flexibility in managing projects, making it more challenging for companies to adapt to the unexpected. In this article, we’re going to explore their arguments more fully, where they apply, and how Visual Planning lets you sidestep some of the issues they raise.

How Resource Scheduling Can Reduce Flexibility

Unscheduled projects tend to have a higher degree of flexibility than scheduled ones, according to critics. When teams operate heuristically, they work towards their goals using rules of thumb. Resources are less scarce, giving companies more “slack,” allowing colleagues to essentially feel their way to their objectives.

Resource scheduling, however, imposes constraints on operations. Critics claim that the regime locks team members down to perform specific functions at particular times. They can’t use their initiative to complete tasks ad-lib because doing so risks disrupting a carefully-calculated workflow.

Resource leveling (where managers schedule the people or equipment for particular time slots) is particularly egregious for the critics. By tying down resources, companies increase the number of critical or near-critical activities. And that, they say, raises possible points of failure, potentially derailing the entire project. Less slack means less room to maneuver.

How a lack of flexibility emerges, in reality, depends very much on the type of resource scheduling a company performs. Some businesses operate time-level resource scheduling. Here, time is a fixed component, and the company must marshal resources around it in the most efficient manner possible. For instance, a company might only have access to a particular consultant on a Monday morning. If that’s the case, they need to ensure that all relevant parties are available to benefit fully from their services. Similarly, a businesses may only have access to a meeting room between 9 am and 5 pm on a Tuesday to run a series of seminars. In this case, it must set a schedule to fill it with the right people.

Resource-level scheduling is a different beast. Here, time is the flexible variable. The company does the best it can to meet deadlines using whatever resources are available. Internal and external resources determine the timing of project milestones. For instance, a company might have venture capital funding to launch a project. Its job is to deploy scarce resources as efficiently as possible to deliver the desired output. Resource-level planning, however, can still cut into flexibility and lead to misallocation. Over-supplying resources leads to waste, while undersupplying them contributes to bottlenecks. As before, critics argue overzealous scheduling leads to more critical activities, increasing the risk of projects stalling.

Resource scheduling, therefore, can reduce flexibility. And, when viewed in terms of critics’ assumptions, it appears almost inevitable.

But does it have to be that way? We don’t think so.

Why Resource Scheduling Is So Important

Clearly, there are good reasons for companies to deploy resource scheduling. It allows them to:

  • Determine whether they have sufficient resources to address the project priorities
  • Work out whether a specific project duration is realistic
  • Thrash out the critical path of the project, determining how resources need to come together, and when
  • Decide which resources have priority and then create contingent tasks
  • Determine whether the business can complete all tasks in-house, or whether it must use contractors
  • See how much slack they have, and how likely it is that a project will consume it

Ultimately, effective resource scheduling allows businesses to make more efficient use of people, equipment, time, and locations. It has proven value countless times in the past, but there are costs to flexibility. The task for us is to reduce or eliminate the flexibility costs of using it. Companies need a win-win solution.

How to Conduct Resource Scheduling and Maintain Flexibility In Managing Projects

When critics comment on resource scheduling, they typically imagine companies using static spreadsheets to allocate time. As they see it, workflows are little more than glorified charts, showing who is doing what and in which order. In most cases, they’re right. Under this regime, changes are administratively costly to carry out. Software limitations and communication issues usually mean that only one person can work on the schedule at a given time. Managers can’t quickly update their timetables to reflect changes in circumstances. And if they try, the task is often tedious, time-consuming, and prone to error.

Having a single decision-maker also creates potential issues. Other employees can’t deploy their creativity to adjust the schedule according to the latest information. Inefficiencies inevitably creep in.

The solution is to use a unified resource scheduling framework – like the one offered by Visual Planning. Tools like this allow everyone in the team to track progress in a way that makes sense and lets some of them make changes where appropriate. Crucially, the software lets businesses avoid the risks of an abundance of critical activities.

Make Quick Changes to Your Resource Scheduling

Resource scheduling issues can reduce flexibility by locking people into performing particular tasks at particular times. Companies may fear changing the order of operations because of the knock-on effects they might have on other ancillary tasks. It might take many hours of administrative work to plot out the ramifications of changes in priorities at the task level, so managers would prefer to avoid amending spreadsheets, just in case it leads to errors.

Visual Planning, however, builds flexibility directly into the app by calculating the effects of your change on other resources, helping you to incorporate them into a new plan. The moment you make a change, you can see the ramifications on the rest of your schedule via the user interface.

This feature makes it easier to react to the chaos so typical of modern businesses. If something doesn’t go quite according to plan, you can make a change to your resource allocations in the app and see all of the knock-on effects on other resources. Simple.

Allow Multiple Stakeholders to Edit Your Resource Scheduling

Companies are essentially information-generating machines. People gather data about projects and then share them with others to achieve better outcomes.

Internal communication, however, is only ever as good as the tools available. Therefore, businesses need quality resource scheduling tools that allow multiple people to edit plans, depending on the current state of knowledge.

Here again, Visual Planning can help. Our software allows companies to assign multiple stakeholders able to define milestones, resource usage, and costs. It works both on-premise and in the cloud, allowing the project team to access updated information immediately, regardless of location.

Find Resources to Adapt to Changes in Circumstances

Unlike a typical resource planning spreadsheet, Visual Planning also shows you the resources at your disposal right now, depending on your availability and skills. You don’t have to search through your spreadsheet to see whether you have the right people, equipment, or locations for the task. It’s all right there, in the app.

Again, this helps provide you with flexibility. If you notice that you have extra resources going unused, you can quickly find ways to make the most of them. Similarly, if you anticipate a bottleneck at some point in the future, you can temporarily divert resources to the critical task, before moving back to your regular operations.

Visual Planning provides in-depth resource utilization monitoring tools, allowing you to view the current state of play in your business in real-time. You can watch your business workflows unfolding and predict potential delays in your schedule.

Create Simple Reports to Keep Everyone In The Loop

Traditional resource scheduling made it challenging to construct reports. Spreadsheets do not collect pertinent, project-related information natively, and so generating them was a challenge.

Visual Planning, by contrast, provides project managers with tools that allow them to create graphs and interactive reports in real-time, improving their ability to anticipate problems. Knowing the “state of play” at any given time allows for more insightful decisions, enhancing your ability to manage projects.

For instance, managers often want to apply “compression” where they can – shortening the previously-determined schedule to get work done faster. Usually, compression is a dangerous technique because decision-makers are unable to see the impact on resources. But Visual Planning provides a precise inventory of resources available in each period, allowing managers to make decisions that consider risk.

Improved reporting also improves project managers’ ability to engage in “crashing.” If extra resources become available, decision-makers can simply allocate them to a particular task to complete it faster. Shifting resources cuts the time it takes to move along the critical path and get to the next phase.

Boost Team Access to Improve Flexible Working Options

Professional scheduling software also offers advantages to team members – the people on the ground, ensuring that the business attains its project objectives.

For instance, everyone can contribute to companywide information-sharing by providing log reports of expenses, time spent on a project, and task progress. Other team members can see how long it will be before their colleagues complete a particular job, allowing them to adjust their priorities in response.

In this vein, Visual Planning provides each member of the team with real-time information and updates on project progress. Colleagues can get immediate updates telling them when to move on to the next stage via native integration with email clients, RSS feeds, and online calendars.

Use Native Communication Tools to Improve Collaboration

Finally, teams working on a shared project need powerful communication tools. Visual Planning offers both instant messaging and project discussion threads natively, facilitating increased knowledge sharing.

Again, most traditional resource scheduling approaches didn’t include this functionality. Because of this, relatively few people knew where they stood in relation to the rest of the project, and managers had to respond to more queries.

Wrapping Up

Critics argue that resource scheduling reduces flexibility while managing projects. Systems lack slack they claim, leading to more critical activities and an increased probability of failure. For instance, a company might fail to bring multiple resources together at a specific time (such as a seminar room and teacher), leading to a loss of profits and customer dissatisfaction.

However, given resource constraints, you can understand why so many businesses take resource scheduling so seriously. The more they can plan how (and when) they use their resources, the lower their expenses, and the more efficiently they can operate.

Thus, there’s a definite tradeoff under the traditional paradigm: you can have more flexibility if you accept the increased costs of slack. Or you can put up with less flexibility and attempt to lower your costs at the expense of higher risk that the project will go off the rails.

By contrast, Visual Planning argues that there’s a third way: improve planning tools. Unified approaches to resource scheduling virtually eliminate the flexibility issue, allowing companies to allocate resources with high fidelity, without necessarily locking themselves into a set itinerary. If circumstances change, overhauling the schedule isn’t a massive administrative task. In fact, it is rather easy.

There are risks associated with things leveling, and catch-up. Reducing slack increases the risk of delay and making mistakes in the sequence of activities. Having time buffers, therefore, can help a great deal – something that Visual Planning lets you calibrate.
Ultimately, most businesses struggle to eliminate the flexibility-risk tradeoff entirely, but they do mitigate it. Trying to rush a project or cut expenses is always a risky strategy. But with the proper resource scheduling tools, it becomes substantially more comfortable to carry out.


Manale is a passionate about digital marketing. She joined STILOG I.S.T in 2018.
She brings SEO & SEA expertise, email marketing and creative content marketing to create a great brand experience for Visual Planning customers.


Marketing & Communication Manager


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