Teams need strategies that enable them to divvy up resources in an efficient manner. The task of resource scheduling ensures that people, equipment, and physical locations are available as required by the project.
And, it’s needed. Data suggest that workers spend 30 hours per week checking personal and company email accounts.
Basic resource scheduling involves creating what is little more than a glorified calendar shared with all relevant parties. More sophisticated versions are contingent on project status and updating resource requirements automatically as tasks are completed or delayed. If priorities change, then professional resource scheduling software can automatically adjust all ancillary tasks, shifting them around as required, without manual input.
Project priority refers to the order in which a team completes projects, according to some overriding enterprise-level mission. Resource scheduling ties into project priority by providing the people, spaces, equipment, and materials when the current system of task prioritization calls for them. Resources should become available in the right quantity as dictated by the stage of the project. Getting this balance right allows businesses to achieve higher profitability, customer satisfaction, and avoid bottlenecks that reduce productivity.
Sophisticated project managers typically use software-based tools to identify and eliminate resource conflicts or mismatches that could delay progress. These solutions often allow businesses to track people and equipment independently, letting them fully define their resource constraints. Ultimately, the goal is to maximize some objective – such as the top project priority – subject to current resource constraints.
How to Prioritize Projects with Limited Resources
In a perfect world, resources would be infinitely abundant. But in business, that is rarely the case. Companies must economize, shifting people and capital to areas where they are needed the most.
Each project typically has a list of priorities, starting with the most mission-critical, and then tapering off with less critical items lower down. Companies often have to choose where they dedicate their resources. Usually, they cannot complete all tasks simultaneously, so they must decide which to address first.
For this reason, resource scheduling requires a frank and evidence-based assessment about which tasks are the most critical to an organization’s goals. Sometimes, you can call on data you’ve collected and use it to determine where to allocate resources. Other times, you have to make a judgment based on your experience. Prioritization depends heavily on management’s assessment of immediate business needs, making it more of an art than a science.
Prioritizing projects with limited resources is a two-step process.
- Define your most important projects. Resource scheduling allows you to define tasks, contingent on a particular goal, subject to resource constraints. For that reason, you need to set a project priority first and then build a resource schedule around it. Picking the first task often requires thinking logically about what the business needs to address first and asking how it fits the overall mission.
- Define your task priorities. After that, businesses define the things that they need to do to get the job done. Tasks rarely follow a precise schedule. Often, you’ll find that there’s flexibility in the order you can complete them. You’ll also find that some tasks are simultaneous or dovetail with each other. This aspect of the process means that you can often move jobs around to accommodate resources, change the order, or even move them forward in your schedule. Taking advantage of these opportunities is, again, easier with the right resource management software.
Companies have developed a variety of systems for allocating resources based on various master-level metrics. Typically, this means picking the most significant resource constraint facing the business and organizing a schedule around it.
For some businesses, the most critically scarce resource is time. For instance, a client might have requested the construction of a new building within six months, and the business needs to dedicate everything else to that goal. For others, the critical resource is investment funding. For instance, startups often need to make decisions based on what they can afford to buy, given their venture capital.
In many cases, businesses must accommodate multiple constraints to achieve optimized plans when facing limited resources. People, time, equipment, and financial capital are all scarce in most situations. The trick is to bring these resources together to help the business get closer to completing its project priorities fastest while using resources efficiently. It’s a rolling optimization problem that updates each time you gain new information.
How to Do Resource Scheduling When Time Is the Limiting Factor
Time can be the limiting factor for all kinds of reasons when trying to carry out a project. Here are some examples of when “time-level” resource scheduling might be necessary:
- Equipment is only available for a set period
- People can only work at certain times of the day
- Clients have defined a strict deadline that is project-critical
- Market conditions dictate that you must complete a project before a particular date
The need for resource scheduling is pretty self-explanatory in each of these cases. If you can only access equipment – like cranes – for a set period, it makes sense to arrange other resources contingently. For instance, crane operators need to be available (and not on holiday) from the start to the end of the rental.
Locations are also scarce.
A simple project, for instance, might involve renting out a meeting room to conduct educational seminars. If there’s only one room available, managers need to schedule workshops to fit into the allotted period.
Similarly, people can only work on a project during agreed-upon hours of work. There’s no point scheduling equipment rental for the evenings if operators are only on shift during the day.
Clients will sometimes negotiate a deadline with you in your service level agreement (SLA). If they do, then time management becomes more critical to the success of the project. In this case, businesses will often constellate their other resources around a time-based schedule (instead of optimizing over some other variable).
When time is the limiting factor, projects inevitably lose some flexibility. With that said, you still have the degrees of freedom you need to calibrate your response if people, equipment, and locations are fluid.
Enterprises refer to optimal use of a resource during its “life cycle” as time-limited resource scheduling or resource smoothing. Examples include:
- Fully utilizing the skills of external contractors for the hiring period
- Using meeting rooms continuously during the rental
- Using vehicles fully for the period of the lease
- Making use of plant and equipment continuously while rented out
Full resource utilization ensures that time with resources doesn’t go to waste. Thus, effective scheduling avoids wasting money.
How to Schedule Resources When Resources Are the Limiting Factor
Resources are also frequently a limiting factor when carrying out a project. Here are some examples of when “resource smoothing” might be necessary:
- Only one or two members of your team can carry out a task. For instance, you might need an IT networking company to provide a contractor who can instruct your in-house junior engineers on a new system. Equally, you might only be able to update your network once a particular person gets back from vacation.
- You have severely limited funds and can only explore a small set of productive activities. In this case, resource scheduling might involve putting all the company resources into product development and marketing while avoiding staff training.
- Your plant and equipment cannot scale up to produce more of a given output. Your factory, for instance, might only be able to produce a component at a limited rate. The task of resource scheduling here is to assume that there are always people available to operate the machinery and that inputs arrive on time.
- You are waiting for a cash injection. Here, the business is in maintenance mode, doing the tasks that it can, and waiting for more funds to provide the resources required to shift priorities.
Resource smoothing and resource leveling are complicated ways of saying the same thing: doing the best you can with the resources available. In contrast to the above, resource smoothing makes time flexible. You’re not working to a set deadline. Instead, you’re arranging your schedule according to when resources become available. Resources are the fixed variable in this case, with time as the subservient factor.
Dealing with Multiple Constraints
Many companies face a multivariate optimization problem: the need to satisfy multiple constraints on time, people, and resources for the effective fulfillment of a project. In these situations, things can get complicated quickly, and flexibility tends to go down. Projects are often bottlenecked or delayed when resources do not match up in the way planners hope. For instance, a seminar room might be available from 9 am to 12 pm, but the leader might be busy until 1 pm.
There are no simple methodologies for dealing with multiple constraints, and yet they are a reality for most project managers. Using spreadsheets to determine the correct use of resources is unwieldy and impractical. But fortunately, sophisticated software solutions allow you to change task priorities and automatically adjust the rest of the schedule to reflect that.
Companies facing multiple constraints will often use splitting to make more effective use of resources. Here, they interrupt work on one activity to assign it to another task before switching back to the original activity. Typically, this happens if priorities are dynamic, changing with time.
The experience of the pandemic taught businesses that priorities needed to change fast. For example, a company that provided personal trainers with client scheduling solutions had to switch to a full over-the-air model. It began integrating video chat apps, like Zoom, into its basic solution so clients could receive instruction remotely.
Unplanned priorities are a reality for most businesses. Projects rarely progress linearly and predictably. The complexities of the real world mean that even business goals themselves can change with time. Preparation, therefore, is vital.
Resource Scheduling Helps To Achieve Business Goals
During our discussion, we’ve kept the examples of “projects” relatively simple. Booking a room or training junior engineers hardly requires ultra-sophisticated scheduling approaches. However, most projects in the real world are highly involved with many critical junctures and resources channels involved. Furthermore, fiddling with one aspect of a project has knock-on effects on everything else, which can be hard to predict when using manual resource scheduling.
As projects become larger and more complex, the scope of the work grows. The risk that things will go wrong increases, and so does the risk that the mission will fail.
Resource planning helps businesses achieve their goals by predicting when they will need resources, and in which quantities. It also allows them to adjust their approach according to new information and circumstances. Smart software calculates the corollaries of changes to plans, which is a major upgrade to the the spreadsheet experience.
Usually, businesses choose a project priority and then manage resources around that. But resource scheduling offers more utility than many business leaders realize. It’s a flexible methodology that changes as priorities themselves change. This means it enables companies to be more responsive to changes in circumstances.
For instance, project scheduling software allows you to add various resources, like people to tasks, producing helpful Gannt charts that show you future workflows and how things are likely to pan out. Most of these solutions have drag-and-drop interfaces, allowing you to swap tasks around or move people onto different schedules accordingly. So long as you define your contingencies, the software will make knock-on changes automatically.
Resource management is what makes and breaks businesses. Companies that organize resources for their priority projects efficiently put themselves at a substantial advantage in the marketplace. Things like eliminating bottlenecks and ensuring that people are available the moment you need them all help to make projects flow smoothly to completion. To learn how Visual Planning can help with scheduling your next high priority project, request a demo.
Manale is a passionate about digital marketing who often develops content for and about Visual planning.