Resource allocation is a step within resource management. It’s the process of assigning all of the resources required to complete all of the steps within a project or initiative.
These resources include:
- Team: the people who will be involved in each step
- Time: how many minutes, hours, days, or more each task or block of work should take
- Talent: specific skills required to get the job done
- Tools: any tools needed to support the work
- Total budget: the total budget attributed to each phase, block of work, or task given to the team; time; and tools involved
Project and resource managers typically own the resource allocation process. Their main goals are to make sure all the necessary resources are available when needed and to optimize project planning and execution.
Resource Allocation Challenges
While it might seem like a resource allocation strategy should be pretty straightforward, there are lots of moving parts that can complicate plans. Namely changes to timeline, scope, and schedules, along with limited availability, capacity, and visibility.
If we lived in a perfect world, we’d create a timeline at the start of a project or initiative and lock it in stone. Everyone would finish their tasks on time and complete the work exactly when planned.
But anyone who’s ever been involved with a big project knows this simply isn’t reality. Whether it’s because schedules change, new steps get added, or someone misses a major milestone, timelines are always in flux. Project and resource managers must constantly review and adjust them.
Not only do timelines often change, but so does the project's scope itself.
Maybe requirements change, you add more revision rounds, or someone asks you to include additional steps in the project. In any case, roughly half of your projects will experience some sort of change to the original scope. Each time this happens, you have to adjust your resource allocation plan.
Task dependencies also create complications. If a parent task isn’t completed on time, it affects everything underneath it.
Let’s say a project is broken into three stages: planning, design, and development. In order for the design to start, planning must be complete; for development to start, the design must be complete. But what happens when the design team is ready to go according to the timeline, but the planning team hasn’t finished stage one? Not only can design not kick-off but the development stage, and all the resources involved, are also affected.
Some steps in your project may require specialty skillsets, so allocating team members isn’t as simple as identifying available people.
Maybe there are typically three or four people on your team who can complete a set of tasks. But sometimes project nuances narrow it down to just one person. And when that person is needed across four different projects at the same time, developing a resource allocation plan gets a little tricky.
The biggest challenge managers have with resource allocation is making sure all necessary resources are available when they’re needed. This isn’t so hard when it comes to things like tools, but it can be problematic when dealing with people—especially when you don’t have clear visibility into who’s working on what and when.
Team members have limited, finite capacity and often deal with competing priorities. Putting too much on anyone’s plate, especially repeatedly, causes burnout, which causes turnover, making it even more difficult to stick to your resource allocation plans.
> If burnout is something your team struggles with, check out this on-demand webinar. It covers five steps to help you balance your team's workload.
9 Ways to Improve Your Resource Allocation Strategy
1. Clearly define project scope.
A clearly defined scope of work (SOW) is essential to creating a solid resource allocation plan. This will help you ensure all requirements are accounted for and prevent your team from taking on work outside the project scope. Here’s a great guide to managing scope creep.
2. Create detailed project plans.
The SOW becomes the foundation of your project plan. Go through each line item in the project scope and break it down into tasks and subtasks. The more detailed you can be, the easier it will be to allocate resources.
3. Identify all the resources you need for each step.
One mistake resource and project managers make is planning for project stages at a macro level, but not paying enough attention to the exact resources required for each subtask. Think through all steps carefully to better identify the resources you need for each.
4. Coordinate people and project schedules.
Remember that your project is likely not the only one folks are working on. Before you go assigning people to tasks, make sure you know what other projects they’re working on, meetings they have scheduled, or time off planned. And be flexible enough to work around competing priorities.
5. Stay on top of timelines.
Considering timeline adjustments are one of the biggest challenges in resource allocation, it’s important to keep them in front view. Your timelines can’t be “set it and forget it.” Be sure to check on timelines regularly (if not daily, at least multiple times per week) to make sure everything is going according to plan.
6. Consider project and task dependencies.
Identify task dependencies ahead of time so you can focus your attention upstream when needed. If there are key milestones that must be met in order for the project to stay on track, it’s a good idea to check on the progress of blocking tasks frequently. This will help prevent projects from getting derailed.
7. Track time.
Allocating time is often based on best guesses. The more informed your estimates are, the more successful your resource allocation plans will be. Tracking time spent on tasks is the best way to gauge accurate estimates for future project plans.
8. Review post-project reporting.
Look-back reports are highly insightful and can be used to improve resource allocation plans moving forward. We encourage all resource and project managers to make this part of their practice soon after a project is completed. Here are a few things you may want to report on:
- How many tasks were completed on time?
- Can you identify any trends that contributed to missed due dates?
- Were all allocated resources available when they were needed? If not, why?
- How does time allocated compare to actual time spent?
9. Implement resource allocation software.
If you’re currently using spreadsheets for resource allocation, you might want to think about implementing resource management software. Here are 11 signs that it’s time to switch to resource allocation software.
The best software, like Mosaic, will account for schedules, skills, availability, and any other dependencies to automatically suggest staff for a project team, making it the fastest and easiest way to plan, staff, and manage people and projects—together.
Benefits of Resource Allocation Software
Resource allocation software will make planning and allocating resources more manageable. You’ll be able to automate many of your current resource management processes and think more strategically about your overall approach.
- Plan and execute projects faster: You can create resource allocation plans a heck of a lot faster by building templates, cloning projects, and quickly updating dependent timelines. Do in minutes what used to take hours.
- Create transparency across the organization: Software gives full visibility into who’s working on what across the organization, along with detailed org charts and skill matrices. This means it’s easier to identify and assign available resources.
- Increased utilization: It's also easier to ensure that everyone knows what they need to be working on now—and what they need to be working on next. When everyone stays busy with the right billable work, you see significant gains in profitability.
- Eliminate staff burnout and increase employee retention: Capabilities like demand-capacity analysis let you see exactly how much work individual team members have on their plates. You can use this insight to make sure everyone has enough work to keep them happy and productive while avoiding burnout.
- Improve client experience: Better planning and smarter execution ultimately lead to your projects getting completed on time and within budget. This in turn creates happier clients, making software a win-win investment.
Some benefits of resource allocation software will be evident immediately, especially when it comes to the upfront efficiency you’ll gain. Others, like employee retention and customer satisfaction, may take longer to come to fruition but the pay-off is worth it in the long run.
Here’s a great article that offers tips for smooth implementation so you can start reaping the rewards of your new resource allocation software quickly.
Mosaic for Resource Allocation
Mosaic is an AI-powered, web-based project and resource management software that’s guaranteed to help you build a more efficient and profitable organization. Its features are specifically tailored to larger teams, fast-growing firms, and enterprise organizations with many resources to manage across multiple projects.