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Nov 20, 2015 by Pavel Aramyan in PM Best Practices & News, Project Management 101 & Tools

Smart resource allocation and task scheduling; How do you do this

task scheduling activities

As a project manager, one of your primary goals is to succeed with effective resource allocation and task scheduling. Seems pretty simple: you know how many resources you have, the budget and time for the project. Just need to split the tasks among team members and define deadlines. Piece of cake.

As always, I am here to argue with that.resource allocation

Resource allocation is easy. Smart, effective resource allocation is damn hard. Why? I will tell you.

First of all, let’s get to know the some definitions. (If you already know these, just bear with me for a min)

  • Resource allocation is the process of distributing available resources to various activities.

  • Resource over commitment is the process of assigning a specific resource (usually human) with a task that cannot be completed during a specific deadline. (For example, you assign one of your employees a task to complete in one week, but it’s physically impossible to manage that during the 40 hours of the working week. The employee will have to stay overtime in order to finish the task).

  • Resource under commitment is the process of assigning a specific resource (usually human) with a task that can be completed sooner than the deadline.

  • Resource over allocation is the process when a specific resource (usually human or budget) is assigned to too many projects at once and cannot bear with the amount of it (for example, you have a team member working on 4 or 5 different projects at once, or you have set a specific budget for 4 or 5 different projects that is insufficient for completion of them all).

  • Resource under allocation is the process when a specific resource (usually human or budget) is assigned to less projects that its capacity.

So what does all of this mean to project managers? While it’s easy to allocate resources for a single project, with the number of projects increasing your resources (time, human power and budget mainly) stay the same. This is where it becomes super tricky to manage everything correctly.

Over commitment and over allocation can lead to various problems including missed deadlines, sloppy work, decrease in work quality, poor performance, productivity and motivation decrease, stress and more unpleasant stuff like that.

Be at rest

Now let me relieve you guys a bit: It’s technically impossible to allocate and schedule every single task and resource 100% correctly from the start. So what you will need to do is plan your actions as close to perfect as possible in the beginning (taking into account all the ongoing projects, number of tasks per employee and also time needed to complete these tasks, individual skills of each team member and all the other small details that you can think of) and make all the necessary shifts accordingly, real time.

You may wonder why is it impossible to allocate and schedule everything right from the start: If you are really good, you can pull that off. Well, not exactly. It doesn’t depend on your godlike planning skills only.

Tasks scheduling usually consists of activities and resources and also different interrelationships between those. Each activity may have unknown beginning, progress time and end depending on the nature of the activity. This happens because some activities may start only after others finish. This relationship is called temporal constraint and is one of the reasons that causes difficulties.

The other reason is that all activities require a certain amount of resources to complete and you can’t be 100% percent sure how much resource will each activity require. Also activities use or generate resources as a result of completion (for example your lead nurturing program can help close a few accounts and add some money to your budget). This kind of relationships are defined as requirement constraints.

Those relationships between activities and resources show why proper allocation cannot be done right from the bat: you simply don’t know all the outcomes.

How to allocate your resources smartly

Okay, knowing all this is very good, but how do you deal with the problem? Well, it’s really up to you. That’s why you are the project manager: you need to be smart enough to deal with the problems that arise in the midst of the project. Otherwise, your expertise and knowledge don’t really matter, right?

Here are a few tips that can be used for most case scenarios to prevent incorrect resource allocation:

  • Distribute tasks smartly – Distributing tasks evenly among your team members isn’t a good idea. While they may be all equally qualified for the job, the individual skills should never be neglected. Some people excel at some tasks (they do them really well and super-fast), while dramatically fail at others. Distributing tasks smartly, taking into account the individual strengths and weaknesses of your team members can help save a lot of trouble in the future.

  • Rethink your deadlines – In cases when there is a resource over commitment, the longer you delay rethinking the deadline, the worse it will be in the end. If a team member can’t cope with the amount of work that needs to be done in a specific time, waiting for another day or two isn’t going to change the outcome. The task will still get delayed and will mess up all of your planning even further. It’s better to take the matter into your hands quickly or consider swapping tasks between team members.

  • Keep an eye or your resources available – They say all things are good in moderation. I say all things are good in documentation. Document all your expenditures and gains during all projects to keep track of your resources available at any given time. This will allow you to minimize the chance of making a wrong decision when allocating resources and scheduling tasks. Things like modern software can be of great help in the matter.

  • Try to have a buffer – This is somewhat hard to do, but generally, if you can have some buffer time saved up for each or at least some activities, you could end up in a great shape. This is mostly impossible to pull off with short project deadlines, but if it’s a longer one, it might be a good idea to utilize this idea. For example if you need to complete a project in 1 year and 4 months, it might not make a huge difference if an extra week or two adds up to the whole thing. Discuss this with your clients and if they agree, the small buffer can become your best friend in dire situations.

These are general examples that can be applied to most projects, but for each individual case you will need an individual approach. Like all people are different on our planet, different PMs have different approaches and team members. You could decide to overwork your team with a promise and delivery of a significant bonus by the end of the project or take some more temporary workforce (like freelancers) to help you out. It’s really up to you.

What’s important is that you clearly understand that you can’t be perfect constantly. Mistakes are inevitable and will happen from time to time. Minimizing the number of those mistakes and their effect on the project is what matters.

Pavel Aramyan

Pavel is a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and a strong passion for writing. "I am a do-it-all kind of person: When I am not writing, I am busy curing people, when I am not curing people, I tend to kill WCG competitions. Life is fun, and full of wonders: Do what you enjoy most, even if it’s everything at once."