PM Foundations – Performing Resource Analysis & Creating the Resource Plan

In a previous blog post, I talked about resource loading your project schedule (estimating the resource needs, and loading resource estimates into your project schedule). Before you call your project schedule “complete”, it is a best practice to perform resource analysis & leveling, and create the resource plan. The resource plan is utilized to confirm the project resource assignments with resource managers, and it is a direct input to creating the labor component of the project budget.

Again the best practices areas associated with resource planning are:

  • How to estimate the resource requirements for schedule activities
  • How to load the resource assignments and work effort estimates into the project schedule
  • How to perform resource usage analysis, and resource leveling techniques
  • How to create the resource plan utilized to finalize resource assignments, and provide a key input to create the project budget

This blog post is focused on the last two – performing resource analysis & creating the resource plan

Resource Analysis & Leveling

The first decision to make when performing resource analysis is what is the proper time period to use for resource usage optimization. In other words, is it at the level of days, weeks or months that you need to make sure you have the right resources assigned to support planned project activities. For projects 3 months or greater, I find that it is most appropriate to perform resource analysis and leveling to the “month level” of precision. Attempting to level resources to a more granular level is not necessary to create a “workable” project schedule.

To start the resource analysis process, access the Resource View in your project management tool, and change the timescale to “months”. This view provides the number of planned hours for a resource for each month. Based upon this information, and the percentage each resource is allocated to the project, you have the information required to identify months in which resources are under or over allocated to project activities. Just because a resource (or a month) is highlighted in RED does not mean you have a resource usage problem. It may just mean that a day or week is over allocated, and that does not necessarily represent a problem that requires adjustments to the schedule.

The following represents the best practices for resolving resource issues:

  • Look at the detail activities within the resource usage view for the period that is over or under loaded in the schedule
  • Challenge the resource hours (or resource % allocations) on specific activities
  • Look for opportunities to assign other resources
  • Look for opportunities to move activities up or back (pay attention to how resources are loaded in preceding and subsequent periods). Use dependencies to move the activities around (you are changing the soft dependency logic to level the resource loading).

Below is an example of the resource usage summary and detail views utilized to analyze and level resources.


Before making adjustments to the project schedule, it is recommended to save a “back-up” version of the project schedule (in case you do not like the results of the adjustments). Make the appropriate changes, and then review the impact on resource usage and key milestone dates. Based upon the impact of the changes, you may need to challenge specific assumptions to improve the milestone dates (e.g., durations, dependencies, resource availability).

Note: I do not recommend using the “Level Resources” function within the project management tool to perform resource leveling. This function attempts to automate the decision making process described above (with the default of moving dates based upon resource availability). Reworking the result of this automated process is generally more work (not to mention more frustrating) than manually reviewing and adjusting the schedule.

The Resource Graph (below) is another tool available within the project management tool that provides an excellent summary of resource utilization for each resource. This view provides a quick preview of the impact of schedule adjustments on resource utilization. It is also a valuable way to demonstrate the impact of alternative schedule solutions (“what if” scenarios) on resource utilization. Snapshots of this view are often utilized within core team or sponsor review sessions to communicate resourcing opportunities or challenges within the project schedule. Make sure you are solving resource issues based upon the “materiality threshold” established in the schedule management plan. Things are going to change throughout the project life cycle, therefore you are trying to get the resources leveled to a reasonable level – your goal is to arrive at a reasonable schedule (not the perfect schedule).


Creating the Resource Plan

Once you are satisfied with the reasonableness of the project schedule (timing of both key milestones and resource utilization), it is time to create a first cut of the resource plan. The resource plan provides a summary of the resource hours required to complete the project. The resource plan is used for the following:

  1. Confirm resource allocations with resource providers
  2. Key input to the labor component of the project budget

Steps to create the resource plan:

  1. Create a list of the resources, sorted / grouped appropriately (e.g., by type of resource, internal vs. external) within the resource plan worksheet.
  2. Cut and paste in the hours from the resource usage view (in the project management tool) into the spreadsheet.
  3. “Adjust” the project hours to add in indirect project hours (activities that are not helpful to load directly into the project schedule). The hours for each resource in the Resource Plan should be compared to what is going to be “charged” to the project (% the resource is allocated to the project each month).
  4. Review the plan for reasonableness. Reconcile/resolve significant differences between the Resource Plan and the Resource Usage view from your project schedule.


Note: The resource plan represents a worksheet built into the Project Budget Workbook. This approach enables pointing calculations directly to the planned hours in the resource plan to drive cost estimates on the labor budget worksheet. A copy of the Project Budget workbook is available within the Templates page on www.pm-foundations.com).

 

Resource Planning Best Practices

In summary, the following are the best practices associated with the resource planning processes:

  • Do not add “noise” into the schedule by attempting to account for all hours expended on the project (activities in the project schedule should be limited to “direct” project activities). The hours reflected in the resource plan can be adjusted (generally increased) to account for indirect project hours. The resource plan should represent the hours that will be “charged” to the project by each resource (vs. the direct project activities planned in the project schedule for each resource).
  • Do not attempt to over-engineer the resource leveling process. The objective of the resource leveling process is to “smooth” the resource usage reflected in the project schedule, reducing the over and under allocation situations. Change is inevitable throughout the project life cycle, therefore your goal is to create a project schedule that can be effectively monitored and managed throughout the execution phase of the project – reasonableness, not perfection.
  • Plan to the appropriate time windows. Understanding the resource usage on a monthly basis is normally good enough to create a “workable” project schedule. In the context of this blog post, the term “workable” means a schedule that supports a timeline and budget that is understandable and defensible.
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PM Foundations – Creating a Strong Project Schedule

While teaching Time Management at the PMP Certification Class for the past two years, I often receive feedback about my passion on the topic of Time Management. This passion stems from my belief that without a good schedule that directly supports the project objectives (scope, time, and cost), the project manager will struggle to effectively deliver on customer expectations.

What does a good project schedule look like? Below are a few questions that help you test your schedule.

  • Are the deliverables and activities broken down to a level that can be estimated and tracked?
  • Has accountability / responsibility been established for deliverables and activities?
  • Can you easily follow the flow of the project work?
  • Do the milestones appear to be reasonable and achievable?
  • Does the resource usage link appropriately to the project budget?

Although these steps are not completed in an entirely sequential manner, I do believe that a project schedule is created most effectively and efficiently based upon a very specific approach and sequence of processes:

1. Activity Definition – Starting with the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) that defines and organizes the project deliverables into a logic manner, activity definition adds the detail work to be performed to create the deliverables. This process adds 1-3 levels of detail to the WBS, and provides the basis for estimating, identifying resource requirements, and tracking progress.

2.  Activity Sequencing – Activity sequencing establishes the relationship between deliverables and activities. This process defines both “hard” and “soft” logic in the schedule, that establishes the flow of the work to be completed throughout the project life cycle.

3.  Duration Estimating – Duration Estimating establishes the number of work periods required to complete schedule activities (reflected in work days). This process is utilized to create the first cut of the project timeline. At this point in the process the project manager is assessing the schedule for reasonableness, not perfection.

4. Resource Loading & Leveling – Resource requirements for specific activities are loaded based upon a percent allocation for resources, or “bottoms-up” estimates of work effort. Resource leveling is utilized to resolve resource usage conflicts and over allocation of specific resources.

5. Schedule Analysis – Schedule analysis is utilized to finalize the project schedule and create the baseline project schedule. The goal of this process is to ensure that the team can deliver on customer expectations with the schedule that has been created, and that the project schedule is fully documented and well understood by key stakeholders.

Leveraging best practices, the project manager ensures that a project schedule is efficiently created and is proactively utilized to successfully deliver on the project objectives:

  • Ensure that the appropriate schedule related defaults have been set-up within the scheduling tool. These defaults define work hours, holidays, and other key behaviors within the scheduling tool. A good example of set-up data that drives behaviors in the project schedule is the task type field (I recommend using fixed duration as the default task type)..

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  • Schedule related risks should be appropriately mitigated within the project schedule in the form of schedule reserves or contingencies. I find it most effective to explicitly document the schedule reserves in the project schedule.

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  • Leverage dependencies in the project schedule to create a logical “flow” of the project deliverables and activities. Conversely, avoid arbitrary constraints (e.g., “must start on” or “must finish no earlier than”). As things change (and they inevitably will change) with regards to how the work is actually completed, these arbitrary date constraints quickly become inaccurate.

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  • Before the first cut of the timeline is complete, milestones should be inserted into the appropriate points in the schedule. How do the milestones in the timeline compare to target dates that were established up-front (potentially committed dates from the project sponsors)? Are there actions that can be taken to close gaps between milestones and target dates?
  • There are several techniques that represent best practices during the final schedule review. Each of these techniques will help uncover opportunities to improve the schedule or reduce the risk, but can drive undesirable results if used improperly (see the chart below).

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