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How do you allocate resources for a project?

Ensuring that the right individuals are assigned to each project is crucial if success is to be consistently achieved. Allocating staff with the wrong skills and competencies is just too great a risk to take. So How do you allocate resources for a project? is a crucial question.

Managing resources across multiple projects can be a wild ride. No sooner do you have the demand nicely balanced with your skills capacity than a new project arrives, or a project change occurs unexpectedly. Whilst there must be sufficient spare resource to plug unexpected gaps, having too many held in reserve can threaten utilisation levels and seriously undermine operational profitability. A recent member survey by the UK Association of Consulting Engineers found that a staff utilisation improvement of just 2% could improve their profits by a quarter. Maintaining the right balance yields rich financial rewards.

Matrix Organisation

Those who manage multiple projects therefore have two, competing, goals:

  •   Delivering individual projects to time, cost and quality targets, so as not to disappoint their clients. Project manager will want to know that there is sufficient spare resource to cover any gaps that appear during the project’s life cycle.
  •   Team leaders are targeted with maintain high levels of utilisation of their team members, whilst meeting resource requests from individual projects.

This is why most project organisations are organised as a matrix, where project managers and Team leaders can each focus on their respective goals. The resource management process is designed to support both parties through each step of the project lifecycle.

Typically, the resource process consists of the following steps, with How do you allocate resources for a project?  an important component.

Project planning

The work estimates and timescales developed during project planning need to be consistent and realistic, to set realistic expectations and maintain confidence in each project’s plan. Use of project templates and estimating metrics based on past project performance helps to deliver realistic work estimates.

Project demand management

As potential projects emerge and get planned, their work estimates should be layered on top of the committed workload to check that sufficient resources will be available. Conversely, when projects get delayed, the effect of freeing up resources unexpectedly needs to be assessed. Forward loading capacity reports show the location and impact of resource bottlenecks or spare capacity as such project changes occur.

Report shows periods of bottlenecks and under use, with colour coded cells. Drill down by Department to isolate the bottlenecks.

Where there is scope to delay or bring forward projects, phases or tasks, e.g. internal lower priority projects, ‘What If…‘ views enable the dragging chunks of work in time so as to minimise bottlenecks and/or periods of under use. Where such flexibility is not possible, the Bottleneck profiles can be used to engage contract staff for the appropriate periods. See a video clip

The resource allocation process

With the resource demand in balance with skills and competency availability, the search for suitable staff can commence. Whilst project planning and estimating can be at detailed level with the work breakdown structure, resource allocation often takes place at a higher level, such as project phase. This can reduce the volatility in demand profiles particularly where a project is subject to changes

In a matrix organisation, the process is typically:

  1.    Project manager Requests resource specifying skills and minimum competency levels
  2.    Team leader Proposes suitable resource
  3.    Project manager compares skills and competencies of offered resource against those requested, and Accepts of Rejects proposed resource

For further details of this process, please visit our Resource allocation and Skills database pages.

Project performance measurement

As the project gets underway the prudent project manager will want to measure progress and compare it against the plan. This requires:

  1.   Taking a baseline of the approved plan, for use as a performance measurement yardstick
  2.   Capture details of the actual effort expended on the project, usually with timesheets
  3.   Enter an independent estimate of the value of the work done for the effort expended, often referred to as the Earned Value.

These show variances from the plan and can provide cost and schedule indices to date. Applying these indices to the remaining estimate gives credibility to revised estimates to completion.

A credible performance measurement process like this gives early warning of the likely impact of poor estimating, with sufficient credibility to achieve a consensus on what corrective action may be required.


These arguments show the importance of resource allocation to project success, making How do you allocate resources to a project? an important and relevant question.

Barry Muir is a Director of Innate Management Systems Ltd. We have been implementing resource management software in a wide variety of professional services organizations for more than 20 years.
Posted in resource management software

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