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Hannah Taylor

From Clash to Collaboration: Tackling Project Resource Conflicts

Too few resources, too many demands? Let's explore how to resolve project resource conflicts and find opportunities for collaboration and compromise.

To do your best work as a resource or project manager, you need the right resources available for the right projects at the right time. In a perfect world, scopes would never creep, projects would never burn, and delays would never occur, and resources would be plentiful. But we don’t live in a perfect world.

In reality, most businesses have limited access to the most valuable project resources, increasing the risk of resource conflicts arising. In this article, we’re talking all about project resource conflicts, from looking at their root causes to revealing key strategies for avoiding resource-related issues.

What are resource conflicts in project management?

In project management, resource conflicts are when multiple teams require the same limited resources, such as a person or piece of equipment, at the same time.

Obviously, employees can't be cloned, and expensive equipment can only be used by one person at a time. When two teams have conflicting demands, conflict can arise.

Resource conflicts are any project team’s worst nightmare, so finding a compromise is in everyone’s best interest. When conflicts aren’t swiftly resolved, they can cause further delays and discontentment between teams.

4 types of project resource conflicts

Between project setbacks and unexpected absences wreaking havoc on resource plans, resource conflicts will inevitably crop up every now and then. You’ve likely experienced one of the following common types of project resource conflicts before.

Lack of personnel resource availability: Most businesses keep their workforces as lean as possible, maintaining the staffing levels needed to meet demand. A lack of resource availability can lead to resource constraints and conflict among the teams competing for access. One person can’t support two projects simultaneously without working overtime — something that should never be relied on to resolve conflicts.

Equipment shortages: Expensive specialist equipment, such as prototyping equipment, can be difficult to come by in businesses. Just like employees, these can't be duplicated, leading teams to compete for access.

Limited facilities: Most businesses don’t have endless facilities — especially large or specialist offerings such as conference rooms or testing facilities.

Financial limitations: When you hear ‘resource conflict,’ monetary resources may not be the first thing that springs to mind. However, project teams often need to compete for budgets in addition to personnel or equipment resources.

Common causes and triggers of project resource conflicts

Asking how many different factors can cause project resource conflicts is a bit like asking how long a piece of string is. Here are seven of the most common triggers of project resource conflicts.

Unclear project goals and objectives: When project managers fail to communicate deadlines, priorities, and end goals with their colleagues, chaos ensues. Task details, deadlines, and constraints should be outlined before securing resources, ensuring all stakeholders are in the loop.

Lack of communication and collaboration: Keeping lines of communication open between teams is crucial to prevent resource conflicts. Conflicts will occur when project managers don’t keep all parties involved informed of shifting priorities or delays that impact resourcing.

Inadequate resource planning and resource allocation: Failing to allocate resources to individual projects while avoiding overutilization accurately will inevitably lead to double bookings — keep reading for more on preventing scheduling conflicts with project management software!

Misalignment of priorities and conflicting interests: Despite being employed by the same company or even working on the same projects, teams will often disagree about whose needs are more pressing when competing for resources. And when they do… Well, no one wants to compromise on their project.

Inefficient project management practices: Delays and mistakes caused by miscommunication happen, yes. But if you’re regularly experiencing resource conflicts, you likely have a problem with inefficient project management practices.

How to avoid resource conflicts in project management

Resource management is a massive factor in preventing or mitigating resource conflicts. However, there are many other ways to approach conflict resolution. Let's dive in.

Assign clear roles and responsibilities

Many issues in project management are caused by poor communication or a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities. By clearly defining who is responsible for what within the project team, you create a sense of accountability, reduce ambiguity, and get the entire team on the same page.

When team members and stakeholders understand how their role fits into the wider scope of the project, they can work with project managers to support conflict resolution., making it easier to manage shared resources.

Regularly monitor resource utilization

Are you 100% efficient, 100% of the time? No, and that’s OK! Research shows that 80% is the optimal utilization rate for teams, allowing team members downtime to fix themselves a coffee, answer emails, perform admin, or even stare blankly into space (a necessity from time to time).

Monitoring employees' utilization rates helps reveal imbalances early on. Not only will balancing employees' workloads avoid resource conflicts but it also prevents overworking and burnout, which can lead to team members taking days off and contributing further to resource shortages.

Invest in contingency planning

Things don’t always go to plan. It’s a hard truth even the most skilled project managers have to accept. Contingency plans help managers mitigate the effects of resource conflicts and minimize disruption, providing backup plans for events such as:

  • Unplanned absences due to illness or personal factors that cause a resource shortage.
  • Urgent requirements increasing demand at the last minute.
  • Delays that push timelines back — which can send even the best-laid plans into a tailspin.

Be realistic

As we’ve touched on already, you need to be realistic when it comes to resource management. Here are three rules to remember:

  1. Don’t overschedule resources. Employees aren’t 100% efficient 100% of the time. Planning for 80% capacity utilization is optimal. 100% or above suggests an imbalance.
  2. Plan around PTO. Team members need breaks to support their well-being, so make sure to factor vacation time into your project plans. This avoids nasty surprises later down the line.
  3. Have a backup plan. Unplanned absences happen. Contingency plans avoid derailing projects completely.

Resource forecasting

Resource forecasting goes beyond resource scheduling, looking into the future to ensure businesses have the resources available to meet anticipated demand. This is a proactive approach to resource management that allows employees to understand the constraints they face.

For example, if a business only has one UX designer and three projects in the pipeline that intend to complete UX design in the same week, plans can be adapted accordingly. Without forward planning, this scheduling clash would have only been identified weeks or even days prior, causing project bottlenecks or over utilization.

Use a resource management tool 

If you’re thinking, “This sounds like a lot of work,” don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Rather than using spreadsheets to keep track of resource requirements, resource allocation, and time off, we recommend using dedicated resource planning software to make your life easier.

Resource management tools like Runn offer a ton of features that simplify resource planning and help nip project conflicts in the bud. Resource management tools keep track of all project and resource data, including required resources, timelines, employee skill levels, and available capacity, providing real-time reports that support efficient planning. 

And there’s one feature in particular that is super helpful in helping resource managers identify potential conflicts before they happen, which leads us onto…

Tentative project scheduling

Tentative project scheduling supports accurate resource forecasting and flexible scheduling by anticipating the demands of tentative projects in addition to those already locked in. 

Using Runn’s tentative projects feature, you can see how potential work will impact your confirmed workload and bottom line. Scenario planning also lets you test out what-if situations, revealing potential conflicts well in advance and allowing you to plan accordingly. This may mean adjusting project timelines or bringing in external support to bolster your existing resources.

When all else fails: strategies for resource conflict resolution

If you’ve followed the above advice but are still struggling with regular resource conflicts, it may be time to try more advanced resource optimization techniques. Resource optimization works to resolve resource conflicts by introducing strategies aimed at making the most of available resources, from staff to machinery. Let's look at two of the most popular strategies in more detail.

Resource smoothing

Uh-oh. You’ve just realized you don’t have the resources needed to finish the project but can’t adjust the deadline. This is where resource smoothing can save the day.

Using this technique, resource managers will focus on time constraints, optimizing resources to deliver the project without needing to push back the delivery date.

Interventions involved in resource smoothing include:

  • Bringing in external resources to speed things up without overburdening existing resources
  • Adjusting the scope of the project, focusing on priority deliverables
  • Managing stakeholders' expectations

While this may increase the overall project cost, it’s a neat solution for when you can’t negotiate on the project completion date.

Resource leveling

Resource leveling is a helpful technique to use when resource limitation is the primary constraint affecting a project, and getting more resources isn't an option. When multiple projects or project tasks require the same finite resource, resource managers may make the call to adjust start and finish dates to ensure the project can be finished using the available resources.

The downside to resource leveling, also known as resource-constrained scheduling, is that it may cause project delays. However, this is a necessary evil that enables employees to deliver quality outputs without overworking for the sake of deadlines.

Whichever method you find best benefits your project teams, you'll benefit from having an accurate view of your anticipated demand and available resources. With Runn’s data-informed resource management tools, you can:

  • Automate resource scheduling and balance workloads in a click
  • Plan around existing resource allocation and team members' PTO
  • Take unconfirmed resources into account
  • Spot potential resource conflicts a mile away
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