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Iryna Viter

The Beginner's Guide to Resource Scheduling

Want to bring the best out of your projects’ resources? Start improving your resource scheduling practices.

To realize the full promise of project and resource management, you need a resource schedule. 

By getting resource scheduling right, you'll gain visibility and transparency into where your people stand. This information will further help you align your staffing plans with the business needs effectively. 

Here's a comprehensive guide on what resource scheduling is, how it is beneficial, and how to get started.

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What is resource scheduling in project management?

Resource scheduling is assigning resources to complete specific projects within a given time. First of all, it helps you even out your team's workloads and avoid under- or over-utilization of their time. This is achieved by creating a sort of timetable, also known as a resource heatmap, that gives you a detailed view of everyone's allocations to projects: 

Runn's People Planner

The purpose of resource scheduling, however, is two-fold:

First, it's an opportunity to make sure that work is assigned to the right people. If you're trying to complete a task as quickly as possible, then you'll want to assign the most efficient team members. If you're looking for the lowest cost option, then you'll need to assign staff whose rates are less expensive.

Second, it's an opportunity to make sure that work is assigned to available resources. That means accounting for time off, training, and other obligations that might need to be scheduled around your workload.

In essence, resource scheduling is about allocating the right resources (assets) to the right project, at the right time. It's a basic concept, but one that's essential for a company to function effectively. Without it, a company wouldn't be able to manage projects, keep costs in check, or increase profitability.

As the business is growing, it becomes one of the most complex tasks that managers face. And when it is done poorly, it can cause chaos in an organization.

Resource scheduling can help you:

  • Outline your resource availability at any time
  • Analyze your resource performance and skill-set
  • Make timely and appropriate task allocations to each team member
  • Estimate resource demand and future availability
  • Manage resources while keeping them happy

What are the benefits of resource scheduling?

The value created through a good resource scheduling discipline manifests itself in the following: 

1. 20/20 vision into your resource pool

Without a proper resource schedule, you won't be able to get a real-time pulse of who's doing what and when. The benefit resource scheduling brings is clarity over where your people's time goes. But not only that. Using Runn's People Planner, for example, you can filter across different resource criteria, such as skills, location, role, to match people to projects in a more intelligent way. In addition, you'll be able to understand how time-off can affect your project deadlines. 

2. More dynamic organizations

Being a very tactical and administrative task, it may seem that resource scheduling is not much of an ally when it comes to the strategic side of the business. However, it doesn't have to be this way. 

Resource scheduling done right helps businesses do resource forecasting, become more dynamic, and adapt to the increasing or decreasing market demand. 

Choosing a resource management tool with built-in scenario planning functionality can help the business assume different scenarios based on different goals and see how it affects their workforce.

Further reading: How to Forecast Resource Demand - A Visual Guide

3. Lower project costs

A resource scheduling system enables project managers to assess the types of projects available and shift employees from low-priority to high-priority work to enhance profitability and sustainability.

Resource scheduling tools also help project managers monitor projects' critical financial indicators such as: profit margin, revenue, and resource costs in advance. This makes it easier for managers to correct any discrepancies and control project costs in advance.

4. Stronger proof for new hiring requests

Resource scheduling also gives you tangible data, which makes it a lot easier to correctly identify hiring needs and get leadership buy-in for hiring those people. It also helps you avoid overhiring or spreading your resources too thin, which always leads to a drop in morale and reduced productivity.  

Being able to show overutilization is so helpful for explaining why something has been delayed, or why something cannot start yet. When we can show our stakeholders that overutilization is so high, they can empathize and understand the constraints of the situation. It helps facilitate conversations about priorities, about moving things back if needed, because they can clearly see that we’re at capacity. It gives us the ability to go back to other parts of the business and say, ‘Look, these individuals really can’t take on any more work. - Cindy Tan, General Manager of IT Planning at TPG

5. Predicting and mitigating resource risk

All project managers know that too many factors are outside of their control. This has never been as evident since recent supply chain issues have impacted global productivity. Anything that can contribute to delayed completion of a project or the inability to finish it at all is a resource risk.

Managing that risk can be achieved by drafting a resource risk plan. These plans are based on the resource schedule, as they must take into consideration which resources, and how many of them, will be needed to finalize the project on time. Resource risk plans also look at how those resources could be jeopardized, for example by considering tentative projects that might draw on key resources. They also identify whether there is a secondary source from which those resources could be drawn if the primary source is compromised.

Resource risk plans help to set company policy, streamlining the reaction to unexpected events. This is an important job for one document, so it may need to be updated as the business changes or or climate the business operates in evolves.

What information do project managers need to create a resource schedule?

Preparing a resource schedule can be a time-consuming process, but long-term, it’s worth the time. Depending on the scope of the project, it may take various forms, but the framework needs to include the following:

  • People. Project managers should check the project's resource demand and note their availability. The list of resources should include people's names, roles, and the team they are currently aligned to. According to the skills required, a manager can determine whether there's a need to recruit new employees for the project.
  • Rates & costs. It is essential to outline each resource's cost per hour, indicating whether it's a direct cost (incurred by the company) or a billed rate (incurred by the client).
  • Availability. The resource schedule must indicate everyone's availability and highlight their planned holidays or any other events.
  • Project assignments. Managers should draft a detailed schedule showing specific tasks for each resource and the scope of their responsibilities.
  • A resource calendar. A resource calendar is a critical document since it shows each resource's availability per week, their planned vacations, and off days.
  • Origin. It is crucial to indicate the origin of your resources, including their team, office, and location. If contracted, it is best to indicate the type of contract as well.
  • Placeholders. Placeholders are used when you have a project to plan out but don't yet know who to assign to it.

How to create a resource schedule

Because resource scheduling incorporates decisions based on multiple sources of information, it is important to follow a detailed process to ensure nothing is missed out. Here are six steps to resource scheduling for your project.

Choose a resource scheduling tool

The manual process of scheduling resources can be exhausting and inaccurate, but choosing the right resource scheduling tool can help you manage your resources efficiently.

The Runn resource scheduling tool is one of the best and simplest resource scheduling software solutions on the market. You only have to click, drag, and drop to assign a time schedule to each of your team members. The software gives you a bird's eye view of everyone's schedules and real-time scheduling insights to keep you updated about evolving plans and milestones.

resource scheduling software

A good resource scheduling solution like Runn will allow you to:

  • Identify when staff availability conflicts with client requests so you can reallocate resources on the fly
  • Track billable hours for every project and employee, so you always know how much time is being spent on each project
  • View staff availability in real-time, so you can schedule more efficiently

Read on: What is the Best Software for Resource Scheduling in 2024?

Break down the project into phases and milestones

To schedule resources effectively, you first need to break down your project into smaller parts. Forming a strong work breakdown structure (WBS) is a key step. This includes creating phases and milestones for each project to help you estimate how many resources and skills are required. Using the task list, managers can schedule resources in line with each team's capacity.

Runn's Project Planner

Analyze your resource capabilities

The most common resources for most projects are equipment and human resources. Your project might need specific software, hardware, or tools through purchase or leasing.

As for human resources, it is essential to assign tasks to the right person with the required skill set – a process known as resource planning. It is beneficial to invest in a database showing the skills of each of your team members for easy matching of tasks with members' schedules. For instance, using Runn for resource scheduling can help you allocate resources to projects intelligently.

Monitor your team members' availability

You can check each employee's availability on your resource calendar and can allocate a corresponding schedule to their available hours. It’s crucial to know how long the work would take up to completion, so as to adjust your project team size appropriately. You can get an accurate estimate of the time and resources needed by checking previously completed projects with a similar scope.

Identify constraints and respond promptly

Employees' holidays, sick leaves, or days off may come as the deadline approaches, forcing you to reassign tasks or change deadlines. Resource scheduling software can save the day in such instances and give you peace of mind.

Track resources as the project progresses

It is essential to monitor progress of each team member's tasks to keep the overall project on track. As well as forming part of your actual costs review, the actual time spent will have an impact on the future scheduling process. Identifying critical resources and developing a coverage and contingency plan to keep your project going is essential.

Good business performance depends on the proper utilization of resources. Every project requires specific skills and time to be accomplished, but these resources are scarce and you need to optimize what you have available to you.

5 golden rules for effective resource scheduling

Now that we've covered the basics and you know how to create a resource schedule, here are some best practices. Stick to these five golden rules, and your resource schedule will be worth the effort. 

1) Don't book people for more than 80% of their time

It may seem counterproductive, but when scheduling resources, leaving buffer room is extremely important. This way, you'll make sure you don't run teams at their redline and they have the capacity for usual admin tasks. 

Do not allow employees to have more than 80% of their day full of scheduled tasks, the other 20% fill in automatically. If an employee’s schedule is at 100% capacity, then you can assume things are falling through the cracks, recommends Nate Moeller, COO at The Penguin Group.

2) Pay attention to skills and seniority when assigning people to projects

There are many blind spots when it comes to resource scheduling. You've got to pay attention to skills, seniority, cost, and availability. Combine them correctly and you’ll be able to balance your budget, schedule, and deliverables.

One thing to remember is - you can't schedule resources by virtue of the situation. And if you do, your resource scheduling practices won't be cost-effective. 

Consider the hourly rate of the resources available to you, alongside their skill set and level of expertise. You may need to splash the cash to get the skilled resources you need to deliver project objectives. Or you may still be able to deliver your project using lower-cost resources. 

resource scheduling best practices

3) Create various project scenarios

It's a fact that your project won't always proceed as planned; there will always be ad hoc requests or cases of force majeure. This is why creating what-if strategies and modeling various project scenarios can help you avoid unanticipated hazards. And for resource management, this is especially helpful. Learn how to do it in our recent guide on tentative scheduling. 

4) Prioritize projects to avoid understaffing

The best way to prioritize projects when you're understaffed is to analyze what client work brings the most value to the business. In other words, you can start spending more time on activities that add value and less time on net drainers. To do so, you can identify the 20% of your time that generates 80% of the results for your organization.

5) Use placeholders when you don't have the right resources

After allocating the people you know will be available, you might be left with some shortages where there’s either no availability with someone of the right role or skill, or you simply haven’t decided yet who on the team you'll want to take the work. In that case, you can create placeholders using Runn's Project Planner to indicate demand for a person of a specific role and continue building your project schedule.

An effective resource scheduling tool allows you to maximize resources which in turn can promote employee retention, reduce hiring costs, and boost productivity. So put your manual Gantt chart and spreadsheets away, and let resource scheduling software bring you more accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

Placeholders in Runn

You can try free resource scheduling software today to experience the convenience of resource management.

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