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Hannah Taylor

The 5 Essential Stages of the Resource Planning Process

All organizations have resources to manage; doing it well can be make-or-break. Let's walk through the stages of resource planning, to see where we can improve.

If you have resources — people, machines, tools — your company does resource planning.

You may know the process of managing your resources by a different name, but all organizations do it in some capacity. What sets them apart is the efficacy of their processes.

If you’re looking to improve your approach to allocating people to projects, better plan people’s time, or increase your company's rates of project success, keep reading. In this article, we're breaking down the five steps of effective resource planning.

The resource planning process

Ready to start optimizing your resource planning process? By following these five steps, you can gain a better understanding of your company’s upcoming projects and your resource availability.

The end result? An optimized approach to resource planning, improved utilization rates, reduced risk of burnout, and better outcomes for clients and stakeholders.

Stage 1: Strategizing

‘Strategizing’ is more of a 0.5 stage, really, as it covers the prep work that must be done before you can dive into resource planning properly. As we all know, preparation is the key to success.

Before you can begin assigning people to projects, you need to take the time to evaluate your project pipeline, answering several questions that will inform your resource management decisions:

  • What projects are confirmed in the coming months?
  • What projects are tentative?
  • Which projects are the highest priority to leadership?
  • What support does each project manager need?
  • What resource constraints may you face?

The goal is to ensure that you’re informed about all upcoming and potential projects and what resources you have access to.

Stage 2: Understanding project requirements

Once you’ve noted the upcoming and planned projects in the pipeline, it’s essential to comb through the needs and expectations of the key stakeholders, including project managers, executive sponsors, and external clients.

This involves working with the project team to understand the project’s scope, objectives, and timelines, as well as the roles and skills that are essential to the project's success.

Beginning the resource planning process well in advance of project kick-off means you have adequate time to assess priorities and strategically match resources to future projects.

For example, some projects will require specialized skills or advanced experience levels, while others require a specific team member’s involvement due to their knowledge of the client. This strategic consideration is essential to maximizing value across the board.

Stage 3: Resource allocation

Once you’ve got a clear understanding of the project pipeline, project priorities, and resource requirements, it’s time to allocate resources to project work.

This is where the real resource planning magic happens; as a resource manager, you’re responsible for identifying which team members are best equipped to complete the project work.

As you’ve already identified the criteria of all the resources needed, the next step is to match resources to projects and project tasks based on each person's unique skills and experience.

Don’t forget that if you want to optimize your resource utilization, you'll also need to consider your team's availability. You may need to do a little bit of juggling here to make sure each project team has the right mix of skills and experience required to be successful while avoiding over or under-utilizing individual workers.

Stage 4: Ongoing resource management

Resource planning is an ongoing process. Once a project is in progress, your focus should be on managing resources in real-time — and creating alternative plans when necessary.

Advanced resource planning is critical, but the reality is that things rarely go according to plan. While you should always aim to be proactive in anticipating resource conflicts ahead of time, you need to be ready to react to changes as they happen. Here are some examples of challenges you may face:

  • Scope creep results in a project’s forecasted timelines being extended, impacting future projects
  • A higher-priority project is booked at the last minute, requiring planned resources to be reallocated
  • An employee plans to take time off when you’ve assigned them to a new project starting during the same period
  • An employee takes unplanned time off due to sickness or a personal issue
  • Certain team members are regularly overutilized due to changes in project requirements

We suggest keeping in regular contact with your team members and project managers to keep your resource management process working smoothly, even once projects are underway.

Stage 5: Review, review, review!

The work isn't done once a project has been successfully delivered. Now, it's time to review how accurate your initial plan was, comparing it to how the resources were actually used.

From reviewing the accuracy of your forecasting to understanding what external factors are most likely to affect your plans, there are lots of ways you can use complete project data to review and improve the efficacy of your resource planning processes:

  • Comparing planned resources to actual resource usage
  • Looking at utilization rates, e.g., how much of an individual resource’s capacity was used
  • Reviewing the hours logged against individual projects to ensure time is being spent as planned
  • Understanding the percentage of projects delivered on time and within budget

But this becomes impossible when you don't have access to accurate real-time data on how your resources' time has been used. That's why you need a resource management tool capable of capturing project information, usage data, and more. More on that in a moment.

Resource planning best practices for resource managers

Now that you understand how to implement the five steps of resource planning, let’s dive into the best practices that’ll go a long way to improving project outcomes

Get buy-in from leadership

If you want to succeed in resource planning, you need to get your company’s leadership fully onside. That means helping them understand the benefits of resource planning, including how it’ll help them hit their strategic project goals. Think better project outcomes, reduced turnover, and more!

Consider your team’s other projects

According to recent research, over half (59%) of project managers run between two and five projects simultaneously. Without the right support, they could struggle with efficient resource planning.

When it comes to resource planning for multiple projects, there are several ways you help your project managers balance their resources better:

  • Prioritize and set clear goals. Start by gaining an understanding of what project needs are most critical. This means assessing the urgency and importance of each project in the manager’s project portfolio by examining its scope of work and timelines.
  • Monitor and be ready to adapt. Monitoring resource utilization alongside project progress will allow you to spot bottlenecks and resource conflicts before they occur. An easy way to do this is with real-time visual overviews of each project’s schedule. 
  • Support open, positive communication. Even with the best planning, conflicts can still occur. Supporting open and positive communication between yourself and the project managers encourages a culture of flexibility while reducing the risk of finger-pointing. You’re all part of the same team, so it’s critical to find ways to work together to deliver successful outcomes, even when times get tough.

Host regular resource planning meetings

Successful resource planning isn’t conducted in isolation. One way to involve your project managers in the process is to host regular resource planning meetings.

This gives everyone an opportunity to communicate their resourcing needs or raise concerns, allowing changes to be made well ahead of time. This will help mitigate risks and prevent resource conflicts. For example, if two project managers request the same software engineer over the same period, you can take the time to assess each project’s needs and make a strategic decision on which project to assign them to.

We recommend putting a regular time in the diary to review resources so that resource management remains at the top of everyone’s priority list. This is especially beneficial if your organization is large, with more than 50 complex projects running concurrently.

Further reading ➡️ How to Nail a Resource Planning Meeting.

Create a resource plan

Creating a resource management plan is essential, as it helps ensure each project has access to the resources it needs. Key steps include identifying the required support, informing resource acquisition, and re-allocating the resource once it's no longer needed.

Stay away from spreadsheets

Sure, you can do your resource planning in Excel, but why would you when there are countless alternatives available?

Spreadsheets are incredibly useful when it comes to conducting data analysis, but they’re not designed for resource planning and forecasting. Not only are they overly complex, but they can’t be integrated with your other systems, like planning, time-tracking, and HR tools.

Plus, they’re not flexible enough to offer all the features you need to manage resources successfully — especially compared to the alternatives, like a resource planning tool. This leads us to…

Use resource planning software

Between spreadsheets, notepads, and emails, there are many ways to complete resource planning activities without purpose-built software — but there are limits to what you can achieve.

If you want to build a truly strategic approach to resource planning, you need to integrate resource planning software into your processes.

Why? Well, the best resource planning tools are specifically designed to support project resource management, offering all the features you need to strategically plan and optimize your project resources.

This includes streamlining planning tasks like finding and allocating resources, integrating with other software, like human resources and time-tracking tools, and visualizing project data.

What’s next? Optimizing resource planning process with Runn

Runn makes resource planning easier than ever before. Here are just a few of the ways our intelligent resource planning software can help resource managers like you unlock the full potential of resource planning:

  • Providing a birds-eye-view of all resources across multiple projects
  • Helping managers see their resource capacity, mitigating resource shortages
  • Assigning resources to projects in a single click
  • Revealing resource demand, inefficiencies, and clashes at a single glance
  • Automatically collecting up-to-date capacity utilization data via timesheets
  • Project planning and resource scheduling in one place

Book a demo with Runn today, or try our project resource planning features for free.

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