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Resource Leveling 101: Master This PM Technique

There’s a limited amount of time and resources for every project. As projects unfold, you may encounter challenges and unexpected events that force you to rethink your resource allocation and make changes to your project schedule. Resource leveling can help you effectively redistribute your resources to use them in the most efficient manner so you can achieve more in less time.
Resource leveling is a resource management technique that involves balancing available resources and schedules to complete projects on time. In any given project, you’ll work with limited resources that need to be used simultaneously to complete tasks within a timeline. The primary goal of resource leveling is to schedule project tasks. This is done by considering resource availability and task dependencies so that you don’t overallocate your team members and none of your activities are blocked by a lack of resources.
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Resource leveling always involves a trade-off between two project constraints: time and resources. If you have a limited amount of time, you’ll need to add extra resources in order to complete more tasks in less time. In the opposite case, if you have limited resources, you’ll need to extend the project schedule to complete all tasks within a timeline that’s feasible for your team.
However, resource leveling goes beyond these two simple scenarios. Resource leveling is also used as part of project management methods such as the critical path method (CPM), critical chain management, project crashing and fast-tracking.
Let’s take a look at the most common uses for resource leveling in project management and how it helps project managers better plan, schedule and execute projects.
The critical path method is a visual project scheduling technique that allows project managers to map out all the project tasks on a diagram that shows their start and end dates, duration and dependencies, among other details.
This information is used to identify the project’s critical path, which is the sequence of activities that take the most time to be completed. These activities should be managed closely because if they’re delayed, the whole project timeline is delayed.
That’s when resource leveling comes in. Once the critical path is identified, project managers need to make sure that they allocate the right amount of resources for those tasks during the planning stage. Then, once the project execution begins, they might need to ask for more resources or reallocate available resources to make sure those critical path tasks are completed on time.
The critical chain method is almost identical to CPM but focuses on resources. While CPM identifies the longest sequence of tasks in terms of length, the critical chain method identifies sequences of resource dependencies, where a resource can only be allocated to one task at a time.
When scheduling projects with these methods, project managers can better map out their resource allocation and determine whether they have enough resources to execute their project scope, or whether they should reconsider their project schedule.
Fast-tracking is a schedule compression technique that consists in reducing the time that it takes to complete a project by executing tasks simultaneously instead of sequentially. Fast-tracking is a good choice whenever there’s a risk of a project running behind schedule, but there are available resources.
In this case, project managers simply need to make changes to the project schedule and reallocate resources so that project activities are completed faster.
Project crashing consists in allocating additional resources for the completion of a task for faster execution. Project managers use this method to make sure projects are completed on time, at the expense of higher costs. Resource leveling is the core of this schedule compression technique, as the overall project timeline is reduced by allocating extra resources.
To better understand how resource leveling works, let’s take a look at a real-life scenario. Let’s imagine you’re managing a construction project and weather conditions delay your project completion date by weeks. There’s work that needs to be redone, and your project team is behind schedule in terms of task execution. How can you complete this project on time? What can you do if there aren’t enough resources? What can you do if there’s no more time? Based on this scenario, let’s take a look at two resource-leveling examples.
When a construction project must be completed by a due date, you’ll need to ask for more resources and try fast-tracking or project crashing. If you decide to fast-track your project, you’ll need to identify task dependencies to determine which tasks can be executed simultaneously and which can’t.
For example, you can’t begin with roofing activities without building the walls first. On the other hand, you can fast-track activities that don’t depend on each other such as masonry, plumbing and electrical work.
If you choose project crashing, you’ll simply need to estimate what project resources are needed for each task, and allocate additional resources so that those tasks can be completed faster.
If it’s not possible to ask for extra resources, you’ll need to extend your project schedule in order to complete all the work required to complete your construction project with the available resources at hand.
Resource leveling is ultimately the stopgap to an emerging problem. If that fails, the results could mean a delayed project, missing out on resources as they get shuffled to other departments, and costing your company money.
Problems due to poor resource leveling could have a domino effect. Suppliers could be delayed, factories could be unavailable, shipments could be missed, production could be offset and forced into a time crunch, and leadership could be impacted by the disruption to their bottom line.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Resource Management
At its core, resource leveling is a crisis management method. Dealing with compounding conflicts? Resource leveling untangles them. However, it usually does that at the expense of one of the triple constraints of project management—cost, scope, or time. So even at the outset, the risk of error is high, and minor mishaps are baked into the process.
Because this process juggles resources between projects, it has the potential to make things much more complicated than they would have been at the project outset. That’s why it’s important to have a mechanism in place to track your project’s timeline and milestones so you never miss a beat.
As previously mentioned, with an online platform like ProjectManager, you can access project management tools to schedule resources, balance workloads and reassign tasks. Know which activities are dedicated to whom, when they’re due and how much they cost. Get the visibility you need to accurately track your resources for informed decision-making by signing up for our award-winning project management software.
Resource leveling will help you solve project roadblocks as they happen. With online project management software like ProjectManager, get the tools you need to track your resources effectively from the outset. Enjoy our free 30-day trial, where you can access our interactive Gantt chart and get visibility into the workload of your entire team.
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