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How resource planning keeps projects running smoothly

Your secret for avoiding stress, bottlenecks, and conflicts

Resource planning is the process of determining what resources (such as people, software, equipment, and budget) you need to complete a project, and then allocating them for maximum efficiency

Your team wants to have an impromptu brainstorming session. You snag your laptops and head to your office’s big conference room. Whoops! Looks like there’s already a meeting happening there. 

You head down the hall to a smaller space. There’s a team parked in there too. Have they been in there for hours? It looks like they’ve practically moved in. 

Okay, fine. Your whole team strolls over to the tables by the break room, but there are too many people heating up their lunches or grabbing coffee. Your sightseeing tour of every corner of the office continues.

If that sounds like a familiar struggle (and we’re willing to bet that it does), then you already have experience with what happens when resources aren’t planned and managed accordingly. It’s frustrating at best. At its worst? It can completely derail your projects.

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What is resource planning?

Enter: the importance of resource planning in project management. Resource planning involves determining what you need for a project so you can secure and allocate those items efficiently. 

While the term “resources” might inspire visions of hard materials, it’s important to note that things like team members and even money count as project resources too.

Generally, resources fall into one of the following buckets: 

  • People
  • Budget
  • Tools and software
  • Equipment and space

Before you ever start work on a project, you’ll figure out absolutely everything you need to get it across the finish line. Then, you ensure not only that you can get those resources, but that you can get them exactly when you need them.

The importance of resource planning

Inhale for three seconds and then exhale for three, because we’re going to revisit our infuriating meeting room example.

When your team was ready to sit down and put their brains together for that quick collaboration session, you were missing a crucial resource: space. You were ready to work, but there was nowhere to go. 

That led to a lot of snags for something that was supposed to be simple. Let’s look at some of the pitfalls that happen when you neglect resource planning (you know, beyond your passive-aggressive peeks through the window at those meeting room monopolizers).

1. Create accurate project plans

Your project plan will detail what steps you need to take to complete a project, as well as when each of those steps will be taken. Those milestones are impossible to plan if you don’t know what resources you have available. 

For example, what if your project plan says you need to have graphics completed for your presentation by the end of this week, but you didn’t realize that your graphic designer is booked with another project through the end of next month? 

When you fail to account for resource availability, your project plans are inaccurate, your deadlines are just guesses, and you add a lot of unnecessary stress by rolling the dice and hoping you’ll have what you need.

2. Avoid bottlenecks

Planning your resources also helps you avoid unnecessary delays. When numerous people or projects need the same resource at one time, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be the one to get it.

Sure, you might get there first. But you might not. If you don’t win that race, your entire project timeline will need to be pushed back. 

Just think: Had you booked a conference room ahead of time, you would have avoided traipsing all over the office and awkwardly peering into meeting spaces—and you could’ve jumped right into productive brainstorming.

3. Manage capacity

Teammates are the biggest and most valuable resource your project will need. Most projects (especially cross-functional ones) require different coworkers, departments, and skills. 

But you know firsthand that people aren’t sitting on their hands, just waiting for more work to land on their plate. In fact, they’re usually in demand and spread pretty thin already. 

52% of people say they are stressed at work on a day-to-day basis, and unreasonable workloads play a big part in that sense of overwhelm. Resource planning allows you to proactively manage people’s time and energy, so nobody is overloaded.

4. Deliver more successful projects

That brings us to the biggest benefit of all: more winning projects. 

One Project Management Institute (PMI) report found that resource dependencies and taxed resources were two of the commonly-cited causes of project failure. They even ranked ahead of other issues like inexperienced project managers and team member procrastination. 

Planning for what you need, when you need it, and how you’ll get your hands on it means you and your team are equipped to get successful projects over the finish line—with way less stress.

The resource planning process: How to get what you need when you need it

You can’t predict the future, which makes resource planning more than a little challenging. How can you possibly know everything your project will need? 

We’re boiling this down to a simple formula you can use to plan and manage your resources effectively. Your fruitless quest for an empty meeting space stops here.

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Step #1: Pinpoint what resources you need

Start by making a list of everything you’ll need to complete the project. Particularly for gigantic, cross-functional projects, this can be tough to do. Grab a pad of paper and a pen, and start writing out the obvious resources. 

With the easy ones out of the way, think about your project in different stages or sections. For example, that webinar you’re creating will start with a content outline, which means you need someone from the content team and a subject matter expert. Continue moving through the phases of your project, writing down what resources are needed at that point.

Worried you missed something? Have a few other team members review your list. Especially if they’ve completed similar projects previously, they’ll be able to call out any resources you overlooked. 

Once you have your big list completed, bring some order to the chaos by grouping them into the categories we mentioned earlier: people, software, equipment, and budget.

Step #2: Understand what resources you have available

You have your laundry list of everything you need. Now you need the answer to this question: What do you already have?

We’re going to keep this super simple, so grab two different highlighters. Let’s use the color green for things you already have access to, and the color pink for things you need to get. 

Start with the green resources. Comb through your list and highlight the resources you already have. Maybe you have a subscription to video conferencing software to host your webinar when it’s complete. Make it green.

Next? Pull out the ones you don’t have with your pink highlighter. You don’t have a graphic designer to create your presentation slides. 

Repeat until everything on your list is either green or pink.

Step #3: Gather the resources you need

Let’s take a closer look at the pink resources. These are things you need for your project, but you don’t already have access to. 

Even the scrappiest teams need to pull in resources, so it’s time to figure out how you’ll get your hands on those. 

You know you don’t have an in-house graphic designer to create your webinar slides. Will you outsource that work to an agency or freelancer? Use a free tool like Canva to do the best you can? Get specific about how you’ll fill each one of those needs and write the solution on your list.

Step #4: Outline resource dependencies

It’s time to turn our attention to the green resources. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to think, “Oh, we have these! We’re all good.” 

You aren’t the only one hustling on projects, and you need to go beyond the existence of your resources and understand the availability of them. This will help you realistically assign them to your project.

The availability of your resources isn’t always obvious. To get a grasp on them, you’ll need to:

  • Have conversations with the necessary team members to understand their upcoming capacity (i.e. the content team can’t do your webinar outline until next month).
  • Connect with other departments who use your same resources to understand if they’ve already claimed a resource, and when (i.e. the sales team is using the video conferencing software this month for informational videos, but you can have it next).
  • Understand your project scope and forecast future resource needs so you can build in a buffer (i.e. you’ll need the web development team to create a webinar landing page at the very end of your project, but you should get on their schedule now). 

Much like mastering anything, there’s going to be some experimentation and trial and error. But, even the fact that you tried to plan your resources will mean fewer snags for you and your project.

Step #5: Create your project plan

Now that you have a full picture and all of the information, you can build your project plan around realistic access to resources. Remember, the best project plans are crafted around your resources—rather than trying to squeeze resources into an existing plan. 

You’re going to need to move puzzle pieces around. If you know the video conferencing software isn’t available until next month, then you know you can’t actually host your webinar until then (at the earliest). 

As you map out the steps of your project plan, list the resources that are needed for that portion under each step. It’s also helpful to specify when you’ll be done with that resource, so others can make plans to use those resources after you.

How software can help with resource planning

We've outlined a pretty manual approach to resource planning above. And rest assured, it works well. 

However, when it comes to identifying, allocating, and maximizing resources, it doesn’t just need to be you and your highlighters. Software can help you:

  • Visualize projects across the organization
  • Identify overlap between resources
  • Adjust project plans and resource requirements in real-time
  • Manage team members' workloads and bandwidth
  • Access data and reports to shape future project plans and resource requirements

Whether you prefer a spreadsheet, software, or a trusty notepad is up to you. But be aware that resource planning software does offer numerous advantages (and can save you a pesky hand cramp).

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