In a perfect world, you would always have the necessary resources for each project you undertake. Equipment and tools would arrive when needed, meeting rooms would always be available and nobody would ever get sick. But when has your world ever been perfect?
In the real world, the availability of important resources is usually limited and can often be scarce. Properly scheduling the resources you need will give you the ability to identify resource conflicts and bottlenecks before the project starts. When problems do arise, there are essentially two ways of revising the project schedule to minimize delays in your projects' priorities.
Prioritizing Projects With Limited Resources
Within each project, some tasks will have higher priority than others, and within your company, some projects will have higher priority than others. When comparing two or more projects that require the same limited resources, there are two questions to ask to determine which project should be adjusted to accommodate the other:
- Which project is more important?
- Which project can be interrupted with minimal consequences?
Once you have determined your project priorities, you can then examine the other project to determine its task priorities.
- Which tasks can be moved forward in the schedule to accommodate resources?
- Which tasks can be delayed to accommodate resources?
- Which tasks can have resources substituted?
Once you have made these determinations, you can then look at how to shift the project schedule with a minimal disruption to the project as a whole and ideally without jeopardizing its completion.
Using Time-Limited Resource Scheduling
One way to minimize the problems caused by a limited resource is to prioritize time constraints and try to get the work done without having the resource underutilized or over-utilized through the project's life cycle. This strategy is known as resource smoothing, or time-limited resource scheduling. The result will be that the schedule loses its flexibility, and it's likely that some tasks will be delayed. However, the use of resources will be optimized without going over budget.
Suppose, for example, you have two overlapping training seminars to host, which usually take six hours, but you only have one conference room available. Instead of holding them from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., you schedule the first seminar for 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the second seminar from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Using Resource Leveling
The second strategy is to use resource leveling, or resource-limited scheduling, which are really just complicated ways of saying you will do the best you can with the resources available. This can include delaying a project until the required resources are available or working through a project with limited resources.
In the double-booked conference room example, suppose the two seminars are each 12 hours instead of six. Since nobody is willing to attend overnight, resource smoothing won't work. Your option then is to postpone one of the seminars until the room is available or find a substitute location. You could start moving the furniture out of the president's office or rent a conference room at a local hotel.
Combining Resource Strategies
Often, the best solution to a limited-resource problem is to combine resource smoothing with resource leveling. This is particularly the case in large projects when your limited resources are people with specific skills.
As an example, major changes to business computer networks are time-sensitive projects that often have to be completed overnight when employees won't be affected by computer downtime. In a real-life example, there is one senior network engineer and two junior technicians scheduled to do the work when the senior team member announces he will be delayed six hours due to a delayed flight.
In this case, postponing the project isn't the best option, so the senior engineer forwards the preparation steps for the project to one of the technicians, and when the work is scheduled to begin, he walks her through the process over the telephone. The preparation steps take four hours to complete, so the technicians take a break until the senior engineer arrives. The project finishes at 8 a.m., only two hours later than planned, with almost no disruption to the company's personnel.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.