If you work in project management, there’s one thing you know for certain: you can never know anything for certain. Project managers can never plan for every possible contingency. Effective project management requires leaving enough maneuverability in schedules to adapt to new developments, without abandoning all planning and structure entirely.
Resource levelling in Microsoft Project, and similar applications, is one way project managers seek to achieve this balance. Here we discuss resource levelling in Microsoft Project and evaluate the strength of Project as an application that enables it.
What is resource levelling?
Resource levelling involves adjusting schedules and deadlines to accommodate for the resources you have available. Even projects that are managed with the utmost care and accuracy will, at some point, have too few (or too many) resources available. A dynamic project manager cannot prevent this, but they can successfully adjust by allocating resources where they’re most needed.
On the face of it, resource levelling seems quite simple. In reality, the more moving parts a project has, the more difficult effective resource levelling can be. Each stage of a project is contingent upon the successful completion of the last. Resource levelling isn’t always about pushing a project back or extending a deadline; it’s about understanding and weighing up the knock-on effects these decisions will have.
Historically, resource levelling was a complex and uncertain process, perfected only by the most experienced project managers. More recently, however, project management software has become better at predicting these outcomes – which should make the process quicker, easier, and more effective.
Microsoft Project is by some margin the most popular software that helps with this. But how exactly does it work and how effective is it?
Resource levelling in Microsoft Project
Microsoft Project isn’t designed exclusively for resource allocation, but it does include a dedicated resource levelling tool. It analyzes your schedules and highlights when resources are overallocated. Where possible, it will then automatically correct this by optimizing the distribution of resources, based on established parameters.
Let’s look at a very basic example. Let’s assume one employee has been scheduled to complete 10 hours worth of work for one day, but only four the next. The automatic tool can identify the disparity and redivert time where possible from the first to the second day. Hence, the resources are ‘levelled’.
Naturally, for this resource to work effectively, it requires a certain amount of input from the user first, in order to be able to determine that 10 hours’ work is too much, and four hours too few. For each individual task, the program allows you to indicate how much of a priority a task is, whether it’s a candidate for levelling, and a broader range of parameters to decide what work should be shunted where.
Microsoft Project has long been considered the default project management application. But many project managers don’t realize the limitations of the Microsoft software and what the alternatives are.
The challenges of Project
Microsoft Project might be popular, but it has plenty of limitations. One of the most well-known limitations of Microsoft Project is that it struggles with individualized resources. The software doesn’t allow you to easily distinguish between, for example, five multiple people doing the same job. Users are encouraged to treat them as either completely self-contained resources, or as one single resource with five times the normal capacity. There are ways around this. But it’s not natural to the interface – and can often get convoluted and confusing later down the line.
This problem is part of a larger issue: the infrastructure of Microsoft Project doesn’t properly correspond with the reality of project management.
Anyone who’s worked on or managed projects knows that nothing ever works out in practice as it does in theory. Microsoft Project allocates resources based on set parameters: how many people there are, how much budget you have, how long each person can work – and other features. But once it’s done this, it struggles to account for sudden changes, contingencies, chance, and mistakes. In short, it’s missing a ‘what if’ element.
Is there an alternative?
Tempus Resource by Prosymmetry is an alternative to Microsoft Project. A dynamic project and resource management platform that allows for more flexible resource leveling, among other benefits.
Here is an example of the difference between Tempus Resource and Microsoft Project: to indicate workload capacity, Microsoft Project uses numerical percentages which can over-generalize resource allocation, offering incredibly simple solutions to complex problems. Tempus Resource embraces the complexity, creating more dynamic ‘heat maps’ to help draw attention to over or under allocation, without over-simplifying.
Tempus Resource includes intelligent, dynamic resource levelling. It allows you to explore changes in the way resources are deployed, and most crucially, the knock-on effects that each of these changes will have. It uses sophisticated project management probability algorithms to calculate where contingencies will be required. With Tempus Resource, you can proactively level resources, rather than having to reactive as best you can when unforeseen contingencies occur.
To learn more about Tempus Resource and how it can help you improve resource utilization for the projects at your organization, get in contact with us today.