Resource allocation in project management


One of the hardest tasks in project and resource management is sharing resources across multiple projects efficiently. In an ideal world each resource would work on one project at a time. The way we solve this problem is by using project resource allocation.

What is resource allocation in project management?
Resource allocation is a technique used to work out who is working on what projects and when. Note – it is not trying to figure out what they are doing on those projects – that is a function of project planning.

So if we were trying to come up with a definition for resource allocation it would go something like this “resource allocation seeks to assign the correct resources to the correct projects while ensuring that the resources are not over-utilized and the projects get the resources they need”.

Why do we need to do resource allocation?
To those in the know, the need for effective management of resources is imperative. In a recent study, conducted by the Project Management Institute, when asked what the most common cause of project failure over the last 12 months respondents cited resource management issues as the cause of 23% of failures. But on the plus side, while many of the causes of failure may be out of your control, good resource management practices are something you can incorporate into your project management process.

How to do resource allocation?
If you are trying to lay out a method or framework for resource allocation or are seeking to improve your current resource allocation process read on.

Get to know your resources
Let’s just clarify here. When we talk about resource allocation we are talking about people, human resources, staff etc and not machines, rooms etc.

Before you can allocate resources you need to know who they are. For each resource you need to know things like:

  • Number of days they work each period (could be month or week – whatever works for you).
  • Skills.
  • Expected time off (best done as a trend as you will not know actual holidays far enough into the future).
  • And for organizations with multiple locations possibly their location.

So the upshot of this process will give you an overview of your resource pool and the supply of resources within it.

Identify your projects
Now you need to get to grips with your projects. You will need a list of all your organization’s projects, and ideally tag them so you can identify them as “in progress”, “approved but not yet started” etc. For each project you should also allocate a priority as you should be allocating resources to your higher priority projects first.

Work out your resource needs for each project

For each project you now need to understand what resources are needed. So call on each project manager and get them to tell you what skills they need and when.

The output of this process should be something like this which shows for each project what skills are needed when and the level of skills required.


Another thing to note – we have not identified individuals here. We are seeking to understand what level of skill is needed and not which named individual resource.

Allocate resources to projects
You now need to match the resource needs for each project with the resource availability you have.

Try to ensure people are as fully occupied or utilized as possible (but see the comment below regarding don’t allocate at 100%) while allocating them to projects that play to their skills. Sometimes that means someone may work on something that is not their core expertise but this may be preferable than leaving them sat on the bench.

As you allocate people to projects keep a running total of their remaining or un-used supply. Once a resource has run out of availability they can no longer be allocated. Also ensure you do not over-allocate people (for example May in the following).

allocated to project

Tips for working out who to allocate to which projects
Sometimes it can be tricky to work out who to allocate to what project if you have resources with similar skills. Here are some tips for resolving this:

Skill levels
While a person has the required skill, do they have a sufficient level of that skill?

Different resources with the same skills can have different costs. The ideal person to do the work may be the most expensive. Do you need to compromise and give the work to a lower skilled person accepting the work will take longer?

Where does the work need to be done? Do the resources have to travel to another location to do the work? Are some resources more flexible when it comes to travel?

Existing project allocations
If we spread a resource over too many concurrent projects delivery slows down. There is no hard and fast rule here – you need to look at how many projects your resources can realistically juggle at the same time.

Skills development
Sometimes it is worth giving the work to a resource who does not have the exact skills match so they can acquire those skills.

Resource allocation best practice
Don’t allocate at 100% utilization
Never allocate to 100% of a resource’s capacity. Resources do other things – meetings, admin etc which may have not been accounted for. A good tip is to look back at time sheets and see what actual level of utilization to projects resources managed and use that as a guide going forward.

Encourage project managers to release resources early
To make the allocation process run smoothly, project managers need to release resources from projects when they are no longer required so they can go back into the resource pool for onward allocation.

Resource allocation planning is not a one time exercise
You need to periodically review your resource allocation plan. If projects have been cancelled, held or new ones started the plan needs to be revisited. Project managers should also periodically re-forecast their resource needs so the plan can be updated.

Account for all things resources do – not just projects
Resources do not just work on projects – they often have business as usual activities they need to work on such as support, training, team leading and management of other resources. So account for this in the resource allocation plan. 

Plan for resources finishing on a project
Keep lines of communication open with the project managers so you know when resources are likely to finish on a project. You should already be soft allocating resources into new projects long before they finish existing commitments.

Allocate far enough to cover recruitment
You will know how long it takes to recruit and get a resource up to speed. So your allocation plan needs to extend this period plus a few months at the very least. But there is also no point planning 12 months into the future if your resource needs change often. You need to strike a balance.

Use the right tools for resource allocation
In a previous role I helped organisations improve their PMO (project management office) by implementing resource planning, allocation and forecasting processes. A common problem was poorly executed resource management leading to projects over-running, frustrated resources and angry customers.

Upon closer investigation the tool of choice for managing the resource planning and allocation process was inevitably Excel or some other spreadsheet like Google Sheets and this is where is all the problems stemmed from. I am not going to delve into why using spreadsheets for resource management is a bad idea as I have covered this in depth before (yes the blog post referred to talks about capacity planning but the issues are the same).

Resource allocation software
A key benefit of using resource allocation software is the ease with which you can pull together, update and manage allocations across multiple projects. Simple schedule or plan updates that could take you a day in Excel can be done in minutes. The ease of keeping on top of the plans also means they are up-to-date meaning better informed decisions.

If focusing on resource allocation is on your to do list for this year, I would suggest taking a look at resource allocation software like Kelloo. The small investment is easily outweighed by time saved, better utilization of resources and more timely decisions. You can get a free trial of Kelloo so what have you go to lose.

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