Resources, in project management terms, are the people, supplies or equipment needed to get tasks completed. Constraints are boundaries or challenges put on those resources because they aren’t unlimited.
For example, if your project aims to roll out hands-on training to 3,000 factory workers about how to safely use a new piece of equipment, then you are constrained by how many trainers and pieces of demo equipment are available.
In a legal setting, making progress on the deployment of new case management software might need input from specialists to set up the data fields and information taxonomies so everyone else can use it – and if they are booked out on other work, you have to wait for them.
People are often the hardest resource to manage because we all work on a lot of different things and are constrained by demands on our time. In this article we’ll look at what impact resource constraints have on getting work done and how they affect project schedules.
How do resource constraints affect project delivery
Resource constraints on project delivery affect your team in these ways:
- Project timescales
- Project cost
- Team skills
Let’s take a look at each of those.
People constraints affect your ability to deliver the project on time. I’m seeing this at the moment on a building project: the electrician is in high demand so work is being held up on our project (and probably others) as he makes his way around various residential construction sites.
Whatever your Gantt chart says, you can only complete the tasks if there are people available to do the work. Project timelines need to adjust around the capacity of the individuals allocated to tasks.
Pay particular attention to this around holidays. I worked on a project once where I scheduled a colleague to complete some tasks and then found out the week before at the team meeting that she was going on annual leave. This delayed the project timeline and also taught me a valuable lesson of seeking out vacation information proactively! One solution is using software like LiquidPlanner that allows each team member to input their upcoming availability and alerts you in advance if your deadlines are in jeopardy.
Resources are normally a project’s greatest cost. Not all resources are people, but human resources are crucial for project delivery and they are expensive. I’m working on a project at the moment and all the costs are attributed to people because we need to pay them for doing the work.
Sometimes, resource costs are not cross-charged internally, but if you work in professional services or charge clients for your time, or capitalize internal resources for project work, then you will have to track time and work out the costs of your people.
This is a constraint because no organization has unlimited funding. While we’d all like the most experienced, best – and therefore most expensive – people on our projects, the reality is that sometimes you can’t afford them.
Project team members are selected because of the specialist skills they bring – skills that are required to get the job done. This affects project scope. You have to have the right people on the team to do the work.
Sometimes, colleagues don’t have the right skills but we are constrained by who is available or who we can afford. You can get around that by factoring in more time so they can learn on the job, or pay for training.
How to overcome resource constraints
The straightforward answer to getting around people-based constraints might be to simply get more people. However, real life projects and company budgets are rarely that straightforward, so while increasing the resource pool is one option, let’s assume you’ve already considered that. I’ll assume you’ve tried to add additional resources where it is necessary to do so.
Here are a few additional steps to take to creatively overcome resource challenges.
1. Make the challenge known
Use resource planning tools to set up capacity and allocation reports so you can easily see where you have resource constraints. Use workload views in LiquidPlanner to show who is available when, so you can make better decisions around what people should be working on. LiquidPlanner forecasts when you’ll be able to finish projects in your portfolio based on the people you have available to do the work, flagging risk when you don’t have enough capacity to finish current priorities on time or accept new projects coming in.
2. Extend the project timeline
One of the resource management strategies I use the most often is extending the project timeline, because many of my projects rely on specialist resources but have a bit of wiggle room in the dates.
The goal is to create resource balance across the team and across the work. LiquidPlanner has built-in resource leveling so your human resources are booked out based on their individual capacity.
3. Change the priorities
Sometimes you can access more resources if your project is a priority. If your project is on the strategic plan, managers might be more willing to make their team members available for work already identified as most important.
When priorities are clear, everyone knows what they should be working on. That makes it easier to focus on the important tasks.
Another option is to consider switching up tasks within a project. Change the order of when work is done to make the best use of people’s availability. Intelligent project scheduling tools build priority into the schedule by default, so the most important tasks are always top of the list.
4. Use different people resources
If you can’t get more resources, could you swap out some of the team for different resources? Perhaps another member of a specialist team might be able to complete the work faster, to a different level of quality, with less supervision or within some other boundary that serves your purpose.
For example, if part of the resource challenge is creating a cost-effective allocation for the project, could you switch out an experienced (i.e. expensive) resource for someone less experienced plus the time it takes for a manager to oversee their work?
Consider buying in skills as a service – that might be another option to increase your resource pool.
5. Track time
Record hours worked so people know what time is being used and how it is being used. That data can help you plan the future resource allocation. It’s important to make sure individuals can easily update their estimates and see their actual time worked so the team gets a better sense of whether they are tracking to plan or running slightly over.
Use past performance as an indicator for what time might be needed to complete the work.
6. Automate repetitive tasks
Finally, lean into what your project management software can do for you. Stop spending time on admin like report creation and use the data-driven insights in LiquidPlanner to surface relevant information.
Use the Open API to link in with other tools in your ecosystem for data sharing and updating other systems to avoid double entry. Smart use of your tools will free up more time and help manage resource constraints by giving team members more flexibility in how they do their work.
Data from PMI shows that only 26% of organizations always use project resource management to estimate and allocate resources. When resource constraints on project delivery can have such big consequences, we think it’s really important to understand and manage what people are doing and when they are scheduled to do it. With some planning and the right tools, you can work around the constraints on your project and deliver the results your clients expect.