The ultimate guide to resource leveling strategies for IT managers

How many times did your project go exactly as planned? Don't worry if the number you're thinking of is zero now. We're all on the same boat here because that's just how projects are.Luckily, we have some handy navigation tools that help here. Use them well, and you'll have a say in what happens next in your project. 

Arkadiusz Terpiłowski

Co-Founder

Project Management

20/11/2021

Table of contents

One of the most common issues PMs encounter here is resource shortage. If this happens to your project, you need to find a way to adapt to the new situation and make sure that the project deliverables are completed as planned. 

This is where resource leveling can give you a helping hand. The technique allows reallocating resources in line with your goals and objectives. 

Sounds complicated? Keep on reading to get a good grasp of every aspect of resource leveling that matters.

What is resource leveling?

Resource leveling is an incredibly helpful project management technique for resolving scheduling conflicts or overallocation. It is an essential part of any resource plan in project management. It helps you to make sure that your project is completed with the resources available to you. 

And by resources, I mean the time, materials, tools, and – most importantly - people your project needs.

The idea behind resource leveling is to take full advantage of all the available resources as you work within the project timeline, cost, and scope. 

It gives you the tools to adjust resource allocation or project schedules and avoid resources from being overextended, keeping the quality of your deliverables high.

You might have already guessed that resource leveling can be pretty challenging for project managers. 

It's a balancing act where you have to find a sweet spot across the demand for the same resources across multiple projects and your goal. And that might sometimes be keeping the project's deadline. Other times, it might be dedicating just enough resources to it with the option to push its end date a little. 

Resource leveling vs. resource smoothing – what's the difference?

The term "resource leveling" might sound familiar to you if you've ever stumbled upon "resource smoothing." 

Is resource smoothing the same thing as resource leveling? 

In short, it's not. Here are the most important differences between these two techniques you need to know:

  • In resource leveling, the project deadline can change. In resource smoothing, the end date is fixed. 
  • In general, project managers tend to carry out resource smoothing after resource leveling. 
  • In resource smoothing, the project end date acts as the constraint - while in resource leveling, resources are the main constraint. 
  • PMs use resource leveling when they find that resources are under- or overallocated to the project. Resource smoothing comes in handy when resources are allocated unevenly across projects. 
  • Both resource leveling and smoothing help managers optimize resource utilization and scheduling.

3 real-life examples of resource leveling

How does resource leveling work in practice? To help you get a clearer picture of what resource leveling is all about, here are three examples from the life of an IT company like yours. 

Example 1: Getting additional resources on board

Imagine an engineering team that is suddenly hit with a great number of requests because of a cybersecurity threat. 

The current team doesn't have the capacity to respond to this problem. So, the team is extended with two new members temporarily pulled from projects to fix the problem. 

Example 2: Delaying the project start date

Let's imagine a mobile application development project that requires a UX/UI designer to first create mockups for the client to accept. 

But it turns out that the designer was double booked and is currently busy working on another project on a full-time basis!

What can we do to still make it all work and not delay our development effort? We can simply start the project a few days later when the designer becomes available. 

Since the designer is experienced and works fast, the product has a high chance of being delivered by the project's end date. 

Example 3: Postponing the project end date

Imagine a team building a Business Intelligence application. To make it work, software developers need to be in touch with the data science unit on the client-side. 

That unit comprises two people. And it just so happens that one data scientist is out of office due to illness and the other one is on holiday leave. 

Luckily, the second data scientist will be back in the office within a few days. So, your team can jump onto another project while waiting, and you're going to extend the project deadline by a few days.

It doesn't matter what kind of teams you lead - resource leveling will come in handy for resolving all kinds of resource conflicts.

When to implement resource leveling

  • When you want to avoid your resources from being spread too thin and still ensure that your team has all the skills it needs to complete the project.
  • When you want to keep a healthy work-life balance for the team without having anyone working overtime. 
  • When you want to make the most out of your resources, understand which products need extra resources and which ones are more flexible in terms of deadlines. 
  • When you want to prevent significant project delays and minimize the losses in labor and cost. 
  • When you want to prevent overallocation that leads to workloads that are overwhelming for your team members and affect their level of motivation. Resource leveling helps you deal with that by adjusting deadlines to make sure no team member has too much on their plate. 
  • When you want to manage resources and client expectations by keeping the same level of quality for all the project deliverables. 
  • When managing your resources is simply becoming more and more difficult. You're dealing with double bookings and overallocations all the time. You're not sure who is working on which project. You're constantly getting asked about that and spend a lot of time in meetings dedicated to updating PMs about your resources.

4 resource leveling best practices you should know

1. Predict resource availability

If you don't have the right resource allocation tools, predicting the availability of your employees is next to impossible.

And you're not going to get away with Excel spreadsheets here. Even if you're running a relatively small IT company. 

To make the most of your resources and have full control over their utilization, you need to gain more visibility of how they're being used across projects.

Keeping data in spreadsheets isn't going to help you here. Software for resource planning will. This is the best solution for seeing how your business is doing from a higher level. 

Note that well-designed resource planning software considers the dynamic nature of software development projects; here's an example from Primetric:


How to do a resource leveling in Primetric

2. Compare your initial projects estimations to real-life allocations

Start by creating tentative project allocations (trust me, it's worth doing that as soon as you can!).

You can compare them to your initial estimates and optimize them to make the data accurate. 

When the project is booked, and you're sure about these allocations, simply change them to "active" (the so-called hard booking, which is 100% confirmed).


Primetric - resource leveling example



Sometimes, you might only need to allocate people to some portion of their capacity or to specific days for a given number of hours. The solution you're using should allow you to handle these use cases smoothly.

3. Have backup plans for new hires and existing employees

Once you know which employees will be assigned to your project, your PM can start assigning them to specific project tasks. 

Always have a backup plan if a resource suddenly becomes unavailable (for example, due to illness or when a brand-new hire gets a better last-minute offer and jumps ship).

For critical positions, always hire people a little earlier to make sure they're available when the project starts. If you assign an existing employee, make sure to have a backup resource in place that could do the job for a week or more when the project kicks off.

4. Allocate over the long term


It's a good idea to allocate resources in the long run (not applicable to short projects). 

Don't assign individuals to tasks; instead, assign them based on their commitment to the project over a set length of time.

Here's an example scenario:

Developer A has one month to accomplish Task A, Task B, Tax C, Task D, and Task E. From the standpoint of human resource allocation, this isn't a big deal. 

However, it is critical to note that the activities will take 50 hours to complete, so you will dedicate a developer to this project for 50 hours.

This accelerates and simplifies the process while providing more clarity. This allows you to concentrate on the employee's availability rather than particular assignments.

These tools are essential for efficient resource leveling


Gantt charts

A Gantt chart visualizes the project timeline and helps to identify and plan the critical path in your project. This bar chart helps to see all the project dependencies as well as start/finish dates at a high level. 


Network diagrams

This is another kind of visual depiction of a project's timeline. The chronology of tasks is depicted here as a chart with sequences of boxes and arrows. It helps in planning and tracking the project's progress.

Or just digitalize resource leveling

Using these tools based on data from Excel spreadsheets or tweaking them manually will be challenging. 

By implementing project management software that adjusts information about resources to real-time project status, you get all the insights you need for smart resource leveling.

Want to see how it all works in practice? Give Primetric a go and book a demo with me; I'll show you how the platform supports resource leveling activities for any IT company.


Arkadiusz Terpiłowski

Co-Founder

Arkadiusz is Head of Growth and Co-founder at Primetric. Prior to that, Arkadiusz was at the helm of his own software development company where he oversaw operations. A great enthusiast of process improvements, his personal mission is to make software companies more profitable and efficient on their path to growth.

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