Feeling Overworked?

Resource allocation is a fifty cent phrase roughly meaning the assignment of employees to project tasks. Of course, those employees may actually be contractors or employees of a completely different company, so the generic term ‘resource’ is substituted. And the generic term ‘allocate’ encompasses the entire process of evaluating employee availability and assigning those people to tasks for a specified time commitment.

So ‘resource allocation’ could mean, evaluating employee commitments for the purpose of assigning those employees to project tasks. Tweet this!

Or just, making sure people have enough to work on.

It’s really not as scary and theoretical as it sounds. It’s actually pretty easy.

Project managers pretty-much know which projects their people are working on, and should have a pretty good idea what tasks they’re on. So resource allocation is just a matter of making sure employees have enough to keep them busy without overloading them. Simple as that.

What’s cool is that we can show a graph for when people have work, and when they don’t. Each bar in the chart shows the amount of work they have scheduled.

The Bars

The bars on a resource allocation chart show the number of hours a person is expected to work. Each bar represents the total hours in a given time period. Blue bars are good; they mean the person has enough work to do but not too much.


Resource allocation


Red bars are bad; they mean the person is overscheduled, or has too many tasks assigned for the given time period. Yellow bars are the opposite, not enough work.

There are also gray bars before and after the selected dates for the chart. These just give context to the chart by indicating hours outside the window. Hours scheduled before today should be dealt with, meaning they should be rescheduled for some time into the future. Leaving them in the past does no good. It’s best to either mark them as complete or reschedule. This eliminates them from the chart and removes any question of their relevancy.

The thick jagged line

The thick jagged line above the bars represents the normal hours for that time period. In this example above, the time periods are months. Each month has a different number of working hours. The same is true of quarters. But the line is not jagged when time periods are represented by days, weeks, or years. We want the bars to come close to the jagged line. If they do, they will be blue, to mean that the person has just about the right amount of hours.

The dotted line

The average number of hours for all time periods is represented by a dotted line.

How the bars get hours

Normally, bars grow when you assign project tasks to employees, and shrink when tasks are rescheduled for another time. But bars can also include generic project time. No actual tasks need exist. This so-called ‘generic time’ is time that employees are assigned to projects for a percentage of their daily schedule. For instance, a blue bar might exist if an employee were assigned 50% of his schedule to one project, 10% to another, and 40% to a third project. The total of 100% would presumably consume all that person’s time, and would be represented by a ‘correctly allocated’ blue bar. Not a single task was involved; it was all just generic project time. Along the same line of reasoning, if the generic project time only added up to 70%, a yellow bar would appear. Or if it totaled up to 150%, you would see a red bar.

This strategy means you could have a combination of both generic project time and actual project tasks. Both those commitments will combine together to form allocation bars. An example might be 10% ‘generic project time’ for an admin project, and the rest for scheduled tasks.

Admin time

Before assigning any project tasks to employees, consider how much time you expect admin tasks to take. E.g. email, meetings, discussions, paperwork, travel, water cooler, and social media goof-off time. Out of an eight hour day, you may only get six productive work hours. And sometimes less than that.

There are three strategies for accounting for this time. You can either create several project tasks that consume about two hours per day (or whatever you feel is normal) for a single ‘Admin’ project. Or, you can assign employees to a generic ‘Admin’ project for 10 - 25% of their daily schedule. Finally, you could add admin tasks to each of your real projects. All three strategies will feed the resource allocation chart.

The advantages of using project tasks are that you can see where the actual time is spent. For instance, how much admin time is spent on email? How much on meetings? You get roll-ups in the Project Task view, and can run reports on specific tasks. You may also force users to enter time into project tasks (and not at the project level) so this strategy would work well with existing tasks. If a user tries to enter hours directly to a project, they will get a popup telling them to choose a task. Whether these tasks are placed under a single ‘Admin’ project or under each real project doesn’t matter. The resource allocation chart will count their hours.

But can you simplify things?

The advantage of using a percentage of daily schedule is simplicity. You dispense with the tedium of tasks. Users won’t need to find the exact slot to enter hours into. They can simply enter time to the ‘Admin’ project (or a placeholder task under it). With this strategy, you may not know exactly where that admin time was spent, so it’s a trade-off between simplicity and detail. At least you’ll know the time was admin. That may be enough.

How project task dates are used

A resource allocation chart plots hours over time. That means it uses time periods to display bars. E.g. weeks, months, quarters. Each bar represents hours. You can use these bars to look into the future and see when an employee runs out of work. But in order to plot hours in these time periods, tasks must have start and finish dates. Task dates fill up time periods on the chart.

Actually, not all tasks need dates.

Tasks with no start and due dates

Any task without a start and due date is assumed to start now. It is also assumed to fill every available hour, and last as long as the ‘Remaining duration’ dictates. (How many hours are left on the task?) For example, a 40-hour task would fill the entire week, unless you also have an admin project with a percentage of hours assigned to the employee. In such a case, the admin project would take priority, and the task with no starting and due dates would fill in the rest of the hours. A 40-hour task could take two weeks, and could be placed into a time period several weeks or months out.

Such a task is the lowest priority when building time period bars. If any bar is already fully allocated, the task is deferred to the next time period. For example, if a week is already filled up to 40 hours, tasks like this are used on the next week, or next after that, until there are empty time periods where it could fit. It keeps getting bumped out because it has no firm time commitments.

Tasks with starting date, but no due date

A task with a starting date and no due date is like the previous task. It will fill in any available hours until the remaining hours of the task are exhausted. The only difference is that the task is expected to start on the date specified rather than today. It can’t be pushed out into future time periods, but it may also last a very long time because there is no firm due date.

Tasks with no starting date, but with a due date

A task with no starting date, but with a due date is only slightly different. It also fills in any available hours, starting today and ending on the due date.

Tasks with both starting and due dates

And finally, a task with both a starting and due date is the highest priority. It uses those start and due date constraints when building the time period bars. The bars must display the task hours across the start and due dates, so the entire task duration is spread evenly across that time period.

These tasks are plotted first, before any others. Specifically, before any tasks without start or due dates.

Of course, all the bars built for these tasks stack up to form one large bar for each time period. Hopefully, the allocated time does not exceed the employee’s ability to perform. If it does, you will see a red bar that tells you to make a change.

Priority used for bar chart display

  1. Generic project time, where employees are assigned a percentage of their schedule
  2. Tasks with both a start and due date
  3. Tasks with a start date, but no due date
  4. Tasks with a due date, but no start date
  5. Tasks with no dates


Employee availability

What is the difference between resource allocation and employee availability. (When people can work.) The answer is, almost nothing. A person’s availability is usually just the inverse of their allocation. Tweet this!

When a person is allocated to tasks, they are not available.

When a person is not allocated, they are available.

But still, it can be helpful to view the chart for availability. You see tall bars for time periods when the employee is available. Furthermore, you may see more than one individual when a workgroup is selected, instead of just a single person, which allows you to contact those people specifically.


Finding resources by skill

Need another resource for your project? But aren’t sure who might be available to work? You know what skills you need, but you don’t know who is working on what, or who may become available for your project. The answer to this conundrum is to “mine” the resource allocation pool for people.

It turns out, you can specify a required skill, and see which resources might be available. The resource allocation chart shows all the people (in the group you selected) that have free time. Pick your own group, and you see just your own employees with the skill you chose. Or, pick the entire organization, and you’ll see everybody with that skill. Consider those employees as potential candidates, which you can interview for a possible fit.


Finding resources by role

The same sort of search can be performed for role. Specify a role within a certain group, and you see all the employees that might be available to perform that work. Choose that same role at the company level, and you see everyone in the organization that could perform that role.

What’s the difference between skill and role?

Employees can have multiple skills, but only one role per project. That role is the one they normally perform for the company, and it often comes with a title and responsibility. For example: project manager, designer, engineer, etc. Skills are usually simpler, and don’t always have employee responsibility associated with them.

So when searching for employees by role, you are looking for a person that can fill a capacity, and is available at the time you need them.


Resource allocation by project portfolio (or folder)

Sometimes it’s helpful to filter the resource allocation chart by project. Choosing a single project, instead of all projects, shows only the task assignments (or generic project time) for that single choice. When you do, you see only the employee allocation for that one project. Just keep in mind that the person may be assigned to other projects, so you may not be getting the full picture.

The same is true of filtering by project portfolio. Or folder.

Showing only the allocation for all projects in a portfolio or folder is one convenient way to filtering the chart. But why is this valuable? Because you may not know if a certain employee or workgroup is involved with a selected project or portfolio. This is the way to find out. Choosing a portfolio filters the chart and shows you instantly.


Assigning users to projects by skill

Another use for resource allocation is to assign users to a project by skill. In the Projects page, you can assign users to your selected project by skill. The window below illustrates that process, and includes the use to resource allocation data to find users with the specified skill.

Consider how this might be useful to find skillful people that are free when you need them.


Assign projects


When you choose a skill from the dropdown at the top, the program will find all the users with availability in the upcoming months. You can then assign those users to your project. The ‘Availability’ column shows the hours they are open to work. Click one of those fields next to a user, and the Resource Allocation window opens to show the bar chart. You now see a visual representation of the ‘Availability’ text.

But assigning users to a project is not the end.

Assigning users to a project is only the first step. You normally should also create tasks and assign users to them. But as a shortcut, you can assign the user to the project for a percentage of their daily schedule. The image below shows how this looks.


Assign by percent


As discussed earlier, no project tasks need be created for projects where users are assigned a percentage of their daily schedule. The resource allocation chart will use this information to build bars in the absence of tasks.

Your next step is to try this out. Create some projects and tasks. Assign users, and see how the chart looks. You might find it very useful.





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