Project managers often turn to resource leveling to ensure that the timelines for any project can be correctly predicted and conflicts arising out of time, scope, or insufficient resources can be tackled early on without it snowballing into a huge problem, forcing employees to work overtime. Understanding what leveling resources is, its use, importance, and related information are vital to enhancing productivity and reducing burnout by eliminating over-allocation and minimizing the risk of resource burnout.

What Is Resource Leveling?

It is a technique in project management that resolves various conflicts, such as schedule conflicts or over or under-allocation of resources, to ensure that the available resources can be utilized to their fullest extent and the project gets completed at the earliest. 

Resource leveling is mainly done by setting realistic project deadlines by extending or curbing a project's start and finish dates. It helps maintain the project's cost while not forcing the employees to overwork.  

When to Use it?

Resource leveling is used when the project might spread the resources too thin, or there might be a chance of over-allocation of resources. This technique is essential for maintaining a healthy work-life balance for the employees by evenly distributing work and creating a realistic working schedule for the project to finish on time.

Why Is It Important?

Resource leveling is vital to understanding and creating realistic timelines for when the project can be completed by utilizing the available resources without creating budget issues, maintaining the quality of work, and avoiding project delays. Here are some reasons why this technique is important:

To Optimize Your Resources

It helps you assign tasks in a way that optimizes the resources. For example, it helps you assess the projects with a flexible deadline and can use a few employees to identify projects that require additional resources to complete the task on time.

To Minimize Deficits

It minimizes loss in labor and cost by managing the resource demand in a way that prevents delay of projects and does not exceed the cost and capacity of the company's financial resources.

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To Prevent Task Overloading

Resource leveling ensures that the overallocation of work is avoided. By adjusting deadlines, the project manager can resolve this and ensure that the team maintains its productivity.

To Ensure the Quality of a Project Output

By maintaining high team productivity, resource leveling prevents the downfall of the quality of the project and successfully manages client expectations for project deliverables.

How to Select a Resource Leveling Strategy in the Real World?

Unexpected delays and other conflicts are a part of the real world and can crop up anytime without announcing their arrival. It can prevent such problems by adjusting the two most important variables - project deadlines and available resources. The correct strategy can help you optimize resources, extend deadlines, narrow the project scope, and garner more resources. Given below are four scenarios to help you understand where and how a resource-leveling strategy can be applied for the best possible outcome:

Scenario 1: Add More Resources and Extend the Deadline

Extended deadlines and additional resources can deliver the best work for high-quality projects. After meeting with the stakeholders and explaining that the initial project assumptions were insufficient, you can accommodate the additional resources by revisiting the resource allocation plans. 

Scenario 2: Add More Resources to Meet the Same Deadline

The crashing strategy will often help with projects where deadlines cannot be extended. You can bring in additional resources to divide the workload. One problem that might arise out of this is the lack of training for the new team members. Senior team members can train the newcomers, but this will take away from the time required to complete the work. Thus, to solve this issue, newcomers should only be allotted tasks that require the least effort.

Scenario 3: Use the Same Resources and Extend the Deadline

Stakeholders should be contacted at the earliest opportunity to approve the extended deadline for high workloads if possible. This method ensures no additional team members are required, and the existing resources get the time needed to complete the project without compromising the quality of the deliverables.

Scenario 4: Use the Same Resources to Meet the Same Deadline

When no additional members can be acquired, nor can deadlines be extended, the only way to complete the project on time is to remove all low-value tasks and focus only on the most important aspects of it. This way, you can reduce project scope and execute several tasks at once by all available resources working together to ensure the project is delivered on time.

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How Can Leveling Resources Help Improve Work-Life Balance for Team Members?

Employees worldwide believe a healthy work-life balance is the most important attribute of any job. Statistics show resources have improved productivity - by 21% when they have a good work-life balance.

Not exceeding the regular working hours by providing buffer days to employees and breaking up chunks of large tasks into smaller subtasks, and dividing them among team members will make the workload lighter and the team members more efficient. This process is called resource smoothening. Buffer days are evenly distributed across all days and are advantageous since they provide extra time for solving unexpected problems, effectively reducing stress and overtime.

Resource smoothening coupled with leveling promoted improved work-life balance as the team works under regular working hours with an equal daily workload.

How Do Resource Allocation, Resource Leveling, and Resource Smoothing Work Together?

Project management can be efficiently optimized by combining resource allocation, smoothing and leveling.

When you allocate tasks to individual team members within their area of strength to ensure the work gets done by them, that is called resource allocation. 

By allotting daily buffers, resource smoothing helps distribute the workload evenly among the available resources.

Leveling resources promotes a balanced work-life ratio by ensuring no employees work more than the regular hours and do not exceed their limits. 

Resource allocation helps by mapping out the project and tackling budgeting, resource planning, and project outcome during the initial planning phase. It helps tackle any unforeseen problems that might arise during the project. Resource smoothening balances the high and low workload to ensure the resources do not exceed their limits.

Resource Leveling Examples

Here are some examples of resource leveling:

Example one: Adjusting the start date

A graphic designer has been double-booked for a project and is unable to complete the project without working overtime. To ensure that the designer does not exceed his limits, the company decided to adjust the start date to two days later. However, as the designer is a fast worker, he maintained the quality of work, and the project completion date remained the same.

Example two: Obtaining additional resources 

An IT team has been trying to fix various virus-infected computers in a company. After realizing that the company software would not be able to handle the virus, the team invested in new anti-virus software to fix all the infected computers. 

Common Methods of Resource Leveling

Below are common resource leveling methods project managers use to tackle various project conflicts efficiently.

Critical Path Method

A common leveling technique, this method involves a visual mapping of the project's 'critical path' to decide the start and end dates, dependency and duration, and so on. This method does not take resource limitations into account. Project managers use this technique to identify which task will require the longest to complete and manage such tasks efficiently to ensure no delay. 

It allows appropriate resources to be allocated to those tasks, and the project execution begins. If the team faces any unexpected problems, project managers might adjust resources to ensure the timely completion of the critical paths.

Critical Chain Management

The critical chain method is considered an advanced version of the critical path method as it considers the resource limitations that the critical path method does not. This technique considers the resource dependencies as well as the task. The 'critical chain' here refers to the task with the longest path. In this method, only one task can simultaneously be assigned to a resource. 

Projects are scheduled according to the required resources for the tasks, and their availability is reassessed if and when needed.

This method also uses a buffer period to ensure the project is not delayed. It is placed right before the completion date, after the last task, to round up any incomplete tasks.

Fast-Tracking

When multiple tasks are run parallelly to deliver the project on or before the deadline, that is called fast-tracking. Only up to a certain extent can activities be overlapped with one another. Parallel activities could be those without dependency, and the ones with dependencies could be staggered.

Project Crashing

When a project timeline is too short to be completed by the available resources, additional resources are allocated to complete the tasks on time. This technique is used when fast-tracking fails, and the project manager assesses high-priority tasks and allocates resources that would provide high value at the lowest cost.

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Resource Leveling Tools

Successful leveling is often achieved after some experience; here are tools you can use to help you expertly execute projects till then.

Use Gantt Charts

This visual bar chart maps a project schedule and is used for identifying and planning the critical path that can be rearranged later. It helps provide an overview of the project duration, start and end dates, and task dependencies.

Leverage Project Management Software

Allocation conflicts can be easily resolved using project management software with an additional resource leveling algorithm that could give an insight into the team member's schedules, thereby preventing double booking or schedule conflicts. 

Draw Network Diagrams

A chart can be created called a network diagram which will chronologically show the tasks assigned with a series of boxes and arrows. It is often used to identify the critical and non-critical paths of the project schedule and track the project's progress. 

Use Previous Projects as a Reference

Learning from past projects and using them as a reference for upcoming projects will help me plan the schedule better and more efficiently.   

Make Realistic Estimations of Resource Needs

Defining the resource estimates and project scope helps with future resource leveling efforts.

Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing

Leveling focuses on resource availability, while resource smoothening focuses on time constraints. They prioritize different aspects of a project. Resource leveling can fix an overallocation conflict by moving the start and end dates of the project. In contrast, resource smoothening is used for uneven resource allocation without changing the project deadline.

Resource smoothening is applied to even out the project schedule after resource leveling has fixed the overallocation problem.

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