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Managing projects

Resource Planning

What are project resources?

In project management terminology, resources are all the items that are required to carry out the project activities. They include people, equipment, facilities, time, money, or anything else required for the completion of the project. All these elements are interrelated and linked to the scope of the project. Each of them must be estimated and managed effectively if the project is to be a success.

Key project resources

  • People
    People are the most important resource for a project. Managing the people means having the right people, with the right skills, at the right time. It also means ensuring that the project staff knows what needs to be done, when, and how, and motivating them to take ownership in the project.
  • Equipment
    The equipment that needs to be managed as part of a project depends on the nature of the project. In public health, the equipment that is needed for the project is usually limited to office material, computers, and sometimes test equipment. The project management for equipment is much like for people resources. You have to make sure you have the right equipment in the right place at the right time and that it has the supplies it needs to operate properly.
  • Time
    Time is a critical resource for any project. Project managers who succeed in meeting their project schedule have a good chance of staying within their project budget. To enable time management, the different project activities need to be detailed and prioritized.
  • Budget
    Each project comes with costs and a budget to match these costs. On the income side, the main sources of funding are subsidies, grants, donations, and own contributions. On the costs side, the types of expenditure vary according to the nature of the project, but the most common cost factors are staff costs, equipment, travel and subsistence, subcontracting and overheads. The financial management of a project requires that all expenditure must be allocated to a detailed budget, which means that the budget must be carefully planned.

Resource planning

Resource planning entails estimating the expected input in terms of time, human and financial resources necessary to achieve the project objectives.

  • Time allocation
    To allocate time for project activities, use can be made of the Critical Path Method. This technique determines the shortest time possible to complete the project by calculating a critical path, or the sequence of project activities which add up to the longest overall duration. To that effect, a model of the project is constructed that includes:
    - A list of all activities required to complete the project (typically categorized within a work breakdown structure),
    - The time (duration) that each activity will take to completion, and
    - The dependencies between the activities
    Using these values, a calculation is made of the longest path of planned activities to the end of the project, as well as the earliest and latest that each activity can start and finish without making the project longer. This process determines which activities are "critical" (i.e., on the longest path) and which have "total float" (i.e., can be delayed without making the project longer). Any delay of an activity on the critical path directly impacts the planned project completion date (i.e. there is no float on the critical path).

    A project can have several, parallel, near critical paths. An additional parallel path through the network with the total durations shorter than the critical path is called a sub-critical or non-critical path. A planned critical path of a project can however be shortened by pruning critical path activities, "fast tracking" (i.e., performing more activities in parallel), and/or "crashing the critical path" (i.e., shortening the durations of critical path activities by adding resources).

    The work breakdown structure of the project, including the dependencies of the tasks, is often represented in the form of a Gantt chart. This chart is a type of bar chart representing the project schedule, and marking the start and finish dates of the main elements of the project.
  • Human resource planning
    Human resource planning for a project involves a realistic estimation of the staff input, based on an estimation of which type of staff will be required for the tasks that are planned, and the anticipated number of working days. To plan the human resources, the following steps should be followed:
    - Define the resource requirements by listing the roles and responsibilities for the project, without being constrained by the people that are available. It is often useful to look at previous projects to see what roles and responsibilities existed.
    - Look for people to take up the roles and responsibilities. If expertise is not available within the organisation, one can consider people from outside to assist in particular areas. Other solutions are to train people to increase their skills, or to outsource certain activities via subcontracting.
    - In addition to skills, also consider the personalities of people to see if they will be able to work together.
    - Consider the impact on the project for each of the solutions outlined above (e.g., time, scope, or budget).
    If a responsibility is not allocated, at some point, it will escalate into a problem. Addressing it early in the project will avoid or lessen the impact.
  • Financial planning
    A financial plan or budget entails a realistic estimation of the financial inputs, including sources of income (allocated budgets, project-specific funds, as well as staff time and expertise) and the planning of expenditure over time. Each project task will have a cost, whether it is the cost of the staff labor hours, travel costs or the cost of purchasing equipment. In preparing the project budget, each of these costs must be estimated and then totaled. They should be grouped into cost categories:
    - Staff costs: a detailed account of the functions required for the scheduled tasks, and the related costs (salary per working day and anticipated number of working days).
    - Travel and subsistence: a detailed account of the number of travels required for the project, with the cost estimation for travel and subsistence.
    - Equipment: a detailed account of the equipment needed for the project, with a cost estimation.
    - Subcontracting: an estimation of costs for subcontracted tasks
    - Overheads: usually a fixed percentage of the other costs, listed above.
    Some of the estimates will be more accurate than others. For instance, salaries of staff of a given category are usually known, so staff costs can be estimated fairly precisely if the number of working days is known. Other estimates, like travel and subsistence, may be less accurate as the destination is not always known from the onset and prices may change over time. For that reason, organisations often include a contingency amount in the project budget to cover underestimated costs.

Managing resources

The project manager's job is to keep to the project time schedule and to keep the actual cost at or below the estimated cost, and use as little of the contingency as possible. The most common cause of exceeding the project budget is exceeding the time schedule. Meeting the project schedule does not guarantee that the project budget will be met, but it significantly increases the chances that it will. Apart from adequate planning, the best way to achieve this is to manage the project scope, and to not allow the project scope to "creep" upward without getting budget and/or schedule adjustments to match.

Further reading

- Turbit N. (2005). Project Resources. The Project Perfect White Paper Collection.
- Wiliams M. (2008). The Principles of Project Management. Collingwood: Sitepoint.