Best resource scheduling methods, practices and tools for professional services firms

written by
Ellen Darbyshire
Feb 17, 2023
minutes read

Resource scheduling plays a critical role in delivering timely, successful, and high-quality projects. People are, after all, the most important—and expensive—assets of any professional services business, which is why it’s crucial to get resource scheduling right.

The world of professional services is fast-paced and involves more juggling than a circus troupe as your people deal with multiple projects at a time. Naturally, this can lead to inefficiencies and difficulties meeting project deadlines and requirements. This could mean poor quality projects, and that could mean unhappy clients.

This article will get you up to speed on all things resource scheduling in project management, including best practices for creating a resource schedule, the most effective resource scheduling methods, and how you can use resource scheduling software to take things to the next level.

But first, let’s keep things simple by explaining what resource scheduling actually is.

What is resource scheduling?

Resource scheduling is the process of identifying, managing and allocating the resources required for a specific project. Its purpose is to ensure the successful delivery of projects within a specified timeline and avoid under or overallocation of resources.

That means getting the right people, with the right skills, on the right projects at the right time. Navigating this balancing act of resource capacity vs. demand is one of the most difficult tasks that project managers face, because things can go wrong very quickly when resources are scheduled poorly.

Key benefits of resource scheduling

We’ve touched on some of the things that can go wrong without effective resource scheduling in place, but let’s look at some of the benefits that the resource scheduling process can provide within project management.

Maintains project timelines

As resource scheduling involves identifying tasks and their priorities, firms can appropriately allocate resources to time-sensitive, critical tasks. The chance of projects being delayed is greatly reduced when the most important tasks receive the most immediate attention.

Project managers can also estimate the time required for each task and create realistic project timelines off the back of this. With achievable milestones, the risk of overcommitment is reduced and deadlines can be managed more effectively.

Effective resource scheduling methods enable project managers to strategically allocate resources, proactively mitigate risks, and foster communication and coordination. All of these elements work in synergy to enable firms to deliver projects in a timely fashion.

Optimizes resource utilization

Resource scheduling is supremely effective for optimizing resource utilization. When you assign relevant tasks to individuals based on not only their skills but also their availability, you can ensure resources are utilized effectively and efficiently.  

You’ll also be able to identify utilization ‘hot spots’ and ‘cold spots’. Are certain members of the team always run off their feet, whilst others are on the bench? Effective resource scheduling will help you strike the optimum balance on utilization – ensuring your team are kept busy and engaged, but not risking burnout.

Many resource scheduling tools provide real-time tracking of your utilization rate as well as the ability to accurately forecast billable utilization. This can help with productivity-enhancing decisions, such as identifying time-intensive internal projects which are reducing the revenue potential of your team.  

Reduces project costs

When resource scheduling is optimized, with the right skills matched to the right projects, there’s no need to incur extra costs by using expensive external resource or using a costly resource grade when a more junior member of the team has the right experience.  

Most resource scheduling tools offer real-time budget tracking, giving you live insights as to how your resourcing decisions (who you use, and for how long) impact your budget, and if you’re starting to get off track. When you’re able to recognize these signs early, you’re able to take corrective action early, which minimizes potential cost impact.

Enhances staff engagement

Using resource scheduling methods enables you to allocate your tasks in line with your team’s learning and professional development plans. If a certain team member wants more exposure to clients in the public sector for example, thoughtful resource scheduling can ensure that team member’s work is aligned with their interests, boosting engagement.

With more engaging work, and a healthy work-life balance, your employees are likely to be more productive and able to give their full attention to the projects they’re assigned to.

Improves project quality

Overall, all the elements above help to both maintain and elevate the quality of your projects when resource planning. When you have the right people with the right skills being able to deliver projects within a specific timeframe and budget, the quality is likely to be higher—and your clients are likely to be happier!

As you continue to deliver high-quality services on time, your firm’s reputation is bound to improve within the market as client referrals and word-of-mouth contribute to your business growth.

Key things to consider before creating a resource schedule

Ready to create your own resource schedule but wondering where you should even begin? Don’t worry; we’ve put together some of the key steps to follow and factor in before you start scheduling resources.

1) Leverage resource scheduling software

As well as being incredibly time-consuming, trying to schedule your resources manually through tools like spreadsheets is likely to yield inaccurate, error-prone data. This can have a detrimental effect on your bottom line.  

That’s why the first step we’d recommend in creating your resource schedule is to adopt resource scheduling software for your firm.  

One of your options is to adopt a standalone resource scheduling system, which is a step-up from spreadsheets as these are dedicated to supporting resource management efforts. These systems typically include functionality such as resource allocation, resource capacity vs demand planning, and an element of task management.

However, while these tools may do resource management really well, they do have significant limitations. Specifically, without a CRM integration, you risk ‘resource scheduling in a vacuum’, because you’re only factoring in your live projects – with no consideration as to what’s coming down the line from your pipeline. In addition, without integrated timesheet functionality, you can’t compare the ‘plan’ (from resourcing) to the ‘actual’ (from timesheets).  

Resource management functionality within CMap PSA software

If you’re looking to get visibility beyond just your resource scheduling, then we’d recommend implementing a PSA (professional services automation) tool. PSA software integrates many of the features that support essential commercial and operational processes into one centralized platform, combining them to streamline key business operations.

PSA software provides the full visibility you need over your projects and resources, with automated workflows, reports and forecasts. You’ll be able to accurately predict future demand, calculate your utilization rate, and confidently create an effective resource schedule.

2) Define project objectives and requirements

Before you start scheduling any resources, you need to clearly define the specific goals and scope of the project, as well as the specific outcomes and deliverables you expect to produce. Once this has been defined, you can then start to identify the resources needed to achieve these objectives, including factors such as skills and experiences.

3) Determine resource availability and capability

The next step is to determine the capacity of your relevant resources and ensuring they’re actually available when required, including factoring in planned future absences e.g. holiday and training.

You’ll also want to make sure that you have an accurate picture of the skills, competencies, qualifications and experiences of the available resources, so you can ensure that relevant skills are matched to relevant projects.

Resourcing meetings, when done right, can be particularly effective for aligning resources across the team.

4) Consider cost and timeline constraints

It’s critical to take into account any constraints that could affect the scheduling of your resources, which include project deadlines and budget limitations.  

You’ll need to develop a realistic timeline that outlines the start and end dates of each task involved and consider any dependencies between tasks and the timeline. You’ll also need to factor in cost considerations, and ensure the work is delivered with the appropriate seniority of staff, to not overrun against your budget.

You may want to consider creating a contingency plan to handle any unforeseen circumstances or resource shortages to ensure the project continues to run smoothly in the face of unexpected challenges.

5) Factor in historical data

Incorporating historical data and metrics can provide you with valuable insights for the optimization of your resource allocation when you schedule resources.  

For example, reviewing similar historical projects can help you pull together a project resource plan with more accuracy, all of which will feed in to giving you a better understanding of resource demand and potential constraints.

Best resource scheduling methods for professional services firms

With everything factored in and ready to go, let’s move onto resource scheduling methods within project management. The two main techniques used to schedule resources are called “resource smoothing” and “resource leveling”:

Resource smoothing

Resource smoothing is a resource scheduling method used when time constraints take priority (hence why it’s also known as “time-constrained resourcing”). This technique aims to evenly distribute resources over a project’s timeline while keeping the project’s completion time fixed.

This involves adjusting the activities of a schedule to ensure requirements stay within their limits, utilizing float time, and making strategic adjustments where available. These adjustments ‘smooth’ the peaks and troughs of resource demands, leading to a more balanced and manageable workflow.

Optimizing resource utilization without compromising the project’s timeline requires careful analysis of the project schedule and resource availability. Project managers must identify tasks that can be shifted without affecting other critical activities in order to minimize conflicts and enhance project performance.

Resource leveling

On the flipside, resource leveling is used when resource constraints take priority (also known as—you guessed it—“resource-constrained resourcing”).  

This involves adjusting the start and end dates of project activities, strategically redistributing tasks, and rescheduling non-critical tasks to be executed during periods of lower resource demand. Ultimately, the goal is to minimize the impact of resource constraints and improve project outcomes – but accepting that project deadlines might have to be extended.

A mix of both resource leveling and resource smoothing is typically used in project management to solve resource scheduling problems.

Final thoughts

Resource scheduling is a really important practice for professional services firms to get right. It can truly make or break a project, and ultimately affect the overall profitability of your business.

It’s crucial to have full visibility over your resources and key business processes, as well as data-driven insights into your resourcing, project, and financial activities. That’s why implementing a PSA software can be so incremental in transforming the effectiveness of your resource management.

Find out more about the staggering impact a PSA can have on your firm by reading Consultancy Benchpress’s 2023 survey results.

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