What is resource planning? The ultimate guide for professional services firms

written by
Sarah Dyson
Jan 3, 2023
minutes read

Mastering the art of resource planning is essential for professional services firms. It's a skill that can make all the difference when planning multiple projects and preparing for future demand. But how can resource managers and their team members avoid bottlenecks, reduce costs, and reap the benefits of effective resource planning? 

Ultimately, it’s about understanding the key elements of resource planning and effectively applying strategies for optimized resource allocation. With the best resource planning tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to streamline resource planning processes and avoid the common challenges that project managers and resource managers typically face.  

With that in mind, let’s look at resource planning a little more closely. 

What is resource planning? 

Resource planning is a key component of project management that identifies efficient allocation and coordination of available resources to achieve desired outcomes. Basically: resource planning means assigning the right people to the right projects at the right time. 

Good resource planning means you can avoid hold-ups by planning ahead and getting team members allocated in advance. Project managers, for example, will use a resource planning tool to place team members with the right skills and capacity on the right projects, ensuring all deliverables are ready for each task to be achieved on time and within budget. 

Why is resource planning important for professional services firms?

Resource planning helps organizations run projects smoothly, ensuring tasks and resources are carried out on time and within budget to achieve satisfactory delivery—and satisfied clients. Resource planning gives consultants the visibility needed to see if they can take on new work profitability.  


Key elements of effective resource planning 

Let’s dive into some of the key elements that you should typically consider to ensure your resource planning is effective and needs are met. 

Expertise and skills assessment 

First of all, take a look at the specific skills and expertise required for resources among the team. This will help you identify the best person for the right project. By clearly defining their key competencies and ensuring they’re the right fit for the job, your resource planning will be off to a good start. 

Resource allocation and utilization 

Effective resource allocation is necessary for optimal resource utilization. Assigning the correct project resources to the right tasks based on availability, skills and expertise avoids any overallocation or underutilization in your resource planning. Resource capacity planning is something that should never be overlooked, whether this is for external or internal projects.  

Strategic planning and long term goals 

Resource planning is a fundamental part of strategic planning and pursuing long term aims. It helps professional services firms align their resource allocation alongside their future goals, factoring in changes of market demands and business strategies. Taking into consideration resource requirements and their availability, organizations can position strategic resource planning efforts realistically.  Factoring pipeline into your resource planning will also give you a more holistic view of your demand vs capacity,

Monitoring and tracking 

Regular monitoring and tracking of resource utilization throughout a project is essential to ensure its success. With real-time visibility into what resources have been used and the status of related tasks, you’ll be able to flag up any issues that may arise. Keeping a close eye on your resources helps to identify potential resource constraints and allows you to think and act fast, offering greater visibility and efficiency in your project resource planning. 


Strategies for optimizing resource allocation 

In resource management, clearly defined strategies allow resource managers to implement processes within their team and clearly define their expectations, which is key to a successful project. In resource planning, that means looking at strategies to optimize resource allocation. 

Let's take a look at the four main strategies.


Firstly, you need to get your priorities straight. No, really: ask yourself, what are the key priorities of the project? What are the most critical projects that align with your company's goals?  Which needs come first? Setting clear priorities on what is most important and what is most time sensitive are all factors you should be considering in resource planning. This is the best way to avoid resourcing blindspots and keep on top of any eventualities.

Resource leveling 

Resource leveling is a resource management technique that involves balancing your resource capacity vs your demand by adjusting start and finish dates according to resource availability. Working within the constraints of your resource capacity, resource leveling involves adjusting deadlines to factor in your team’s actual availability – without addressing capacity in another way e.g. bringing in external resource. 

Resource smoothing 

In resource management, resource smoothing is a technique used by project managers when time is of the essence. The aim is to not exceed the deadline and to optimize resources to achieve this - which means doing what you can to meet the delivery date. This could mean hiring external resources for a particular project, or changing the scope of the project to speed up the process—anything to get the project on track without overusing resources and staying within budget. The resource smoothing technique is mostly used when time is a priority for your resource planning. 

Reverse resource allocation 

The reverse resource allocation technique is often used in resource management when certain resources are required at specific times for a project. For example, when you need an expert in a specific field to execute a part of the project, and they’re the only resource available that can do this at that point of in the project timeline.  

Using the reverse resource allocation technique in your resource planning means allocating resources in reverse order, starting from the end date, to ensure key resources are assigned at the correct time.  


Overcoming common challenges in resource planning 

Resource planning has many benefits, but it can come with its own challenges. Let’s find out what these challenges are and how you can avoid or overcome them. 

Changing demand: scope creep 

Scope creep in resource management is when activities or tasks deviate from the original scope of the project. For example, small change requests may just start with one, but then they slowly keep creeping in - ultimately adding up potentially leading to difficulties resource planning.  

To manage scope creep, try looking at the status of the project and the baseline of the scope, seeing how the original plan measures up with the current plan and how it differs. Decide how new requests could be followed up more efficiently, consider factoring in contingency to your resource allocation, and monitor changes of demand so you can make quicker, better project management decisions. 

Limited resource availability 

Limited project resources can be a challenge for organizations as there can be limited availability for certain specialist roles, especially in peak periods. In resource planning, bottlenecks like this can make it more challenging to meet the requirements of all projects. To keep client delivery deadlines on track project managers may need to consider alternative options when looking at resource capacity, such as leveraging external resource, but this needs careful consideration as it can materially impact on project profitability if this wasn’t factored into your original fee estimate.  

Inaccurate data and estimations  

Poor user adoption can lead to inaccurate data in resource planning, undermining this crucial business process. Having an easy-to-use professional services automation (PSA) software in place with accountability placed on project managers to stay on top of their teams, will reduce the probability of inaccurate data, making resource planning—and project delivery on the whole— that little bit easier. 

Priorities and conflicts 

Professional services firms typically have a large number projects on the go at any one more time, with several more due to start in the short term. Resource planning requires careful consideration of priorities, as demand for certain resources may be higher than others and cause conflict. In resource management, a conflict may arise if the same resources are needed for different projects, causing delays and potentially compromising overall quality.  

This is why regular resourcing meetings can be an effective method for aligning resource requirements, capacities and goals.

Critical features in resource planning software

As many project managers oversee many projects at once, resource planning software is a valuable resource planning tool to have in their artillery. Research shows that firms who adopt a PSA generate 7% higher resource utilization than firms still using spreadsheets, so dedicated resource planning tools can have a significant impact on your resourcing success.

All-in-one resource management software will make potential problems easier to identify and solve, with greater visibility over project schedules offering better control. It also encourages team members to input data and relevant information correctly, offering a simpler way to book and schedule resources.  

But what features in a resource management tool should you be looking for to start streamlining your resource planning? 

1) Skills and competency matrix 

If you’re looking to curate a team based on their specific skills, then a skills and competencies matrix is one of the most important features to look out for when researching resource planning tools. 

This matrix might track experience, language skills, or certain certifications, so if you need a Spanish-speaking pharmaceutical specialist who’s certified in digital marketing, all of these skills can quickly be defined and applied. With the right people for the right project, you’ll be sure to keep within budget and within project timelines.  

2) Real-time reporting 

Accessing data in real-time is important in resource planning software as it provides the most accurate information about what resources are available and the status of each project. With staff availability, project deadlines and new project start dates constantly changing, with real-time reporting you’ll be able to identify risks and make better decisions faster. 


3) Integrations 

A resource management tool that can integrate with other platforms is a requirement for most organizations, and it’s no wonder why. When you have seamless, real-time data synchronization, you automatically reduce room for inconsistencies when resource planning.  

One integration to have high up your requirements list is a timesheet tool, allowing you to track the ‘actual’ (from timesheet data) to the ‘budget’ or plan (from your resource management tool).

4) User-friendliness

We’ve looked at some of the best resource planning tools on a more granular level, but what good will they be if nobody on your team is actually using the system? An easy-to-navigate and intuitive software saves an enormous amount of time, as users who have a positive experience will be more willing to adopt the software and get up-to-speed much faster. 

Resource management tools are only effective if they capture the entire picture. The more people use the software, the more data being submitted: that means greater accuracy for your resource planning efforts, and less time being spent chasing employees for missing information. 

Final thoughts

Effective resource planning is integral for professional services firms as it is crucial in ensuring high-quality services are delivered on time and within budget. With an effective resource planning tool, professional services firms can be flexible and react to ever-changing requirements dynamically, whilst keeping an eye on the bigger picture of long run demand vs capacity and potential hiring needs. 

Having the right resource management software in place, whether it’s a dedicated tool or part of an all-in-one system, will help project managers and professional services firms overcome utilization challenges, maximize their productivity, and drive business growth effectively. 

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