Resource leveling is the process of ensuring the demand for project resources doesn’t exceed the availability of project resources. Project managers run the risk of missing key dates or communicating inaccurate completion dates when a schedule is missing resource leveling.

Experienced project managers and newly minted PMPs know the importance of resource leveling, yet I often see meticulously detailed project schedules with resources assigned 120 hours in a 40 hour workweek. The more audacious project managers tell me to just trust them even though they have significantly overallocated resources. These project managers assure me the work will get done on time, but if the project schedule is intended to be a realistic model of future events, the schedule needs to accurately reflect resource constraints. Even if all of the tasks are well defined, a schedule with unrealistic resource expectations is still a bad plan. Project managers can also be reluctant to level the schedule since it may extend the timeline or adjust milestones beyond desired due dates.

In future posts, I’ll demonstrate how to effectively resource level in Microsoft Project 2010. Before we start with the techniques, it is important to understand some of the misconceptions about resource leveling.

Myth 1: Automatic resource leveling should be avoided

The automatic resource leveling option in Microsoft Project is algorithm based, and the frequent observation is that automatic resource leveling extends the project schedule to an unrealistic finish date. The reality is the algorithm in Microsoft Project’s scheduling engine looks at several factors, including task order, resource constraints, and task priority, when resource leveling. An algorithm-based leveling solution doesn’t take into consideration the priority and work order preferences that manual, human-based leveling provides.

Automatic resource leveling can be used correctly by specifying the right leveling options and clarifying expectations upfront. There is also an option to level only within the slack of the current project schedule; this option will look to level within the current schedule’s slack without extending the end date. It may remove overallocated resources entirely, but it is a first step in using automatic resource leveling.

Myth 2: Resource leveling isn’t required on outsourced projects

On projects where the majority of tasks are outsourced to another team or a set of vendors, resource leveling should still be considered within the client project team. Each of the deliverables and milestones produced by the outsourced vendor will still require effort from the internal client team to verify the deliverables are accurate. Quality reviews, deliverable reviews, management status updates, and executive briefings and training all require internal client resources that have an impact on the employee’s schedule and availability. Resource leveling within the client team still needs to be considered; otherwise, the project manager will have 100 hours of review work expected in a 40 hour workweek.

Myth 3: It is okay if the project manager is overallocated

Another mistake I see in schedules is accepting overallocation for the project manager. Some teams assume the project manager has unlimited capacity since she is providing oversight and not directly contributing to the project deliverables. However, project managers typically have administrative and contractual responsibilities to review deliverables, prepare for tollgate or milestone gate reviews, and distribute key communications; plus, project managers can also get overwhelmed when issues, risks, and communication needs don’t line up neatly in a project schedule.

These tasks can be set up as dependencies to achieving key milestones and need to be planned and allocated accordingly. It is important to allocate a reasonable resource availability and level accordingly so project managers have the time to approve and support project administration activities.

Myth 4: Resource leveling is just too hard to learn

Resource leveling isn’t difficult to implement, as long as the project manager understands the approach and the expected results. Resource leveling will usually delay a task or split a task until a resource is ready to work on the task. With Microsoft Project 2010, there are three approaches to resource leveling: automatic, manual, and leveling with the Team Planner view. None of the methods are difficult to implement, but it does take time to understand and tweak.

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