Microsoft Project, one of the most focused of the Office applications, can help you track the progress of your tasks, determine the resources they’ll require, and allow you to show others the status of your projects. In this article, we’ll examine how to assign resources to your tasks.

Microsoft Project

This article is the third of four articles running in IT Manager and IT Consultant designed to provide an introduction to this popular project management solution. Part one, “Microsoft Project tutorial: Duration and task types,” and part two, “Microsoft Project tutorial: Building your plan,” are also available online.

How do I assign resources?
Once you have determined your tasks, your estimates, and your dependencies, the next step in building your project plan is to assign resources. Resources are the “entities” that will be doing the work on your project. Most often, resources are people, but they can also be machines, rooms, or equipment.

One easy way to assign resources is from the Task Details form. Figure A shows how you can select resources from a drop-down list right in the form.

Figure A
Assigning Resources from the Task Details Form

Just click into the Resource Name field and select the resource you want to assign from the list. Then, enter the Units value and the Work value you want for this assignment and click OK.

This method is the safest way to assign resources in Project because it allows you to enter the Units and Work for an assignment before the values are applied to the task. Sometimes when you enter the Units or Work for an assignment, the other values can become different than what you expect. This is often caused by a misunderstanding of what Project is doing when it changes this data.

You can sometimes make it worse when you try to change the data back to what you think it should be. This can create a “seesaw” effect, in which the values never equal what you intended. Using the Details Form, you can set the Units and Work values at the same time.

Repeat the above process for each task until you have assigned the resources you know will be working on your tasks at the levels you feel they should be working. The next step will be to make sure that your resources are not working more hours than they are available to work.

Resolving overallocations
One of the most difficult things to do when planning a project is resolving the inevitable overallocation of resources. When assigning your resources, you will likely assign too many hours of work for a given period.

For example, you might assign “Steve” to work five hours on Task One and six hours on Task Two on the same day, yet Steve only works an eight-hour day. This is an obvious overallocation, since Steve has been scheduled to work three hours more than he is available.

Project provides you with several tools to help you identify resource overallocations. One of the best is the Resource Allocation View. This is a combination view (see Figure B) that displays the Resource Usage view in the upper pane and the Gantt chart view in the lower pane. When you select a resource in the upper pane, you will see only those tasks to which that resource is assigned in the lower pane.

Figure B
Resource Allocation View

The overallocated resources are shown in red. Selecting Resource One shows the tasks to which that person has been assigned. You can then move the Gantt bars around to see what effect the movement of tasks has on allocation levels. But remember that when you do this, you are moving the entire task, not just the resource’s assignment. When dealing with numerous tasks, a better way to move them is to add the Leveling Delay field to the upper pane.

To illustrate how Leveling Delay can be used to resolve an overallocation, we’ll add one day of leveling delay to Resource One’s assignment on Task One. Figure C shows the effect of adding this delay to this assignment.

Figure C
Resource One’s assignment to Task One after adding Leveling Delay

Notice that Resource One is no longer overallocated. Adding one day of delay to this assignment inserted one day of 0 Work at the start of the assignment, pushing Resource One’s work out one day. This reduced the number of hours assigned to Resource One on Monday to eight (for Task Four) and moved the eight hours for Task One out to Tuesday.

This delay for the assignment is also visible in the lower pane on Monday in the form of the blue dotted line drawn from the original, or pre-leveled, start and the new post-leveled start.

This is classic manual leveling. It gives you the most control over how overallocations are resolved, but it can be time-consuming. Project also offers a Leveling feature that will use special algorithms to attempt to resolve such overallocations.

Though leveling is not perfect—it cannot consider all the factors of your project—it can be a useful tool for showing you possibilities. (For more information on leveling, check the Microsoft Project home page.)

Assigning resources to your tasks is what lets Project help you manage your project—otherwise, you’re left with only a list of tasks and no direction. Without this, all you have is just a task list. Once you assign resources, you enable Project to warn you of potentially damaging overallocations.

Project will also track your progress so that you can see if your plan is truly realistic. We’ll cover how Project tracks your plan’s progress in the final installment of this series.

Share your project experiences

Do you have a project success story in which you overcame an unusual problem or obstacle? E-mail us the who, what, when, where, and why, and we may feature it in an upcoming article.