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Juggling Your Resources
Project management is all about juggling your resources and your projects. Resource leveling allows project managers to balance resources over the course of a project and try to resolve conflicts between resources. Leveling is a key component of project management. To read about other key factors related to project resources, read Ronda Bowen's article, Key Elements of Resource Management.
Resource leveling tries to take the available resources and compare them to the demands of ongoing projects. Often, many projects or tasks will overlap, creating strain on resources, especially manpower. Resource leveling tries to take these competing demands and allocate resources effectively.
Many times this either means that a project will have to be delayed while other projects are completed. But sometimes this is not feasible. Often tasks need to be done for the project to be finished on time. A delay in one task could deeply affect the rest of the project.
Another way to implement resource leveling is to lengthen the time it takes to finish a specific task. As opposed to a particular task taking one week, a project manager could extend that to two weeks to make sure that there are enough resources to complete that particular task. Yet again, this could affect the overall project. When leveling, the ultimate goal is always to fix over-allocation. Read Ronda Bowen's article about Resource Allocation for some ideas on ways you can achieve this goal.
While resource leveling can assure that money and manpower are available for all competing projects and tasks, it could affect your critical path. This can be a problem since you cannot tell in the beginning which tasks will be essential to the critical path. If a task that is delayed does affect your critical path, your project could become overdue and make for very unhappy clients. By default, the critical path is not displayed in a program like Microsoft Project. However, you can read Linda Richter's article, Working With the Critical Path to learn how to display this helpful visual graph.
To make resource leveling more effective, a project manager should measure time in days and hours. This is easier to measure than any other dimension.
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Two Main Types of Resource Leveling
Resource leveling generally breaks things down between finishing a project within a certain length of time or finishing a project with only the resources available. Projects that are going to be completed within a time limit use all the needed resources. These projects are usually those on the critical path.
Projects that only use the resources that are available can be stretched out until the necessary resources become obtainable. If the number of projects scheduled exceeds the needed resources, then those projects will have to be put off until a later date.
Overall, resource leveling helps a project manager decide whether or not he or she should quickly finish a project by using the maximum number of resources needed for that project. The alternative is to stretch out how long a project will take to ensure that enough resources are available to finish that project.
In a program like Microsoft Project, you can choose to level your resources either manually or automatically. For more information on how to level resources in Project, read Linda Richter's two-part article, Project 2007: Leveling Resources.