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Project Resource Management: A Comprehensive Guide [Part 1]

Project Resource Management - A Comprehensive Guide

Nothing gets done unless people do it. And those people need tools, materials, and a place to work. So, resources are vital to project delivery, and that makes Project Resource Management an essential skill set for any Project Manager.

In the sixth edition of its Project Management Body of Knowledge, the PMI widened the scope of the former Project Human Resource Management Knowledge Area. It’s now Project Resource Management. That’s a huge area of knowledge.

So, we’ve had to split our guide into two parts:

  1. In this part, we’ll survey the breadth of Project Resource Management. And we shan’t be looking exclusively at the PMBOK Guide. We’ll cover the breadth of what you need to know as a project manager.
  2. In the second part (next week), we’ll focus in on the human resources, and the people aspect of Project Resource Management

This is not to say that we shan’t mention people her. Of course we will. But, for a deep dive into Project Human Resource Management, you’ll need to read Part 2 as well.

Definition: What is Project Resource Management?

Let’s get into it by defining what we mean by ‘Project Resource Management’. It means identifying, assigning, and overseeing the project’s resources. Here are some formal definitions. First, the PMI:

‘Project Resource Management includes the processes to identify, acquire, and manage the resources needed for the successful completion of the project.’

The Project Management Institute (PMI), in the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition (the PMBOK Guide)

Next, the APM:

‘Resource management comprises the acquisition and deployment of the internal and external resources required to deliver the project, programme or portfolio.’

The Association for Project Management (APM), in the APM Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition (APMBoK)

Finally, the IAPM:

‘Resource management as part of project management serves to identify, allocate and use project participants (resources) as efficiently as possible.’

The International Association of Project Managers (IAPM) adopts a definition from the German edition of Wikipedia

I think you probably get the picture!

Project Resource Management - A Comprehensive Guide

The PMI’s PMBOK Guide and Project Resource Management

By far the most detailed description of Project Resource Management is the one in the PMI’s PMBOK Guide. And it is also the articulation that is likely to be most widely used among our readers.

I think it is significant that, of all the knowledge areas (KAs) in the PMBOK, it is this one that got the most significant changes in the 2017 revision. It went from an exclusive focus on Human resources to a wider view of all resources, and the number of processes went from 4 to 6, with:

  • One process was moved into this KA (from Schedule Management – previously Time Management): Estimate Activity Resources, and
  • One wholly new process: Control Resources (there were two other new processes in this edition).

Here is a table of the six Resource Management Processes in the PMBOK Guide 6th Edition

9.1 Plan Resource ManagementThis is the planning process and sets out the approach you will take to PRM
9.2 Estimate Activity ResourcesDetermining your requirements: what resources you’ll need and the quantities
9.3 Acquire ResourcesHow you will get the resources you need onto your project
9.4 Develop TeamCreating the team capabilities and culture you need.
This is Human Resource Management and we’ll look at this in more detail in Part 2 of this guide.
9.5 Manage TeamDay-to-day and performance management, along with your team leadership role.
This is Human Resource Management and we’ll look at this in more detail in Part 2 of this guide.
9.6 Control ResourcesMonitor and control processes to keep your resource availability matching demand from upcoming activities.

Project Resources are about 2 Things…

There are two reasons we need resources in projects – whether people, assets, or materials. These are:

  1. Capacity – resources allow us to get more done than we can do alone
    1. People provide extra minds and bodies to get things done
    2. Tools and equipment amplify our efficiency
  2. Capability – resources allow us to do things we cannot otherwise do
    1. People bring new skills, experience, and expertise
    2. Tools and equipment allow us to do things people cannot

What are Project Resources?

So, if resources are there to help us do more than we can do alone, what sorts are there? There are five types:

  • Consumables and materials. These can be:
    • finished goods
    • raw materials
  • Capital Assets. These can be:
    • Land and property, or space and accommodation
    • Tools, eqipment, plant, and machinery
  • Intangible Assets. These can be:
    • methods, processes, systems, procedures, and even ideas
    • Software (which may be classed as:
      • A Capital asset if software licenses are bought outright (or developed to specification)
      • A Consumable asset if the software is rented on a recurring license, or as a Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription
  • People. We’ll talk about Human resources in this Part 1 guide, but cover how best to manage this special resource type in Part 2.
  • Money. Perhaps most important of all, money is the master resource. You can trade it for any of the others. It is subject to its own rules, and we have a dedicated guide to Project Cost Management that you may be interested to read.

Internal and External Resources

It’s also worth noting another useful distinction: between internal and external resources.

Internal Resources

Internal resources belong either to you, or to someone else within your organization. Therefore accessing them is usually via allocation or negotiation. And that makes negotiation skills an essential part of your toolkit. So do take a look at our guide:

A number of factors can influence how easy you’ll find it to access internal resources, and the strategy that you are best off adopting. These include:

  • Prevailing organizational culture, politics, and hierarchical structures.
  • Policies and processes. Often having a PMO (Project, Program or Portfolio Management Office) in place can ease your way to accessing much-needed resources.
  • Economic and trading conditions. When these are adverse, people tend to hold on tightly to any resources they can control.
  • Competing calls for resources from other initiatives, projects, and programs.
  • Your political acumen and negotiating skill – and those of your counter-party!

As a result, it can sometimes be easier to access external resources…

External Resources

External resources are available. They just don’t belong to your organization. As a result, you’ll need to borrow, hire, or buy them.

The first step will be to specify and source what you need. Then, assuming you are unable to borrow them, or barter services or favors, you will need to procure them. So, you may like our guide:

The Challenges of Project Resource Management

It’s time to get into the main challenges of Project Resource Management. It’s all about ‘right’:

  • Right resources…
  • in the right quantities…
  • to the right specifications, quality standards, or with the right capabilities…
  • in the right place…
  • at the right time.

Therefore, this suggests a number of challenges:

  • Availability
  • Estimation
  • Conflicting commitments
  • Balancing workload (in the case of people)
  • Delivery
  • Timing

I will leave the challenge of securing an advantageous price and contract terms to our article on procurement.

Why Does Good Project Resource Management Matter?

In Appendix 1 of the PMI’s 2016 Pulse of the Profession Report: ‘The High Cost of Low Performance’, there is a powerful table. It shows the causes that respondents ascribed project failure to. They were asked to select up to three primary causes. The figures include:

  • Resource dependency: 26%
  • Inadequate resource forecasting: 26%
  • Limited/taxed resources: 22%

These are far from the biggest causes of failure – they are in the lower half of the table. But it does show that at least a quarter of respondents believe poor Project Resource Management was a primary contributor to a project’s failure.

Responding to the Project Resource Management Challenges: The Planning Process

So, this means we’re going to need a rigorous process for Project Resource Planning. I want to keep it as a simple four-step process.

The Resource Planning Process

The four steps are:

  1. Understand the activities needed to deliver your project
  2. From the activities, extract your resource requirements
  3. Apply your resources to the activities
  4. Balance your resource usage to optimize your efficiency

We’ll look at these one at a time.

Understand the activities needed to deliver your project

The route to understanding your activities is your Work Breakdown Structure.

If you use the US-based approach, you’ll use your WBS as the basis for listing the activities needed for each product. If you use the UK-based approach, then your WBS will directly list those activities.

From the activities, extract your resource requirements

Either way, against each activity you’ll be able to list the types of resources you’ll require – people, materials, assets, or intangible, and the length of time (duration) you will need them for.


For documenting resource types, text forms will be the most useful:

  • capability assessments for people – these may include skill or experience levels you require or prefer
  • specifications for other resources


For the durations, you will need to understand the craft of estimating and, guess what? Yup, we have a guide:

Apply your resources to the activities

There are three parts to this step:

  1. Sourcing the resources you need, which we discussed above, under Internal and External resources.
  2. Allocating those resources to the task. There are some great tools to help you with this, which include:
    1. RACI Chart, for allocating people to key roles
    2. Linear Responsibility Chart – LRC (also called a Resource Allocation Matrix – RAM) – similar to a RACI chart, but slightly better – and you can use it for material and asset resources too
    3. Work Package Descriptions – to help with the accountability of allocations of people to activities
    4. Resource Breakdown Structure to map (material and asset) resources onto WBS tasks
    5. Organization Breakdown Structure to map human resources onto WBS tasks
  3. Scheduling the deployment of the resources in conjunction with your master project schedule

The links above will take you to five-minute videos explaining the terms.

Balance your resource usage to optimize your efficiency

To get the most efficient allocation of resources, you will need to balance their utilization, using resource smoothing and resource leveling. We will examine these soon…

Note that the steps of applying resources and balancing them up are iterative. You’ll rarely get the best allocation at the first pass.

When you finish the planning, you’ll move into delivery of your project, and active management of your project resources.

The PMBOK Guide’s Plan Resource Management process

The PMBOK Guide is full of meta processes. These are processes that oversee the delivery of active processes. In the case of Project Resource Management, it’s the Plan Resource Management Process. Therefore, this is where you will determine and document how you will do what we have just described.

The inputs to the process will be your suite of planning documents. And the outputs will an updates set, with the addition of:

  • Your Resource Management Plan
  • A Team Charter

Project Resource Planning Methods

There are four key Resource Planning techniques we must examine:

  1. Allocation: mapping resources against requirements (the activities).
  2. Scheduling: placing activities in the timeline, to optimize the use of the resources you have allocated to them
  3. Smoothing: moving resources deployment to different points in the schedule, to make more efficient use of them. Here, the timeline is your priority.
  4. Leveling: spreading out the duration to avoid over-allocation of resources. It improves speed and efficiency of delivery, with the resource utilization as your priority.

Here’s a video that describes resource Leveling and smoothing – apologies for the British English spelling!

Boosting Your Project Resource Effectiveness

We are now nearing the end of this guide. So, I want to offer some of my personal tips to help you make the most effective use of your project resources.

Multi-tasking Sucks

Let’s face it. People are rubbish at multi-tasking. And serial mono-tasking is inefficient. To get the best from your people, allocate them one work package at a time, so they can focus 100 percent on that set of tasks.

Don’t Forget Non-productive and Non-project Time

When you are planning your resources, think through the messy ends. For:

  • Materials: delivery times, unpacking, storing
  • Plant and equipment: delivery, installation, commissioning, and training
  • Software: installation, configuration, and training
  • People: holidays, breaks, other commitments

Soft- and Hard-scheduling

For each planning element, determine what will serve you better:

  • Soft Scheduling: for example, telling a team member you will need three days of their time in week 8
  • Hard Scheduling: For example, telling them that you will need them on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in week 8

Motivation and Development

Never forget your leadership responsibilities. You are responsible for the learning and morale of your team members. And, of course, their safety and welfare.

Focus on Critical Resources

When you are planning, keep a focus on critical resources that are in short supply. This is just as you would do in schedule planning, where you would focus on critical path activities that can cause delay to key milestone dates.

Also Focus on Dependency Risk

There will be some resources, ‘key resources’, upon which you will be highly dependent. Too much will be at risk of those resources are compromised. This could be key:

  • person risk
  • component risk
  • asset risk

The Trends that the PMI’s PMBOK Identifies in Project Resource Management

I want to end this guide by pointing out some of the trends and emerging practices that the PMI identifies in the 6th edition of its PMBOK Guide. I’ll add some of my own thoughts too.

  1. The impact of emerging practices like:
    1. Lean management
    2. Kaizen
    3. Just in Time
  2. Strangely, they don’t talk about the resource allocation and scheduling practices that Agile brings to the project management table through methodologies like:
    1. Lean Project Management
    2. Scrum
    3. Kanban
    4. Scrumban
  3. PMI does, however, talk about self-organizing teams, which are a feature of many Agile methods.
  4. Emotional Intelligence – we’ll talk about that in Part 2
  5. For me, the big one is virtual (physically dispersed) teams.

What are Your Thoughts about Project Resurce Management?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of real-world Project Resource Management. If you put something in the comments below, I will always respond.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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