22 February, 2024

Resource Optimization: What’s the Difference between Resource Leveling and Resource Smoothing?

Resource optimization is getting the best results from your resources. The two principal approaches are called resource leveling and resource smoothing. What’s the difference?

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Resource Optimization

Resource optimization refers to any approach to ensuring that we make the best use of the resources we have to meet the needs of our schedule. This can refer to people, materials, or assets – any type of resource.

Two Approaches to Resource Optimization

The two principal approaches to resource optimization are resource leveling and resource smoothing. However, rather like fast-tracking and crashing (which we looked at in an earlier video on Schedule Optimization), the difference is subtle, and many Project Managers (including me) will often use them interchangeably.

And, of course, as project managers, we are adaptable. Often, we will make use of a combination of both!

Which approach you take will depend mainly on whether your project is:

  1. Resource Limited
    You have a fixed availability of resources (or budget). You’d like to finish as early as possible, but resources are your critical constraint.
    Here, the approach we take is Resource Leveling.
  2. Time Limited
    It must be completed by a specified deadline. You want to minimize resource usage, but the schedule is critical.
    Here, the approach we take is Resource Smoothing.

Between these two extremes, we can make compromises and trade-offs in our planning. We look for ways to speed our projects with more resources, and keep them economical by allowing for later deadlines.

Resource Optimization with Resource Leveling

In resource leveling, we delay activities to allow resources to be used in a more even profile. This creates less variation in resource usage throughout the project, meaning we can use fewer resources and face less risk of resource overload or non-availability of critical resources.

Resource leveling is ideal when there are limitations on the availability of some of your resources. By leveling them, we can ensure that they will be available when we need them.

Because we adjust the start and end dates to delay activities, resource leveling can lead to changes in the project timeline and critical path.

PMI defines resource leveling as:

‘A resource optimization technique in which adjustments are made to the project schedule to optimize the allocation of resources.’

Resource Optimization with Resource Smoothing

In resource smoothing, we move activities but only within the allowances of our available float (or slack). We have a video, ‘What is Float?’

PMI defines Resource Smoothing as:

‘A resource optimization technique in which free and total float are used without affecting the critical path.’

However, an alternative approach to resource smoothing is reducing or increasing the number of resources applied to specific activities to both:

  1. Smooth out peaks and troughs in resource allocation, and
  2. Avoid extending the timeline and delaying completion.

So, Resource Optimization in Simple Terms…

The approach you take to resource optimization will depend on what you want… on what matters most to you: resource minimization or delivery to schedule.

When you care most about using the minimum resources to do the job, and can accept a compromise in the form of a later delivery, you will shift activities with resource leveling.

However, if what matters most is hitting a deadline and you can afford to make more resources available to help, then you will reschedule carefully and apply extra resources with resource smoothing.

And, when you are a pragmatist, trying to balance pressures on time and budget, you’ll probably be doing a little of both!

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

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 ProjectManager.com 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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