Resource leveling is a hotly debated subject in the project management world. The comments range from one should never level resources – ever! To you can use leveling if you know the consequences. Or you should only level manually. So, what’s the deal??

First, what is resource leveling? Microsoft defines resource leveling as “the act of taking a project with people assigned to a bunch of tasks, and making it so that they don't have to work overtime.”

Even they admit that this might be a bit oversimplified, but that is it in a nutshell.

PMI defines resource leveling as “resolving resource over or under allocations by delaying or accelerating tasks, fixing fix peaks and valleys in a schedule.”

However, in both of these cases, they are talking about leveling A SINGLE PROJECT….not an ENTIRE PORTFOLIO.

In explaining how resource leveling works, even Microsoft states, “Okay, so admittedly, [Microsoft] Project's resource leveling feature is pretty neat, but it's designed as a tool, not a replacement for an actual project manager. You're going to need to know what adjustments were made to provide an overtime-free work force, and evaluate whether the solution that [MS] Project came up with will work for your project.” Don’t forget we’re still talking about a single project.

What is happening when a schedule is leveled? Sometimes MSP simply pushes tasks with over allocated resources out so that folks work on tasks consecutively. This works in the case when there are “no restrictions on when the project ends,” they state. Ok…I don’t know about you, but almost 0% of our customer base has the luxury of not caring when the project ends. Who does? The result on this method is that this type of leveling won’t work, at least for Project Insight customers.

In other cases, when you level a single project in MSP it will split a task to make room for the over allocated resource to complete a task during a specific scheduled time. “When you level resources in this scenario, [MS] Project creates a split in Task A, so that John works on Task A for one day, then goes over and works on Task B for two days, then goes back and finishes Task A after Task B is complete.”

This is great, but it is a well-known fact that when resources have to switch tasks or projects mid-stream they lose time as they have to re-orient themselves to the work. PMI states that it should be one resource per project and task. However, again, that is not a reality for any of our Project Insight customers, so maybe this method would work.

When it comes to leveling an ENTIRE PORTFOLIO, everyone seems to agree that the exercise is complex.  Another mid-market PPM provider called it pretending it is simple math when it is actually calculus.

A high end provider that performs portfolio resource leveling holds:

“[With respect to automatic resource leveling versus manual adjustments] The arguments are on both sides but to me it is more than clear that the only really useful method is the manual resource leveling. It is just impossible for an application to take into account all the possible conditions and restrictions from the real world projects in order to produce good results through an automatic leveling. It is true that in certain simpler cases the results can be satisfactory but this is just good luck.”

Microsoft discusses the complexity of leveling ACROSS MULTIPLE PROJECTS, is that you need to PRIORITIZE YOUR TASKS. This is performed by a human being, not a software algorithm. They state, “Prior to leveling, you may want to do a few things to control how the leveling will affect your tasks. You can set task priorities, to control which tasks take precedence over other tasks, and you can set project priorities, so that if you're working with a common pool of resources among multiple projects, the right projects take precedence. “ Therefore, there is still human intervention, an intelligent person must communicate to the software what the priorities are.

Yet another PPM provider states:

“Resource leveling is an important part of the project management process, but it can’t be done automatically. While an automatic tool may be handy, it is not a substitute for good old-fashioned common sense from a real-live human being. A software package cannot appreciate the need for variation in an individual contributor’s day, nor does it understand, as a good manager would that sometimes tasks must be performed concurrently, and they are other times when it they cannot be. The bottom-line is that an automatic tool can begin the resource leveling process, but it cannot finish it without human help.”

Here at Project Insight, we hold that you should use the project scorecard to rank and score the projects in your portfolio. Then you use the scores in your portfolio and resource reports to decide when to start the projects, higher scoring projects before lower, of course. If you know for certain that one project should come before another, then you may also connect your projects using cross project dependencies. That way, if something happens to delay your higher priority project, the successor project will get pushed out automatically.

We hold that no matter what PPM solution you use, you will still need to have some human intelligence involved in your prioritization. The PPM software is a tool, leverage it, but do not ask your software to perform mission critical decision making.

More related topics:
Resource Management Basics Video
Resource Allocation Video
Over Allocation FAQ

Online 4/4/2016
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