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Resource Levelling
By David Stoneman

Resource Levelling is an often hotly debated topic!

To level or not to level?

Perhaps this story will throw up a helpful perspective.

“Review that!” Mac threw down a print of the project plan in front of John. It was a huge plan, that’s for sure. The thick pile of pages bulged with thousands of tasks. John looked at it in panic.

Mac was the veteran project manager on the system conversion project. He had slaved away at the plan for several days, finally coming up with his masterpiece. John, the new boy, recently qualified and at least twenty years younger than Mac, was providing project support.

At first glance, the plan looked incomprehensible. However, being methodical, John worked through some of the stages, comparing blocks of tasks. He soon discovered that many of the tasks apparently repeated themselves in different parts of the plan. This made it easier to read.

He also noticed that these repetitive tasks were all being done by the same people using the same effort. This was in addition to lots of other tasks they were doing. In fact, some of the team members, the more experienced ones, seemed to be doing an awful lot. Perhaps they were super heroes, John mused to himself.

“What’s that?” Mac had half overheard him.

“Nothing, I just wondered whether our resources are balanced,” mumbled John.

“You mean levelled? We don’t do resource levelling here! It’s dangerous.” Mac was emphatic.

“Well, I just thought we should at least check the workloads,” John hesitantly ventured.

“Look, I know what my people can do. Your job is to check for errors. I want that reviewed by this evening, if you don’t mind.”

Although John was new, he was no slouch when it came to intelligence, so he followed his intuition and hit the resource levelling button anyway, just to see what would happen……

…..and wow! The end date leapt forward by several months! John stared at the screen. He tapped in the name of one of the system designers, Debbie. Under the original plan for most weeks she was assigned for eighty hours.

“What on earth is going on?” Debbie squawked over John’s shoulder.

“Nothing,” John said for the second time. “I’m just reviewing the plans and did a resource levelling just to see. It’s probably okay because Mac did the plan. He must think you can do this stuff really well to give so much to you.”

“That’s ridiculous, nobody can work like that for six months. That’s how long this is supposed to take. What’s Pete doing? Virtually nothing, I see! If he shadowed me for a couple of weeks, he could quite easily do some of this design work. So could a few more of these juniors. I’m going to have a few words with Mister Mac!”

“Hey, I didn’t want to cause trouble, but while you’re at it, you can let Mac know that even redistributing the workload like that will still push out the end date by a month if we level the resources again,” said John after a few minutes of tweaking.

“Well, at least the project board will know and not be surprised near the end of the project. Here’s Mac now.”

Mac was quite taken aback by Debbie’s vehemence. “You should have discussed this the team,” she ranted. “How can you pull a plan out of the ether like that and expect us to buy into it?”

“Okay, okay, I’ll get John to pull a planning workshop together and we’ll come up with a plan everyone’s happy with.” Mac, trying to salvage some pride, threw a dark look at John and said, “Are you onto it, John?”

Lesson Learned

Resource Levelling, rather than being a “loose cannon” in the planning toolbox, can highlight bad planning resulting from bad team management. The mantra is “engage, engage, engage”. Workshop the plan with the team and other stakeholders. That way, get a realistic view on availability and skill levels. Also, good ideas for distributing work and bringing less experienced team members up to speed can be thrown into the mix.

Even with a rigorous approach to planning, it still a good idea to level the resources as a check. This is often avoided because it often leads to more work required on the plan to get it right! But better to put in the work early than get a nasty surprise later!

For more project management stories see:

About The Author

I am David Stoneman, ISEB, PRINCE2 and an APM (UK) member. My experience as a Project Manager has been gained working for a consultancy on large client company sites over many years. Prior to this my career spanned system development, team leading, project leading and project support office management. © 2005 All rights reserved.

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