How to Become Resource-Full in Project 2013

By Cynthia Snyder Stackpole

After you create and organize the tasks in your project, the next step, typically, is to create its resources. Before you create resources in Project 2013 willy-nilly, though, you must understand how they affect your project.

Understanding resources

First and foremost, a resource is an asset that helps accomplish a project, whether the asset is a person, a piece of equipment, a material, or a supply. One aspect of working with resources effectively is to manage the workflow of any resource that has limited time availability for your project. When you create resources, you indicate their availability by hours in the day or days of the week.

For example, one person may be available 50 percent of the time, or 20 hours in the standard 40-hour workweek, whereas another may be available full time (40 hours). When you assign these kinds of resources to your project, you can use various views, reports, and tools to see whether any resource is overbooked at any point during the project.

You can also see whether people are sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, when they may be available to help on another task. You can even account for resources that work on multiple projects across your organization and ensure that they’re being used efficiently.

Another aspect of working with resources effectively is understanding how the number of resources you assign to work on a task affects the duration of that task. In other words, if you have a certain amount of work to perform but few people to do that work, a typical task takes longer to finish than if scads of folks are available.

The task type determines whether a task’s duration changes based on the number of resources assigned to it.

Finally, resources add costs to a project. To account for costs in your project — such as a person working many hours on a task, computers that you have to buy, or services that require fees — you must create resources and assign them to one or more tasks.

Resource types: Work, material, and cost

For the purposes of resource planning, Project recognizes only these three types of resources:

  • Work: This person, such as a programmer or plumber, can be reassigned but not depleted. Work resources are assigned to tasks to accomplish work.

  • Material: Material has a unit cost and doesn’t consume working hours, but it can be depleted. Examples of material costs are steel, wood, and books.

  • Cost: Using a cost resource gives you the flexibility to specify the applicable cost, such as travel or shipping, every time you use the resource.

Deciding which resource type to use when adding an external vendor or equipment resource to the project can be tricky. If you want to avoid adding hours of work to the project when that resource is being used, don’t set up the resource as a work resource. Use a cost resource or fixed-cost approach instead.

How resources affect task timing

Under Project 2013’s default settings, effort-driven scheduling is turned off for both manually and automatically scheduled tasks. So no matter how many work resources you assign, the task duration stays the same and Project piles on more hours of work for the task, to reflect more effort.

However, in some cases of a fixed-unit or fixed-work task type, the addition or removal of resources assigned to the task should have an impact on the time it takes to complete the task. In essence, the old maxim “Two heads are better than one” may be modified to “Two heads are faster than one.”

Suppose that one person is assigned to the Dig Ditch task, which requires four hours of effort. Two people assigned to the Dig Ditch task will finish the job in two hours because two hours are being worked by each resource simultaneously, which achieves four hours of effort in half the time.

To make scheduling a task work this way, you first have to change the task to an auto-scheduled task by using the Auto Schedule button in the Schedule group on the Task tab. Then you have to turn on effort-driven scheduling by double-clicking the task, clicking the Advance tab in the Task Information dialog box, selecting the Effort Driven check box, and then clicking the OK button.

Assigning additional people to tasks doesn’t always shorten work time proportionately, even though that’s how Project calculates it. When you have more people, you also have more meetings, memos, duplicated effort, and conflicts, for example. If you add more resources to a task, consider also increasing the amount of effort required to complete that task to account for inevitable workgroup inefficiencies.

How to estimate resource requirements

You usually know how many material resources it takes to complete a task: In most cases, you can use a standard formula to calculate the number of pounds, tons, yards, or another quantity. But how do you know how much effort your work resources must invest to complete the tasks in the project?

Include a certain amount of extra material resources if you think you will need it for rework or scrap.

As with many aspects of information you put into a Project plan, determining the level of effort rests to a great degree on your own experience with similar tasks and resources. Still, remember these caveats:

  • Skill counts. A less skilled or less experienced resource is likely to take more time to finish a task. Experiment — increase the duration by 20 percent for a less skilled resource, for example, or reduce it by 20 percent for a more skilled resource.

  • History repeats itself. Look at previously completed projects and tasks. If you’ve tracked people’s time, you can likely see how much effort was required in order to complete various types of tasks on other projects and draw parallels to your project. This technique for estimating effort duration is similar to analogous estimating.

  • Ask and you shall receive. Ask the resources themselves to estimate how long they think a task will take. After all, the people doing the work should know best how long it takes.

Allow for reserve time in a project to account for unforeseen circumstances, such as resources being less skilled than you had planned. To ensure that milestone dates are met, many people add a task called Contingency Reserve to their schedules immediately before a milestone delivery or the end of a phase.