Project resource management

Resource management at programme or portfolio level

It is essential that projects are planned appropriately (and realistically), and that they report on progress in an accurate and honest way, in order to ensure resources secured for one project do not negatively impact on another project. This is a particular issue where the resources required are scarce and/or in high demand.

All projects involving a system, will at some point require resources from our IT Services. Given the high demand of business as usual activities they also have responsibility for, it is essential that resources in this area are carefully estimated and scheduled to try and avoid pinch points.

Project Coordination Group and its sub-groups oversee the prioritisation of all strategic projects at the University, and carefully monitor the project reports to ensure all projects will be delivered on time, within budget and will achieve the objectives and expected benefits. They will recommend any remedial measures that could be implemented to support a project, and have final approval of any changes that a project might want to make.

It is essential that decisions are taken at this level so the impact on other projects, and on business as usual activities can also be considered.

Resource management at project level

At a project level, Resource Management involves identifying and allocating resources to activities, and optimising them so that the project is resourced efficiently and delivered within an acceptable timeframe.

The product and work breakdown structures will help to identify the activities required, along with any dependencies. Resources, (people, equipment, infrastructure, machinery, money etc) should then be mapped against the activities, taking in to account:

  • time estimated to complete the activity
  • skills required
  • availability of the resources

Internal resources

Where resources are acquired internally, approval must be sought from the relevant business area/Head of Department that resources can be made available for a project. This must be approved prior to submission of the business case. It is essential at this stage to make sure the schedule is achievable.

External resources

The acquisition of external resources will normally be through a procurement process that involves provider selection. This results in a contract for the provision of goods and services. Once a contract is in place, the relationship between the project (the buyer), and the provider (the seller) needs to be managed to ensure that the work proceeds according to plan.


Once you’ve defined the activities required, you need to work out how long they will take to complete and how much they will cost. It’s likely that you will need to make some sort of estimation for each activity. There are various types of estimating, depending on how much you know about the activity involved.

Subjective and comparative estimation

This is used at the beginning of the project when the full detail of what is required is still relatively unknown. You can take a guess at how long you think an activity will take or cost, or compare activities with similar activities you have undertaken previously, or from lessons learned on other projects or from talking to subject matter experts. For example, if you require development work to be undertaken you should discuss with IT Services how long they think the work will take. Similarly, engagement with procurement will help you to determine how long a tender process may take. You should use the subject expert knowledge of people around the University to help you determine your estimates.

I could estimate that it would take me 15 minutes to get the bus to town from home. This would be a comparison based on previous journeys; however the estimation could be way off given the various factors that could affect the timing. The time of day, the traffic, the weather and which bus I get on, as they take different routes, would all have to be taken in to account. Subjective estimation tends to be fairly inaccurate at the beginning, but can become more accurate as you get further in to the project and more detail is identified, this is known as the estimating funnel.

Parametric estimation

Parametric estimation is based more on formulae and historical analytical data. Starting with the same 15 minute estimation to get to town, I could then use a sat-nav device or online information to assess the conditions before I set off, this would let me know if there was a build-up of traffic in the area, if there were any accidents or weather affecting the roads. I could check the live times of the bus, and which bus will arrive first. With all of this information the estimate becomes much more accurate.

Bottom-up estimation

Bottom-up estimation, used alongside parametric estimation, is generally the most accurate and effective method of estimation. Once you have used the product breakdown structure (PBS) and the work breakdown structure (WBS) to define the detail of the activities required, you can then start to estimate each individual activity. Starting at the very bottom of the WBS, estimates are made for each individual activity using parametric estimation. These are then added up to the other activities, until you reach the top of the WBS and you have a final figure. You need to ensure that all activities are accounted for, and that any associated costs (people or products) and time are also included.

3-point estimation

3-point estimation takes three different looks at each activity and uses a calculation, which adds an element of risk/what if, to make the final estimation. By estimating:

  • how long it would take if every activity went really well – best case estimate
  • how long it would take if every activity went really badly – worst case estimate
  • how long it would take if every activity went fine – most likely estimate

The basic formula is, the best case, plus the worst case, plus 4 x the most likely. The sum of this is then divided by 6 to give a weighted average.


Estimate  Duration  Total 
Best case estimate  4 months x 1  4 months 
Worst case estimate  16 months x 1  16 months 
Most likely estimate  7 months x 4  28 months 

Sub-total: 48 months
Calculation: 48 / 6 = 8
Total duration: 8 months

Critical path

Once you have defined the activities, the time required to complete them, any interdependencies between resources and your project milestones, you can start to determine the critical path, or the minimum amount of time required, for the delivery of the project.

There will be some tasks that can only be started once others have finished, and others that can happen simultaneously. The sequence of all the essential, or critical, activities forms the critical path.

Working out the earliest start time for an activity (when any work this activity is dependent on has been completed), and the latest start time (before any further delay would impact on another activity) gives you the window in which that activity must happen. If you have an activity that will take 5 days, and there are an additional 5 days before the next activity, this gives you a 10 day window to complete that piece of work. This spare time, or ‘float’ between activities gives greater flexibility when scheduling later on. Mapping out the path in this way also gives good visibility of any resource bottlenecks or conflicts. 

Resource levelling and smoothing

Once you have scheduled the activities, you can start to see where there are peaks and troughs in resource demand. Having staff on a project where they might not be needed for some of the days, or too many activities at the same time, which may result in additional resources, is inefficient. Resource levelling and smoothing looks at the schedule and alters either the time the activities take place, or the amount of resources required at certain times, to reduce the peaks and troughs or bottlenecks.

Resource smoothing (time-limited scheduling)

  • Time or deadline of the project is the priority and cannot be changed.
  • Avoid peaks and troughs by bringing some activities forward, or delaying others where there is sufficient time or ‘float’ between activities.
  • More resources may be required to avoid delays.

Resource levelling (resource-limited scheduling)

  • Limited resources are the priority and cannot be added to.
  • With the resources available, when will the work be finished.

Further information and advice

If you have any queries or need further advice, please contact the Strategic Projects Office,

Further information on resource management is included in the LinkedIn Learning video on Project Management Fundamentals.