Resource allocation is a fundamental part of software development project management. There are several methodologies to tackle software development projects. Even the agile and waterfall project management styles are the result of constant debate over how best to allocate resources. If you’re feeling stuck in your current resource allocation approach or are new to project management, this article gives you an in-depth look at what resource allocation models can look like and tips on building – or updating – your methodology for making the most of every resource during a project cycle.
What is resource allocation?
Resource allocation or resource management is the process of developing a methodology in which time constraints, labor availability, external forces, and more are weighed to reach an optimal working cadence to complete a project. In software development, this means combining client demands, available team members, team skill sets, equipment needs, workspace availability, and the overall timeline to determine how best to approach a product iteration – whether it’s the first or fourteenth.
Project managers take the lead on resource allocation. In the context of the rest of the agile team, project managers are more indirectly involved with the product, they focus more on mitigating risks through proper allocation of resources. The scrum team – product owners, scrum masters, and the development teams – are more directly involved with the product.
What’s in your methodology?
Every project manager will build their resource allocation methodology around three constraints: time, scope, and cost. A perfect project would balance the focus among all three, but in reality there’s often a focus on one over the others. A demanding client may need a product iteration completed sooner, making the focus on time – while straining the project scope and cost. There are a few ways to prioritize one constraint over another and the way your company prioritizes time, scope, and money will impact how you can build your methodology. Before diving into the best tips for building your best resource allocation methodology, I want to go over the ways you can prioritize constraints.
Command system approach
The command system approach is often associated with economics. This can look like the project owner determining where to spend money and other resources – like staff time. In software development, the command system method means one or a few voices of authority make the priorities for the team. This is common in start-ups where the CEO or CTO is heavily involved in the workflow. As companies grow, however, they typically transition out of this method as the CEO’s attention is pulled in other directions.
First in, first out approach
This approach to prioritizing time, scope, or money requires focus on the first client that comes in before shifting to focus on clients that came in after. In practice, this means a project requested in May receives priority over a project initiated in July. The positive side of this approach is more predictability for not only the project manager but the team as a whole. On the flip side, this also means that urgency – from the client or even an authority figure – is not a valid reason to push a project to the front of the line.
The ladder – or market price – approach puts more focus on the largest clients, with less focus on smaller ones. Top clients see their projects tended to first when it comes to allocating resources. This can be great for maintaining relationships with the people who are helping fund your growth through the revenue gained, but it can come at the expense of a diversified client portfolio if attention is too divided and smaller clients decide to go elsewhere.
In this approach, every client is equal. Their respective projects retain equal importance so that resources are allocated fairly. Equilibrium can be difficult to maintain if unexpected changes to say, the scope, require more work in the same timeline. You may be tempted – and even required – to shuffle work to meet changes to constraints that tip the balance of a democratic distribution of effort. At the same time, there is flexibility in striving for proportions that can change versus striving to meet a C-suite executive’s needs in the face of changing constraints.
Creating your methodology
You read the ways in which you can approach resource allocation – and maybe felt like you looked in a mirror when it comes to what your current day-to-day looks like. Now it’s time to build up – or renovate – your resource allocation methodology. Your methodology is simply a collection of the methods used to adequately allocate resources based on the standard constraints triangle and your company’s approach. Below are all the bases your methodology needs to cover in order to best allocate resources.
1. Assess project and effort needs
You’re likely already familiar with assessing project needs thanks to the product roadmap. In software development, the product roadmap answers questions like “What are you trying to accomplish in the first iteration?” and “What will the product look like three, six, or nine months down the road?” It’s not simply a way to share information about what you’re working on, but why you’re working on it.
Along with the project roadmap showing dependencies, it’s important to consider how different degrees of resource utilization deliver different results. For example, how much of a developer’s time does it typically take to make a login screen for an app? Or, what does it take to create a contact form? These estimations can vary based on team size and skill set, but understanding the time and effort needed to make different features and components will help you plan more accurately for the client demands.
With the needs and available resources laid out, you can conduct the first round of resource leveling. Resource leveling is taking the pile of work and spreading it out over the course of the project. This is an important exercise to conduct throughout as it can help prevent task bottlenecks where the workload is piled on one small window of time.
2. Check the calendar
If the development time of a product spans over the course of months, it’s likely that some team members will be out for illness or planned time off. If the timeline is narrow, you may be able to account for the exact time out of the office. If a project timeline extends for months, you will need to build in your best estimation of time team members might spend away from a project.
It can be helpful to look at the calendar in conjunction with the skills needed for different aspects of a project. If a UX designer is heavily involved in the initial project phase, they may not be needed as much in later phases. Making sure you have the right skills at the right time through one team member or another is important to keeping a clean and organized calendar of work.
You also want to consult the calendar for non-human resources like shared physical equipment or community meeting space. For even better capacity planning, try Clockwise. Our shared team calendar shows everyone’s Focus Time and out of office events.
3. Find your weak spots
When you’re building your methodology for allocating resources, make space for identifying blind spots both from internal and external forces as well as stakeholders. What do roadblocks and spikes in demand look like for software engineering? You may have a newer developer working on building confidence in their skills. As a result, their output is less than senior developers. There might be a particular client request for a feature that past clients changed their minds about – and it might happen again. This exercise is also good for identifying any potential signs that scope or timeline may change – whether it’s because of the current state of the hiring cycle, a particularly choosy client, or something else.
Create back-up plans for weak spots you identify. If a new developer falls behind, can you spread their workload among the more senior developers while they work on catching up? Can you replicate your solution for past clients who didn’t like a particular feature for this new client?
4. Choose the right tools
Today, there are many digital tools to help you save time and better manage resources. Clockwise has resource management in mind with analytics that deliver decision-making info about when to hold meetings, how much work can be accomplished based on available focus time, and even where overallocation is threatening project progress. It’s important to remember that no matter the tool, the team needs to be on board and willing to integrate its use into their daily work lives. Project management software like Asana or Monday.com can also help you make the most of available resources with integrations for company calendars and chat platforms. When choosing a tool, take a look at what methods and practices teams currently use to help inform your decision.
5. Be ready to modify
If you identified your weak spots, then you’re already in a good place to withstand changes that impact your initial resource allocation plan. To prepare for changes to future work that come as a result of changes in scope, time, or budget make sure you monitor your allocation plan. The basics of agile account for this in some part with retrospectives and daily stand-ups. However, it’s up to you to ask introspective questions and set the tone for team members to feel comfortable sharing openly about current challenges, like burnout or development flaws.
Resource allocation can be complex. You have to weigh variables like team members, skill sets, stakeholder needs, timelines, and more according to not only the same constraints facing every team out there, but more complex approaches often handed down by company leadership. Good project managers know that as much as careful calculations and exact measurements play a role, so does creativity and nimbleness. Your resource allocation methodology will look different from others’, but it can be successful if you recognize the approach before diving into weighing project needs, consulting the calendar, identifying shortfalls, factoring external roadblocks, and most importantly – preparing for rapid change to meet expectations.