Resource leveling isn’t enough – here’s what to do next

resource leveling

As a project manager, you ensure that your team has the resources they need to get the job done. But what happens if you have competing priorities – deadline vs available resources?

You may choose to implement resource leveling, a resource management technique that involves reallocating resources to ensure that your project goals are met. If you’ve used resource leveling during project planning, you’ve probably noticed that it can slow your team down. Resource leveling will help you manage resource allocation and resource availability, but it often also adjusts deadlines and creates task overlap.

In contrast, resource smoothing prioritizes your project management timeline by identifying the most important tasks and eliminating unnecessary steps to save time. It helps you ensure that your team’s project is finished on time without peaks or dips in resource availability.

To account for your limited resources and your project duration, resource leveling isn’t enough. You need to combine resource leveling with resource smoothing. This extra step will help you optimize project management at your organization as well as account for employee interests and career development.

Once you have resource leveling techniques in place, you can implement resource smoothing to optimize the productivity of your team.

Tackle the real issue: time vs. limited resources

When you only implement resource leveling, you’re optimizing team member availability, but you’re ignoring the constraints of the project completion date. Resource smoothing allows you to optimize employee and project schedules based on the specifics of the deliverables.

Although it isn’t always obvious how time constraints can impact your team’s resources, they should be taken into consideration just as often as resource availability. The general consensus is that you should use resource smoothing when the time period/deadline is a concern, but we’d argue that it should always be your next step after resource leveling.

Time will always be a factor in resource requirements, and it should be a focal element of your resource optimization techniques.

Let’s say that your team takes on a project with 5 steps. Each step requires 6 hours of work and these 5 steps are divided evenly between 5 team members. You estimate the combined working hours needed for this project is 30. Based on your estimate, if you divide the work evenly among your employees, the project should take roughly one working day.

However, during planning, you realize that the deliverables can’t be completed in one day because some tasks cannot overlap or some tasks have dependencies.

Using the resource leveling technique, you map out the project’s timeframe without task overlap and ensure that any tasks that are dependent on other tasks are scheduled in the appropriate order.

Now you realize you’ll need at least four days for the project. Resource leveling just helped you avoid overallocation and kept your team from scrambling to catch up when they inevitably ran into the task overlap issue.

Now, let’s imagine that you have a strict time constraint on the same project, and it needs to be finished within three days.

The adjustment you made to your project timeframe helped you reach the appropriate level of employee output, but now you need to account for the shortened timeline without overworking your employees and while avoiding peaks and troughs in resource availability.


Resource smoothing allows you to meet the deadline while avoiding large variations in the availability of team members throughout the scope of the project. Resource smoothing provides the critical path of proper time management for your project.

Resource smoothing might mean adjusting the steps from the estimated 5 to only the 3 most critical steps in order to fast-track the project in this example. With that adjustment, you’re able to take 12 working hours and 2 team members off the project, and you can meet the project finish date of three days.

By prioritizing the most important steps, resource smoothing allows you to create more available resources to support the completion of the remaining tasks rather than thinly stretching them across the project time period.

resource leveling resource smoothing

Account for employee interests and their career development paths

Resource smoothing not only accounts for your project timeline, but you can also use it to allocate work to employees to employees who would benefit most from the assignment. When you’re strategic about project planning and the allocation of resources, your organization can increase employee satisfaction and advance employees’ career development, which encourages them to stay at your company longer.

If you use resource smoothing to rethink and redistribute your project tasks, you can strategically choose work assignments based on what employees are interested in learning and enjoy doing.

When employees take on work that is meaningful to them, they’re more likely to be satisfied with their jobs. A study by BetterUp explains that meaning at work is derived from personal and professional growth along with other cultural factors. The study also notes:

Employees who find meaningful work are happier, more productive, and harder working.

And it’s much more than a nice-to-have. One key factor in overall organizational productivity is employee happiness and the sense of meaning they derive from the workplace. Oxford University’s Saïd Business School found that employees who are happy at work are 13% more productive. Their research suggests that employee happiness is not only in the best interest of the staff but also in the best interest of the business.

Additionally, research from BetterUp concluded, “The resulting gains in worker productivity add up to over $9,000 per worker, per year.” When you prioritize employee happiness, you actually save a different resource (money) in the process.

Another way to ensure employee satisfaction and increase productivity is by allowing for buffer time in employees’ schedules. Overallocation creates demands on employees that can lead to burnout and less productivity. Resource smoothing allows you to work buffer time into projects as well.

Employees are often talked about as “resources,” but at Resource Guru, we believe that humanizing employees benefits everyone—and the research suggests the same.

By strategically assigning tasks to match employees’ interests and incorporating resource smoothing to allow for reasonable employee utilization, you save on overall project costs, increase employee happiness, and get your projects done on time.

AvatarJamie Colarossi

“Resource Guru has significantly improved our visibility, boosting project ownership and forecasting ability.”

Jamie Colarossi
Resource Manager

How to combine resource leveling with resource smoothing

In our previous example, we were able to accomplish our two main goals for our hypothetical project by combining resource leveling and resource smoothing.

We planned our resources efficiently and met the deadline. If we hadn’t incorporated resource smoothing, we wouldn’t have known what actions to take to meet the deadline, despite resource limitations.

To combine resource leveling with resource smoothing, you need a step-by-step process.

  1. Assess resources needed for the project. Take a look at the working hours needed and the available team members for the project.
  2. Assign resources to specific tasks. Keeping in mind resource availability, give specific assignments to all team members and estimate the end date.
  3. Implement resource leveling. Divide the work as evenly as possible (both in duration and the number of tasks) and consider the allocation of resources. Then look for resource constraints (overlap of tasks, employee availability, overallocation, resource conflicts, resource availability, need for additional resources, etc.).
  4. Follow up with resource smoothing. Take time constraints into account once you know your resource limitations and focus on only the most important tasks in order to meet the deadline. Allocate resources evenly within the timeframe of the project to avoid peaks and dips in resource demand.

This process is the critical path to a successful project management plan that will allow you to complete the tasks on time without over or underallocating your team members and materials. This creates an ideal environment and structure for your employees while optimizing your tasks and timeline fully.

How a resource management software can help

Because so many conflicting factors are at play in project planning, implementing a combined resource leveling and smoothing process can be overwhelming for one person or team.

Resource management software can help you make project planning quicker and easier with the least amount of stress. Don’t forget, you’re one of your team’s valuable resources, too. Lowering your stress will help keep your team running smoothly.

It can also be difficult to trust that monitoring resource management or project management manually provides accurate data. When you automate this step, you have the benefit of real-time data with fewer errors than manual data recording or project management software alone.

Resource Guru allows you to see all of your project data in one place and streamline your planning process. We put the most important information – like team and individual utilization rates – at your fingertips, so you can quickly create a seamless resource management plan.

Start a free, 30-day trial today and learn how Resource Guru can help your team manage resource allocation and hit project deadlines without employee burnout.

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