Resource Planning for Multiple Projects: Best Practices for Efficient Multi-Project Management
Even if you’re an expert project manager, handling resource planning for multiple projects is a unique challenge in itself.
Even more than on single projects, multi-project management requires tight control over all key factors for successful project delivery. This includes project timelines, project budgets, and project teams. To achieve this, efficient resource management is indispensable.
Nowadays, this is synonymous with resource management software. With automation, real-time forecasting, and collaboration features, project managers can optimize how they allocate resources and tasks across projects. Whether you’re a seasoned project manager or relatively new to the field, getting the most out of technology is crucial to improving your resource planning process.
This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of resource planning within multi-project management. We’ll be focusing especially on challenges and how you can resolve them by utilizing resource management tools. We’ll also give you some tips and tricks on choosing the best software for your agency.
Keep reading to get the knowledge you need to maintain a competitive edge in an ever-growing industry.
What Are the Benefits of Resource Planning for Multiple Projects?
Resource planning includes the process of assessment, strategic allocation, and scheduling of various resources. In an agency context, these resources will likely be staff, time, and budget, but they can include various material resources, such as facilities and equipment. The main goal of resource planning is to ensure that a project is progressing smoothly, without unforeseen gaps in resources or uneven employee workloads that can cause stress and burnout.
Some of the main benefits of efficient resource planning are the following:
- Increased team satisfaction: With good resource planning comes optimized workloads. This means that your employees won’t be stretched thin or underutilized on projects, improving their work-life balance, and increasing engagement and productivity.
- Better project delivery: Once you have a satisfied team, you have a project that is progressing well. If you can allocate your resources suitably across tasks and manage change in a timely manner, you increase the chances of meeting project deadlines and delivering quality results.
- Improved client relationships: Aside from the benefits that improved project outcomes have, good resource management means higher project transparency and visibility. This also means that you can update your client on project progress at any time, increasing trust and satisfaction.
- Optimized agency performance: Finally, all of the above has an impact on your agency operations. If you handle your resources effectively on the basis of accurate data, you can optimize your revenue and profitability. This includes resource forecasting, which can help you cover resource gaps before taking on new client projects.
The Challenges of Multi-Project Resource Planning
Effective resource planning is something that many agencies grapple with, especially in the context of running multiple projects at once. According to a Wellingtone report, poor resource management was among the top three main challenges for agencies in 2020, with “attempting to run too many projects” in the first place.
These two issues are often connected, as inadequate planning can cause agencies to overcommit their resources, causing bottlenecks and poor service delivery down the line.
When staff is in survival mode, managing too much, they become very tactical in their thinking. Emails are transactions, client calls are inconvenient and they cut corners on the quality of deliverables. In a “thrive” mode, people have time to think strategically, go above and beyond, put themselves in the shoes of a client, are more creative, service-oriented and patient. Read the signs.
When it comes to resource planning for single and multiple projects, the main differences lie in the increased complexity and scope. With multi-project resource planning, prioritization, effective change management, team collaboration, and visibility all become even more important.
It’s tough having three different teams each having 3-6 projects of varying nature and complexity (…) Some of our projects are very agile, some waterfall, some short, some very, very long. I feel like consistency and predictability has been very hard to get in our world. Some clients have a release every six weeks for years, other clients have one-time, three-month projects. Being able to take all that variability and put it into a consistent process allows us to actually manage it with transparency.
One of the main difficulties is balancing competing demands for the same resources. For project or resource managers to be able to handle this correctly, they need to have a comprehensive grasp of the state of their resources. This includes knowledge of their capacity and commitment to specific tasks but also includes personal considerations such as individual skills and affinities.
Considering that 60% of project managers are running between two and five projects (RGPM), having this type of insight is challenging, to say the least. This is why maintaining visibility over resource availability, including real-time monitoring is so crucial. Additionally, client engagements are often very unpredictable, with 50% of projects experiencing some sort of scope creep (PMI).
This all goes to show that having the ability to accommodate changes at short notice is key to successful end-to-end project management.
Common Resource Planning Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
In the following section, we’ll cover the four most common mistakes in resource planning for multiple projects, and how you can best address them. We’ll provide you with specific examples of software features that can help you improve your processes and first-hand insights from industry professionals.
Keep reading to find the answer to the question: How do you use technology to improve resource planning?
Working in Silos
No matter if your agency is small or large, working on projects with a narrower or broader scope, working in silos is one of the biggest detriments to effective processes:
… When organizational transformation is needed, silos mean that the very parts of your company that must work together are unaccustomed to doing so, and even unable to communicate with one another because they are culturally misaligned, or inherently mistrustful and territorial. These problems can complicate change efforts, or delay or derail delivery of their benefits.
What is the most common cause of silos?
Usually, it’s using multiple different tools and processes between different project teams. For example, one project manager might introduce a specific project management tool, but the same is not applied agency-wide. This is a more frequent issue for larger agencies with multiple ongoing projects and larger IT budgets.
In smaller companies, the main cause for silos is lack of project visibility between cross-functional teams. In fact, data shows that 39% of employees worldwide believe that people in their organization don’t collaborate enough (Queens University).
For example, on a development project, a developer and a member of the marketing team might have virtually no idea what either one is doing. While it’s difficult and often unnecessary to have different departments working hand in hand 100% of the time, by maintaining a unified strategy, you can significantly improve both project and agency outcomes.
The quickest and easiest way of achieving this is to invest in software that can provide project visibility and support to teams of all shapes and sizes. Additionally, choosing an all-in-one agency management software that targets multiple agency processes at once can help you cut out additional tools from the process, which further improves agency-wide standardization.
Take for example Productive, the comprehensive agency management software. Productive combines simplified Project Management with support for sales teams in the integrated Sales Pipeline. You can manage your project progress with task management and automated notifications, all the while tracking your leads down the sales funnel and converting won deals into projects.
The main benefit we get from Productive is planning, clarity, everyone working towards one system. It facilitates reporting, hugely. It’s very easy to use. Also, I think one of the biggest things for me is the fact that it’s constantly improving.
Additionally, software like Productive can help you set up better client feedback processes. Just like you would share your project boards with your teams, you can invite clients to projects so they can leave comments on tasks. All of this can significantly help cut down on administrative tasks, which gives you more freedom and time to allocate resources to strategic tasks across multiple projects.
Learn more about how Productive can help you optimize your resourcing:
Using Manual Processes
Another big roadblock to efficient resource management is using manual processes for activities that require constant upkeep. Take, for example, the fundamental document for resource management, a resource plan. If a resource manager handles this using an Excel spreadsheet, this means that they will constantly need to go back and manually reschedule tasks. Sooner or later, details will start slipping through the cracks.
By automating this process with a project management solution, you will be resolving two issues at once: data inaccuracy and inefficient processes.
This is the importance of having a real-time overview that is highly reactive to changes. For example, once you allocate your resources with Productive, you can get insights into your project budget burn, all the way up until the deadline. And if you reschedule some of these resources, you can go back to the burn chart and check what this means for your finances. You can even switch to the project profitability overview to manage profit margins.
This lets you respond to client requests in a timely manner, as well as make informed decisions. For example, even if you’re over budget, you might still be making a profit on certain projects. This depends mostly on your resource cost rates. Without using a responsive capacity planning tool, it’ll be significantly harder to determine the actual costs of projects in time.
Beyond the resourcing plan, your project reporting will also benefit immensely from using a tool for managing multiple projects. With Productive’s Reporting feature, you can access 50+ agency-focused templates. Instead of updating them manually, you can benefit from data being pulled directly from the platform. You can even schedule reports to be sent to your or external emails, and keep all project stakeholders in touch with your progress.
Ivana Honomihl Crnogorac
Business Process Manager
We can pull up data really quickly now, tailor it to our needs, and create all kinds of reports in a fraction of time compared to before. This really helped us get a better understanding of our performance in general. We’re also able to detect and address any issues we might have a lot faster than before.
Balance Resources Across Multiple Projects
Manage workloads, collaborate with project stakeholders, and get key agency insights, all on one platform.
Inadequate Data on Resources
Continuing on from the previous point, another sign of poor capacity planning is working blind. A great way to improve your project management is to compare your scheduled time with project actuals. With Productive’s Budgeting and Time Tracking features, you can get accurate insights into how much time was really spent on billable vs non-billable tasks.
How does this work?
Simply set up your project budget, whether hourly, fixed-price, or mixed. Then, your employees can track their time across these budgets, either by using the timer or by manually inputting time spent on each task.
By connecting your budgeting and time management, you can also keep a closer eye on your project spending. For example, Productive lets you set up warnings for a percentage of billable hours fulfilled. Then, you can check the actual project progress, and see whether you need to reallocate resources or resolve internal conflicts to improve your project workflow.
Another important factor to keep in mind is your billable utilization, or the percentage of time spent on billable tasks. This is one of the most important agency metrics because it shows you how productive your employees really are. With Productive, you can track utilization across various metrics, including departments, seniority, skills, and more.
You can even compare your utilization and profitability between different projects, which can help you prioritize. Which projects are your high earners? Which ones require extensive non-billable work due to miscommunication or frequent out-of-scope requests? By getting the answers to these questions, you can make key decisions for your agency’s success.
[With Productive] we figured out where we need to improve our estimating or be more rigorous with clients on what they’re getting for their money because obviously, you don’t want to overrun every project.
Unforeseen Gaps in Resources
Finally, there’s the question of roadblocks in project progress due to improper resource allocation. This is usually when a task can’t be completed because the person who has the required skill set is either committed to another project or is unavailable to work.
How can you avoid these resource conflicts?
These issues might arise from two main challenges: one usually concerns a lack of organization on the manager level, while another concerns high-level mismanagement of human resources.
When it comes to the former, a simple example is inadequate leave management.
When managers handle requests in Excel or other easily misplaced documents, situations where project tasks are late due to unavailable resources frequently happen. Consider also state holidays. How many times are resources scheduled without regard for mandatory time off?
Productive provides a simple solution with integrated leave management. Resource managers can input agency-specific types of leave and define which employees are eligible for it. When it comes to holidays, you can easily import them from a calendar for your specific country. This gives you a full overview of your team’s resource availability.
Related: Top 7 Workforce Planning Tools and Software for Professional Services
Another frequent scenario is caused by agencies taking on too many projects at once. These types of resource constraints are often caused by inadequate planning. One way to resolve this is by using software with forecasting features, such as Productive.
You can create a utilization report for specific date ranges and check how busy certain skills or departments will be during certain periods of time. You can also use placeholders to account for new hires, and then gauge how the potential project would be progressing budget and profit-wise.
This is how Infinum, a digital agency with clients worldwide, uses Productive to support hiring for resource demand:
We have team X, whose Scheduled/Available ratio is 110% when looking into the upcoming quarter. This means that we’ll need an extra 10% of our current capacity to be able to do the work we have scheduled. Then we translate those percentages into the numbers of full time employees we actually need and signal this to HR so that they can start with the hiring process.
All of these features can help you improve your risk management by helping you stay one step ahead of your project.
Key Strategies for Optimizing Your Resource Planning
After exploring some common roadblocks in resource planning for multiple projects, we’ll expand on this with the four key strategies you can utilize in order to improve how you’re managing your enterprise resources. These are project prioritization, maintaining realistic client expectations, managing your agency’s utilization rate, and implementing resource management software.
Related: The Best ERP for Professional Services
1. Planning Resources While Prioritizing Projects
Consider the Pareto Principle, which suggests that 80% of goals arise from 20% of efforts. Applied to the topic of client prioritization, it would signify that a smaller amount of clients are actually bringing significant profits to your agency. Taking for example the context of consulting agencies, this would mean that:
… since 20 clients are paying 80 percent of the total fees, they should receive at least 80% of the customer service. Advisors should, therefore, spend most of their time cultivating the relationships of their top 20 clients. However, as human nature suggests, this does not happen. Most advisors tend to spread out their time and services with less regard to a client’s status.
However, this is something you must be able to control in a multi-project environment. Trying to put the same amount of effort into all of your projects can end up stretching your resources too thin and causing burnout. Additionally, you will likely produce low-quality results across the board, rather than delivering a mix of outstanding and acceptable work.
This is why it’s essential to determine your project priority ahead of time so that you know exactly what to do once resource conflicts arise. Sometimes, the pitfall is in deciding which projects you should prioritize. To help you develop your prioritization strategy, ask yourself two main questions:
- What is your agency’s purpose and strategic vision?
- What matters most to your agency currently and in the long term?
Once you have the answers to the questions above, consider which projects align most with your agency’s priorities. To do this, you can use software that can give you a comparison of how different projects are performing profitability-wise. This can be a great first step to determining basic project value.
Then, consider qualitative factors. Prioritizing based on profitability involves not just looking at the immediate financial gains but also considering the long-term strategic value, such as fostering relationships with key clients or venturing into new markets.
In short, prioritization is one of the key processes for any agency managing multiple projects at the same time. Developing a strategy on how to assess and allocate resources accordingly is crucial to ensuring overall project and agency success.
2. Maintaining Realistic Expectations During Project Planning
According to the 2015 Chaos Report, under 50% of projects are completed on time and on budget, with a little over 50% being completed on target, or with all promised functionalities. When it comes to improving your agency’s project delivery, we’ve already given tips for streamlining your project planning and project management during the execution phase.
- Unifying workflows and eliminating silos
- Automating repetitive tasks
- Utilizing real-time overviews
- Working on the basis of accurate data
Now, let’s consider the project initiation and planning process. Are you establishing realistic expectations and defining everything that needs to be done in your client contract clearly enough?
Take for example website project management: one of the main things that are often overlooked in client contracts is just how extensive the maintenance period of development should be. This also includes the scope of changes that are expected to be applied: does this include bug fixes or additional feature requests?
It’s important to put all of these terms into place in order to prevent the overcommitment of resources, as well as client dissatisfaction.
See more: Website Project Management: Expert Guide to Web Builds
Moving past the contract stage, maintaining transparent communication with project stakeholders throughout the process is equally important. This involves regularly updating them about the project’s progress, potential roadblocks, and any changes in resource allocation or timelines. A simple way to improve your client communications would be by using an agency or project management software.
Director of Operations
I think that in project management there’s a tendency to focus solely on profitability, but it’s inevitable that projects will go over budget, and that’s ok. However, it’s important to have transparency on where that stands, and Productive gives us that visibility.
For example, with Productive you can invite clients to your projects free of charge. Your clients can directly view the progress made on tasks, as well as leave comments on particular deliverables. This can significantly speed up the feedback process, as everyone involved can immediately view what needs to be done, without the need for a manager to play middle man.
Additionally, you can open advanced permission so that clients can view basic information on budgets and time sheets, including prices, time worked, and estimated time on tasks.
All of this can help you enhance stakeholder trust and improve the chances of delivering your project within the set scope, project schedule, and budget.
3. Managing Your Agency’s Resource Utilization Rate
One of the best ways to measure the success of your resource planning efforts is your agency’s utilization rate. As previously mentioned, the resource utilization rate is the percentage of billable hours vs non-billable hours worked. It can show you which projects need to be improved, and which are performing optimally.
Another important thing that the utilization rate indicates is whether you’re burdening your resources too much. Don’t fall into the trap of aiming for perfect utilization — Though standards vary somewhat depending on the industry, the recommended resource utilization rate stands between 75 to 80%.
If your utilization rate is significantly higher, this could mean that your employees are close to burning out. It also signifies that you don’t invest enough in learning and building skills, which are equally important for your employee and agency growth. On the other hand, a low utilization rate can mean one of two things:
- Your employees are being underutilized, which means you need to seek out clients who are looking for the particular services they are providing or reshuffle your projects
- You invest a lot of time into non-billable work, such as additional research hours for client projects, or detailed client prospecting and pitching
As you can see, even a low utilization rate can ultimately mean good things for your business, as long as you’re thinking strategically about it. In any case, utilization is one of the key agency metrics that can tell you many things to help optimize how you’re planning resources.
Find out more about utilization, the key agency metric:
4. Investing in Resource Management Software for Multiple Project Management
One of the main things that we’ve established throughout this article is the importance of investing in software for resource management. As our final advice, we’ll give you the three top considerations to keep in mind when researching the best resource planning agency tools.
- Features: In order to ensure effective project management, your software should have key resource management features. These include: the creation of a resource schedule, heatmaps for determining the currently assigned workload, and some form of forecasting to support scenario planning and budgeting. Though there are many specialized resource scheduling tools out there, not all will offer integrated financial management. Consider this as an additional key feature, as it helps you take your resourcing to the next level by supporting profitability. Budgeting tools can also streamline your billing, which frees up resources for more strategic tasks, Consider all-in-one types of tools such as Productive that offer all of the above.
Related: Top 7 Project Budget Management Tools: Optimize Your Project Budgeting
- User interface: Even comprehensive software should be designed with the end-user in mind. No matter how experienced a project team is, a tool that focuses on making everything as simple and intuitive as possible has many benefits for your projects and teams. An intuitive interface can reduce change resistance during implementation and speed up training time, all of which reduce costs. It also increases the likeliness that users will utilize all functionalities, which can improve your software’s return on investment. Consider tools with free trials to check out how they truly perform, such as Productive. Additionally, you can check user reviews to see whether there is a pattern of complaints about the interface being outdated or unintuitive.
- Scalability: When selecting resource planning software, it’s crucial to consider scalability. This means that you want to find a tool that is versatile enough to accommodate different project types and sizes. For example, even if simple project management and collaboration are all you need at the moment, think about investing in a tool that has advanced reporting and budgeting features. This is something you’ll need as your business grows. Choosing a more comprehensive software right away ensures that you’ll see long-term benefits from your investment, with continuity in your project management practices. Additionally, consider a vendor that is dedicated to improving their product. A way to gauge this is to check out how frequently a tool is being updated via product updates or roadmaps.
Check out an example of a roadmap here.
The main thing to keep in mind when resource planning for multiple projects is that the challenges are unique when compared to balancing resources across a single project. Moreso than ever, it’s important to optimize your resource management processes by applying the following key strategies: project prioritization, setting down clear terms of contract, and implementing software that can support your progress.
A good resource planning tool can unify your team workflows, provide accurate data for timely decision-making, as well as ensure that you can plan resources with regard to their availability. Additionally, certain solutions can provide advanced forecasting capabilities and insights into key agency metrics, such as billable utilization.
Consider choosing a system that can do all of the above, while providing a user-friendly, scalable solution for professional service agencies.
Co-founder and Technical Director
We really struggled to find a system that not only provided all the features we required but was also fast and user-friendly enough that our team could do what’s required without having to read a 30-page manual.
Interested? Book a demo with Productive to find out what an all-in-one agency management software can do for your agency today.
What are agency resources?
In an agency context, we can distinguish three key types of resources: these are human resources, time resources, and financial resources. Human resources are the agency’s employees and their characteristics, including skills, seniority, and expertise. Time resources are closely connected to human resources, as they refer to the amount of time you have at your disposal for completing project tasks. Finally, financial resources relate to your project budget, as well as your overall agency capital used to run operations and invest in growth. Proper management and optimization of these resources are critical in ensuring the success and sustainability of an agency.
What is resource smoothing?
Resource smoothing is a technique that can be used in order to address constraints in the resource pool. It consists of balancing your resources across one or several projects while keeping track of tasks and their dependencies to avoid extending project schedules. For example, a manager might reallocate a designer to work on a different project to satisfy workload gaps, if they know that they’re ahead of their tasks on their current project.
What is resource leveling?
Resource leveling is one of the main risk management methodologies utilized during the project execution phase. It aims to avoid under or over-utilization while shifting the start and end dates of project tasks. Unlike resource scheduling, resource leveling often results in the extension of project deadlines or delayed tasks, but ensures a more balanced distribution of resource demand to minimize burnout.
What is the best resource planning tool for multiple projects?
An example of software for resource planning on multiple projects is Productive. With Productive, you can manage your resource plan in real time, balance workloads with the help of heat maps, take into account employee leave, as well as forecast key metrics such as profitability and budget burn. Some other examples of software with some of the above-mentioned features for managing multiple resources are Resource Guru and LiquidPlanner.
Balance Resources Across Multiple Projects
Manage workloads, collaborate with project stakeholders, and get key agency insights, all on one platform.