One crucial part of the planning phase of any project is resource allocation.  In today’s project environment, there is more demand to shorten project timeframes while increasing quality.  I found two articles I’d like to share on resource allocation.

Project Resources: Guarding Against SME Overload 

Project Management Best Practices: Estimating the Work

In order to meet the overall project deadline, subject matter experts are often allocated less time to complete the tasks identified in the project plan.  Tasks are outlined based on the minimum time required to complete which doesn’t account for other projects and work, sick days, or vacation.  The article, Guarding Against SME Overload, discusses the problem of overloading SMEs and the importance of avoiding it.

Combat Overload: Speak Up!

Many SMEs are involved in more than one project or they are part of a project and they still have other work to do.  The article suggests that “Employees and contractors must have a level of comfort to raise the issue of work-overload to the project manager and their direct manager as well.” [1]  I think it is crucial for Project Managers to create this level of trust with the people working on their project.

No matter how well I think I have planned a project, I have frequently found myself in a position where resources are over allocated. Generally a project manager should be managing the work rather than completing the work. In my case I am both managing my department’s portion of the work while also acting as the main subject matter expert.  The article comments, “Most project managers tend to internalize issues and keep things like this to themselves. PMs are not immune from stress and the implications of being stressed.” [1]  I find it is easier to over allocate my own time than that of another resource, especially since the performance of the project rests on me.

Prevent Overload: Estimate Effort!

In the past, I found it difficult to adequately estimate the amount of time a project is going to take. While one task may not take long, when adding all of the other tasks that are going to be completed within the same week, your time suddenly disappears.  The article, Estimating the Work, has some tips on how to better plan the time it will take to complete project tasks.

The first tip is to estimate the amount of time it’s going to take to do the task in effort hours rather than calendar days.  The author uses the example of a twenty-hour task that could be completed in under three calendar days if that was the only task assigned to the resource.  However, it could take longer if you have to wait for information or stay home due to illness.

The second tip is around translating the task effort hours into calendar days.  He suggests tracking the time the SME can spend on the project on a daily basis and using that to translate the task into calendar days.  He advises, “Typically, the effective project time is only perhaps fifty to sixty percent of the nominal time team members spend at work, far less than the assumed one hundred percent effective time on which so many project schedules are planned.” [2]

How do you prevent resource overload?

How do you determine the time each task in your project will take?

[1] http://www.projecttimes.com/articles/project-resources-guarding-against-sme-overload.html

[2] http://www.projecttimes.com/articles/project-management-best-practices-estimating-the-work.html


  1. I enjoyed reading this article, as it identifies many similarities with my current company. At our company, we have SME’s that are sometimes identified as the Project Manager as well, since we have a small quantity of PM’s that can take on complex work. Since our SME’s have such technical background, they are better prepared for the complexities and technical issues. However, this aspect has a con; our SME’s tend to drive problem solving into the ground. Sometimes “good enough” is the best value solution for a customer versus solving a problem with a very robust solution that is over-cost and past due. This is similar to touching two triangle points of the PM triangle that the professor has discussed in class.

    From an estimating stand point, I have some very personal experience; our estimating prior to standardized estimating was “back of the napkin”. Our SME’s would estimate project durations from an “hours” perspective, which is exactly what you pointed out, and what your last link alluded to. However, I find that this helps, but is not enough. During class, we have spoken about WBS and its power as a PM tool. It is also an excellent estimating tool. For our project estimates, the first task is to create a WBS. This has standard tasks that any project will incur, and then additional WBS tasks that are specific to the project, or, above and beyond that of the standard task. By itemizing the tasks upfront, I have found that “loose-ends” are identified early and accounted for. Our first few jobs that followed this process actually shocked everybody; they felt that the job couldn’t be won for the price due to the high costs.

    This wasn’t a margin problem! It was an efficiency problem. By improving our estimating, we realized how long tasks were taking us on a regular basis. We were then able to measure against the WBS versus measuring progress against the total body of work. This uncovered multiple improvement areas within our company, and we are now happily investigating ways to shorten standard WBS tasks to become more competitive in the industry.

    To answer your question, resource overload is prevented by proper planning. Proper planning occurs when proper estimating takes place. The root cause of resource overload was estimating! Now that we estimate properly, we can see how resources will be consumed and when, and this gives us the ability to plan resources properly, and also gather resources for “small fire fights” when they occur. I find that this approach reduces potential problems.

    Now, a question for you – do you feel that the problem charter and scope definition is attributable to resource overload? If a project isn’t defined, it creates scope creep in my honest opinion. This usually causes resources working on tasks outside of the WBS, which creates bottlenecks (overload!) in the future.

    1. Thanks for your response Sam, I enjoyed getting your perspective.

      Historically, I have struggled to find the balance between an aggressive project plan with the appropriate level challenge to keep stakeholders happy and the appropriate amount of time each task in the project will realistically take. The author addresses this suggesting that it is important for a PM to keep a record of how they arrived at the estimated timeframes. He elaborates, “Understanding the assumptions and approaches used to create an estimate will make them easier to defend and adjust when necessary.” That sounds like what you were saying your company has done. I like the way your company approached improving efficiency. We are currently going through the same thing trying to seek improvements in the way we work to become more efficient.

      You also hit on something really important for me. Since I am also a SME, it is difficult to accept “good enough” which can extend the times past what may be necessary. A task that seems like it should take 2 hours may take 3 because I go beyond what is necessary. That is something I need to be more vigilant about.

      Finally, to your question, generally problem charter and scope definition are well defined. We have so many projects and limited resources that we tend to limit scopes well. Unfortunately, sometimes it means adding a project to handle that scope creep. Our PMO is currently working on ensuring we aren’t taking on too many projects. There have been a few projects that I have participated in recently where the scope kept expanding. The team identified this was happening early on and went back to clearly define the scope before the work began and resources were assigned.

  2. Elaine,

    I found these articles pretty interesting. When I think about the company where I work, I find that the estimate duration on strategic or research projects is always less then the actual duration to completion. The timeframe allocated toward a project is always revised or the project is simply behind schedule. It almost became a new norm.

    However, as I read to articles I thought about the nature of projects that my company carries out on regular basis. We often carry out routine projects for testing customers’ process compatibility with our products. These are routine, but since each customer process is different it still require planning and a team to execute it properly. Although I do not lead projects, or are involved in many within my company, I understand that the time constraint for those routine projects is often times non-negotiable. When speaking with my co-workers who are involved within projects, I often hear them say that they could have done the task better if more times was allocated. Since it is a routine project, would allocation of more time impact the project positively? I don’t think it would. I cannot get into the specifics, but based on the company I work for, timeliness is very crucial, and although it could be done more thoroughly, the result of the project will be unaffected.

    When allocating time constraints on projects, I think that there has to be a thorough understanding of the project’s purpose. When that is very clear, it can be determined how time should be allocated.

    Thanks for the articles! It has great tips!

  3. Thank you for your post Elaine. I found the time estimation techniques particularly useful as this tends to be an area I struggle with when it comes to planning. I have a tendency to underestimate the amount of time a task will take to complete and then find myself having to adjust all of my other activities on the fly to compensate for the change in schedule. Estimating the amount of labor hours a task will take to complete versus the calendar time is a great way to get a better understanding of the time requirements of a project. Also understanding the effective time you or your teammate has to dedicate to a project each day will make time estimates for a project significantly more accurate.

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