Planning, budgeting, and scheduling is an activity found within every industry across the spectrum of work. Yet, within IT, planning for a project often occurs only after scoping once the client has committed to an estimate. Sales teams encouraged to ‘sell, sell, sell’ and close deals sometimes skip over the critical part of resource allocation, hoping the details of completing the project they just pitched to the client will figure themselves out later. However, incorporating resource allocation planning into the early stages of project management would set the team up for greater success. 

What is resource allocation in project management? 

Resource allocation is a critical decision-making step in project management that determines if the right resources to complete a project will be available at the right time. Resources are typically allocated by a project manager (or in conjunction with a few people, such as a product owner and a delivery manager). The project manager breaks a project into its components and assigns resources needed at each step. Planning who will complete work and when and how it will be done requires an in-depth knowledge of the project goals, specs, and requirements to allocate team capabilities accurately. 

Types of resources in IT service projects 

Resources in IT service projects take various shapes. Allocating them all properly requires understanding how each affects the project’s lifecycle. Though the resources available can change from company to company, they can generally be categorized into a couple of buckets:

Human resources

Human resources include developers, designers, product owners, engineers, IT service professionals, and more. The initial step in planning an IT project is assessing if these people have the right skills for the job. Suppose the project requires advanced data security and encryption knowledge, but the team specializes in cloud networks. In that case, it might be necessary to hire a new employee to fill that skill gap. 

Technology

For IT projects, technology ranges from software tools to hardware assets. If a client wants to expand their data center and there is a backorder on the specific hardware they use, then the delay in availability would need to be factored into the project planning. 

Time and budget 

These two resources often overlap. Time can be a constraint if a client is on a deadline or the IT company juggles many projects and has to find the time to slot in a new one. As well, the client might only have a specific budget to spend, requiring the IT service company to allocate resources in a way that makes sure the project does not go over budget. As time needed for a project translates into the project cost, time and budget go hand-in-hand. 

Why is resource allocation important?

Allocating resources during the project planning stages ensures a project is well-equipped to meet its objectives. It allows the IT professionals to follow a well-thought-out plan instead of scheduling each sprint ad hoc. Efficient resource allocation early on yields benefits such as:

  • Balanced workloads: Ensuring no team member is overloaded or spread too thin between too many projects. Evenly dividing the workload can speed up the project’s overall completion. 
  • Optimized use of resources: Efficient resource allocation reduces wasting time, money, and effort. If everyone and everything is optimized, productivity will be higher.
  • Proactive risk management: Thinking through each project phase and allocating resources ahead can help identify potential hiccups or bottlenecks, allowing professionals to avoid them better. 
  • Trackability: It’s best practice to save an estimate and track time, budget, and milestones against it to measure progress. Measuring a project’s completion against the planned resources helps determine if it is completed on time and within budget. 

What does resource allocation look like for IT service projects?

Though the basics of resource allocation from a project management perspective apply to IT service projects, it is essential to consider the nuances of this type of work. 

Effective resource allocation should take into consideration the following: 

Varying project lifecycles

IT projects can range from short sprints to one-off add-on projects to multi-year ongoing support work. How human and technological resources are allotted to a project can depend on the length of the work and how often efforts by the IT team will be needed. 

Technical complexity

As any IT service professional can tell you, each IT project differs from the last, as stakeholders all have slightly different needs and requirements. The skills, knowledge, hardware, and software necessary to complete a project must be factored into overall resource allocation. 

Stakeholder expectations

Internal projects, like a new marketing initiative, only need alignment from internal decision-makers. Service IT projects require a balance between available internal resources and the changing needs of external clients. As the budget, timeline, or features desired by a client might change over time, this trickles down into affecting the IT team, forcing them to adapt the timeline or scope of a project, which impacts resources. 

Scalability

IT projects must often be designed for scalability, allowing for expansion or reduction without significant rework. This requirement affects resource allocation, necessitating planning for future needs, not just immediate demands.

How to allocate resources for IT service projects

Understanding the role of resource allocation in the project management lifecycle for IT service projects can make a difference in leading a team to successful outcomes. Though details may change for each project, this step-by-step outline addresses the primary considerations for allotting resources. 

1. Planning and scoping

Start with thorough discovery sessions, scoping, and analysis to determine a project’s value, objectives, required features, and deliverables. Align all stakeholders and make sure the teams agree on these outputs. 

2. Inventory resources

Check the scope against internal constraints and limitations to ensure employees have the proper skill set and the time to complete the work. If there are gaps, plan to hire more staff or purchase what is needed. 

3. Assign resources

Think through each step by breaking down the scope into specific milestones and tasks. This can look like a detailed work breakdown structure, sprint and backlog planning, or another internal planning tactic. Go ahead and allocate the resources—budget, labor, time, etc—to each task so it is planned and trackable. Allow flexibility so any unforeseen obstacles or changes won’t derail the plan.

Make sure you add the details, tasks, and project schedule to a project management software. Common tools for IT projects include JIRA, Asana, ConnectWise, NinjaOne, and Syncro.

4. Execution 

The execution stage is like hitting “go” on the project. Resources should be distributed as planned while adjustments are made to accommodate new information that may arise as the project evolves. 

5. Monitoring and tracking

Keep a close eye on the progression of work. Compare the planned allocation and consumption of resources against the actual allocation. If any change management is needed, adjust the plan accordingly while continuing frequent check-ins with the IT team and stakeholders, sharing data such as hours used and tasks completed so everyone is on the same page. 

6. Closing and retrospective 

Retrospectives can occur at any time, such as after each sprint. Use these to review what is working, potential obstacles, and what could have gone smoother to update and better allocate any resources. 

Some projects require ongoing support, and these don’t have a straightforward project “end,” but reviewing and analyzing the project history to date will still yield beneficial insights that can be carried over to the next initiative, improving overall resource allocation. 

Examples of resource allocation for IT service projects

Resource allocation for IT service projects can come in varying forms, but to help illustrate what it looks like, here are a few examples: 

Example 1: Scaling infrastructure for a cloud service provider

Scenario: A cloud service provider client is releasing a batch of new software features. The client expects more first-time users to join, increasing usage and demand. To prepare, the client wants the team to ensure the infrastructure can handle the surge in sign-ups and data storage without negatively impacting service. 

Plan: 

  • The IT team assesses the current infrastructure capacity, identifies weaknesses, and scopes the project to create specific tasks for completion. 
  • Time on individual network engineers’ and cloud architects’ calendars is allocated towards this project, as IT professionals are either phased off current projects or scheduled initially for this one. Additionally, new hires are brought on as contract workers for round-the-clock monitoring during the critical launch period. 
  • The team advises the client to purchase additional server capacity and network bandwidth while dynamically increasing cloud elasticity to scale based on real-time needs. 

Outcome: The cloud service scales smoothly, providing quality service and performance to all existing and new customers. 

Example 2: Incorporating emerging technologies 

Scenario: An AR (accounts receivable) financing company wants to utilize the blockchain to increase its customers by offering funding to businesses currently too risky to qualify. 

Plan

  • The IT service company recognizes it hasn’t developed projects on the blockchain, so it allocates a budget for training current engineers and hiring specialists to join the team. 
  • A longer timeline is established for up-training, forming a new internal team of junior engineers and recently hired blockchain specialists, and learning the new tools. 
  • Milestones are created so project managers can track production and development and have learnings that will better inform resource allocation for future blockchain projects. 

Outcome: Carefully considering existing resources within the IT service company allows for strategic improvements, leading to an expansion in blockchain development skills and successfully facilitating the AR financing company to move business management to the blockchain on a timeline that still suits them. 

Example 3: Incorporating emerging technologies 

Scenario: A medium-sized enterprise client wants to upgrade its IT infrastructure to improve security, compliance, and efficiency. However, the company must adhere to a strict budget. 

Plan

  • IT engineers conduct scoping workshops to document all enterprise requirements. 
  • The scope is broken into tasks, with an engineer assigned the allotted work hours per task. Additionally, a mock schedule is put on a timeline so the client can see how and when an engineer will complete each task. 
  • Altogether, the estimate is over the client’s budget. The IT team then works with the client to prioritize the work, slotting enough tasks into the backlog (while leaving some buffer room) so the client doesn’t need to worry about going over their budget. 

Outcome: Instead of starting a project and finding out midway that it isn’t workable for the client, in-depth resource allocation highlights the potential conflicts from the start. It allows the IT team and enterprise to workshop various solutions until they find one that functions for all stakeholders. 

How understanding resource allocation can better help your project scoping

Project scoping forms the foundation that project planning builds upon. Project planning is when resource allocation gets pulled in. Having one exist without the other is challenging, as each step informs the next. This explains why accurate project scoping is so essential. The better the project scope, the more likely the specific resources needed are identified and allocated accordingly. 

Thoroughly scoping a project has the added benefit of letting the IT team identify gaps early so they can be closed before the project is underway. Additionally, assessing the available resources can avoid bottlenecks, as project components can be prioritized in a way that allocates the resources evenly. 

Finally, aligning the project scope with available resources allows the project managers to establish realistic goals and deliverables. The well-defined goals help prevent scope creep and set clear client expectations, which promotes communication, trust, and relationship building. 

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