In the Iron Triangle: Resource Calendars & Schedule Coordination

Project schedule management relies on you being able to manage your resources but sometimes you don’t have full authority over your team members’ or tools utilization.

I’ve written before about building schedules with the real world in mind and also about breaking things down into smaller pieces to focus effort. These are both good ways of keeping projects on track and ensuring good resource availability. But they assume — at least implicitly — that you are a key player in determining resource schedules and end dates.

Using Resource Calendars When You Can’t Control Schedules

The resource calendar is a collection of availability information about a resource. This can be people, vendors, whole departments or a piece technology. Usually, it’s people but I’ve used it for whole teams when they were offshore and to schedule use of a large-format printer.

If you find yourself unable to manage resources the way you want to, then you’ve got to minimize unexpected dropoffs in production and streamline the on- and off-boarding of resources as the project progresses.

A resource calendar is a great way to handle this and prevent problems from arising. It provides clarity about who is working when.

What’s in the Resource Calendar?

If done correctly, the resource calendar gives you a customized view of each resource’s availability.

Here are the things you want in a resource calendar:

  • Scheduled vacation time – also include things like training days
  • Actual work hours – if they are in a different time zone or only working part-time, then you need to input this
  • Recurring meetings or other commitments – weekly department meetings are perfect example
  • Higher authority commitments – Example: a team member works in the finance department and they have to do quarterly closes. You know they won’t be available much for 2 weeks at the end of March.
  • Holidays – I try to get these in for everyone. As a contractor, it can be hard to keep track of company holidays and this means I’m not caught off guard.

You can also add other significant deadlines that they are working with, so you can have some slack in periods where they might have to step away to close or fix a problem.

How to Get the Resource Calendar Setup?

Depending on HR policies, you may be able to get info for all team members and other resources with a simple email or a request from the project sponsor. If you’ve got to do it manually, then I suggest holding a calendar meeting with your team members. Make sure to send them a list of your questions a few days ahead, so they have time to pull it together.

Here’s a simple email template to get the ball rolling:

Hi,

I’m looking forward to working with you on [Project Name]. I’m working on the project schedule with [Sponsor Name] right now and want to make sure we are not stretching you too thin. Would you please check your calendar and answer the following questions:

  • Do you have any vacation scheduled between now and [End Date]? If so, please let me know the dates.
  • What recurring (daily, weekly, monthly) meetings do you have? Please provide their time and day.
  • Are you working part-time, flex time or anything other than a standard shift (e.g. 8-5pm)? If so, please let me know your hours.
  • Will you be traveling for work any time between now and [End Date]? If so, please let me know the dates.

This project has a lot of value to the organization, but I know it’s not the only thing going on. If I can incorporate your real schedule, then we’ll be able to keep your schedule and the project schedule from getting too crazy.

Please send your answer back to me by EOD on Friday.

Thanks,
Chris Boulanger

I suggest having the calendar meeting along with the email because people often over-estimate their availability. Getting them in a room to talk through their workloads and schedules will lead to more accurate calendars.

Putting the Info Online

There is an area in MS Project where you can input this for every resource.

Here’s a video tutorial on changing calendars and work time in MS Project 2010:

I don’t think any of the web based PM tools provide this feature, but you can do a work around using custom calendars in Zoho and Smart Sheets.

What to Do With Your Resource Calendar

Once you have your resource information inputted, you’ll notice that some work dates and times are not feasible with your resources’s availability. Seeing this now — while you’re still in planning — is why the resource calendars are so valuable.

You’ll want to figure out if the resource can be substituted, an alternate work time can be found, or if the resource can have the other commitment rescheduled. Talk to functional managers or the resources themselves to figure out your options. I’ve found that vacations and some big recurring events (tax season, quarterly reviews) are the only things that can’t be moved, but a lot will depend on the good will of managers, the influence of sponsors, and the enthusiasm of the resource.

Resource Calendars Are Always A Good Idea

I highlight the value of resource calendars for project where you share team members or have limited authority, but they are a good idea for any project. Project resource calendars make estimating work, scheduling and monitoring much easier because you know when people can actually get things done. A good resource calendar will also help you with risk management planning, quality control and change requests.

Featured image from the Long Now Foundation

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