Effective resource planning is fundamental to delivering a successful engagement. By planning resources ahead of time, using the right resource planning tool, accountancy firms can better adapt to ongoing changes and prevent project pitfalls.
In this blog, we delve into the core benefits and key features of resource planning tools and how they differ from project management tools.
What is resource planning?
Resource planning is the foundation of resource management. The process involves identifying and forecasting the requirements of an engagement, and preparing a resource plan to meet them. Resource planning is typically carried out by engagement managers who strategically assess the time and skills required to complete the work, and then request resources within the agreed budget. Resource managers must then assess resource capacity and availability and schedule each task according to the requirements of the plan.
Why use a resource planning tool in project resource management?
Project resource management is a difficult task. A resource manager has to consider resource availability and allocation to specific tasks across potentially hundreds of engagements. Resource managers must also have the ability to effectively adapt resourcing plans when changes are required. For example:
- A resource becomes unavailable due to either sickness or resignation
- Additional resources (e.g. grades, skills, and experience) are required
- Inaccurate forecasting means either more or less time is required
Consequently, the key to resource planning is developing a strategy that addresses ongoing resource requirements consistently, on time, and on budget in order to maximise the value and potential of your resources.
This is especially relevant for firms that operate with people-based resources (selling time, knowledge and experience) and project-based work. This combination usually means resource and engagement teams have to contend with a high level of disruption and change within engagements.
Resource planning tools such as Dayshape better enable teams to cope with these changing demands and pivot their project resourcing plans to meet them. Without the right resource planning software, the process of managing adaptations to schedules can be very manual and repetitive involving lots of email, meetings, and spreadsheets which can lead to wasted time, inconsistency, and poor staff experience.
How do resource planning and project management tools differ?
Whilst the work within resource planning tools may be project-based, resource planning tools are distinct from project management tools.
A good project management tool should enable teams to plan and monitor project timelines and costs in order to ensure successful project delivery. In the context of accounting, project management systems are most effective in smaller firms where project managers have the ability to assign their own resources and resolve any clashes. However as firms grow, and the number of projects and resources increases, it becomes more difficult for project managers to manage resources in addition to managing projects.
Dedicated resource planning tools allow for a wider view of company resources. Instead of focusing on individual projects, resource planning tools take a resource-first approach. They list resources where project management software would list projects. This allows for a firm’s most valuable resource – their people – to be put at the forefront.
Under a resource-first view, work can be more suitably assigned to resources. By considering their schedule and their skills, work can be allocated to the best resource instead of the resources that are either top of mind or showing availability within the project timelines.
That being said, resource planning and project management are not mutually exclusive. In fact, effective resource management is key to achieving successful project management. It’s true that managing a project becomes much easier when your team has the right skills and enough availability to complete the tasks – something that (depending on the size of the firm) either a resource manager, dedicated resource management software, or both, can help you achieve.
Example: how to use a resource planning tool
You are a large accountancy firm and you have an audit to complete for a long-term client. Your firm has completed similar audits for this client before, so you know what grade of resources are required and how long it should take to complete the work.
With a resource planning tool like Dayshape, resource and engagement teams can efficiently and accurately build, budget, resource, and deliver engagement plans end-to-end within one system. Where there is repeat work, as is common within auditing, resource planning tools can further streamline this process, allowing resource plans to be rolled forward from a previous similar engagement and be adjusted as necessary.
Engagement managers can then take this engagement plan with tasks and start requesting resources to complete these tasks. As this is for a long-standing client, they may request specific resources who have previously worked with this client for continuity. The resource manager will then assess their resources to determine who can fulfil these tasks based on their skills, availability, and utilisation rate.
Within audit, it is particularly important that the resource manager has access to accurate and up-to-date information on their resources to ensure the necessary skills and qualifications have been assigned and to avoid any conflicts of interest that would risk audit independence.
Example: how to use a project management tool
You are a small marketing agency and you have a campaign to complete for a new client. Your firm has completed similar campaigns for other clients before, so you know what skills are required and how long it should take to complete the work.
Here, project managers will look at previous campaigns and create similar or complete duplicates of previous tasks depending on the scope of the new campaign.
They will add these tasks within the project’s timeline and will request resources to complete these tasks. The focus is very much on finding resources which best-fit the project’s timeline rather than finding the best-fit resources for the work.
The project manager will then assess their resources to determine who can fulfil these tasks within the project’s timeline. This could mean resources are allocated due to availability, as opposed to being the best person suited for the work. Hence, resulting in poorer delivery or work.
What are the core benefits of resource planning tools in resource management?
The core benefits of using a dedicated resource planning tool such as Dayshape include:
Using a resource-first approach, firms have oversight of all of their resources in one tool. This is especially necessary given the change in working patterns since the pandemic as more people experiment with hybrid working and firms hire remote staff. Having this firm-wide visibility allows you to efficiently and flexibly plan across all engagements, improving utilisation and capacity planning.
Optimal resource assignment
With resource planning tools, resource managers can find the best people for engagements, and faster. Using suitability scoring you can match the right person with the right job fairly, based on configurable criteria such as availability, grade, location, or skills. Resource managers also have the option to use automated scheduling to schedule a larger number of tasks more easily.
Reliable utilisation data
Resource managers have the challenge of delivering top quality client engagements while allocating work evenly and maintaining a work-life balance for their resources. Utilisation filters provide an instant view of how much work has been assigned to resources so you can avoid staff burnout, manage capacity, identify skill shortages, and optimise profitability.
Resource managers can use filters and reports to identify clashes in the schedule, be alerted in real time if changes to a plan cause a conflict, and resolve them easily. Thus, allowing for happy clients and healthy profitability by avoiding unexpected delays.
Key features to look for in resource planning software
Good resource planning software should include:
The ability to specify skills required
When creating the tasks within an engagement, engagement managers should be able to outline what skills are required from the resource to complete this task. This can be configured within Dayshape to suit what is relevant to your organisation e.g. certifications, driving licence, experience, and language skills.
The ability to select flexible or specific resources
Giving engagement managers the option to select flexible or specific resources allows resource managers to deploy the workforce most optimally.
Specific resources are typically requested to ensure continuity for clients if resources have previously worked with them. This can benefit client service, engagement quality, and overall efficiency as resources are already acquainted with the client, their industry, and their idiosyncrasies. Engagement Managers can roll forward previous resource teams that worked with a client to ensure this continuity. Or, if the specific resources are unavailable, Dayshape will suggest resources with the required skill set – all subject to a resource manager’s approval.
In contrast, requesting flexible resources allows your resource manager to select the best-suited resource based on who is available at the time in which they schedule the work – considering location, business unit, grade and any skills required for the task.
The ability to add suitability scoring to resources
Touched upon above, when selecting flexible resources it is important to consider suitability scoring.
Suitability scoring highlights which resources are most suitable for specific tasks based on the criteria requested from the engagement manager during the planning process. This allows resource and project managers to quickly and objectively identify who is the best fit.
The ability to see engagement economics in real time
Dayshape has the ability to integrate with other systems including timesheet software which allows actual engagement spend to be compared with the forecasted spend. With this, engagement managers can make informed decisions about which resources to request for their engagement as they directly see the impact this has on margin and budget. Consequently, this could influence and inform their resource planning decisions.
In addition, if the plan is altered, warnings can be configured to pop up in real time to notify engagement managers if the gross margin is below the minimum threshold set. Hence, reducing budget write-offs.
Why choose a dedicated resource planning tool?
Dedicated resource management tools like Dayshape differ from project management tools, mainly due to their resource-first approach. This tends to suit larger firms with hundreds of resources and multiple engagements at various stages of completion.
However, this does not mean that projects will suffer. By taking a resource-first approach, Dayshape accounts for the reality of ever-changing resource plans whilst still being able to deliver projects which are profitable, provide excellent client service, and provide staff with fulfilling and rewarding careers.
Maximise utilisation and profitability
Engagement managers and resource managers are expected to maximise utilisation and deliver profit margins whilst adapting to changes in the resource plan. Intelligent resource management software like Dayshape allows you to see the impact any resource changes have on your engagement financials, monitor actuals in real time and make changes to prevent reduced margins and potential overruns.
Deliver excellent client service
Professional service firms, particularly large accountancy firms, survive and thrive on the strength of their reputation. This means it is crucial that client service is excellent and expectations are consistently met. With Dayshape, engagement managers can select particular skills for a task, and/or specific or flexible resources, resource managers can then deploy the right people and skills to deliver and maintain excellent client service.
Empower resource leaders and teams
Dayshape promotes fulfilling and rewarding careers for resources. By making resource planning easier we are in turn making it easier for resource managers to dedicate more of their time to strategic decisions and give more flexibility and autonomy to staff. In addition, by using suitability scoring, resources are assigned work that is best suited to them. This eliminates bias by providing scoring on tangible metrics and ensures employees get the “right work” to advance their careers.
Get in touch with us to discover how your firm could benefit from using a dedicated resource management planning tool.