The Focal Point Blog // Operations Best Practices // Caitlyn Marsollek // July 10, 2024

Task Planning vs. Resource Planning in Professional Services

Resource planning vs. task planning. What is the difference and how can you efficiently manage both tasks and resources? 

We’ve all been there—juggling deadlines, managing client expectations, and ensuring our teams are set up to do great work. But amid the chaos, there are clear benefits to separating resource plans from task plans.

Uncoupling the two planning methods allows professional services to plan ahead, reduce team burnout, and create a feedback loop for improvement.

Understanding Task Planning

In the world of professional services, task planning has become essential to managing multiple projects, deadlines, and “to-do’s”. 

Creating a task plan requires a great deal of subject knowledge to understand what needs to be done, how to get it done, and when it needs to be finished to propel the project forward. This involves breaking down projects with key objectives, detailed task overviews, precise timelines, and the hardest part, finding available team members to deliver them efficiently and effectively (project managers, we hear you – it’s no easy feat).

Challenges of Task-Based Resource Planning

Having a detailed task plan is a large contributor to the success of a project. Although task plans are highly intricate, they can’t account for all components of a project. So, what are they missing?  

Lack of insights on resource capacity & availability

Through task plans alone, it’s difficult for a project manager to coordinate schedules, availability and capacity when assigning tasks to team members. Not having this visibility when project planning can lead to improper team utilization, resulting in missing project margin goals or employee burnout.

Lack of flexibility

When challenges arise, budgets are tight, or a last minute client request comes up, task plans are highly detailed and difficult to adjust mid project. With task dependencies, strict deadlines, and booked schedules, adjusting one deadline may affect an array of others.

Lack of ability to view overall project health

When hours are billed down to the task, it’s hard to view the project’s overall health until after the project has already been billed out. When one task runs an hour beyond planned time, it doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall success of the project. However, when 7-8 tasks go hours beyond the plan, it starts to seriously affect your margin. 

Lack of ability to forecast & plan ahead

A granular task plan is difficult to build out for more than a couple of weeks at a time. With a limited view into the capacity of delivery teams and the projects in the pipeline, it can be hard to forecast where and when there are gaps in demand. Sales likely isn’t sure what project types will have the capacity to be sold, team leads aren’t confident as to whether they should or should not hire for a role, and delivery teams are stuck in a reactive state.

So how do we address project planning challenges that task planning alone doesn’t solve for? Let’s look at resource planning, another method digital agencies use to tackle these challenges. 

Understanding Resource Planning

Unlike task planning, resource planning is people-focused. It looks at the big picture plan rather than the nitty gritty details of each task. Resource planning involves strategically managing and allocating your team’s time, skills, and expertise to meet the demands of current and future projects. Rather than assigning team members to specific tasks, resource planning encourages identifying and allocating project resources via duration across the entire project.

For example, project “A” will need a web designer from July 10th – July 15th for 3 hours a day. This would be a piece of the project’s resource plan. A team member with the right availability, capacity, and skills will then be assigned to the project. Then, a task plan will break down each task in detail.

A resource plan is a high level initial project plan and is separate from a task plan. Adding this method to your project planning cadence allows for insight on resources, project health, and the ability to forecast.

Resource Planning Key Components

Documenting team member skills and expertise to create an inventory of team resources.

Allocating resources based on skills and availability to match employees to appropriate projects. 

Forecasting demand trends by integrating your CRM and resource planning tool to anticipate shifts in pipeline and plan for future resourcing requirements.

Task vs. Resource Planning. Should I do Both? 

Resource planning and task planning offer unique benefits that contribute to a successful project. However, relying on one planning strategy over the other can create obstacles in delivery.

Task planning provides a granular view into project logistics while resource planning ensures the right people are available and have the capacity to carry out those tasks. Think of resource planning as making sure you’ve got the right players on the field, while task planning is calling each play. If you forget to assign players to your team’s offense, winning the game becomes a challenge. 

Decoupling Task and Resource Planning Allows For: 

Visibility into the demands of current and future projects

Having a holistic view of required roles and level of commitment needed for in-pipeline projects allows you to confidently staff projects and hit utilization goals.

Capacity and utilization forecasting

Know ahead of time when there is a change in demand. Resource planning allows for forecasting utilization weeks to months in advance so leadership can advise when to get ahead of hiring curves or which projects to sell based on team capacity. 

Creation of a feedback loop

Resource plans are used as a baseline, guiding project plans based on trends from past similar projects. An overview of time trends, role requirements, and project costs are able to be constantly refined to create streamlined and efficient project delivery. 

Increased focus and quality of output

Undivided attention to the project at hand decreases burnout caused by juggling multiple tasks on different projects. Less multitasking encourages increased focus and timely, high quality work that your team is proud of. 

Take Control of Your Resource Plans

Decoupling resource planning and task planning allows for visibility and flexibility to forecast capacity, manage workloads, and prevent team burn out. Developing new operational processes is never easy – luckily, resource planning is our expertise! With resource planning tools like Parallax, teams are able to organize, analyze and strategize for success. 

Want more information on how to start resource planning? Book a demo.