Difference Between Resource Leveling and Resource Smoothing

In the real world, you’ll rarely get to manage a project where you miraculously have all resources you need for the entire project life cycle. While you should have the bare minimum required resources allocated, projects tend to take on a life of their own and these needs are likely to expand.

However, these issues don’t justify failing to plan and execute the project successfully. As a project manager, resource allocation is one critical aspect of project management that ensures that the right resources are available at the right time.

To make things work out, you have to employ techniques that’ll help you get the job done. That’s where resource leveling and resource smoothing come in. These two techniques can help you to make the most of your project resources so you can get your project done without burning everyone out.

But what’s the difference between the two, and how do you know which one to use for your project? This post explores these two techniques in-depth to help you figure out which one is right for your project.

Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing: An Overview

Resource Allocation in Project Management

To understand the concepts of resource leveling and smoothing techniques, it’s important to first understand what resource allocation in project management is about.

Resource allocation is the process of assigning available resources, such as personnel, equipment, and budget, to tasks within a project to ensure that resources are used efficiently and effectively to complete the project on time and within budget.

Resource Leveling in Project Management

Resource leveling in project management is a technique used to balance and optimize the allocation of resources across a project.

At its core, it’s a way of adjusting when tasks get done in order to make the most efficient use of your team’s resources and minimize over-allocation and under-allocation of resources by redistributing tasks and adjusting the project schedule.

The primary goal of resource leveling is to achieve a consistent workload for resources throughout the project, preventing periods of overwork or idle time.

This technique often involves adjusting task start and end dates, extending or reducing task durations, and reassigning resources.

Resource Smoothing in Project Management

Resource smoothing is another resource allocation technique that aims to optimize the use of resources without altering the project’s critical path. The critical path is the sequence of tasks that determines the shortest possible project duration.

In resource smoothing, the focus is on ensuring that resources do not exceed their predefined limits, such as maximum working hours per day or available budget. To achieve this, tasks within the project’s float or slack are adjusted, ensuring that the critical path remains unchanged.

Difference Between Resource Leveling and Resource Smoothing

Now that you understand the concept of resource leveling and resource smoothing techniques, let’s go into the key differences between both.

1. Objectives

Resource leveling focuses on eliminating resource overallocation by redistributing work within the project’s original time frame with the primary goal of balancing resource usage to prevent burnout and reduce the risk of resources becoming a bottleneck.

On the other hand, resource smoothing aims to optimize resource utilization without extending the project’s deadline. It’s used when the project’s schedule is fixed and focuses on ensuring that resources are evenly utilized while maintaining the project’s critical path.

2. Scope

Resource leveling is a broader approach that affects the entire project schedule. It can lead to changes in task durations, dependencies, and start dates which may result in extending the project duration to accommodate the process.

Resource smoothing is a more focused technique, targeting specific periods of resource under- or over-utilization, and does not impact the project’s critical path or overall duration, as it only adjusts non-critical tasks within their float times.

3. Impact on Project Schedule

Resource leveling can have a significant impact on the project schedule, as it may cause changes in task durations, dependencies, and start dates. In some cases, it may extend the project duration to ensure that resources are allocated optimally.

Conversely, resource smoothing has a minimal impact on the project schedule. It only affects non-critical tasks and does not change the project’s overall duration or critical path.

AspectResource LevelingResource Smoothing
ObjectiveEliminate resource overallocationOptimize resource utilization
ScopeEntire project scheduleSpecific periods of resource under- or over-utilization
Impact on ScheduleMay extend project durationDoes not change project duration
Affects Crtitical PathYes, potentiallyNo

Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing: When to Use Which

When to Use Resource Leveling for Your Project

Resource leveling, as a critical aspect of project management, is often leveraged to optimize the allocation of resources and ensure a smooth project workflow.

Specific scenarios and situations where resource leveling is particularly beneficial for your project management efforts include:

1. Overallocated Resources

A common reason to apply resource leveling is when resources are overallocated, meaning they are assigned more tasks than they can handle within a given time period.

Resource leveling helps redistribute tasks and workload, ensuring that resources are not overwhelmed and that project timelines remain realistic.

2. Experiencing Project Delays

If your project is consistently experiencing delays due to resource constraints or unanticipated roadblocks, resource leveling can help identify bottlenecks and reallocate resources to address these issues.

Doing so can help get your project back on track and minimize the risk of future delays.

3. Tight Resource Constraints

When your project has limited resources or is operating under tight budget constraints, resource leveling can be a valuable tool for optimizing resource allocation.

By carefully balancing resource utilization, you can ensure that your project is completed within the constraints and avoids unnecessary costs or delays.

4. Working with Complex Projects

When it comes to projects with multiple overlapping tasks and dependencies, resource leveling can be particularly useful. In these scenarios, it can be challenging to allocate resources effectively without causing delays or overburdening team members.

Resource leveling can help to untangle these complexities and create a more efficient project schedule.

5. Improving Team Member Satisfaction

Overworked and stressed team members are more likely to experience burnout and disengage from a project.

Resource leveling can help to distribute tasks more evenly across your team, ensuring that no one is overburdened and that everyone has a manageable workload leading to increased job satisfaction and a more motivated team.

6. Skills and Competencies Management

In situations where your project has a diverse team with various skills and competencies, resource leveling can help to ensure that tasks are assigned to those best suited to handle them.

This not only improves project efficiency but also helps to develop team members’ skills and expertise over time.

When to Use Resource Smoothing for Your Project

While resource smoothing is a valuable technique for optimizing resource allocation and ensuring that your project runs efficiently, it’s not strictly applicable to every situation.

There are several scenarios where implementing resource smoothing can be highly beneficial. Here are some of the key instances when you should consider using resource smoothing in your project management approach.

1. Limited or Scarce Resources

When you’re working with a limited pool of resources or facing constraints due to budgetary or personnel restrictions, resource smoothing can help you optimize the allocation of available resources.

By redistributing workloads and adjusting the project schedule, you can avoid overburdening your team and ensure that resources are used effectively throughout the project’s lifecycle.

2. Desire for a More Stable Workload for Resources

Resource smoothing helps create a stable, consistent workload for your team members, reducing the likelihood of burnout and turnover. When your team members are consistently overworked or underutilized, it can lead to dissatisfaction and reduced productivity.

Implementing resource smoothing helps to maintain a more balanced workload, fostering a healthier and more productive work environment.

3. Reducing Resource Conflicts

Resource conflicts can arise when multiple tasks or project phases require the same resources simultaneously, leading to bottlenecks and delays.

Resource smoothing can help prevent these conflicts by identifying areas where resource demands are high and reallocating resources accordingly ensuring that your project runs smoothly and stays on track.

4. Optimizing Project Timelines

Project timelines can often be improved by using resource smoothing to identify inefficiencies in resource allocation.

By redistributing resources and adjusting the project schedule, you may be able to reduce the overall duration of your project and deliver results more quickly.

5. Flexible deadlines

Resource smoothing is most effective when your project has a level of flexibility in its deadlines. If you are working with strict deadlines, resource leveling may be a more suitable technique, as it focuses on meeting specific deadlines while managing resource allocation.

However, if your project has some wiggle room in terms of deadlines, resource smoothing can help you optimize resource usage and create a more efficient project schedule.

Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing

Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing: Strategies and Techniques

Strategies and Techniques Used For Resource Leveling

There are different techniques that you can use for resource leveling in project management. These techniques help manage and optimize the allocation of resources, ensuring that projects are completed efficiently and on time.

These include:

1. Heuristic Methods

Heuristic methods like the minimum slack, minimum resource availability, and minimum duration rules can be used to determine the most suitable order for executing project activities helping to prioritize tasks while considering available resources and project constraints.

2. Critical Path Method (CPM)

CPM is a project scheduling technique that helps identify the longest sequence of activities in a project. By adjusting the start and end dates of tasks on the critical path, project managers can level resources and minimize idle time.

3. Resource-Constrained Project Scheduling Problem (RCPSP)

RCPSP is an optimization model that focuses on scheduling project activities while considering resource constraints. This technique uses mathematical programming to find the optimal allocation of resources and minimize project duration.

4. Resource Profiles

Resource profiles are graphical representations of resource usage over time. Creating resource profiles can help project managers visualize resource allocation and identify periods of over-allocation or under-utilization. Adjustments can then be made to level resources and achieve a more balanced workload.

5. Software Tools

Several project management software tools, such as Microsoft Project, Primavera P6, and Smartsheet, offer resource leveling features. These tools can automatically adjust task schedules and resource assignments to optimize resource allocation and minimize conflicts.

Strategies and Techniques Used For Resource Smoothing

These techniques help distribute resources evenly across project tasks, ensuring a consistent workload and reducing the risk of resource burnout.

1. Resource Loading

Assigning resources to tasks based on their availability and capacity allows project managers to evenly distribute resources and adjust task durations, smoothing resource usage and avoiding resource overload.

2. Resource Histograms

Resource histograms graphically represent resource usage over time, enabling project managers to identify periods of resource over-allocation or under-utilization. Adjustments can then be made to achieve a more balanced resource usage throughout the project.

3. Resource Aggregation

Resource aggregation involves grouping similar resources or tasks to create a more balanced workload. For example, combining several small tasks into a single, larger task can help distribute resources more evenly and reduce idle time.

4. Time Buffers

Incorporating time buffers into the project schedule provides flexibility for resource allocation. Project managers can adjust task timings to avoid resource overload, ensuring a consistent workload throughout the project.

5. Flexible Resource Allocation

Allowing for resource flexibility, such as leveraging cross-functional team members or temporary staff, helps smooth resource usage.

With resources possessing diverse skill sets and adaptability to different tasks, project managers can effectively distribute work evenly and handle unexpected changes in resource availability.

Resource Leveling vs Resource Smoothing: Examples

Resource Leveling Example

Let’s walk through a practical example of resource leveling to illustrate the process and its benefits. Consider a scenario where you’re managing a software development project with two developers, Alice and Bob.

The project has three tasks:

  1. Task A: Design a user interface (UI) – 4 days.
  2. Task B: Implement the UI – 6 days.
  3. Task C: Test the UI – 3 days.

Alice is assigned to Task A and Task C, while Bob is assigned to Task B. The tasks must be completed in sequence, with Task A being completed before Task B, and Task B being completed before Task C.

To level the resource usage, we use 2 steps.

1. Identify Resource Overallocation

Since Alice is assigned to both Task A and Task C, she will be overallocated during the project’s timeline.

The total duration of her tasks is 7 days, while Bob’s task takes 6 days. To ensure that resources are utilized efficiently, we need to level the workload for Alice.

2. Resource Leveling

To level Alice’s workload, we can delay Task C until Bob finishes Task B. This will ensure that Alice has a more balanced workload throughout the project and avoids overallocation.

The updated schedule would look like this:

  1. Task A: Alice – Design a user interface (UI) – 4 days.
  2. Task B: Bob – Implement the UI – 6 days.
  3. Task C: Alice – Test the UI – 3 days (Starts after Task B is complete).

By applying resource leveling, we have ensured that Alice and Bob have a balanced workload, ultimately resulting in a more efficient use of resources and a smoother project execution.

Resource Smoothing Example

Now, let’s take a look at a resource smoothing example. In this case, the main goal is to minimize the fluctuations in resource utilization while adhering to project deadlines.

Imagine you have a marketing project with three tasks and two marketing specialists, Jane and John. The project has a strict deadline of 10 days. The tasks are as follows:

  1. Task X: Develop a marketing strategy – 4 days.
  2. Task Y: Create marketing materials – 6 days.
  3. Task Z: Distribute marketing materials – 2 days.

Both Jane and John can work on all tasks, and each task can be worked on simultaneously by both specialists.

1. Identify Resource Fluctuations

The initial plan is to have Jane and John work together on Task X, followed by Task Y, and finally Task Z. However, this plan would result in significant fluctuations in resource utilization, as both resources would be idle during the transition between tasks.

2. Resource Smoothing

To apply resource smoothing, we can adjust the task assignments and durations in a way that minimizes fluctuations in resource utilization while still meeting the project deadline.

A possible smoothed schedule could be:

  1. Task X: Jane – Develop a marketing strategy – 4 days.
  2. Task Y: John – Create marketing materials – 6 days (Starts on Day 1).
  3. Task Z: Jane – Distribute marketing materials – 2 days (Starts after Task X is complete).

With this adjusted schedule, Jane and John will have a more consistent workload throughout the project, minimizing fluctuations in their utilization. This approach ensures that the project stays on track while making the best use of available resources.


Benefits of Resource Leveling

1. Balanced Workload Distribution

Resource leveling ensures a balanced distribution of work among team members, preventing individuals from feeling overburdened, while others experience under-utilization and leading to a more productive and motivated team, reducing the risk of burnout and turnover.

2. Optimized Resource Utilization

By adjusting task durations and resource allocation, resource leveling maximizes the use of available resources. This improved efficiency helps to reduce project costs and make better use of the team’s talents.

3. Reduced Resource Contention

Resource leveling helps to identify and resolve conflicts in resource allocation, ensuring that resources are not over-allocated. This prevents bottlenecks and delays in the project timeline, leading to more accurate project scheduling and improved overall project performance.

4. Better Risk Management

By evenly distributing resources and workload, resource leveling contributes to the identification and mitigation of potential risks, allowing project managers to proactively address potential issues, and improving the likelihood of project success.

5. Improved Project Visibility

Resource leveling allows project managers to gain a clearer understanding of the project’s progress and the utilization of resources. This increased visibility helps identify areas that need attention and enables more effective decision-making, ensuring projects stay on track.

Benefits of Resource Smoothing

1. Minimal Impact on Project Duration

Resource smoothing ensures that the project’s critical path remains unchanged, allowing project managers to maintain the project schedule without compromising deadlines. This minimizes the risk of costly delays and helps to deliver projects on time.

2. Increased Team Flexibility

Resource smoothing enables team members to work on multiple tasks simultaneously or switch between tasks more easily. This increased flexibility allows teams to adapt to changing project requirements and priorities, ensuring a more agile and responsive project execution.

3. Reduced Overtime and Overhead Costs

By smoothing the workload and ensuring resources are not over-allocated, resource smoothing helps to reduce the need for overtime and additional resources leading to decreased overhead costs and a more cost-effective project.

4. Enhanced Team Morale

Resource smoothing helps to create a more consistent work environment, reducing the likelihood of team members experiencing periods of excessive workload followed by periods of downtime. This leads to improved team morale, increased job satisfaction, and higher productivity levels.

5. Proactive Issue Identification

By monitoring resource allocation and workloads, resource smoothing enables project managers to identify potential issues before they become critical.

This proactive approach to managing resources allows for timely adjustments and adaptations, ensuring a smoother project execution and a higher likelihood of project success.


To wrap things up, resource optimization is key in project management, and resource leveling and smoothing are two top techniques to achieve this.

By understanding what they individually do, and the differences between them, it’s easier to know which technique is best for your project situation thus helping you make efficient use of your resources and ensure that your project stays on track.


What are the Goals of Smoothing a Resource Constrained Project?

The goals of smoothing a resource-constrained project are to evenly distribute resources, maintain a consistent workload, avoid resource burnout, and optimize project efficiency and completion.

What is the Impact of Resource Smoothing on the Critical Path?

Resource smoothing generally does not significantly affect the critical path as the critical path is determined by the chain of tasks with the longest duration, not by resource allocation.

While it could theoretically affect the critical path in some edge cases, it’s designed and implemented in a way that avoids any significant impact on the tasks on the critical path. The main effect is on non-critical and near-critical tasks.

Does Resource Leveling Keep a Project on Schedule?

Resource leveling itself does not keep a project on schedule. Its purpose is to optimize resource usage, not impact task durations. As long as critical path tasks receive enough resources, leveling non-critical tasks should minimally impact the planned schedule.

However, improper leveling that delays critical tasks could threaten the schedule. When done right, leveling should have little schedule effect.

Is Resource Loading and Resource Leveling the Same?

No, resource loading and resource leveling are not the same. Resource loading means assigning resources to tasks based on the resources required to complete the tasks within the planned durations.
While resource leveling involves adjusting task start times and resources to optimize resource usage over time. It aims to smooth out peaks and valleys in resource demand.

What takes the Highest Precedence during Resource Leveling?

During resource leveling, the highest precedence is given to maintaining project constraints and priorities, such as meeting project deadlines, fulfilling critical dependencies, and respecting resource availability.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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