The True Cost of Overallocation 


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Overallocation can lead to overwork, burnout, and mistakes.Within any organization, there are often go-to people; those who can be relied on to get things done or have the expertise or experience needed for a particular project. Oftentimes, these individuals are called upon for multiple projects, which can lead to overallocation. Overallocation of anything is simply trying to get more out of something than is possible. Resource overallocation is essentially when a team member’s assigned work exceeds their capacity or available time. This is particularly challenging in matrixed organizations sharing a limited number of internal operational resources to accomplish multiple internal project goals. Without adequately resourcing projects, organizations at large cannot accomplish their desired objectives.

What Causes Overallocation?

Overallocation can be caused at the project or portfolio level or by more systemic factors in the organization’s culture and policies.
Project Level Portfolio Level Organization Culture
Lack of personnel estimating and ongoing forecasting Lack of organizational human resource management and insight Dependence on key go-to personnel
No line of sight to project task tracking No mechanism for capturing personnel time spent across projects Business Sponsor/Owner preference

What Overallocation Really Costs

When we think of resource overallocation, one often thinks of the glaring short-term impacts like project schedule task delays and domino impacts to other dependencies. With these task delays often come additional avoidable costs. For example, some costs may involve hiring a quick turn-around vendor or consultant to offer additional support, offering additional overtime to contractors at an increased rate, or simply paying vendors or consultants waiting to do their tasks due to internal delays. Simple task delays that impact the final project destination may also lead to compliance implications; reputational impacts with partners, stakeholders, and customers; and market losses from product delays. The costs also extend much further than the project or product delivery. Over time, these impacts affect the foundation of the organization—the individual staff members. Overallocation can lead to burnout, a decrease in team morale, and an inability to drive innovation. Overallocation can also impact the organization’s future adaptability and innovation. When individuals are overallocated there is no bandwidth to flexibly meet unplanned, unforeseen organizational project needs in areas such as compliance or regulation. Lack of human resource capacity also impacts organizational cross-training to meet future needs (organizational continuity and sustainability). Lastly, overallocation can lead individuals out the door as well as drive attrition rates up. This can be counter-productive of course, especially when overallocation is caused by the desire to engage the go-to employees with all of the historical and expert knowledge. This can leave an organization lacking the organizational intellectual knowledge that it values and needs.

Overallocation Avoidance

Overallocation is an ongoing project risk that you can start to implement a countermeasure for today.

Understand project team commitments beyond your engagement

As a project manager (PM), as soon as you are assigned a project and project team, ensure you are clear on the other commitments team members have outside of your project. This can be accomplished by reaching out to them and/or their manager, consulting the demand/intake manager in the project management office (PMO), or consulting the project management information system (PMIS).

Perform accurate estimation and forecasting

Start at the beginning by performing an accurate estimation, and re-estimate as the project moves forward. It’s also important to create weekly or monthly forecasts. Weekly is ideal; however, depending on the activity of the team and the number of projects the PM is managing, this may be more work than is valuable. Therefore, engage your team and understand their unavailable time due to time off, standard operational work, and other assigned projects.

Get to know your team’s full capabilities

Understand the skills and expertise your team brings to the project. Oftentimes, we know only a subset of an individual’s expertise and capability. Just a 15-minute conversation with your team can provide insight into each member’s passions, interests, and additional experience beyond the résumé or the brief bio that has been shared with you. If necessary, you can develop a cheat sheet of this information to help with future project challenges.

Accurately match experience needs to the task

Make it a best practice to plan and schedule your most experienced staff on the tasks where the most experience is needed. Whenever someone of lesser expertise has the capability to do the work effectively, use them. Perhaps allot a few hours for the expert to review the final products.

Handling Overallocation Once It is a Reality

Overallocation is rarely a project-related and insulated issue. Oftentimes, staff members are over overallocated before they start on your project.
  • Be transparent with leadership.
  • Share the concerns, the true human resource needs, and the deficit.
  • Provide options early on—as soon as you notice it. Some teams and personnel will try to deny there is an issue, but as you see something, say something.
  • Make it clear to leadership that the issue is not due to a lack of hard work, but rather show the data that reflects how expectations have grown without appropriate expansion of capacity. The team and leadership will appreciate and trust you going forward.

Solutions Beyond Modifying Task Hours, Durations, and Sequencing in the PMIS

The solutions to these types of challenges are rarely insulated to the project manager making updates to the PMIS but require communication and strategic thinking with other members of the organization.

Establish alignment with the PMO

Work with the PMO to establish project and portfolio communication practices and alignment processes to ensure awareness of personnel needs prior to being assigned to a project. This means ensuring organizational alignment on what initiatives are a priority and then understanding what team members are available to support them.

Use the buddy system

The buddy system has proven itself to be an effective practice in training newer personnel. Try pairing junior staff with a more seasoned expert, so the expert can handle reviews and tasks requiring high expertise, while the junior staff has enough expertise to keep the tasks moving. Also always ensure a backup for each key team member to discourage becoming too dependent on one person. This takes the pressure off of one person and allows for coordination of personnel to account for vacation time and unplanned time off while still keeping the project moving forward.

Make use of time zones

If available, use personnel who are located in different time zones to extend the capacity for each day. If this is not possible, perhaps inquire if a team member is interested in working different hours to pick up the work where a coworker leaves off each day. Of course, this will only work on tasks that can be sequenced effectively (i.e. Person A develops the test plan and test cases, and Person B reviews them three to six hours later when they next work; or Person A develops the training plan and writes the content design, and Person B develops the storyboard and starts programming).

Tackling Overallocation at the Root

A strategic project and program manager must be able to think through and past their project to tackle project challenges at the root level. This not only supports today’s project success but the organization’s future success.

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Latoya Morris, PMP, CSM, ITILv3 Avatar

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