Resource Leveling & Smoothing: What lies behind the terms

Timo Gerhardt, Tuesday 10 October 2023 | Reading time: 8 min.

There are two common approaches to resource management in projects. Resource leveling differs fundamentally in the limiting factor from resource smoothing.

Why we need effective resource management in projects

Resource management refers to the process of allocating resources in such a way that they provide the greatest possible benefit for the company or also for the project team. More concretely, it is concerned with which financial resources, which technologies and finally which people are assigned to a task for which period of time.

Especially in more complex projects, resource management is anything but trivial. Limited resources must be deployed by a set deadline in such a way that the project goal can be achieved. In addition, care must always be taken to ensure that certain resources are available at the right time for the right task. For example, if only one member of the project team has expertise in a particular area, it must be avoided that tasks requiring this expertise do not run in parallel.

The key to well-functioning resource management is transparency. Only by having a permanent and complete overview of all resources is it possible to avoid idle time and minimize overload. Only a fully transparent resource management enables the project manager to understand the following aspects:

  • Resource planning and scheduling: For this it is essential to know which resources are available in which time period.
  • Resource requirements and availability: In this process, it should be analyzed which resources are needed for current and future projects and which of them are already available.
  • Resource use: It should be made clear where resources are currently being used and whether this makes sense in this context.
  • Resource capacity: In a realistic scenario, the resource cannot be used completely for the planned time. It must be highlighted what capacity is actually available.
  • Resource allocation and prioritization: There are often tasks that require the same resources. Here, it is necessary to prioritize tasks and allocate resources accordingly.

What is Resource Leveling?

Resource leveling is a common technique used in resource management. It is used to successfully execute the project with the available resources by changing the project data. The resource availability is the limiting factor. Thus, it does not play a decisive role whether the original deadline is exceeded and the temporal extension of the project changes. Instead, the focus is on execution with the originally intended resources. The goal of resource leveling is thus to bring the resource load in line with the available resource capacities in order to enable an even workload.

This method is particularly important for large projects. If tasks run in parallel and certain resources are needed for several tasks, conflicts and ultimately bottlenecks can occur. Resource leveling is used to avoid this and to identify possible irregularities in the workload. In short, this means that resources are used more efficiently by the project team. In addition, this avoids excessive strain on employees, which can lead not least to greater satisfaction and increased productivity.

Strategies for Resource Leveling

There are several ways to implement successful resource leveling in your project. In the following, we briefly present the four most common ones.

  • Critical Path Method: The so-called critical path in a project describes the sequence of tasks with the longest duration required for successful project completion. Tasks on the critical path have a total margin of zero. This means that a delay on the critical path will result in a delay of the entire project. If critical paths are identified, they can be prioritized in the course of resource allocation. In this way, the critical tasks that are adequately supplied with resources can be completed according to plan, and the existing scope can be utilized for non-critical tasks in terms of efficient resource utilization.
  • Critical Chain Method: This technique is based on the Critical Path method, but takes into account limited resource availability. After all, irregularities can occur within the Critical Path that lead to a resource shortage. The Critical Chain method takes the opposite approach and implements resource buffers in the project schedule. Scheduled surplus resources serve as collateral here.
  • Fast Tracking: This refers to a measure to compress deadlines. The simultaneous execution of several tasks leads to a significant acceleration of the project. However, it is a prerequisite that the measures overlap to a certain extent. However, it is more likely that adjustments will be necessary afterwards to make the completed modules compatible.
  • Crashing: The crashing method uses additional resources to shorten the time frame of the project. A needs analysis is essential in this process. This allows resource options to be identified that achieve the highest benefit at the lowest cost.

What is Resource Smoothing?

The resource management technique Resource Smoothing differs clearly from Resource Leveling in one aspect. The limiting factor is not resource availability, but time. This means that the deadline for the project is fixed and unchangeable. Accordingly, tasks can only be moved within the specified time period. Basically, Resource Smoothing remedies an uneven distribution of resources, while Resource Leveling addresses an overload of resources. In case of doubt, Resource Smoothing allows additional resources to be used in order to reliably meet deadlines.


Both techniques are often used in a project. Normally, resource leveling first ensures that overload conflicts are excluded. This is followed by resource smoothing, which finally balances the project schedule. As a result, the overall resource load remains the same during smoothing, while load peaks are flattened.


Resource management is a major challenge in many projects. Regardless of whether you are dealing with resource leveling or resource smoothing in this context: It is anything but easy to keep an overview of all processes, tasks and resources in the project. However, the use of appropriate project management software can provide a remedy for this problem. By concretely mapping all processes and tasks, with clear allocation of resources, you can identify possible conflicts or bottlenecks in the project in such software. Certain tools are also capable of displaying the utilization of resources. If there is an overload, the system will indicate this.

Especially if you work with the critical path method, the use of a Gantt chart can be useful. By clearly displaying the project schedule, you can quickly identify important deadlines and the total duration of the project.

It is also often useful to refer back to data from past projects. If you have already worked on projects that are similar to the current project, this can provide you with valuable information. You will see what resources are actually needed for a particular task. Consequently, you can make the project schedule much more accurate.

By using a comprehensive project management software with helpful tools such as Gantt planning, you'll drastically facilitate the management of resources. As a result, you keep track of everything and can always identify irregularities. This way, your next project will also be a success!

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