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November 27, 2023

#BigTip: Become a fine artist in workload contouring

Project Management
Resource Management

In art, a contour line is an outline that defines and emphasizes the edges outside and within an object. So you could say that a contour line visualizes the distribution of the edges across the entire object. 

In BigPicture, you can also “contour the edges” of your resources’ effort. This practice is called workload contouring, and it’s an essential part of resource management. But before we go through different workload contouring modes, let’s explain the fundamentals: effort and workload distribution.

Effort modes and workload distribution in BigPicture

In project management, “effort” is the general term for the amount of work required. The work is represented as a task, user story, bug, or other Jira issue type. Effort, however, must be measured and quantified. 

In BigPicture, you can express your resource effort using hours, man-days, story points, and percentages. When you choose the unit of effort expression, e.g., hours, you need to think about the quantifier. Estimate how many hours, story points, or any other “units” a given amount of work will take.

So that’s effort. Now, let’s say you have estimated a task to take 13 hours. Can you ask your team member to complete it in one day? Maybe. Maybe not. That depends on their daily workload. If it’s less than 13 hours a day, then you’ll need to extend the task duration from one day to two or three. This begs the question: how do you distribute those 13 hours over two to three days? Is it going to be five on day one, six on day two, and two on day three?

That’s workload distribution. In BigPicture, you can approach this in three different ways. Whichever approach to workload distribution (effort mode) you choose, it will impact workload contouring because the two concepts are strongly correlated. So let’s focus on effort modes first and see how they distribute the workload for your individual resources and teams.

Original Estimate effort mode

The Original Estimate is a default mode. This mode spreads out the task estimate over the task period but takes into account only working days. So let’s say there’s Amiah in your team whose workload is 40 hours per week (eight hours a day). You assign her a task estimated to take 45 hours and set its duration to 1 week.

A quick arithmetic operation tells us that: 45hrs / 5 days = 9hrs/day.

It means that Amiah would need to work 9 hours each day to deliver the task. That’s 5 hours more than her weekly capacity allows. As a result, the remaining capacity bar in that week of work will turn red and display -5.

(Original Estimate mode.) A 45-hour task exceeded Amiah’s capacity.


The Original Estimate mode nicely juxtaposes resource capacity against estimated workload.

Remaining Estimate effort mode

The Remaining Estimate mode distributes “Time spent” and “Remaining estimate” over the task duration. This mode also takes into consideration only working days when distributing those two values.

Here, the “Remaining Estimate” Jira field is the time remaining to complete a task. The “Time Spent” is the total sum of time-log entries, which you or your team members log while working on a task. For example, say a task is estimated to take 35 hours (four days and three hours). A task assignee logging their work (increasing “Time Spent” on a task) will decrease the “Remaining Estimate.” 

Consequently, the effort mode in the Remaining Estimate will show the total of the remaining hours and spread them over the remaining task period. The total updates every time the assignee logs their time.

(Remaining Estimate mode.) Amiah has logged 35 hours on her task. So now she has five hours to go.


The Remaining Estimate mode is helpful if you want to see workload history (“Time Spent”) and the remaining workload against resource capacity.

Story Points effort mode

The Story Point mode involves story points. (Who saw that coming?) The logic of this mode is similar to the Original Estimate mode. Story Point mode also spreads the total estimated workload over the task duration. But there’s one key difference — capacity and task estimations are all converted to story points.

When you enable this mode, the app converts time units to story points. You can customize the conversion rate in the app settings.

For example, the conversion rate for the hour-story point ratio is 4:1 (four hours will be converted to one story point). The capacity of a resource was initially 40 hours and the task you have assigned them is 12 hours. After conversion, their capacity will become 10 story points, and the task estimate to three story points. Therefore, you can still allocate them tasks worth seven story points.

(Story Points mode.) Amiah’s task OA-2 was estimated for eight story points. Her weekly capacity is five points. So the task spanning eight working days took up all her capacity for week 42.


The Story Points mode visualizes resource capacity (five story points) against the estimated workload (eight story points).

Finding more “edges” in workload distribution with workload contouring

The effort modes determine how the total or remaining workload is spread over a specific period. As such, they outline the outer edges of the effort. With workload contouring, you can go one step further and contour the edges of any of the workload distribution modes

What does it mean? That you can also decide how the effort will be distributed over specific days. In other words, you can consider the workload duration in terms of individual days, not just as total workload.

Earlier, we talked about how you can distribute 13 hours over three days. With workload contouring, you can do this four different ways. In the end, the total workload will be the same. But the effort distribution on individual days will not be necessarily equal.

Flat contouring mode

A flat contouring mode “flattens” the effort evenly over the task duration (Original Estimate) or the remaining task duration (Remaining Estimate). So if there’s a 25-hour task taking five days to complete, the auto-flat mode will divide the effort evenly over those five working days.

25 hours / 5 days = 5 hours/day.

If the capacity of your resource is eight hours/day, then they still have three hours you can allocate on the consecutive five days. (If you’ve enabled Remaining Estimate mode, that effort will be evenly spread over the remaining task duration, based on the time logged by the assignee.)

(Original Estimate effort mode with a flat contouring mode.) Amiah’s 40-hour workload was evenly distributed (8 hours each day) over the task duration (5 working days).

Back-loaded contouring mode

In the back-loaded mode, the app gradually distributes the effort from the “back — starting with the task end date. It means that the capacity of the resource is filled to the max on the last day of the task. Then it fills the previous day to the max again, and it continues doing so until the entire task estimate is distributed.

Let’s consider Amiah’s case again (screenshot below) whom you have assigned a 37-hour task set to take 6 working days:

  • Day 6 = 8 hours.
  • Day 5 = 8 hours.
  • Day 4 = 8 hours.
  • Day 3 = 8 hours.
  • Day 2 = 5 hours.
  • Day 1 = 0 hours.
(Original Estimate effort mode with a back-loaded contouring mode.) Amiah has her capacity filled to the max on the last 4 days of the task duration and partially on the second day. Her capacity on day 1 is completely unallocated.

Front-loaded contouring mode

The front-loaded mode is the exact opposite of the back-loaded mode.

Here, the app fills the capacity starting with the first day of the task duration and continues to do so until the task’s end date. So if we take the previous example and change Amiah’s workload contouring to the front-loaded, her workload distribution looks as follows.

(Original Estimate effort mode with a front-loaded contouring mode.) Amiah has her capacity filled to the max on the first 4 days of the task duration and partially on the second to last day. Her capacity on day 6 is completely unallocated.

Manual contouring mode (Enterprise)

Let’s go back to the initial question we raised when talking about workload distribution: Can we distribute 13 hours over three days by allocating five hours on day 1, six on day 2, and then two on day 3?

The answer is Yes.

The Enterprise users can manually inline edit the number of hours on each individual day of the task duration. While you’re in the manual contouring mode, please pay attention to the sum of the individual quantifiers you put on each day, so that they equal the task original or remaining estimate.

So coming back to our resource Amiah, the distribution of her 37-hour task could look like this:

(Original Estimate effort mode with a manual contouring mode.) We manually distributed the 37-hr workload for Amiah on individual days but made a mistake along the way. The warning sign tells us we’re missing 1 hour.

Sign up to try BigPicture for free

BigPicture helps you plan, build, and manage complex projects and portfolios. But also manage your resources more efficiently. With its smart effort distribution and workload contouring, you have even more flexibility when allocating tasks and planning resource capacity.

Sign up for a 30-day free trial and discover how BigPicture can help you build and execute projects more easily — no matter how big, complex, or unique they are. We also encourage you to join our live demo webinar. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see for yourself why more than 20,000 PPMs and their teams trust our software to build their amazing products.