One unfortunate reality in the world of project managers is that many of us are responsible for managing multiple projects simultaneously. There are likely a number of reasons why this situation is so common. As is true with many things, there are benefits and costs associated with taking this approach. Today we’ll examine costs and benefits of managing multiple projects, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I’ve worked in organizations where I’ve been responsible for a single project. I’ve also worked in organizations where I was responsible for multiple projects. As you might guess, I can definitely say that being responsible for a single project is preferable.
Project management by definition implies that we create a plan describing how we want our project to progress. We then make decisions that guide the progress of our project according to our plan.
When we manage multiple projects we often fall into a reactive mode. In this mode there often isn’t time to plan the project adequately. We also tend to not be in a position to make decisions that guide our project along a predetermined path but rather we make decisions in reaction to problems. This, in turn, tends to create more problems, which perpetuates the reactive cycle.
In terms of managing multiple projects, we might consider the following:
- The Good – Management gets to experience the feeling of being “lean and mean” because the PM’s are all managing multiple projects simultaneously. We must be very efficient and performing as a world-class organization (*sarcasm alert*).
- The Bad – PM’s managing multiple projects out of necessity tend to shift into a reactive mode. In this mode we are responding to the crisis of the day. When we work this way our thinking tends to be more short term and our actions are more likely to produce unintended consequences. This results in “planting the seeds” for future crises. This over time creates an environment where we have a daily crisis, which further locks us into the reactive mode.
- The Ugly – The ugly part of managing multiple projects concerns morale of the project manager and the team. Stress tends to be unnecessarily high and persistent in this environment. Persistent high stress will lead to reduced performance and increased turnover. The best people tend to leave first when stress is high and chronic and morale is low.
Individual PM’s might not always be able to influence the number of projects for which they are responsible. However, those who manage PM’s might try the following to mitigate the challenges in managing multiple projects:
- Assign a Deputy PM to each project manager. This will lighten the management load on the PM and will create a “farm team” from which to grow future PM’s.
- Provide an administrative person that can support multiple PM’s. Much of the management work we should be doing doesn’t necessarily require a project manager. The PM can set things up and an admin can do the work with minimal PM supervision.
- Take a serious look at how meetings are being used. Many of us spend a significant amount of time in meetings both related to and unrelated to the projects we are managing. Often what is being accomplished in meetings can be accomplished in other less time intensive ways.
Please consider and share your thoughts on the following:
- How many projects can a PM reasonably manage simultaneously?
- How is that number determined?
- How many projects are you managing right now?
©2016 Joseph T Drammissi