Project managers are frequently handed more than one project at a time. This seems to be a more frequent occurrence lately as budgets get tighter and the needs to do more with less continue to increase.
The question that most frequently persists in situations like this is: How many projects are too many to handle?
The answer is: It Depends!
Project success formula is driven by a number of variables, such as the project manager’s skill set, project size, project complexity, project lifecycle and the number of concurrent projects.
A lot can be written about the project manager’s skill set, however this article will focus on the additional factors in the equation.
It all starts with the definition of project size. Project sizes are defined by their number of resources and the type of complexity. For example: the bigger the number of resources and the greater the type of complexity, the larger the project size. Normally, the Project Management Office (PMO) in the organization will determine a project size and assign a project manager to a project. If the PMO does a good job of assigning the right size projects to the right number of project managers, the organization will be successful at maximizing the successful delivery of projects.
However this isn’t always the case (especially in organizations where a PMO doesn’t exist).
Next, consider the project lifecycle. Depending on the point at which a project manager inherits a project (assume medium to large size), a number of activities need execution in order to increase the likelihood of project success (see attached chart for reference).
If a project manager inherits a brand new project, he/she will need to invest a lot of effort into the Initiating and Planning processes of the project. This is when project goals are defined, stakeholder expectations are set, project plan is completed, direction is set, team is acquired, costs and quality are planned, change management process is determined. Skip any of these steps and the project will most likely fail in one (or all) of its key components: schedule, cost, quality, resources, change management .
Now apply the project size to project lifecycle. If a project manager has more than one project of the same size (or larger), it will be difficult to ensure a successful delivery of both unless there is enough time and resources for each project. If each of the projects is in a different stage of the lifecycle, the project manager will have to balance his/her effort to ensure the proper steps are taken to deliver each project successfully. If, however, if any of the handed project was planned poorly, the project manager will have to double his/her effort to re-plan and then execute the right tasks. This re-planning will again have an impact on schedule, cost, quality, or resources of the project.
Advice for PMOs and Senior Management when assigning projects to project managers:
- Consider project sizes-There isn’t a magic bullet: Project Managers may be experts, but they can’t fix everything unless there is enough allocated time, cost and resources
- Consider project complexity- Not all projects are created equal. Some are a lot more difficult, especially if they involve new technology with which the project manager and project team are not familiar
Consider project lifecycle- It is more efficient to have a project manager manage many projects that are in the same point of the lifecycle than have even two projects in two different stages of the lifecycle.