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How Many Projects Are Too Many Projects

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.



  • Bruce de la Vega 3 years ago

    Consider the need for research, training and unknown numbers of cycles of experimentation.

  • ALZAIBAR 3 years ago

    Stating the obvious: Consider also the Projects Locations and "Customer" diversity and Project follow-up requirements.

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    Good representations
    is any rules govern limits of projects with project managers!

  • Hepzi Leon Soon 3 years ago

    Good analysis.

    The following list (must) always saves me:
    Documentation (document, document, document....)
    Meticulous Budgeting & Costing (tracking) for WBS
    stick to scope
    good team to back you up

  • Stephan Agnitsch PMPr 3 years ago

    This article, as many do, hits on many of the points that can lead to project failure, or on a positive note, project success. Quite frankly, after commenting on so many articles like this, and dont get me worng, they do need discussion and action, I feel as though my comments are very repetitive on most all subjects regarding PM.

    having specialized in "troubled projects" for more than 22 years out of my 37 year PM career i tend to provide a simple answer, the same i use with students in my classes. Here it is: PROJECTS SUCCEED OR FAIL, IN MOST ALL CASES, IN THE FIRST 10% OF THE PROJECT CYCLE. in other words, if you are embarking on say, a 48 month project, the work that is done by the conceptual and feasibility team, and very importantly, the OBJECTIVES that are set for time, cost and quality are either right or wrong, and this is what the project is judged, rated, or assessed against when all is said and done.

    20 more pages of discussion would just be filling in the details of all the other things that can go wrong.