MANAGING MULTIPLE PROJECTS - Strategic Planning for Project Management

As organizations begin to mature in project management, there is a tendency toward wanting to manage multiple projects. This might entail either the company’s sponsoring the various projects, or each project manager’s managing multiple projects. There are several factors supporting the managing of multiple projects.

First, the cost of maintaining a full-time project manager on all projects may be prohibitive. The magnitude and risks of the project dictate whether a full-time or part-time assignment is necessary. Assigning a project manager full-time on an activity that does not require it is an overmanagement cost. Overmanagement of projects was considered an acceptable practice in the early days of project management because we had little knowledge on how to handle risk management. Today, methods for risk management exist.

Second, line managers are now sharing accountability with project managers for the successful completion of projects. Project managers are now managing at the template levels of the work breakdown structure (WBS), with the line managers accepting accountability for the work packages at the detailed WBS levels.

Project managers now spend more of their time integrating work rather than planning and scheduling functional activities. With the line manager accepting more accountability, time may be available for the project manager to manage multiple projects.

Third, senior management has come to the realization that they must provide high quality training for their project managers if they are to reap the benefits of managing multiple projects. Senior managers must also change the way that they function as sponsors. There are six major areas where the corporation as a whole may have to change in order for the managing of multiple projects to succeed:

  • Prioritization: If a project prioritization system is in effect, it must be used correctly such that employee credibility in the system is realized. There are downside risks to a prioritization system. The project manager, having multiple projects to manage, may favor those projects having the highest priorities. It is possible that no prioritization system at all may be the best solution. Also, not every project needs to be prioritized.Prioritization can be a time-consuming effort.
  • Scope changes: Managing multiple projects is almost impossible if the sponsors/customers are allowed to make continuous scope changes.When managing multiple projects, the project manager must understand that the majority of the scope changes desired may have to be performed through enhancement projects rather than through a continuous scope change effort on the original projects. A major scope change on one project could limit the project manager’s available time to service other projects.Also, continuous scope changes will almost always be accompanied by reprioritization of projects, a further detriment to the management of multiple projects.
  • Capacity planning: Organizations that support the management of multiple projects generally have a tight control on resource scheduling. As a precondition, these organizations must have knowledge of capacity planning, theory of constraints, resource leveling, and resource limited planning.
  • Project methodology: Methodologies for project management range from rigid policies and procedures to more informal guidelines and checklists. When managing multiple projects, the project manager must be granted some degree of freedom. This necessitates guidelines, checklists, and forms. Formal project management practices create excessive paperwork requirements, thus minimizing the opportunities to manage multiple projects. The project size is also critical.
  • Project initiation: Managing multiple projects has been going on for almost 40 years. One thing that we have learned is that it can work well as long as the projects are in relatively different life cycle phases. The demands on the project manager’s time are different from each life cycle phase. Therefore, for the project manager to effectively balance his/her time among multiple projects, it would be best for the sponsor not to have the projects begin at exactly the same time.
  • Organizational structures: If the project manager is to manage multiple projects, then it is highly unlikely that the project manager will be a technical expert in all areas of all projects. Assuming that the accountability is shared with the line managers, the organization will most likely adopt a weak matrix structure.

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