Project Planning, Scheduling & Control–Chapter 17: Managing Multiple Projects

In this chapter, Dr. James Lewis talks about how to deal with the increased level of complexity that is involved in trying to manage multiple projects at once.

His informal surveys of project managers reveal that the typical project manager is trying to deal with four to six projects simultaneously.

1.  Problems in Managing Multiple Projects

First of all, what are some of the typical problems project managers face when trying to manage multiple projects?

a.  Meetings

A typical project will require at least two hours of meeting time every week.   If you tried to manage 20 projects, therefore, your entire 40-hour work week would be taken up with meetings!     Cutting out meetings, however, is counterproductive, because it will cause you to spend more time dealing with the problems that occur because of the lack of coordination caused by the skipped meetings.

b.  Being a Working Project Manager

Many corporations have the project manager doing some of the project work, as well as managing the project.   This is, according to Dr. Lewis, a big mistake.   Why?   Because if there is a conflict between managing and doing the work, the work always takes priority, which means that managing will suffer.

c.  Multitasking

The prevalent myth in the work world today is that multitasking is the best way to get productive work out of people.  In reality, multitasking reduces productivity because it causes a high level of “setup time”, that is, the amount of time it takes to get up to speed after switching tasks.

d.  Priority

If a project manager’s supervisor doesn’t assign priorities between the multiple projects that project manager is assigned to manage, then they will be worked on haphazardly.   The projects need to be assigned priority, and the tasks within each project need to be assigned priority.   If a project manager’s supervisor hasn’t done his or her homework by assigning priorities, the project manager should be proactive and come up with his or her own list of priorities.   These should be then send it the supervisor for approval.   Even if the supervisor disapproves of the ranking given by the project manager, at least the issue will be addressed and the project manager will finally know what the priority is as conceived by the supervisor.  

Remember, a person can be an efficient time manager and yet not be effective.   Efficient means doing things right (preferably the first time), but it is even more important to be effective, which means doing the right thing.

e.  Planning

If you are managing multiple projects, each projects must have its own plan.    That will allow you, once you decide which priorities your projects have, which projects will get the resources first, and which projects may have to have certain tasks delayed because they are not as high in priority.

2.  Factors Effecting The Maximum Number of Effective Projects

a.   Complexity

The more complex the project, the fewer that can be done by a single project manager.

b.  Number of project team members

The more team members on a project, the fewer such projects can be done by a single project manager.

c.  Working project management vs. dedicated project management

The more projects a project manager is doing project work for in addition to his or her project management duties, the fewer such projects that can be done by a single project manager.    Of course, Dr. Lewis recommends against a project manager doing project work in addition to managing that same project.  

d.  PMO

When there are shared resources, there needs to be an agreement about priorities between projects, otherwise there will be conflicts between project managers, or in a matrix environment, between functional managers and project managers. The existence of a PMO may help coordinate these resource issues for projects.

e.   Geographical scope of project

A global project will require a lot more communicating with team members than local projects.

f.  Authority level of project manager

A project manager that is given little authority and who has a weak role will have to spend a lot of time getting the decisions backed up by management.    If management takes the time to set up the project manager with sufficient authority to handle most decisions on his or her own (up to a pre-determined authority level), then the project manager will be able to handle more projects without having to get “second opinions” on decisions effecting the project.

g.  Mental flexibility

What is your personal level of flexibility?   Those with higher flexibility will be able to cope more easily with switching from task to task.

NOTE:  On a personal level, I have noticed that the online app called Lumosity does help increase your brain performance index in several areas, including flexibility.    If you are a project manager, I recommend getting this app and using it on a daily basis to increase your flexibility, as well as problem-solving ability, etc.

h.  Administrative assistance

Does the project manager have a project coordinator, project expediter, or dedicated scheduler to handle the administrative aspects of project management?   Dr. James Lewis recommends this, because the project manager should place greater emphasis on the people skills needed to manage the project rather than trying to micromanage the details.   Having these two roles of leadership vs. administration separated into different people will make it possible for the project manager to handle more projects effectively.

i.  Organizational structure

In a matrix environment, where that person has authority over a project but not only individual project members, is going to take longer to deal with issues that a person who DOES have that authority, such as a functional manager.    The reason is because the project manager will have to use influence rather than direct authority to get many things done, and will have to negotiate for resources with the functional managers.    Those in a matrix organization will not be able to handle as many projects as those in a projectized organization.

One last piece of advice from Dr. Lewis is that, if you are managing multiple projects, you need to capture how much time you are spending on each project.   This will allow you see how much of your “time budget” is being spent by each project.



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