Wouldn't it be nice if all we ever had to do was manage one project at a time? Many do this – but often they are very large, long term and complex projects. Still juggling several – even smaller projects – can be a very trying undertaking. Managing one project at a time to success is challenging enough. More than 50% of all projects fail and a recent study discussed on the PMI.org forums indicated that as many as 76% of all projects fail to some degree. While that figure seemed high, it’s not all that surprising.
Now consider that many project managers are running several projects at once – not just focusing on one single project. The prospect of keeping multiple projects in focus and on track as well as successfully managing several project teams and customers simultaneously can definitely add to the potential for multiple project failures.
If we, as project managers, are going to be successful in managing projects – especially concurrent projects – several supporting features must be in place. The list is long, I’m sure, and most project managers have their own idea of what supporting structure their organization and their project management office (PMO), if one exists, should provide. Here are four things that are definitely at or near the top of my list:
Executive management support. Executive buy-in is critical to the overall success of an organization’s project management infrastructure. Any PMO without high-level leadership support is doomed to fail. If your executive leadership doesn’t support your project organization, then funding may not be there when you need it, critical project resources may not be available to you or may get pulled to other tasks, and highly visible mission critical projects may completely circumvent your PM processes as executives in the organization hand those projects to other departments or ‘favorites’ that are not part of your PM structure.
Strong leadership. PM organizations need a strong leader who is well versed in project management but is not actively managing projects. A PMO director who spends too much time with hands-on project management won’t be there to knock down barriers for the project managers, cater to their training needs, and help with onboarding critical resources to highly visible projects. A PMO director focused on the needs of the PMs and the organization as a whole will be a much greater contributor to project successes than one who is too focused on the daily project leadership grind of managing a handful of their own projects.
A sound methodology. No project management structure can succeed long-term without a sound project management methodology in place. There must be project plan shells and templates, reusable processes, practical policies, and a shared knowledge of project information available to the project managers who make up the PMO of project infrastructure in order to achieve ongoing and repeatable success. Without these things in place the PM organization will be relying far too much on luck rather than proven successful practices to deliver ongoing project excellence to the customers they are serving.
A solid resource planning tool. I can’t say enough about how important a resource planning and scheduling tool is to the success of your projects. Having a tool that enables good project schedule oversight as well as providing you with a firm grip on the resource forecast for the entire project and across all projects is essential. Many available tools can do a great job at this for you – finding the right one for your specific project needs is going to be up to you and / or your PM leadership.
Summary / call for input
Managing multiple projects calls for some careful project management dedication and organizational skills, a good methodology and the right planning and scheduling tool for your needs. These won't guarantee success, but they will certainly help attain it.
What about our readers – what are your secrets to success when managing several projects at once? Do you agree with this list – what changes would you make?