Managing one project can be problematic enough, but managing multiple projects together, or as a program of projects is even harder. There are many problems associated with managing multiple projects and unfortunately there is no silver bullet to fix them. The most common sense solution involves attacking multiple project problems in four ways:
- Using one or more methodologies that recognises that each project runs in a multi-project environment and that adding business value is most important.
- Using simple queuing theory to optimise resource usage and maximise customer satisfaction.
- Following good resource and knowledge management practices.
- Having a good project management information system.
Put these together and you get a low overhead, high added value process that minimises multi-project problems and can boost productivity by 20% or more. Read the list of problems that often occur in multi-project scenarios – the more of them you recognise, the more you need a multi-project solution.
The following problems occur in many organisations to a lesser or greater extent. Your job is to decide how expensive these problems are in customer satisfaction, employee morale and productivity and to your costs or quantity and quality of service provided. The most common multi-project problems are:
- Some resources overloaded with work and others under-utilized
- Too many projects finish late
- Projects only deliver part of what they should
- Quality suffers
- Fire fighting becomes “the way we do things around here”
- Morale drops and staff turnover is too high
- Too many customer expectations are not being met
- Management can’t find out exactly what is happening at any point in time and have little information on which to make decisions on
- Everyone seems to work hard, but there isn’t much working smart going on
- There’s plenty of time to fix things up but never enough time to do it right first time
- Innovation is occasionally mentioned but never seems to happen
- There seem to be a lot of ‘pet’ projects happening – and the top priority projects are all behind schedule
- Very few people seem to know or understand how any project fits, let alone supports the organisation’s vision and strategy
There are many opportunities for saving money and adding more value for less effort in multi-project environments. These include:
- In IT projects up to 30% of projects get cancelled before they finish. How much can you save by stopping those cancelled projects even one week earlier?
- Project managers are highly skilled and hopefully valuable employees. If you could save one or two hours per week of their time by automating the reports they need to provide on their projects, how much extra value could be added to the organization?
- If resource over-allocations could be more than halved how much smoother would all projects run?
- If strategic projects actually got visibility and could be prioritised so that they made real progress, where could your organization be in 12 months?
- If as far as managing projects were concerned you could create a learning organization, how much time and money could be saved by avoiding repeated mistakes or learning best practices from other organizations or contractors?
- What if you could reduce rework or mistakes by 50%: how much time and money would that save?
Managing a single Project in a Multi-project Environment
In a multi-project environment to achieve consistent success projects must use a project framework and it must be used for all projects. On that framework each project needs a methodology that will best supports it finishing successfully. What is lacking in many methodologies is firstly how to operate in a multi-project environment and secondly what information is needed to be captured and used to report on the project and presented to management to support them making their decisions.
Typically you may need several methodologies: one for software development, another for marketing projects, another for production shutdowns and so on. To make sense of all methods you need a framework on which to hang these methodologies and a set of best practices.
Simple Project Queuing Theory
Imagine a checkout at the supermarket where two or three customers were processed at once: chaos would rain and often the wrong products might end up on the wrong bill, to say nothing of the increased time to swap between customer totals. Whilst it is impractical to do only one project at a time, there are important lessons to be learnt by studying and applying simple queuing theories.
Resource and Knowledge Management
Your resources get all your work done. How smartly they work, their morale and the management techniques used to deliver their project work have a major influence on the success of any project. And how do you retain knowledge? Keep it in streams of emails that get deleted after three months? Who is responsible for actively seeking and then recording and sharing important knowledge? If you want innovation you have to actively recognise and reward it when it happens. Who champions this activity? What are your resource and knowledge strategies?
Project Management Information Systems
Imagine handling the accounts for any sized business without a computer system. Would you want to do it? Whilst the information for multiple projects is nowhere near as complex as financial accounts, it is complex and it does relate directly to the health and actual progress of your projects. If you don’t have an effective project management information system (PMIS) then you are probably failing to realise many of the opportunities for managing multiple projects effectively. a good PMIS will:
- Automatically generate at least 80% of all reports saving project managers much time and effort
- Automatically take time sheets data and update projects to create a real time PMIS
- Manage much of the admin work associated with managing multiple project schedules
- Provide a resource booking system to allow for effective and efficient resource management
- Share its information with other systems and import data from other systems. Project management information should not be isolated from other systems.
Microsoft Project Server makes a good PMIS for larger organisations. This course can be tailored to include information on how best to make use of its power and flexibility.
2 day workshop on Managing Multiple Projects
It’s called Multi-Project Management for Today – the Common Sense Approach and covers:
- Managing a single project in a multi-project environment
- Understanding and applying simple queuing theory to managing multiple projects
- Good resource and knowledge management best practices (including how to spot and greatly reduce fire fighting)
- What makes for a good PMIS and how to implement one
- Overview of Best Practices for using Project for Windows as part of your PMIS
- A quick discussion on how Microsoft Project 2007 or 2010 can help your organisation