It’s becoming more common the situation where a project manager needs to manage more than one project simultaneously. Although not based on scientific data, this assumption is based on my own experiences and from my networking. This perception was also confirmed by our blog readers in a survey we conducted a couple day ago, where over 60% of PM readers are in charge of more than two simultaneous projects …

This situation, that only brings difficulties and points of attention when analyzed superficially, may also have some benefits for the project manager. The advantages and disadvantages of the simultaneous management of multiple projects can be summarized below:

Advantages:

+        Possibility of optimizing resource usage (resource sharing between projects) – the manager can, for example, mitigate a risk or answer to an urgent demand of one of its projects by promoting a supervised migration of resources within the projects.

+        Constant exercise of project management disciplines – it is possible that each project is in a different phase, which allows the project manager to exercise the activities from all phases of the projects life cycle and enjoy the gains from synergy.

+        Lessons Learned – a lesson learned in one of the projects might be applied immediately on the other (s), which increases the chances of success.

+        Professional recognition – skills to work under pressure and with attention to detail is appreciated and desired.

Disadvantages:

−        Increased need of attention by the manager – the project manager cannot neglect any aspect of his various projects, which demand a high capacity for selective focus and control.

−        Increased competition for resources – inevitably every other time priorities of the various projects will crash, which will require greater control of risks.

−        More stakeholders to manage – each project has its set of stakeholders, which pursue the interests of their own projects. Besides having to look after the interests of each stakeholder, the project manager may still have to deal with the situation where the same stakeholder has an interest in more than one project (a high probability of conflict.)

−        Pressure, lots of pressure – rather than being accountable for the results of only one project, pressure grows proportionally with the increase of your responsibility.

One of the biggest challenges in a situation where there are many issues vying for your attention is to keep all projects under control and not let any detail without the needed attention. Even small or less complex projects require the project manager´s attention for aspects such as communication with the team and other stakeholders, costs control, schedule and risks monitoring.

There is no right or wrong way to control what happens in your projects, but there are some techniques to facilitate your work. The most common technique is to use a spreadsheet where you list every aspect that may be of your interest. I recently attended a webinar where the speaker suggested the use of a table listing the characteristics of each project, such as key stakeholders, risks, high level scope,  etc… Basically, this is a compilation of Project Charters  of all projects, as can be seen in the table below:

Project A Project B Project C Project x
Stakeholders          
Business Analysis          
Requirements          
Scope          
Delivey dates          
Risks          
Team

Although used to provide visibility of the reason for each project, this model is not useful for monitoring the daily project activities. To control all the points of attention in my projects I prefer to use a specific spreadsheet, as the model available for download here.

The use of any control mechanism is essential to help the project manager to keep abreast of the demands and needs of each project, thus avoiding the micromanagement and lack of objectivity of analysis and action. The method to be adopted depends on personal preferences but the ultimate goal should be a greater level of control over ongoing activities, always with the aim to facilitate the management and deliver the results expected by the end of the project.

Eamon L. Sousa

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