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Managing Multiple Projects
By Michael S. Dobson Deborah S. Dobson
AMACOMCopyright © 2011 American Management Association
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Challenges of Multiple Project Management
By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:
Explain why individual multiple project management situations differ so greatly.
Define key terms of multiple project management, including project, operations, work, program, and portfolio, and use each in appropriate business settings.
Perform a self-assessment of your multiple project management environment.
Describe your organizational environment from both a portfolio and a program management perspective and explain the differences.
Identify key risks and issues that provide challenges to managers of multiple projects.
Assess whether your issues are primarily in the field of project management or time management.
Estimated timing for this chapter:
Reading 40 minutes Exercises 60 minutes Review Questions 10 minutes Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Introduction to Managing Multiple Projects
Project managers manage projects—temporary work to achieve specific ends. A project can be anything, from remodeling your kitchen to building the International space station. Everybody manages projects, not merely at work but also in coping with everyday life.
If you manage more than one project at a time, you're managing multiple projects. Some multiple project managers are called program managers, because a program is the name for a group of projects being managed together.
Professional project managers manage projects for a living, often have the title "Project Manager," and may have professional certifications, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation. Professional program managers manage formal collections of projects, and may also have the title and appropriate credentials. This self-study course is not limited to certified project or program managers, but is designed to support any manager with multiple project responsibilities, regardless of level.
"Managing multiple projects" means different things to different people. consider which situation best describes you:
I am the manager of a project so large that its major subcomponents are also considered projects. I have subordinate project managers who are primarily responsible for accomplishing the individual work packages. (Large-scale project management)
I am the manager of an ongoing program to accomplish a series of projects; new projects come in as old ones finish. I have subordinate project managers who accomplish individual projects while I manage the overall program. (Program management)
I am the project manager of multiple simultaneous projects, reporting to a manager who oversees the program level. (Multiple project manager)
I am both the project manager and the sole or primary worker on a number of small, simultaneous projects. (Multitasker)
A large-scale project manager manages multiple projects within the envelope of an overall project. Sometimes the large project is called a project; sometimes it's called a program, to distinguish it from its components.
If you are a corporate executive responsible for moving the company's headquarters, you are a project manager.
If you are the general contractor building the new campus, you are a project manager, subordinate to the executive in charge.
If you are responsible for moving and relocation for the new campus, you are a project manager reporting to the executive in charge.
If you are in charge of industrial security, you are a project manager who reports both to the construction project manager and to the executive in charge of the project.
And so on. In this sense, managing multiple projects and managing very large projects are the same thing.
Some program managers manage an ongoing operation — not a project. If you run new product development for a soup company, you have individual project teams developing and test-marketing new soups. Individual projects succeed ("It's raining soup!") or fail ("no soup for you!") — but either way, they end. On the other hand, your program — developing new soups — does not have a planned end point. In this sense, managing multiple projects isn't the same thing as project management at all, though you do need to know how to supervise those pesky project managers.
Another type of multiple project manager is the project manager with more than one job assignment at a given time. You don't have subordinate project managers for those projects: you're a juggler. You've got to keep all the balls in the air until the act is done.
Finally, you can be both chief cook and bottle-washer. "one-man band" project managers have a difficult challenge, especially when you have multiple projects. In this sense, multiple project management is essentially the same thing as high-end time management.
Almost everyone manages multiple projects at some level, whether the projects are small or large, simple or complex, few or many. In some cases, multiple project management will be a specific job responsibility; in others, multiple project management is simply the everyday reality of the workplace.
Because of the huge range of situations and circumstances that go by the name "multiple project management," it's essential that you apply the lessons in this self-study course to your own situation, not to some hypothetical ideal of multiple project management. You may find that formal project management tools are of substantial benefit, or you may find that the skills of time management and goal setting take you farther along the road to success.
In this course you'll discover a wide range of techniques, skills, and insights to apply to your situation. Remember, however, that one size does not fit all. In this chapter, you'll be able to explore your specific issues so that you can select effectively among the strategies provided and achieve the results you seek.
Projects + operations = Work
A project, says the Project Management Institute (PMI), is a "temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result." (Project Management Institute, 2008, PMBOK® Guide, 1.2) That's how we distinguish projects from ongoing work efforts (operations): projects are temporary, with a definite beginning or end; operations are ongoing, without a planned end.
Your work consists of both projects and operations, in varying degrees. Your projects may be small or large; you may do all the work yourself or direct a staff of thousands; you may be judged primarily on the success of your projects or primarily on the effectiveness of your operations.
Project management, PMI goes on to say, is the "application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements." (PMBOK® Guide, 1.3) There is a discipline of project management that is designed to help you organize, plan, execute, monitor, control, and finish the projects for which you are responsible.
Because the range of project size and complexity varies from something as simple as planning a dinner for ten to something as complicated as the building of a cutting-edge Las Vegas resort, one size definitely does not fit all where project management is concerned. Especially when you are managing not merely one project, but multiples, you need to choose carefully so that you have the right tools — neither too many nor too few — to get the job done.
Characteristics of Your Multiple Project Environment
A formal project management process assumes that you are responsible only for a single project, and that you have organizational control over the resources necessary to accomplish the work. In contrast, multiple project managers have to split time, resources, and energy across a range of projects, and often a range of operational responsibilities at the same time. Exactly how you do that and what strategy is most appropriate for you varies.
Exercise 1-1 helps you identify the nature of your multiple project environment, so that you can make informed choices about tools and techniques. You will also use the information from Exercise 1-1 in later exercises as you develop a multiple project management strategy that's best for you.
The first two questions in Exercise 1-1 are important for anyone managing multiple projects: what do you have to do, and how much time and effort will it take you to do it? As a professional, you should perform this step on a regular basis in order to stay on top of a dynamic and fast-changing work environment.
The third question compares what you have to accomplish with the time available for its accomplishment. Clearly, the toughest situation (though surprisingly common) is the first: you have a full-time operational job and yet long-term projects must be accomplished somehow. However, even if operational work makes minor demands on your time, the number of projects for which you are responsible can still create a mismatch between available resources and work to be accomplished.
Finally, while it would appear obvious that small projects are necessarily easier than large projects, it sometimes depends on the volume. A large number of small projects can be tougher to accomplish than a single big one, even if the total amount of work to be performed is roughly identical. Multiple small projects require scheduling and control just as much as bigger ones, and the myriad details can become overwhelming.
In addition to these questions, consider one additional factor: are you the manager, or are you part of the team? You may be studying this course because of your own multiple project issues, or because you are operating in a multiple project environment that you do not directly manage. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive. You can have multiple projects of your own and also be part of someone else's multiple project portfolio.
Challenges in Your Multiple Project Environment
Obviously, the greater your operational responsibility and the greater the number of your projects, the more difficult your challenges are likely to be. But not all challenges are created equal, and having a good grasp of your own issues is also essential in figuring out how best to manage them.
Exercise 1-2 is an assessment to determine the degree to which you experience common challenges in managing multiple projects, along with commentary about the nature of these challenges. You will use this information throughout the course.
As you move forward through this self-study course, keep your answers to these questions in mind. You'll use the answers to make informed decisions among the range of tools, techniques, and strategies provided throughout.
Managing Programs and Portfolios
Two important types of multiple project collections are known as portfolios and programs. These are normally managed by more senior professionals or by executives, depending on their size and relative importance to the organization.
Portfolios are ways to group projects and operations around strategic business objectives. (PMBOK® Guide, 1.4.1) The projects in a portfolio are not necessarily interdependent or even directly related to one another. For example, the 44,000-person company SAIC provides technical services and solutions in a variety of areas: national security, energy, environment, infrastructures, and health (SAIC company website, 2010). An IT project in health has many characteristics in common with an IT project in national security or energy, but they are grouped in different portfolios because it's more important in this case to align resources with strategic objectives rather than to group projects by technical similarity.
Programs are groups of related projects that are managed in a coordinated way to provide benefits and control not available from managing them individually. (PMBOK® Guide, 1.4.2) Dungeons & Dragons® game manufacturer TSR, Inc. (now part of Wizards of the Coast, a Hasbro subsidiary) organized its new product development operation into games, books, magazines, miniature figures, and licensing. Each area was a program: the projects were related both in subject matter and resources.
Difference Between Programs and Portfolios
Programs and portfolios often coexist in the same organization. TSR had a program management orientation. The departments were aligned with the programs: a game development group produced games, the book department published books, and the magazine department put out magazines.
Brands at TSR, however, often cut across department lines. One of the company's most successful offerings, Dragonlance®, had games, books, miniature figures, and more in its range of products. While individual products were produced and overseen by the appropriate departments (programs), there needed to be a portfolio management function as well: something to bring together the range, to ensure consistency, and to plan for wider market reach.
Portfolio managers are responsible for steering significant strategic business objectives to success, and as a result tend to operate at senior levels of the organization.
The measure of project success is often described in terms of the four objectives: on time, within budget, to scope, and with quality. But business goals and project goals are not necessarily the same. Executives aren't necessarily interested in these internal project management metrics; they prefer to measure concepts like profitability, return on investment, customer satisfaction and retention, and competitive benchmarking.
It may be far less significant in the long run whether you met the stated objectives than whether the result of your project has value. The leaning Tower of Pisa failed to meet its schedule, dramatically overshot its budget, and botched its performance requirements — but who would know the town of Pisa otherwise? (Dobson and Feickert, 2007)
Harvey Levine, author of Project Portfolio Management, observes that the kinds of questions executives (especially those in the for-profit sector) care about:
What mix of potential projects will provide the best utilization of human and cash resources to maximize long-range growth and return on investment for the firm?
How do the projects support strategic initiatives?
How will the projects affect the stock price? (Levine, 2005)
Nonprofits and governments ask about similar things: what mix of projects achieve the greatest good? how do the projects support strategic initiatives? And, of course, how will the projects affect the polls?
While this self-study course is not focused on portfolio management as a discipline, portfolio managers are responsible for the management of multiple projects in the course of their work. There is a substantial overlap in the tools and skills necessary for success. Adopting a portfolio perspective helps you prioritize your efforts with regard to any collection of projects you happen to manage.
The word program means different things to different people. PMI, as noted, uses the word to describe any set of projects that are being managed together because someone sees an advantage or benefit to doing so.
There are many reasons to group projects into programs. In fact, there may be more than one way to group the same set of projects. As noted, TSR grouped its projects into programs based on product category: games, books, and magazines. It could also have grouped them by product line. Each approach has advantages and limitations. Organizing by category improves efficiency of resource utilization; organizing by line improves consolidated strategic direction. Organizations necessarily make operational choices.
The government sector often uses program where private industry would use project. Project management authority Harold Kerzner, Ph.D., uses the words interchangeably. (Kerzner, 53) A more useful distinction is to suggest there are two distinctly different types of programs, independent and interdependent.
An interdependent program is a project so large that its major components are projects in their own right. The U.S. moon shot was a program; so was Apollo, one of its major components. The Saturn V rocket launches constituted a program. Within the program, a given Apollo mission (a huge undertaking in itself) would be a project.
The alternative, a program of independent projects, is different: the program is not itself a project. New projects are added as old projects are completed. The consolidated program management is there to provide operational support for project activities. (Dobson, Juggler's Guide, 5) Both kinds of programs can be aligned with portfolios or not, depending on how the organization wishes to proceed.
This course will refer to both kinds of programs throughout, and show you how the nature of your program environment affects the strategies you can follow to manage your projects.
Operational Work and Time Management
Because this self-study course concerns managing multiple projects, operational work takes second place in our discussions. That may not describe your situation in real life. If your issue is how to manage your projects when your main work takes precedence, you need to look for different lessons than if your issue is how to improve focus and delivery on the projects that are your main reason for being.
There are quite a few similarities between project management and time management, but also one key difference: time management focuses on operational work. That's not to say, of course, that managers of multiple projects can't find great value from better time management. In fact, skillful time management is one of the linchpins of your ability to manage.
Exercise 1-3 is a self-assessment of your time management skills. If you aren't satisfied with your score, there are numerous resources and tools to help build your competency in this vital area. (Alexander/Dobson, 1)
Almost every professional manages multiple projects, but each collection of projects is unique. In approaching this self-study course, it's vital that you apply each lesson to your specific environment. Projects, which are "temporary and unique," can be distinguished from ongoing work efforts, known as operations. Your total work consists of the projects and operations for which you are responsible. Project management is "the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements." It is a sophisticated discipline that contains tools appropriate to very large and very small projects. Select and apply only those elements of project management that will help you.
Excerpted from Managing Multiple Projects by Michael S. Dobson Deborah S. Dobson Copyright © 2011 by American Management Association. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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