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In a previous article, I discussed how, when it comes to project management—especially the management of multiple projects (i.e., PPM or Project Portfolio Management)—what we don’t know can really hurt us. In this article, I am going to take a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at some of the answers managers and executives may actually have at the ready when tough questions arise regarding multi-project management.
Question: How often are our resources not available when needed for a new assignment?
The answer to this one varies. In many organizations, the answer would sound something like this: “When we’re busy, I never have enough resources and the resources I really need for a new assignment won’t be available for days—or even weeks. On the other hand, when things are slow, all my resources are available, but I’m not managing any projects then either.”
Question: How often does it happen that a resource is unavailable for a new assignment at a time when an ongoing project is already behind schedule and in trouble?
Unfortunately, in far too many project-driven organizations the answer to this one is the same as the one above: “When we’re busy, there’s always a shortage of resources and we find ourselves scrambling to try to make the best of a bad situation—usually on several projects running late to some extent or another. And, when we’re not busy, it doesn’t really make any difference.”
The sad situation is, however, these same managers or executives would add: “We don’t have any statistics or data on how frequently we are seeking a resource assignments on projects running into trouble and no resource is currently available. Of course, one of the reasons we don’t keep those statistics is because it’s hard to keep statistics in the midst of a chaotic situation.”
Question: Today, what percent of our resources are allocated to projects?
Well, most of the time, in many project-based enterprises, the answer is “All of them.”
However, the truth goes well beyond that. The truth is: “When we’re busy, all of my resources are allocated to several projects at once.”
This common practice leads to time-loss due to task-switching, increased errors in execution, and—on top of that—makes it nearly impossible to know the actual status of any single task on any given project.
Furthermore, since priorities on tasks assigned to resources might change several times during a week, or even an entirely new task might be assigned to this resource at any time, it becomes impossible for anyone to predict when any given task might actually be completed.
Question: Looking forward four to six weeks in the future, will project requirements cause overloading of any of our resources?
Once again, if we are talking about the “busy times” in a project-driven organization, the honest answer to this question would generally be, “Of course! When it’s busy, we expect our resources to be overloaded. We just keep piling on the work and making promises, all the while hoping for the best.
“Oh, sure; sometimes we can spread out the workload a bit, but once a client signs on the dotted-line, they expect to have their project completed as soon as possible. So, we just have to do what we have to do,” the manager might go on to say.
Question: In the longer-term, what are the workloads and workload trends for our resources?
In most of the organizations with which we have experience, the answer to this question is typically drawn entirely from intuition and not from any concrete knowledge of projects in the “pipeline” or the actual correlation of workloads to the calendar and resource availability.
Besides, when the general organizational mandate is “just keeping piling on the work while we’ve got it, and hope for the best possible outcome,”—the “make hay while the sun shines” approach—there is really little compelling reason to do much legwork around forecasting workloads, trends and resource availability except in the roughest possible way. On top of that, most project-driven enterprises we have seen have no tools to help them gather this data rapidly for review.
We believe there is a better way
We are confident that there is a better way to approach multi-project management. If you have experience—good or bad—with managing multiple projects, tell us what you think works or does not work. We would be delighted to hear.
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