Managing multiple projects is a juggling act; managing multiple projects with intertwined dependencies can be a nightmare. One of the most valuable skills any project manager should possess is the ability to manage multiple projects and it is one of the most challenging tasks for Project Managers. The most critical of things that should be done in managing multiple projects is setting-up things correctly before the actual action begins (Planning).
The absence of a project management plan is the first indicator for the failure of any project. Planning helps you align projects requirements with your organization’s overall business strategy. A good plan helps the project manager anticipate risks and ensures that resources are utilized effectively.
Previous research has found that, In order to be successful in simultaneously leading different projects, project managers need support from their organization, such as reasonable assignments, sufficient and sustainable resource allocation, and specific organizational culture. They should also possess a distinct set of competencies and have good utilization of project management processes.
Multi Projects Management can be referred to as a management practice in which a project manager is assigned to lead multiple projects simultaneously. With resource limitation, this practice has been popular in many organizations, since it helps improve efficiency in managing projects. Typically, a Multi-project manager leads projects that are not mutually dependent in terms of objectives.
A Project Manager who is simultaneously leading multiple projects has a significant challenge on hand. In dealing with multiple projects at the same time, a Multi-project manager leads several teams for different projects of different objectives. A Multi-project manager also faces a challenge of switch-over from project to project.
So the obvious question would be, what all could be done to enhance the effectiveness in managing multiple projects?
Firstly, Projects should be selected based on their relevance to the organization’s business objectives, the appropriateness of the project size, the schedule and technical feasibility, the financial viability, etc. After the selection process, projects must be properly assigned to project managers.
A study found out that, the effectiveness in Multi Projects Management depends on the number of projects a Multi-Project Manager leads at a time. With regard to the assignment process, Project Management experts assert that an effective assignment process should consist of steps towards the understanding the project priority, the match between competencies of Multi-project managers and project requirements, and recognizing the organizational/personal limitations. Having projects that match their expertise and with an appropriate workload, Multi-project managers would be more effective in leading projects to their success.
Multi-project managers need to focus on inter-dependencies among projects in order to maximize the objective of group success as opposed to individual project success. While the use of an individual project process is important for leading each project, Multi-project managers also utilize an inter-project process and a process for managing inter-dependencies among projects. Inter-project process refers to a process that helps Multi-project managers integrate the work of several projects. Having such a process also helps Multi-project managers manage inter-dependencies and interactions among projects related to shared milestones, resources, and technology.
To lead a group of multiple projects effectively, studies show that Multi-project managers should possess certain competencies. One study suggests that a typical manager of multiple projects who has an innovative thinking style is less likely to be concerned with the attention to detail. A systematic approach is required to plan and manage such projects successfully. Multi-project managers should be capable of multitasking, minimizing the switch-over time cost when shifting attention from project to project. Also, handling multiple projects is likely to increase pressures on Multi-project managers as they lead and build multiple teams at the same time. In addition, because of the unstable relationships (e.g. change in priority, unsustainable resources) that occur in a multi-project environment, Multi-project managers must know how to deal with conflicts when they arise.
Some experts suggest that in a Multi Projects Management setting, Project Managers should possess a combination of hard and soft competencies to be effective in managing multiple projects— i.e., in managing each individual project and coordinating among projects. They suggested that typical competencies such as administrative, intrapersonal, interpersonal, business, and technical competencies help project managers to be effective in leading individual projects. The competencies such as the ability to manage the inter-project process and project inter-dependencies and interactions, the ability to multitask, and the ability to simultaneously lead Multi-project teams are needed when a project manager leads Multi-project teams.
For leading individual projects, Multi-project managers should possess an administrative, intrapersonal, interpersonal, business, and technical competencies. Administrative competencies refer to the knowledge, skills, and experience of a project manager in planning, organizing, and controlling projects. Intrapersonal competencies are the qualities internal to a project manager’s character (e.g., being organized, responsible, proactive, mature, and flexible). The knowledge, skills, and experience of a project manager in interacting with other project stakeholders are referred to as interpersonal competencies, which are essential to project managers because they often have to exert their influence on project team members without having direct authority over them. Business competencies include the knowledge, skills, and experience of a project manager in addressing the business/strategic aspects of projects. Having business sense, customer focus, strategic thinking, and profit/cost consciousness are included. The importance of business competencies in project management has increased as a result of the growth of the acceptance of projects as basic business vehicles in the business community. Technical competencies are the knowledge, skills, and experience of a project manager related to the technical facets of the project product.
Coordinating different Projects
To be effective in managing multiple projects, project managers should possess a set of competencies that help them be proficient in both leading individual projects and coordinating several projects under their responsibility.
In coordinating projects, having multiple-project competencies (e.g., multitasking, simultaneous team management, and inter-project process) helps. Once Multi-project managers are proficient in multitasking, they are able to estimate their own resource capacity in order to set priorities and effectively switch contexts to multitask among different projects. Multi-project managers should also be effective in managing inter-dependencies and interactions among projects related to shared milestones, resources, and technology. Simultaneous team management is also an important competency. It includes the ability to put the team together and gain team accountability in a quick manner, to lead the teams in a discontinuous manner, including selecting and using different leadership styles specifically for each team, and to communicate to the teams in a concise and formal manner.
It may be a good practice that an organization develops a standard list of competencies and uses it to evaluate their project managers. Those who lack certain competencies on the list may require future training and development. While administrative, interpersonal, intrapersonal, business and technical competencies are important for any project manager, Multi-project managers, in particular, should possess MPM competencies.
At an organizational level, studies have shown that organizational culture plays a critical role in supporting the organization’s performance and effectiveness. Organizational culture is a strong predictor of the overall effectiveness of MPM. The teamwork-oriented culture that cultivates commitment, communication, teamwork, and reward for performance enhances MPM effectiveness. In collaboration with the literature on team effectiveness, this finding may not be unique in revealing that commitment, communication, teamwork, and reward for performance have some impact on team effectiveness.
Project commitment should come from top management and is supported by every level of the organization. This commitment-driving culture encourages project team members to be committed to their projects and to have a strong sense of contribution to project development. The organizational culture that promotes communication is also important. Management should create a working environment that encourages organization members to communicate with each other for a mutual goal within the organization. This includes creating a useful means by which knowledge and experience can be shared across different projects and effective communication channels to support information- and knowledge sharing. Organizational culture should also support teamwork. The culture should promote a strong sense of working as a team and should encourage the team members to help and support each other by sharing their knowledge and expertise.
Rewards and Recognition
Last but not least, the organization should create a culture that supports reward for performance. A clear reward policy should be set. This includes having clear performance measures and a system to recognize and show appreciation to the ones who perform beyond expectation. Management should also ensure that the members of the organization have a strong sense of reward for devoted commitment and outstanding performance.
In addition to above, communicating the Project information to the key stakeholders and team members in a timely manner, using Project Management tools like Primavera (P6) and Microsoft Project will definitely enhance the effectiveness of a Project Manager managing multiple projects.
Multi-Projects Management Metrics
Typically, a key reason that an organization implements Multi-Projects Management practices is to achieve better efficiency and management of projects. The expected output from Multi-project managers, besides meeting time, cost, performance, and satisfying customers is the effective use of organizational resources.
At a Project Manager level, the effectiveness can also be measured in terms of employee satisfaction. Job satisfaction, career growth, and financial benefits are typical measurement criteria.
Since there is no established standard for the inter-project process, Multi-project managers are likely to develop their own approach. While the metrics for the inter-project process is developed based on the results from the first phase, other Multi-project managers may or may not use a similar approach. It seems also counter-intuitive that resource allocation, which was measured in terms of resource sufficiency and sustainability, is not a predictor of Multi-Project Management effectiveness. However, because of the nature of MPM, project managers may not always have the luxury of sufficient and sustainable resources, and this may be the reason why the predicting effect of resource allocation is insignificant.