Challenges in Multi-Project Management (nur auf Englisch)

Most enterprises execute not one but multiple projects in parallel. If done well, this is called multi-project management. This topic has its specifics not only compared to line management, but also compared to single-project management. Insufficient treatment of these specifics unavoidably leads to serious problems. Good multi-project management is a powerful weapon in today's markets and increases the enterprise's internal effectiveness. Having the right tool is a nessessary requirement.

Competition for Limited Resources

It is a simple but often neglected fact: Each enterprise only has a limited amount of resources at its disposal, be they human, financial or material in nature. At the same time, each enterprise that wants to be successful has to quickly and adequately respond to various economical and daily business challenges. As a result, enterprises work in many different activities simultaneously – some of them are done as projects, others within the line structures and processes. But all these activities naturally compete for the organisation's limited resources.

How to Set Priorities?

The competition for limited resources requires that the assignment priorities are properly managed. Without a proper planning and management system, several serious effects most certainly arise:

  • Employees that get involved simultaneously in many projects at once get a work-overload. This naturally leads to a drop of their satisfaction and performance. Overall an increase of staff fluctuation may result. In the end, this would even lead to personnel cost growth and start a vicious circle.
  • Human resources which are bad at multi-tasking and time management switch from one activity to another without plan. This substantially increases the resolution time of each task they are working on and may also cause a drop in the output quality. As an effect, projects get delayed and time budgets get overrun.
  • The mutual trust between management and staff gets affected. The management's position: „Our projects take too long, and they cost too much. Schedules and budgets are usually overrun and the net benefits are smaller than planned, if we get any at all. Our staff is incompetent and are doing too many unnecessary things. So let's outsource some activities and, to keep the costs under control, hire external consultants who will prepare an optimisation and cost cutting program“. The staff's position: „Our management wants us to do various things at once. Their priorities are changing all the time. I don't get enough time to resolve my tasks and my budget always gets cut. And externals, who are doing the same things as me anyway, cost significantly more, have higher salaries and are not pushed simultaneously by various task planners.“

What are the right measures to avoid all this, then?

Create Awareness!

Surely, the first step is to create awareness of the existence, causes and effects of the problems outlined above. Then, it is about preparing and planning the „cure“ for this. The whole management needs to be aware of the fact that this cure will mostly require lengthy and deep changes, not only in the way how work is performed, but also in thinking across the whole organisation – and that such changes will also affect the managers themselves. Cosmetic changes lead to cosmetic, if any, improvements. And, as is well known:

The problems of this world cannot be resolved using the same methods by which they were created.

Thus, a prerequisite for successful change is clear and unanimous support by the whole management of the enterprise. Actions say more than words and changes supported by management only verbally or even blocked by some of its members are doomed to fail.

As a marginal note: For an organisation going through the cure process it might be appropriate to engage an external consultant, who will bring in project management know-how, an unbiased point of view and experience with the resolution of similar problems in other enterprises. We will elaborate on this topic in a future post in this blog.

Five Points to Tackle the Challenges

Certainly there is no general recipe that guarantees the successful implementation of a multi-project management system. However, in general a combination of the following measures will help:

  1. Define a project management methodology, either your own or one that is based on an internationally recognised standard. The most widespread and accepted ones are PMI, IPMA and PRINCE 2. Make sure everyone commits and adheres to the chosen methodology.
  2. Train the staff to adopt this project management methodology. The level of this training should be selected according to tasks which the employee will perform as well as his or her project management knowledge and experience.
  3. Establish a central organisational unit, whose responsibility and competence will be project management – that is, a project management office (PMO). The PMO essentially has three roles: a) reporting (information collection, evaluation and distribution), b) methodology (ownership, adherence supervision, consulting, professional support, education and certification for other organisational units), and c) management (management of individual projects, line management of the internal professional project managers). The required competencies for these three PMO roles can be built gradually, but if one of them is neglected, this would have a negative impact on the organisation’s project management performance.
  4. Implement a unified priority management system (i.e., rules) which is respected across the whole organisation – including top management – and tied to its methodology, strategy & remuneration system. Such a system needs to be tightly coupled with a multi-project and resources management tool, see the next point.
  5. Implement an adequate and unified multi-project and resources management tool. Such a tool of course supports the project management methodology and the priority management system.

Conclusion

Changes that lead to successful multi-project management are neither easy nor painless and cannot be performed within days. The reward for their successful implementation in the organisation is the resolution of the problems described above. Moreover, it increases the organisation's effectiveness, its ability to do more projects in the same time with the same resources and, last but not least, results in a gain of a competitive advantage against competitors, who have not (yet) carried out such changes. A tool like PQForce is a necessary requirement to achieve this.

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Über den Autor

Daniel Hösli hat seine Doktoratsarbeit an der ETH Zürich im Bereich Informationstheorie geschrieben. Er war seit dann ausschliesslich in beratenden und leitenden Positionen in der IT und im Software Engineering tätig. In dieser Zeit hat er wertvolle Erfahrung in den Bereichen IT Service Management, IT Business Alignement, DevOps und Multiprojekt- und Ressourcenmanagement gesammelt.

Daniel Hösli ist Managing Director bei der INTRASOFT AG und Geschäftsleitungsmitglied bei den HELVETING Companies. Er ist Product Owner von PQForce.

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