Challenges in Multi-Project Management
A project rarely comes alone. Every organization carries out, if at all, not just one, but several projects at once in a multipack. And when this is done well, it is called multi-project management. This topic has its special features, especially in comparison to single project management. Insufficient attention to these specifics inevitably leads to problems. But conversely, a functioning multi-project management is a powerful weapon in the highly competitive market and significantly increases the internal effectiveness of the company. And using the right tools for this is a necessary prerequisite.
Internal competition for limited resources
It is a simple but often neglected fact: every company has only a limited amount of resources at its disposal, be they human, financial or material. At the same time, any company that wants to be successful has to react quickly and adequately to various economic and everyday challenges. As a result, companies carry out many different activities simultaneously - some of them as projects, others within line structures and processes. But all these activities naturally compete for the limited resources of the organization.
How do you set priorities?
This intra-company competition for limited resources requires task prioritization. Without a proper planning and management system, several serious repercussions are sure to occur. Here are a few typical examples:
- Human resources who are involved in many projects at the same time get into work overload. This inevitably leads to a drop in their satisfaction and performance. Overall, this may well lead to increased employee turnover. Ultimately, this can lead to an increase in personnel costs and set off a vicious cycle.
- Employees who struggle with multitasking and time management are overwhelmed and switch haphazardly from one activity to another. As a result, the time taken to complete each task increases significantly, and the quality of the output can also drop. As a result, time budgets and deadlines are exceeded and projects are delayed.
- Mutual trust between management and employees suffers. For example, management's position is: "Our projects take too long, and they cost too much. Schedules and budgets are usually overrun and the net benefits are less than planned, if we get any at all. Our staff is incompetent and does too many unnecessary things. So let's outsource some activities and, to control costs, hire outside consultants to create an optimization and cost reduction program." On the other hand, the employees' position is, "Our management wants us to do several things at once. Their priorities keep changing. I don't get enough time to do my tasks, and my budget keeps getting cut. And the outsiders, who do the same things I do anyway, cost significantly more, have higher salaries, and don't get pushed by different task schedulers at the same time."
So what are the right measures to avoid such effects?
The first step is to create awareness of the existence, causes and effects of the problems outlined above. Then it is a matter of preparing and planning the "cure" for them. All management must be aware that this cure usually requires lengthy and profound changes, not only in the way work is done, but also in thinking throughout the organization - and that such changes also affect the managers themselves. Cosmetic changes usually lead only to cosmetic improvements, if at all.
A prerequisite for successful fundamental change is therefore clear and unanimous support from the entire management. Actions speak louder than words, and changes that are only verbally supported by management or even blocked by some of its members are doomed to failure.
As a side note, it may be useful for an organisation going through the change process to engage an external consultant who can bring project management expertise, an unbiased view and experience of solving similar problems in other companies.
Five points to meet the challenges
There is certainly no general recipe that guarantees the successful introduction of a multi-project management system. In general, however, a combination of the following measures helps:
- Define a project management methodology, either your own or one based on an internationally recognized standard. The most widely used and accepted are PMI, IPMA and PRINCE 2. However, the specific methodology is not critical. It is much more important that a methodology is defined and enforced. So make sure that the organization agrees on the chosen methodology and sticks to it.
- Train employees to use this project management methodology. The level or depth of this training should be based on the tasks the employees perform and their project management knowledge and experience. Less is probably more here, if the little is applied in a consistent and disciplined manner.
- Set up a central organizational unit whose task and competence is project management - i.e. a Project Management Office (PMO ). The PMO essentially has three roles: a) reporting (information collection, evaluation and distribution), b) methodology (accountability, compliance monitoring, consulting, technical support, training and certification for other organizational units) and c) management (leading internal project leaders, managing individual projects). The required competencies for these three PMO roles can be built up gradually, but if any of them is neglected, it will have a negative impact on the organization's project management performance. Important: The PMO may well consist of a few, perhaps even just one, person in small and medium sized ventures. But the PMO must be defined.
Implement a consistent priority management system, i.e.rules on which projects or even tasks have priority based on which criteria. This system must be respected throughout the organization - including top management - and be consistent with the organization's culture, strategy, and possibly even compensation system. Such a system must then also be reflected in a multi-project and resource management tool, see next point.
- Implement an appropriate and consistent multi-project and resource management tool. Such a tool naturally supports both the project management methodology from point 1 and the priority management system from point 4. It forms the basis for systematically putting the preceding points into practice. And it does this in particular by providing a basis for decision-making and creating transparency about such decisions.
Changes that lead to successful multi-project management are neither easy nor painless and cannot be implemented within days. The reward for their successful implementation in the organization is the solution of the problems described at the beginning. Furthermore, it increases the effectiveness of the organization, its ability to execute more projects in the same time with the same resources, and last but not least, it results in a competitive advantage over competitors who have not (yet) implemented such changes. A platform like PQFORCE is a necessary prerequisite to achieve this.
About the author
Dr. Daniel Hösli is Managing Director and Lead Consultant at INTRASOFT AG, whose SaaS solution PQFORCE is the leading platform for agile, project-oriented business management. He has been involved in the development of project management systems on a daily basis for 15 years in a consulting and project management capacity - both organizationally and technically - and thus has the experience from countless contacts and tasks from a wide variety of companies and different management levels.