How Many Projects Are You Managing?

I gave a talk at a local ICCA chapter last night, and met a project manager who told me he was managing 7 projects. I must have lost my poker face, because he chuckled and said, “Well, you do what you can with that many projects.”

You do. And I don't buy that you're actually managing them, or more than one of them. Sure, you might be doing damage control, or helping people see that they have a disaster. But you're not evaluating and managing risk. You're not checking in the team to know what done means. You're not seeing if what you need from others across the organization will be ready when your project team needs it. Dare I say, you're not managing. You're busy.  (Way too busy multitasking.) You might even be providing help to the projects, but you're not being proactive and you're not there when the team needs you.

I don't buy this business that a project manager can actually manage several simultaneous projects. Even if the projects are small. You PMs who are trying to do this: your managers are deluding themselves. Your call on whether to tell them. (Don't tell them they're nuts, that's a career-limiting-conversation 🙂

5 Replies to “How Many Projects Are You Managing?”

  1. I rather think that this view, though valuable, is a little too simplistic.

    Can a project manager manage only one project where the project consists of only one software developer? I don’t think so.

    Can a project manager manage two of these projects? Yes, I think she can.

    Can she manage three of them? Maybe, maybe not.

    I think manageability is some (complicated) function of the number of projects and the average number of people working on them.

    Each of my project managers has responsibility for managing the work of *at most* eight software developers. These eight people may be working on two projects at the same time, or on five. But the amount of work completed in a week by a team, regardless of the number of projects, is always the same.

  2. Usually multi-project assignments are not limited to the project manager, the staff is assigned across several projects as well. This also is most common in functional or weak matrix organizations, where the project manager is expected to be little more than an expeditor, coordinator or administrator. As far as project work goes, you get what you pay for, which isn’t much in these environments.

  3. I Agree… things that are not said simple are not understood at times.. so Yes the moment you have multiple projects to be managed you mitigate one project risks and you add up to another project, you are more worried about the projects running in crunch and you screw the projects running in target.. Whoaa… One thing at a time or all you get is a Dime!!!!

    Sameer Shaikh

  4. With regards to “how many projects”, can be worked on, I agree with the others before me in that it does depend how large and complex the projects are. It does reinforce to me the importance of resource assessment for project managers and project team members. Even when additional resources are not available, the opportunity to prioritize and que projects presents itself when an assessment of resources is done. If all projects are taken on without any regard to resource requirements, we get our focus divided among several projects and this creates a a very bad situtation. This situation can be and should be avoided where possible.

    There, all in one breath.

  5. One of the issues with anecdotes of course is they need a context and a business domain. A typical NASA program manager “manages” a program that has several 100 projects within it. Some projects are large subcontracts ($1B each) and some are inhouse activities.
    The number of projects a project manager can manage is completly dependent on several things:
    1. Project and program architecture
    2. Tools and process
    3. Skill, experience, staff support
    4. ….
    The management of multiple projects is called Program Management. It’s a separate discipline from Project Management. The number is projects alone is likely irrelevant to a certain level. Joint Strike Fighter was “managed” by Adm. Craig Steidle, with relative success. maybe the PM you saw at the meeting was in a different position in his ability to cope with multiple projects.
    Adm. Steidle’s MS in Systems Management is where may of us learned this trade in the mid-80’s.

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