Many organizations are under pressure to increase revenue, to achieve or maintain market leadership, or to reach any of dozens of organizational goals. To respond, some launch initiatives they feel will meet the challenges they face. Often, they take on too much. Let's explore the consequences of so doing.
- Strategic blur
- If an organization is running only one project, strategic focus is assured. With each additional active project, the risk of loss of focus increases. The best-run organizations manage this risk by reviewing each new project for consistency with current strategy. Although waivers are granted now and then, they do maintain strategic focus — at first.
- Inevitably, some projects stumble. They take longer than planned. In some cases, after the organization adopts a new high-level strategy, or amends the current strategy, some projects that were formerly consistent with organizational strategy no longer are, because the strategy on which they rested has migrated out from under them. Yet, we don't cancel these holdover projects, for various reasons: the sunk cost effect, Hofstadter's Law [Hofstadter 1989], or power politics, to name a few common mechanisms.
- Executing the newly adopted or newly amended strategy usually requires chartering new projects. When holdover projects are already in place, portfolio bloat can develop, along with strategic blur, the opposite of strategic focus. Strategic blur also afflicts the organization's customers, who, upon examining the projected stream of offerings, might have even more difficulty discerning the organization's strategy than the company's leaders have expressing it.
- Resource contention
- Development projects require human, financial, and infrastructural resources. As active projects increase in number, their needs can sometimes collide, because resources might not be available on demand. For example, if we decide to hire all the people we need, bottlenecks might develop in the hiring and onboarding apparatus.
- Resource sharing When organizations try to push
too much "production" through
their systems, turbulence breaks
out in the form of unpredictable
and unanticipated eventsusually resolves resource contention, but it can create problems of its own. For example, to share human resources (people), we assign them to multiple projects — two, three, five — I've known people who were managing more than 20 active projects. Daily life for people serving multiple projects can be a staccato stream of interruptions, messages sent and received through various media, and endless meetings.
- In "Recovering Time: I," Point Lookout for February 23, 2005, I explored these conditions and their attendant high costs. Individual performance and output quality can suffer. Managing this risk with quiet hours and other techniques usually yields positive though disappointing results, because such strategies address the symptoms of the problem, rather than its cause. The primary cause: too many projects.
Rules of thumb regarding numbers of projects per capita are legion, and of limited value, because project work is too varied for such simplistic dogma. Determine a number of projects that works well enough for your organization, and strive to reduce it.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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to project managers. Why is it so important? And what does an effective, yet minimally intrusive time
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assert power. Subject changing — and controlling its use — can be important political skills.
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of often-misapplied adages.
- Holding Back: I
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problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.