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:
- The Mind Reading Trap
- When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that
we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can
reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else,
that's a recipe for trouble.
- When We Need a Little Help
- Sometimes we get in over our heads — too much work, work we don't understand, or even complex
politics. We can ask for help, but we often forget that we can. Even when we remember, we sometimes
hold back. Why is asking for help, or remembering that we can ask, so difficult? How can we make it easier?
- Email Antics: III
- Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own
actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
- How to Make Good Guesses: Strategy
- Making good guesses — guessing right — is often regarded as a talent that cannot be taught.
Like most things, it probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make conjectures.
But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that.
- Speak for Influence
- Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution
and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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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.