Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 30;   July 27, 2016: The Risks of Too Many Projects: II

The Risks of Too Many Projects: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Although taking on too many projects risks defocusing the organization, the problems just begin there. Here are three more ways over-commitment causes organizations to waste resources or lose opportunities.
North Fork Fire in Yellowstone, 1988

Night view of North Fork fire, Yellowstone National Park, 1988. The North Fork Fire was the largest and most destructive of the Yellowstone fires of 1988. A total of almost 800,000 acres (over 3,200 square km), or 36% of the park, burned in that year. Until the late 1960s, the beneficial effects of fire were not understood. The fires of 1988 certainly demonstrated their value.

Organizational fire probably also does have some beneficial effects. But we can probably achieve those benefits with the analog of "controlled burns" — careful review of proposed projects.

Photo by Jeff Henry, September 1988, courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

When organizations commit themselves to too many projects simultaneously, they risk loss of strategic focus and encourage resource contention, as we saw last time. But those are just the most obvious problems. Here are three more.

Resource depletion
Some organizational resources must be available to all projects. Financial resources come to mind immediately. Projects need money, and the more projects we have, the more thinly we spread our financial resources. This applies not only to the financial resources needed for routine project execution, but also to reserves that must be available to cover adverse events.
Other resources have this same property. Consider just one example. To some degree, senior management must be aware of everything the organization does. If a project encounters trouble, senior management must be able to grasp the problem and respond to it effectively, even when multiple projects require their attention at once. The greater the number of projects underway, the more likely is the capacity of senior management to be saturated.
Many other classes of organizational resources have this property — they can be saturated unexpectedly when too many projects need them simultaneously.
Organizational "firestorm" frequency
When organizations run large numbers of projects simultaneously, some individuals serve more than one project. If one of the projects encounters difficulty, that project gets their attention, while the others go on hold.
We can grasp the dynamics of this configuration more easily using a "forest fire" metaphor. Think of a project portfolio as a forest, and project trouble as forest fire. When one part of the forest catches fire, the shared "resources" provide a means for that fire to spread. This happens because trouble in one project disrupts the carefully scheduled sharing of resources, propagating trouble to projects that share resources with the troubled project.
Reducing project numbers reduces resource sharing, which prevents trouble from propagating. If we can't reduce project numbers, we can at least try to isolate high-risk projects from others by dedicating resources to them.
Wheel re-invention
When many If we can't reduce project numbers,
we can at least try to isolate
high-risk projects from others
by dedicating resources to them
projects are active, similar or even identical problem solutions might be simultaneously underway. Indeed, it can be easier to solve a given problem than it would be to determine whether or not that problem is being solved elsewhere in the organization.
Duplicating productive effort is only one form of waste. Duplicating unproductive effort is another. When a team discovers that a particular approach is unworkable, announcing that it has just wasted significant resources is not necessarily in its interest, politically speaking. Uncovering this kind of information can be difficult in any case, but when many projects are active, duplication of wasted effort is both more likely to have occurred, and less likely to be exposed.

Running many projects simultaneously might seem sensible, but I hope I've raised some questions about its wisdom. If you aren't in a position to reduce the number of active projects in your organization, maybe you know someone who is. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Passion-Professionalism Paradox  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre 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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A doorknobDoorknob Disclosures and Bye-Bye Bombshells
A doorknob disclosure is an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit. When we learn about bad news in this way, we can feel frustrated and trapped. How can we respond effectively?
White water raftingWe Are All People
When a team works to solve a problem, it is the people of that team who do the work. Remembering that we're all people — and all different people — is an important key to success.
Gut bacteriaMitigating Outsourcing Risks: I
Outsourcing internal processes modifies the usual risk configuration of those processes, but it also creates a special class of risks that are peculiar to the outsourcing relationship. What are some of those risks and what can we do about them?
OverwhelmedHow to Get Overwhelmed
Here's a field manual for those who want to get overwhelmed by all the work they have to do. If you're already overwhelmed, it might explain how things got that way.
A meeting that's probably a bit too largeA Pain Scale for Meetings
Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Bay of Pigs, CubaComing September 30: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: II
Planning teams, like all teams, are susceptible to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Three of these most relevant to planners are False Consensus, Groupthink, and Shared Information Bias. Available here and by RSS on September 30.
Assembling an IKEA chairAnd on October 7: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule. Available here and by RSS on October 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.