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 themprojects 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 Top Next Issue
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On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
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