The Project Notebook

Managing Multiple Projects: The True Test of Project Management

By: Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP
Copyright 2010, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

It’s that time of year again when those of us who celebrate year-end holidays find ourselves behind schedule, over budget and not meeting performance expectations. Most project managers do manage concurrent projects throughout the entire year. Ironically, many project management textbooks only address the management of one project at a time. That’s a luxury that few of us ever enjoy. Whether it’s a few weeks of “holiday compression” or an ongoing state of affairs in a work environment, there are a few techniques that can be effective in managing multiple projects.

Different Projects/Similar Activities.
Even though each project may have different goals and tangible deliverables, there are tasks that lend themselves to consolidation across projects. For example, there is often a period of time when vendors or subcontractors are being assessed prior to making final selections. The tasks associated with this activity can include such things as Internet research, request for proposal (RFP) development, and reference verification. In many cases the same vendors and subcontractors are used by an organization in multiple projects. Therefore, it makes sense to group these tasks and assign them to one or more individuals to conduct for all of the projects.

Split Activities.
The typical Gantt chart display has tasks grouped into activities that are completed in full before other dependent activities begin. However, the actual accomplishment of all tasks within an activity in a linear fashion may not be feasible for a number of reasons, such as subcontractor delays, customer/client change requests, etc. Project managers of single projects often find that they have to defer parts of activities to another time within the project schedule. This technique can also be used across multiple concurrent projects. Obviously, dependencies still need to be taken into consideration in re-arranging tasks. Use of this technique can assist in leveling resource demands and can be a factor in consolidating tasks as mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

Different Projects/Shared Human Resources.
Within any organization there are a handful of people who seem to get assigned to virtually every project. These simultaneous and consistent assignments may be due to the person’s functional responsibilities, technical expertise, political clout, or any of a myriad of logical or illogical reasons. Each person who is in demand is often worth two or more “ordinary people” in terms of talent and work performance. An effective method for addressing the challenge of shared resources is to develop a profile of total commitment for each of the most critical shared resources. These profiles should include the fluctuations in percentages of involvement and the related timing both for each project and for all relevant projects in total. In many cases the profiles can readily identify periods of intense effort as contrasted with those of minimal involvement for each individual. The individuals can then be assigned to activities in multiple projects based on true availability.

Managing multiple projects, whether for business or for personal reasons, requires a different perspective with regard to planning and resource utilization. By using the techniques outlined in this column, project managers can maintain a sense of balance in facing a most difficult challenge. Happy Holidays!

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

Extended Blogging Leave

I am going to extend my blogging “leave” until the end of first quarter next year. In the meantime, I am going to continue to post Susan Peterson’s articles and hope to back online blogging in 2011.

What Can You Expect From a Bunch of Volunteers?

By: Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP
Copyright 2010, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

It may not seem like you’re signing up for project management when you volunteer for a board of directors or for a committee chair position. Maybe it’s your child’s parent-teacher organization, a homeowners’ association board, or a community group. However, managing volunteer activities can be one of the most challenging, rewarding, and frustrating project management assignments that you will ever have.

When a volunteer organization does not perform acceptably, someone will say, “Well, what can you expect from a bunch of volunteers?” This attitude is nothing but an excuse in disguise. At the very least, this question sets the expectation that any volunteer project must be a second-rate, half-hearted effort. Yet a great many successful projects only get accomplished because of a dedicated, competent group of volunteers. On more than one occasion, my volunteer teams and I have agreed that no one could pay us enough money to compensate us adequately for what we have volunteered to do!

So what’s a project manager to do when the team is loosely organized and can leave whenever the “going gets tough”? First of all, the team needs to determine what the target goal(s) of the effort are (sound familiar?). In a volunteer situation this effort has special challenges in that each individual has his/her own unique perspective on the situation and the desired outcomes. Therefore, it is also necessary to determine why each person volunteered to be a part of the effort. The diverse reasons for volunteering yield different attitudes toward the project as a whole and toward the “work ethic” that is exhibited. Some possible reasons why people volunteer include the following:

• Belief in the cause or role of the volunteer organization. These folks will generally work hard, but the project management challenge is to keep them focused and moving in a single direction.
• Status. The volunteer organization has a prestigious image so participation of any nature will look good on a resume. These people want “visibility”.
• Networking. These volunteers only want to associate with someone who can do something for them.
• Intimidation. Someone badgered the person into volunteering. These folks are generally “short timers”.

There are a number of considerations to address when managing a volunteer project team. Since everyone on the team has many other priorities, the tasks and deliverables should be defined as small, highly tangible efforts. Early and frequent accomplishments keep people energized even when the project is lengthy. Focused use of email and “virtual” meetings can eliminate many face-to-face meetings. When there are meetings, input should be solicited for an agenda that is circulated in advance. Of course, the agenda should be followed to avoid the volunteer “trap” of multiple tangents and non-productive meetings. It is especially critical to quickly learn each volunteer’s strengths and level of commitment. Some people sign up for everything and do nothing. Others don’t sign up at all but want to “be asked”. And then there are those rare “jewels” who sign up, do the work and bring in their deliverables on time.

I have been blessed to chair several volunteer efforts with talented people. It is to these special individuals and to those of you who do volunteer effectively that I dedicate this article.

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

Blogging Break

For the next 3-6 months, I’m planning a brief blogging break to consider some site upgrades and advance other projects I’m working on. Susan Peterson’s articles will still appear as she provides them, there will be occasional short announcements and articles by me, and you may find some of my work in other places such as PM Hut and Project Management Questions. If you are interested in updates or have questions, please drop me a line at sdcapmp@aol.com or leave a comment on this post.

Cheers!
Ray

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP