How Many Projects Can A PM Handle?

On the Strategy & Projects blog this week, we delved into a question about the optimal number of projects that one project manager can handle at a time. (You can read the answer here.)

As I poked around in various research studies looking for clues, I found that like many seemingly simple questions, the answer is “it depends.” In this case, much depends on the project manager. (And we proved that!)

Not a hard data point, but an observation based on the many PMO of the Year applications that I have read over the years is that determining the competency of project managers is a key first step in figuring out who is capable of handling multiple projects. Almost all the finalists share this as a feature of their PMO practice. For example, talent management played a key role in the PMO improvements that led to Navy Federal Credit Union winning PMO of the Year in 2015. Here’s a quote from the description of the winning entry:

The PMO has incorporated numerous best practices and standards to support better performance and success, including a structured career path that ranges from the Level 1 apprentice PM to  Level 4 Program Manager, as well as a Project Coordinator track and intern program … [In 2015] the PMO ramped up efforts around talent management strategy. This multi-year effort will  transition the group to become more intentional in assigning staff, aligning staff with the appropriate  initiatives based on skills and competencies, and developing comprehensive talent management tools …

Knowing which project managers are capable of handling multiple or complex initiatives can mean the difference between success and failure. No hard and fast rule can be applied when each project is “a unique effort” and each project manager an individual. With determining optimal project manager load, as with so many questions of organizational performance, much depends upon the organization’s commitment to improvement. Assessment of talent and capability is a first step on the road.

In addition, managing multiple projects is a different challenge from managing large projects or program. For one thing, the leader of multiple projects often must juggle different stakeholder and strategy imperatives. There’s an internal consistency to the direction of even the largest projects and programs that scattered initiatives can’t provide. Furthermore, “multiple” project manager must be disciplined in her time management to get to everyone he must.

This post was adapted from an original post on the PM College Blog.

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One Response

  1. […] Paul Ritchie considers the dancing-angels question: how many simultaneous projects can one project manager handle? […]

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