Project Management Math

By | August 23, 2011

Consider the following desirable equation:
New projects ≤ Projects completed

 Do you find that for yourself and your organization the number of projects added is at a rate disproportionate to the number of projects completed? Why is that?

Organizations place a high value on project management skills, which are critical for successful project completion on time and on budget. There are numerous classes and certifications in project management and major software programs dedicated to providing discipline and consistency to the project management process. The importance of managing project resources and scheduling the project timing is well understood. Time and effort is devoted to identifying the tasks and understanding the inputs and outputs of each task for completing the project. The tasks are sequenced and dependencies and end points of each element of the project are identified.

So, why is it that so many projects fall short of their goals?

I submit that the main reason is that we don’t apply the same effort and discipline to compiling and managing the list of projects itself. A few companies have created Project Management Offices, but their scope is often limited to projects in one department or function such as IT. Every company and department has a project list that seems to continually grow. Is the list complete? Does it include projects or activities which are required to keep the business going, such as audits? Is there a way to track all of the efforts underway in our organizations and what resources are assigned? To manage the project activity going on in our organizations, we need a disciplined approach.

Projects should support the corporate or department Strategic and Business Plans. The objectives supporting these plans should represent “filters” that each proposed project should be evaluated against before it is started. Does the new proposed project help us meet a defined strategic or business objective? All too often a project is conceived and started without ever considering the overall impact it will have on other efforts underway. Once filters are applied and priorities are established, resource requirements can be addressed.

Understanding resource requirements and availability is critical before proceeding to launch projects. What staff or other resources are needed for a project? Simply adding projects to resources that already have full plates will guarantee that current projects as well as the new ones will experience delays. Projects with overburdened resources will suffer starts and stops while resources bounce from one hot project to another. This causes inefficiencies and increases the risk of errors in critical project steps.

Another part of the project management process that should be applied to managing the project queue is determining the sequence for project implementation. An assessment of the organization’s project list could reveal that completing one project first will make other projects simpler and easier to complete. Consideration should also be given to breaking major projects into smaller ones, allowing a quicker return on the efforts and creating a sense of accomplishment. With the reductions in the workforce over the last several years, a growing sense of frustration exists as to having too much to do and never accomplishing anything.

The overall process of managing the organization’s activities and projects is really simple:
• Apply filters to the list and set priorities
• Assure necessary resources are available and have adequate band width before starting
• Avoid the mega project that goes on and on from inception by breaking it into shorter term achievable efforts

The process to manage the project efforts for maximum efficiency and results is easy, but implementing it is hard and must be supported at the top. With many pressures in all companies today, management generally tends to continue to distribute new important projects, unknowingly creating unsupportable goals. Limited resources cannot complete an ever-increasing project list. The final challenge in controlling projects comes in creating a culture that allows the people involved in a project to push back and seek some relief when the number and complexity of their projects gets to the point that nothing is getting completed. Without that culture, neither the company nor the employee wins.

So, what kind of company or department is yours?
New projects ≤ Projects completed, or
New projects ≥ Projects completed

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