How Many Projects Is “Too Many”?

Every year as the fourth quarter approaches, capacity planning kicks off. With the speed of business we tend to try and cram in as many projects into a year as possible. We can’t risk falling behind, so we figure out how to implement every great idea. Often we get caught in the trap of believing we can just use staff augmentation to offset the greater capacity needs extra projects create. When doing capacity planning, don’t forget these other big hitters:

Unforeseen risks. Build unknown unknowns into your schedule. If you schedule your project teams to the max, you leave no bandwidth to adjust to the unforeseen risks. Do a risk analysis, and build in extra time for those unknown unknowns.

Diluted focus. When you try to do a lot, you spread your experts thin. Projects don’t always have the luxury of dedicated, expert resources. When you have many critical projects occurring at once, your expert resources have to divide their attention among competing priorities, and things will be missed. View your expert resources as a constraint in your capacity planning. Determine how many projects those resources can effectively handle throughout the year, and cap the projects there. This exercise may help you realize you need to build up more experts!

Increased complexity. The more pieces in motion, the more complex your deliveries become. More tracking and coordination is necessary, which means there are more opportunities for communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. As complexity increases, you need to increase your communication planning and put better processes in place to keep everyone on the same page.

Complicated mitigation planning. As good project managers we should be doing mitigation planning. The more bundling or interdependencies projects have, the more difficult that mitigation planning will be. High-level strategies should be created when capacity planning is underway in an effort to determine whether the possible mitigation strategies are palatable. You don’t want one project to have the power of throwing all your projects into a red-delivery status.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that adding staff will allow you to deliver. Remember there are diminishing returns and many other things that can go wrong that extra staff doesn’t solve for. Make sure your capacity planning is thorough and looks at complexity, risk, and mitigation planning.

Jana Axline is Chief Project Officer at Project Genetics and the author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings, she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Project Genetics.

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