Experiencing Project Overload

While recently presenting to a group of approximately 30 people, I asked, “How many of you have the title of Project Manager?” Only a couple of hands went up. Then, “How many of you work on projects?” Every hand went up.

We have found that most people are working on at least one project in their organizations. Yet, many organizations do not provide project management training to their staff, nor do they have project management processes, tools, or templates in place to support project work. And in those organizations that do provide such training and resources, it is not a common practice to teach non-project managers the skills to lead projects or work on project teams.

At the same time, many executives continue to kick-off projects without taking the time to review the current status of projects that are already underway, as well as those in queue. A project portfolio analysis is an essential technique in determining the current status of all projects in an organization. Such an analysis also assesses whether resources in the form of staff, consultants, and equipment are overextended due to the existing project work, along with the overall value that each project brings to the organization. Only after completing such an analysis should decisions on whether and when to launch new initiatives be made. As Michael Porter clearly stated in the recent Harvard Business Review article titled Too Many Projects (September-October 2018), “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” To illustrate the  perils of failing to use this critical leadership skill, the article provided the example of a business that initiated 90 new projects over a 6-month period in addition to the projects that were already in progress!

Day jobs? What day jobs?

How can a staff effectively manage an ongoing influx of projects in addition to their day jobs? One of the areas we specialize in at MBIC is teaching non-project managers how to effectively lead and work on project teams. Such an investment is becoming increasingly worthwhile to fend off project overload in the face of ever-changing needs in our businesses, markets, and industries.

Here are some recommendations on how you can lay the groundwork for preventing project overload in your organization: 

·   Seek out project-management skills training for your staff. All of your staff.

·   Introduce best practices and related tools for project-management efforts in your organization, such as a visual map of the project management process to help the staff to better understand the steps that must be completed and when.

·  Determine how best to complete a project portfolio analysis so that it can be easily repeated to ensure that the executive leadership team has the information they need to make more informed decisions regarding new initiatives.

·   Establish a reporting process for providing ongoing information on the status of the existing project portfolio, the impact on the strategic plan, and overall resources. Include a timeline for reporting to the executive leadership team and a schedule for communicating status to the entire organization.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that our staff are successful. Such success requires our understanding of the workload that comes from juggling day jobs, projects, and strategic initiatives, and providing appropriate training and support for all staff.