Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 30;   July 27, 2016: The Risks of Too Many Projects: II

The Risks of Too Many Projects: II

by

Although taking on too many projects risks defocusing the organization, the problems just begin there. Here are three more ways over-commitment causes organizations to waste resources or lose opportunities.
North Fork Fire in Yellowstone, 1988

Night view of North Fork fire, Yellowstone National Park, 1988. The North Fork Fire was the largest and most destructive of the Yellowstone fires of 1988. A total of almost 800,000 acres (over 3,200 square km), or 36% of the park, burned in that year. Until the late 1960s, the beneficial effects of fire were not understood. The fires of 1988 certainly demonstrated their value.

Organizational fire probably also does have some beneficial effects. But we can probably achieve those benefits with the analog of "controlled burns" — careful review of proposed projects.

Photo by Jeff Henry, September 1988, courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

When organizations commit themselves to too many projects simultaneously, they risk loss of strategic focus and encourage resource contention, as we saw last time. But those are just the most obvious problems. Here are three more.

Resource depletion
Some organizational resources must be available to all projects. Financial resources come to mind immediately. Projects need money, and the more projects we have, the more thinly we spread our financial resources. This applies not only to the financial resources needed for routine project execution, but also to reserves that must be available to cover adverse events.
Other resources have this same property. Consider just one example. To some degree, senior management must be aware of everything the organization does. If a project encounters trouble, senior management must be able to grasp the problem and respond to it effectively, even when multiple projects require their attention at once. The greater the number of projects underway, the more likely is the capacity of senior management to be saturated.
Many other classes of organizational resources have this property — they can be saturated unexpectedly when too many projects need them simultaneously.
Organizational "firestorm" frequency
When organizations run large numbers of projects simultaneously, some individuals serve more than one project. If one of the projects encounters difficulty, that project gets their attention, while the others go on hold.
We can grasp the dynamics of this configuration more easily using a "forest fire" metaphor. Think of a project portfolio as a forest, and project trouble as forest fire. When one part of the forest catches fire, the shared "resources" provide a means for that fire to spread. This happens because trouble in one project disrupts the carefully scheduled sharing of resources, propagating trouble to projects that share resources with the troubled project.
Reducing project numbers reduces resource sharing, which prevents trouble from propagating. If we can't reduce project numbers, we can at least try to isolate high-risk projects from others by dedicating resources to them.
Wheel re-invention
When many If we can't reduce project numbers,
we can at least try to isolate
high-risk projects from others
by dedicating resources to them
projects are active, similar or even identical problem solutions might be simultaneously underway. Indeed, it can be easier to solve a given problem than it would be to determine whether or not that problem is being solved elsewhere in the organization.
Duplicating productive effort is only one form of waste. Duplicating unproductive effort is another. When a team discovers that a particular approach is unworkable, announcing that it has just wasted significant resources is not necessarily in its interest, politically speaking. Uncovering this kind of information can be difficult in any case, but when many projects are active, duplication of wasted effort is both more likely to have occurred, and less likely to be exposed.

Running many projects simultaneously might seem sensible, but I hope I've raised some questions about its wisdom. If you aren't in a position to reduce the number of active projects in your organization, maybe you know someone who is. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Passion-Professionalism Paradox  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenUzzHrMshDNuTvlNVner@ChacigDBmnmFRucQdlKroCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

If only I were a florist?Don't Worry, Anticipate!
Dramatic changes in policy or procedure are often challenging, especially when they have some boneheaded components. But by accepting them, by anticipating what you can, and by applying Pareto's principle, you can usually find a safe path that suits you.
Using an information kioskKnowing Where You're Going
Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
Signers of the 1938 Munich AgreementHow to Reject Expert Opinion: I
When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
A keyboardOffice Automation
Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?
A Great Grey OwlHow to Waste Time in Virtual Meetings
Nearly everyone hates meetings, and virtual meetings are at the top of most people's lists. Here's a catalog of some of the worst practices.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'Coming February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
George Orwell's 1933 press card photo issued by the Branch of the National Union of JournalistsAnd on March 7: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: II
Narcissistic behavior at work threatens the enterprise. People who behave narcissistically systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this Part II of the series we consider the narcissistic preoccupation with superiority fantasies. Available here and by RSS on March 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenRgIaiZdKVMgRWLtUner@ChacXuMprunIAUSiRoTxoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.