Stay on top of multiple projects

The rate of business change is overwhelming, and it seems it is not slowing down anytime soon. The best way to stay on top of your transformation plan is through project, program, and portfolio management. The professionals responsible for delivering this caliber of change are project, program, and portfolio managers.

Every business can be reduced into two parts:

1/ Operations part - stable processes delivering value today.

2/ Transformation part - areas undergoing an adaptive transformation that will provide value tomorrow.

The relative proportion of the above may vary depending on multiple factors such as industry, life cycle stage, speed of growth, and economic conditions. An established banking institution will likely experience much less transformation than a fast-growing software development start-up. Yet, in both instances, complex strategic change is a matter of life and death. We intuitively know that failing to adapt to the ever-changing business landscape will not end up well. Adaptability is one of a business's most substantial competitive advantages in times of rapid change.

So how do you stay on top of multiple projects? We recommend focusing on four primary areas.

Portfolio Elements and Ways of Working

One of the most frequent challenges we observe in our Project management practice when consulting clients is that most of our clients do not have all their development work centralized in a single repository. As a result, nobody has a complete view of all authorized and ongoing projects. You can never stay on top of multiple projects if you do not know they exist.

Articulation of what a project is in your company is one of the first steps toward flawless strategy execution. Of course, we all know the definition of a project, but do you know what it really means for you as a business? Start by asking simple questions first. What constitutes a small, medium, and big project in my company? Do we have that clearly articulated? Do we use the same management approach for projects of all sizes? How many ongoing projects do we have per type, and who manages them? Do we use operations or professional project managers?

It is crucial to understand what project-based work is floating through your company and begin centralizing it by introducing some basic structure.

Project Managers

Once we have our transformation agenda nicely broken down into clearly defined portfolio elements, e.g. projects of various sizes, someone needs to assume responsibility and execute them. Projects are complex endeavors and, by default, involve the contribution of several professionals, referred to as a core team. In the case of medium and large projects, the recommended approach is to have a dedicated professional project manager who assumes end-to-end responsibility for the outcome of the pro; otherwise, there is a risk that nobody will feel in the driving seat of the initiative.

Having a large and permanent pool of talented project managers is costly and difficult to maintain in-house. Project demand fluctuates periodically, and often a hybrid project management pool consisting of full-time in-house project managers augmented on a need-to-have basis by several external project managers is an optimal solution.

Methodology and Tools

There are two ways to manage a project - intuitively and through a methodology. While you can be successful both ways, following a method significantly increases your chances of success. Do you follow a methodology when managing your projects? Does your methodology work well?

Most methodologies come with specific tools. A good metaphor here is that a methodology is like a martial art for a project manager. Martial arts are designed to increase your survival chances if you are up against a powerful enemy. Similarly, following a project methodology will enable the project manager to handle more projects simultaneously with a higher chance for a successful outcome. Most martial arts come with their own tools, i.e. if you are training Aikido, you will use a sword at a certain point.

The tools in project management are not software. They are frameworks, mental tools, templates, and checklists. If used appropriately, they provide leverage just like any physical tool. What tools do you use to manage your projects?

Environment and Context

Every business is different and requires a unique approach. All established project management methodologies and frameworks are designed to be complete and exhaustive in their approach, and their practical application must be tailored and selective. In real life, you do not get points for compliance with a specific methodology but for delivering a successful project. One size does not fit all.

Every company is at a particular stage in its lifecycle. It has specific organizational assets, e.g., ways of working, unique processes, policies, governance forums, and resources that must be considered. If one approach works well for one business, it does not mean it will work well with another. Project and program management is highly contextual and varies significantly from one business environment to another.

How does your company stay on top of its projects? Share your experience in the comments below.