Multi-project management - 6 success factors

How do you master the challenges of multi-project management? These six factors will help you organise your projects successfully in the long term.
Multi-project management - 6 factors for your success

In today's business world, it is crucial for your project-orientated company to pursue your business goals simultaneously without interfering with day-to-day operations. This is often done by running different projects in parallel. Why do you do this? The reasons can be many and varied: from diversifying the business to gaining a competitive advantage or adapting quickly to market changes. The tool of choice in such scenarios is usually multi-project management. However, despite its widespread use, many companies approach this approach with false expectations and do not always achieve the desired project success.

Find out in this article which methods you can use to master the various challenges of multi-project management and lead your projects to success.

Definition: What is multi-project management?

The term multi-project management is used in the Gabler Business Dictionary as follows:

Selection, planning, control and monitoring of the entire project landscape
of a company or unit.

With multi-project management, you pursue the goal of completing several projects running simultaneously in an effective and targeted manner, taking into account available resources such as employees, financial resources and equipment. This is where the difficulties and challenges lie: in order to successfully implement multi-project management, you need a clear concept and suitable coordination - especially if you have to manage several projects in parallel.

Whether one or several projects, the approach is similar to that of classic project management: clearly formulated objectives that are focussed on the desired project result. The available budget and the responsible project managers are also relevant aspects. However, these criteria become even more important if several projects are to be realised simultaneously. The biggest challenge in multi-project management is to implement your concepts in parallel or to prioritise certain projects without losing sight of the big picture

The key questions are therefore not only what budget, employees or equipment you have available, but above all: How can you effectively allocate, control and manage your capacities? How can your team be integrated and involved in relevant functions?

Challenges in multi-project management

As an experienced project manager, you know the challenge of having to manage many projects with the same resources. The fact is that no project can be planned 100 per cent. This uncertainty gives rise to the following challenges:

You will face these challenges in multi-project management

Multitasking - Not suitable for every team

Multi-project management is basically nothing more than organisational multitasking. The negative effects of multitasking have been known for more than 20 years. Jumping between different contexts or tasks costs you and your employees cognitive energy, time is lost and productivity decreases. These constant changes impair our short-term memory in particular and can Productivity loss of up to 40 per cent cause!

Research on the effects of multi-project management and multitasking at an organisational level is very limited, but there are good reasons to believe that similar negative effects occur:

  • Companies are dependent on teamwork, which increases the negative effects of multi-project management.
  • Efficient multi-project management should aim to minimise context changes for your team.
  • Cognitive switching costs increase, which leads to a loss of overview, longer waiting times and a higher error rate.
  • Constant stress can cause your project managers to lead to burnout.
Urgency - blinds us to relevance

Managing multiple projects often tempts you to prioritise time-critical tasks? Remember: not all tasks within these projects are equally important or have the same impact! Some have the potential to be extremely important or impactful, but are not urgent. Others could be extremely urgent, but are less relevant or have little impact on the further course of the project.

Although you might assume that you are naturally able to differentiate between these factors and always prioritise impact over urgency, in reality the opposite is often the case. Many project managers allow themselves to be overwhelmed by urgent tasks, even if they are less important or have little impact. This happens especially when you feel overwhelmed by a large number of tasks. This phenomenon is also known as Mere Urgency Effect is the name of the game. The decisive weighing up of importance, urgency and impact should therefore be a central component of your multi-project management.

Deadlines - inhibit productivity

Deadlines are often essential, especially when work phases need to be coordinated in multi-project management or the availability of highly specialised team members needs to be managed. Large construction projects, for example, are often divided into several projects with staggered deadlines to ensure smooth completion. In software development, deadlines are set in an attempt to manage dependencies between different projects or to deploy experts for key technologies in a more targeted manner.

Despite their necessity, there is evidence that deadlines can also lead to a decline in productivity. One Oxford University study shows that distant deadlines in particular can lead people to assume that a task is more difficult to solve and requires more time and budget than is actually the case. A similar phenomenon is characterised by the so-called Parkinson's laws described:

Parkinson's law in relation to multi-project management

This means that if your team has a month to complete a project, for example, they tend not to start until the last minute - from the point at which they can be sure of completing the project on time.

Rigid plans - blowing the budget

The Project Management Institute (PMI) recorded the following with its global survey in 2021that only 50 per cent of all projects in Europe were completed on time. Only 57 per cent remained within budget, while 40 per cent failed completely and the budget spent had to be recognised as a loss.

There are undoubtedly considerable differences depending on the country and sector, but they all have a common cause: Scope CreepThe creeping expansion of the project scope during the ongoing process without considering the impact on time, budget and quality. These can be additional features or requirements, new expectations from your customers or stakeholders and changes to your strategic direction. What is already a considerable challenge in a single project becomes significantly more complex in multi-project management. Nevertheless, projects are still planned ahead in inflexible, long-term timeframes that do not take such (sometimes sensible) adjustments or unforeseeable events into account.

Peanut Butter Approach - Too many tasks

A clear example illustrates the situation: a company needs a specialist in artificial intelligence for several projects, but only one person in the entire organisation currently has these skills. In organisations with unclear prioritisation and a high volume of work, this person is often simply distributed equally across as many projects as possible.

Apart from the fact that this multitasking has the aforementioned negative effects, it also makes little sense from a business perspective. This is because the time available to this person per project is so limited that ultimately hardly any progress can be made on the project. In the US, this approach is also known as Peanut Butter Approach called. This refers to spreading too little peanut butter on too many slices of toast. You should therefore clearly prioritise responsibilities in multi-project management.

6 success factors for efficient multi-project management

As an experienced project manager, you are probably familiar with all the challenges mentioned. And you have probably tried to solve the problems that arise. Today, we have easy access to new technologies that offer a variety of ways to overcome these problems. Learn about six methods for multi-project management that you can use to successfully plan, execute and finalise your projects:

1. maintain an overview

Maintain control over numerous projects running in parallel. With a centralised database, you can generate a variety of informative reports for well-founded decisions. Ideally, you should use software such as ZEP, which offers a centralised project list and an overview of resources as well as the option of exporting status reports and budget planning. Through a Standardised solution for your project management you have the option of tracking all information from the aggregated overview down to the smallest detail. With ZEP, you can start with a lower level of functionality and add further modules as required.

2. use software

To ensure efficient management of your multi-project management environment, your projects must comply with certain structural and task standards. In addition, it is necessary to define processes according to which your projects should be planned and managed. In ZEP, you can use the Additional module planned hours utilise.

As decisions can have cross-project effects, your projects should be managed at the same pace and with the most up-to-date data possible. As a project manager, you need to know exactly what needs to be done, when and how. One Software like ZEP ensures professional control in your multi-project management with suitable processes and high data quality.

3. prioritise correctly

To avoid overloading your employees, concentrate on the important and urgent projects and limit yourself to these. Use ZEP to set priorities that are in line with your corporate strategy.

Your aim should be to spend the appropriate management and control effort according to the scope of the project. So make sure that the most resources are actually used for the most important projects (keyword: peanut butter approach).

4. strategic planning

Strategic resource planning is about ensuring in advance that you have employees with the necessary skills. In addition, you need to ensure that strategically important projects can be realised at the right time with qualified employees. Otherwise, your projects may not be completed on time due to insufficient resources. This drives up your project costs unnecessarily and ultimately results in dissatisfied customers. With the ZEP Resource Planning module, you can always keep an eye on the utilisation of your employees and can immediately see which tasks are due next.

Plan projects with foresight & keep an eye on employee utilisation and upcoming tasks. With ZEP resource planning for efficient multi-project management

5. create transparency

In multi-project management, new requirements can constantly arise, for example with regard to important milestones in a project. These specifications are distributed from the management level to the relevant projects and your task as project manager is to ensure that they are implemented. Ensure transparency here so that all project participants are and remain at the same level of knowledge at all times. With the ZEP Module Tickets, Tasks & To-dos you have the option of dividing your projects into prioritisable individual tasks for your employees. In this way, you avoid overwork and at the same time create transparency in terms of responsibilities.

6. obtain feedback

In the multi-project management environment, numerous stakeholders are involved in various projects. There is a great need for substantive feedback here. Your stakeholders may feel the need to contribute their own perspective at various points in order to have a sense of control. As a project manager, you and your team may want to ensure that no one is ignored and to safeguard against criticism. Meetings are often convened for this purpose or email distribution lists with long conversations and numerous recipients are maintained. This leads to one thing in particular: project delays. To counteract this, you will learn in our 10-point planhow you can establish a constructive feedback culture in your company.

Multi-project management means utilising potential to successfully complete projects. As project time recording software, ZEP supports you in securing your long-term competitiveness. Not using ZEP yet? You can use our tool Test 30 days free of charge & without obligation. If you are already one of the more than 1,600 ZEP users and are interested in one of our add-on modules that you have not yet used, you can register your interest. contact our support team or you can use the option of activating the desired module in the self-service tool once for a 30-day free trial.

Tanja Hartmann CEP

Tanja Hartmann

Content Marketing Manager at ZEP

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