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Managing multiple projects

Alan Stretton
May 17, 2011

Project management literature has, to date, been extensively focused on single independent projects. Yet renowned scholars claim through surveys and research that 90 percent of total project activity takes place within portfolios, or programs of related, small-to-medium sized, projects. Granted that many project managers only operate at the project level, however, it is certainly accepted that many or most projects are indeed part of a program or portfolio.

In programs and portfolios there are substantial interdependencies between the component projects. This adds new dimensions to their individual and collective management requirements.

At the strategic level, these interdependencies are focused on maximising benefits to the overall objectives of the program or portfolio by combining individual project objectives or deliverables. They also involve the overall management of the external project interfaces, and coordinated stakeholder management engagement.

On the operational front, they involve managing the interfaces between component projects on a day-to-day basis, as well as effective prioritising and sharing of resources, information, technology etc across these interfaces.

In view of the evident abundance of multiple interdependent projects, it would be reasonable to expect that the project-related literature would include substantial coverage of the management of relevant interdependencies. However, specific and detailed coverage has been sparse. Few references directly address the issues relating to inter-project interfaces. This is somewhat surprising in light of the many contributions on program and portfolio management which have appeared in the project-related literature in the past couple of decades.

However, most writers appear to be more concerned with high level descriptions of program management. The lack of literature on the interdependences and interfaces between projects reflects a level of immaturity in the application of program management as a field of practice.

The current situation is further intensified by the fact that different people working in many diverse program application areas have quite different perceptions about the nature and application of program management. Some optimism remains though as few researchers have recently embraced the notion of project interdependencies and started calling for further research in the area.

Substantial convergence of perceptions is, however, likely to be slow and numerous case studies will have to be shared by industry practitioners before a common understanding and language for program management can truly emerge.

If indeed a common understanding of the essential nature of programs is to be achieved, I hope it will lead to more comprehensive treatments of what is involved in the coordinated management of multiple interdependent projects and subsequently higher level of benefits and outcomes. It is hoped that this trend will emerge rapidly and that the management of multiple projects is the way of the future in the practice and application of project management.

Alan Stretton
Alan Stretton's decades-long career in project management includes a stint as chairman of the Standards Committee of the Project Management Institute, upgrading its PMBoK. He is a Life Fellow of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM).
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One thought on “Managing multiple projects

  1. Project Interdependencies are quite an interesting topic. In reality people need a blend of technology and business process to resolve. In an uncoming blog on this site under “Tool talk” we will discuss varying options including:
    1. Literally link (which people dont like as “dates shift” – as they should
    2. Pass through the date only (better but cant view knock on or domino effect or see cross project critical path)
    3. Rely on communication between PMs (an we all know how well that goes)

    Inherent in dependency management is an agreement between producer and recipient on the scope, quality and timing of delivery of a dependency. Interesting question, who owns the dependency, the procuder or recipient, or someone else ??

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