As seen on blog.bennythepm.com
How many projects can a PM handle at one time?
It is one of the most unanswerable questions in project management: how many projects should a project manager (PM) manage at one time? In this period of high unemployment and high employment costs, most organizations are requiring their employees to do more with less. That means a heavier project load and, with that, more resources to manage on each project. However, there does come a point of diminishing returns, or the PM’s effectiveness, when the PM has more projects than he or she can handle.
Part of the responsibility lies with the PM to inform management of the heavy load and the possible issues associated with a heavy load. However, it is up to management to spread the projects effectively. So, how many projects can a PM handle?
Doesn’t it depend?
Yes and no. I know, not the answer you probably wanted, but it is an appropriate one. You see, the standard is from 4 to 8 projects per PM at one time. As great as that sounds, we all know that it really depends on the size and complexity of a project or projects. If the PM has 4 small projects (under 50 project hours per project), then it may be appropriate to assign additional projects that are larger in size and/or more complex. How many, you ask? Again, that depends on the size of the projects and how experienced the PM is. Assigning 2 larger projects may in fact overwhelm some PMs. However, there may be some senior PMs who, because of their experience and knowledge, can take on 2 or 3 additional projects that are larger and more complex.
What if the PM is a Senior PM?
I did begin to speak to this in the previous section. I will repeat my response: it depends. If the senior PM can handle more than 8 projects, and if the senior PM and management agree on expectations, then the answer is yes. However, even a senior PM has limits. The senior PM and senior management MUST review the PM’s workload and determine what is an acceptable workload and set expectations. Those expectations must be communicated to the project sponsors that the senior PM is going to be working with, as well as the project teams.
Should the complexity of a project factor into the decision?
Yes, there is no doubt about it. If a PM has more than 2 complex projects on his/her plate, and other smaller projects, even if it is only 2, the chances are that the PM will be overwhelmed. It is a matter of compounding the probability of risks and issues. Since we all know the PM’s job is about keeping expectations set on the original SOW AND controlling risk, the probability of risks occurring on 2 complex projects becomes greater. Let’s be honest here; just because a project is less complex does not exclude it from having its own set of risks. Since we all know that is true, what is the probability of the less complex projects becoming more complex because of issues that arise?
The PM, the other PMs on the team, and the management team have a lot of collaborative work to find the right mix of project load. If I had the all encompassing answer to this question, I would publish it. However, like many before and after me, the answer is the same. It all depends.