Attempting to run too many projects can sound (at first) like a nice problem to have – it suggests that an organisational growing strategy is being pursued. After all, projects are vehicles of change and everyone loves change, right? Hmm, right? Brilliant people in brilliant organisations have brilliant ideas all the time that would help solve that business problem or give birth to a great business opportunity. As a result, we have multiple competing ideas for new projects. Yet, if all of these ideas make it through the door, I’m sorry to tell you: you may have great ideas, but you also have poor portfolio management (or design, to be more precise) practices. 

In organisations with immature portfolio management, ideas are free to be implemented without any triage and/or prioritisation in place. Therefore, a large and unrealistic pipeline of projects with no sense of planning or assessment of alignment to the organisation’s strategic objectives, and a constant fight for resources can be created. Ideas may be unlimited, but resources typically are! 

The root cause is not in having too many projects but in allowing that many ideas get to that stage where they are now a project. If you, dear reader, are facing this problem, here are some hints and tips on how to address it: 

All ideas going to the same front-door: anyone should be encouraged to propose new ideas for projects, however, if you have multiple business units or service areas (as I suspect you do) then that list can quickly become unmanageable. Therefore, building a single central repository (a portal, a shared drive, etc.) where people can submit their ideas will help in making the process more visible and manageable;

All ideas submitted follow the same structure: to be able to compare and contrast ideas, it’s fundamental that they all answer the same set of questions, using a common template. This doesn’t need to be War and Peace – and, in fact, it shouldn’t, it’s ‘just’ an idea, not a brief for a project yet! As a minimum, it should offer an answer to the following:

  • Why – what does the organisation gain (or avoid) by pursuing this idea? How does it contribute to the achievement of the strategic objectives?
  • Who – where did it come from? Which department or who requested it? Also, what type of roles would be needed for it to be achievable?
  • How much – not an exact figure but a range; would it cost 10K or 1M to implement?
  • How long – similarly, to get an indication of scale, is this a 3-months or 3-years implementation?

Build a prioritisation model: not all ideas are expected to proceed through the portfolio design funnel and, for it to work, you need to define what criteria would make you select an idea over another and how they will be prioritized against each other. There are several models available (have a look at AHP, for instance) but, in its simplest form, the optimal portfolio should be one where the 3 R’s have been considered and are well-balanced. These are:

  • Risk – does this potential project fit within the organisational risk tolerance level?
  • Resources – do we have the necessary resources, human, financial, and others for it to be achievable?
  • Return – does it offer attractive value for money and is it in line with strategic objectives?

Build a Pipeline/Ideation dashboard: now that information on the pipeline is available and structured, the next logical step would be to make it digestible, interactive, and visual enough via a dashboard. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy as long as it enables decisions to be made in an easy and informed way;

Attempting to run too many projects
Attempting to run too many projects

Set up a Pipeline Review governance meeting: establishing a governance forum with the single purpose of reviewing and agreeing a consensual view of the portfolio, based on facts and independent assessment (based on the prioritisation model established) rather than who shouts the loudest, is a great way of building buy-in and solving resource’s bottlenecks. Moreover, it helps to act with agility towards emerging requirements and demands – after all, the portfolio of projects is not static and should be flexible enough to accommodate new (brilliant) ideas. 

 At the end of the day, stopping the running of too many projects is a matter of bravery: are you being brave enough to ask “should we do it?” and “can we do it?”. Be brave, dear poor-project-ideas-killer! 



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By: Marisa Silva (The Lucky PM)

Marisa Silva (The Lucky PM)
PPM specialist with extensive experience in industry with a focus on collaboration, PMO conception & strategy, method and capability development. Marisa also retains depth expertise in Microsoft PPM having led a large number of client deployments.
Categories: Project Management

Published: 24 November 2022

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