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How many projects are too many?
Anonymous
I know the correct answer is that it depends on a whole lot of factors, but absent great visibility into available hours for project work to be able to do calculations, have any of you been able to find a benchmark or general rule of thumb for how many projects an org of X size should be actively working on at one time?

I've searched the forum and found several discussions that seem to say that a PM can probably handle 3-5 projects, but haven't found anything that tries to answer the question at the enterprise level.

Thank you in advance.
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I don't know of any benchmark on that. I would say that many factors are to be considered, first the industry. A large construction project, it is one. Some small and simple projects it can be 3, 5, 10 or x, just can't say.
Thanks for providing the discussion.
If you measure the size of a project in terms of money, I don't want to be in charge of multiple projects worth more than $ 1 million.
In addition, I think that a PMO should be set up.
It depends on a variety of criteria.....

I'd say 3-5 (3 is more realistic, 5 is pushing it) is a good start. I've been the assigned PM to multiple multi-million, multi-year projects. These were within the IT/Financial Services sector.
Only as many as can be delivered effectively without incurring context switching and other forms of waste.

Complexity is a key determinant of this - the greater a project's complexity, the fewer projects which can be taken on.
My rule of thumb after 40+ years on projects is that PM efforts should amount to 10-15% of total efforts. Management might try to push that percentage lower.

This means in a team of 8-10, one should be a full-time PM.
So, if you run say 5 projects with 2 full time equivalents each, that would be OK. The issue you will run into though is the waste due to multitasking.
Dear Anonymous
Interesting your question
Thanks for sharing

Many responses received

In my opinion Kiron's: "Only as many as can be delivered effectively without incurring context switching and other forms of waste" is the one that fits like a glove :-)
Anonymous
Thank you all for the quick responses. Everyone provided very helpful answers to an impossible question.

I'm sure we've all been through this scenario at one time or another in our careers:

"Hey manager, X, Y, and Z are indications that we are attempting to do too many projects at one time. I recommend that we re-prioritize and edit the list."

"How many projects should a company our size be able to do?"

"It depends on a lot of things: size, complexity, etc. Every project and org is different. But, the fact that X, Y, and Z keep happening is a sign that we might be trying to do too much "

"Let's find out what others are doing and talk again."
Do a risk assessment considering all the factors - What could go wrong? Can we tolerate the exposure? What is the benefit? Is it worth it?
This comment assumes that people have limits and as they reach and exceed those limits their effectiveness diminishes.
I have not ever seen a rule of thumb when it comes to assigning projects. Personally, I'm good with a mix of a short, med, long term projects. Short = 2 months or less; Med = 3 - 6 months; Long = 6+ months; but that obviously depends on the complexity, urgency, business need or customer relationship. The 2-month projects can require full time effort which put the others at risk. A non-scientific way of deciding what my project load can be is when I can't keep up with emails, or get necessary reports sent out on committed timeline. At that point, I escalate and request prioritization of what I'm working on. And/or, I simply say no to new assignments.
It's a dilemma my PMO is currently facing. We have ~1,200 in flight projects ranging from a few hundred dollars to several million and ~35 PMs with new projects coming in daily.

Some factors we are looking at: hours budgeted, backlog of services hours (ETC) in a PM's portfolio, backlog of PM hours (PM ETC) across a PM's portfolio, PM utilization forecast (billable hours per week/month), number of projects in a PM's portfolio, and number of escalated clients (Red projects). We are considering implementing Financial Force and that vendor states they are able to create a dashboard across the team that will provide the insight we are looking for based on this custom algorithm. Stay tuned!

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