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How Many Projects Can a Project Manager Handle Simultaneously?
By William R. Duncan

There is a simple answer to this question: project managers can handle as many projects as they are capable of managing successfully. Don’t even consider increasing their workload unless all of their projects — that is all, as in every one — are being finished on time, within budget, according to spec, and with the stakeholders satisfied.

I don’t believe that there is a single, reliable, numerical answer to the question “how many can one person handle?” that will be correct for all or even most organizations. But you can start to develop an answer for your organization by answering one key question first: what is the project manager supposed to do?

Once you know that, then (and only then) should you look at other factors which may affect the range of performance:

  • How much support will be provided?
  • How many people are on the project? Are they part-time or full-time?
  • What are the management challenges? An adequately budgeted project may require less effort to manage than one that is extremely lean.
  • Are all the projects in the same location? Or will the project manager spend a lot of time traveling?
  • Do all the projects involve the same technology? The same business cultures? The same set of stakeholders?
  • How many of the projects have important deadlines that are close together?

With the above info in hand, the question should be answerable. However, selling the answer to your management may be a challenge since the most likely result is “our project managers are managing too many projects.”

William R. Duncan is the principal of Project Management Partners of Lexington, MA USA. He currently chairs the Board of PMCert, the certification body of the American Society for Advancement of Project Management (asapm). He was the primary author of the original (1996) version of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge and was one of the founding members of the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) which has recently published a framework for performance-based competency standards for project managers.

© 2009 William R. Duncan – http://www.pmpartners.com/

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