The Fallacy of Multi-Project Resource Allocation

Organizations tend to divide the same resources over multiple, simultaneous projects and still expect the same level of productivity as if each person were dedicated to just one project.

PMOs, project managers, and resource managers need to reexamine this practice of assigning the same person to two or more projects at once. A project with many or all resources allocated to multiple projects usually run late, creating a ripple effect on all other projects.

Why are resources allocated to multiple projects?

The most common reasons IT resources are bouncing from project to project are:

  • Projects are not prioritized. If a critical resource is needed on multiple projects, and every project is urgent, the resource will be assigned to everything. Prioritization increases the likelihood of getting dedicated resources for the important projects.
  • Limited cross-functional training and silos result in specialization. Some resources are the only expert in a given domain.
  • Every PM wants the best team, therefore high-performing resources are allocated across many projects.
  • No one has stopped to think about taking a different approach. Also known as: “This is how we’ve always done it.”

Why is this habit a problem?

Switching costs negatively impact individual productivity. In Quality Software Management: System Thinking, Gerald Weinberg proposed a rule of thumb to calculate the waste caused by project switching:

Image Source: The Multitasking Myth

It is hard to find data to fully correlate the above reduction in productivity with on-time delivery of IT projects. That said, less than 25% of traditional IT projects are delivered on time.

Plus, in my experience, the practice of pulling employees in multiple directions decreases employee satisfaction.

Consider the differences between various combinations of approaches to project allocation and training:

Allocation Approach x Training Matrix
Project Allocation x Employee Training Matrix

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Optimize your resource allocation approach.

If your organization tends to develop specialized resources and allocate them to multiple projects, the first step is to admit the status quo is not working.

Then, follow this 3-phase progression to adopt a more Agile, heterogeneous resourcing model:

  1. Prioritize your projects. Focus on what’s most important.
  2. Dedicate resources to just one project at a time and observe the difference in results.
  3. Finally, invest in cross-training employees to build a flexible pool of resources.

Cross-trained team members and single-project allocation will result in higher individual productivity, on-time project delivery, and more flexibility in resourcing options.

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Categories: IT Projects

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Andy Nemtzow

Andy is a Lean Six Sigma black belt with over 30 years of IT leadership, consulting, and project management experience, including oversight of ERP, Portfolio Management, Enterprise Architecture, Vendor Management, Business Planning, QA, and BI functions.

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