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Right-Sizing Project Manager Allocation to Projects

Bondale FeatureArticle May1A common question that arises during project initiation is what is the optimal percentage allocation of a project manager to the project to ensure the “right” balance between cost and risk. This question should be distinguished from the determination of how much project management effort in total is required since multiple staff will participate in project management activities over a project’s lifetime.

In a billable project, this question often generates significant “lively” discussion – depending on the customer’s project management maturity level and the desire of the sales team to win the business, it can sometimes be a tough sell to ensure there is sufficient allocation of effort and funding for the project manager. However, even in cases where the project effort is not being charged to someone, it is possible that there may be preconceived notions regarding what is a reasonable allocation of time.

Most of you will know that the only right answer for most project management scenario questions is “it depends” and this is no exception. Although there is no single formula to help you calculate how much of a project manager is needed as this can vary from as low as 5% to full-time allocation, it may be helpful to understand the factors which could affect involvement.

  • Number of distinct key stakeholder groups – stakeholder management is a critical responsibility for project managers as evidenced by the addition of stakeholder management as the newest knowledge area within the 5th edition of the Guide to the PMBOK. The greater the number of stakeholders or the greater the divergence in expectations and desires amongst them, the greater the amount of effort that needs to be spent by the project manager in gaining alignment and in regularly keeping these stakeholders apprised about the project’s progress.
  • Magnitude of uncertainty – the more conceptual a project’s scope or the more innovative the approach or expected outcomes, the greater the effort required on the part of the project manager to facilitate scope definition, manage changes to scope and support decision making.
  • Magnitude of slack in project constraints – whenever a project has an extremely tight budget or a very aggressive timeline, a project manager will likely be spending a lot of time in ensuring that overruns don’t occur, especially if the project is being managed using a traditional or waterfall approach.
  • Number of team members that the project manager has to directly manage – if a hierarchical structure has been established whereby the project manager allocates work or gets progress or issue updates from a few work package leaders, the project manager will need to spend less time working directly with individual team members and this will help to reduce their work management effort.
  • Level of organizational project management maturity – in companies where team members, functional managers and other stakeholders understand what’s expected of them when working on or supporting project work, project managers are able to focus on project management. In lower maturity organizations, project managers often end up spending their time “filling the white space” to ensure their projects remain on track. While this activity cannot be considered strictly project management, it is necessary and effort on the project manager’s part should be allocated for it.
  • Magnitude of multitasking performed by team members – if team members’ time has been fully committed to a project, the project manager will spend less time in resolving availability challenges with these team members and with their functional managers. The greater the degree of multitasking performed by team members, the more time has to be spent in negotiations and course corrections to keep projects on track.
  • Heaviness of the project management methodology – the more onerous the mandatory project management practices of the organization, the greater the effort that the project manager will expend in managing the project.
  • Multi-dimensional size of a project – for the most part, larger projects usually require more effort on the part of the project manager. On the other hand, it might be possible for a project manager to spend very little time in managing a high cost project if the majority of the costs are resulting from the purchase of a single component. Similarly, a long duration project may have very little complexity and a minimal sized team and not require significant effort on a project manager’s part. However, when multiple attributes of the project are large, project management effort will increase.

While this list might not eliminate disagreements regarding the appropriate allocation of a project manager to a given project, it should help to make those discussions more objective.

Are there any factors which I have missed or can you come up with a formula that combines these to provide a good rule of thumb – if so, please provide your comments below!

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