The Multiproject Resource Conflict

By definition, project managers live with uncertainty in every project they manage. Since a project is a collection of tasks that have not been done exactly in the same way before, project managers expect some things to go wrong.

The problem is that project managers believe they are being given an impossible task to begin with. They know, right from the outset of a project, that they will have to fight hard for resources, and that there is no assurance they will be able to keep their resources as long as they need them. We call the current practice of strategic planning the number one problem causing project manager stress. This is because most strategic planning processes are flawed when they create, sustain and exacerbate the resource conflicts across the organization.

The problem begins with each functional executive being measured on achieving his or her functional goals. For example, the vice president of sales is targeted with sales volume and sometimes with gross profit targets. The manufacturing executive has operating budget targets, production targets and efficiency targets. The purchasing executive is held accountable for the purchasing budget, cost of materials, vendor performance, etc.

Pressure is put on executives from outside their function. Sometimes it comes from the CEO or the board of directors or shareholders. At other times, customers pressure to get a better deal. Competitors can put the heat on a company to change faster. Often, one functional area pressures another by finger-pointing or through logical arguments about how they cannot meet their targets because they are dependent on another functional area that is not performing. Sometimes even vendors selling goods and services to a company can apply pressure. Sometimes the pressure can come from below, from the organization's own employees or a union.

In order to respond to these pressures, the executive must change something, and every change initiative implies at least one project. Since an organization has limited resources, almost any new project demands resources that are already busy doing other work.

The logical response of the resource managers would be to hold off initiating new projects until resources become available. But this is not acceptable to the functional executive who is being held accountable for results this quarter and this year. The functional executive responds to pressure by exerting pressure to move resources to his or her project.

Of course, if resources are limited, there is also pressure not to move the resources. So begin the meetings where the CEO or a senior executive becomes the referee. Resources are sometimes moved, but these conflicts are not permanently resolved. They simply resurface at the next senior management meeting.

Another solution that resource managers employ, with devastating consequences, is either bad multitasking or splitting of resource pools.


Multitasking occurs when we ask a resource to perform more than one task at a time. For example, in the same month, an IT software engineer splits his or her time between several projects. By itself, multitasking is not bad. Many executives view multitasking as good because it keeps resources busy, utilizing expensive resources more. Multitasking becomes bad when the combined duration of all projects increases as a direct result of the multitasking.

For example, in one medical products company with which we worked, the CEO delegated strategic planning to a process improvement team, the direct reports to the vice presidents. Each direct report had a full-time job and several other projects they were juggling. It was 6 months before the strategic plan was even developed and approved, and another 6 months after that before the first idea was implemented. During that time period, the company changed from being a publicly held company to de-listing on the NASDAQ exchange. It had acquired two new companies, sold a third company, and one third of the process improvement team had quit. Of its revenues, 50% were from a product that was being hit hard by manufacturers in the Far East. The strategies it had identified the year before were obsolete long before they were implemented.

Without bad multitasking, the strategy would have been developed and approved within 8 days. It would have been implemented in full within a 5-month period.


Some companies claim to have dedicated resources on most of their projects. However, when you examine the resource allocation, you find that they have taken a pool of, for example, six people and split them among multiple projects. If it were feasible to apply all six people to one project, what would have happened to the cycle time (duration) of that project? The answer is simple. The project would have been completed much sooner.

Splitting a resource pool to satisfy multiple masters (multiple executives demanding to see progress on their projects) has the same negative effects as bad multitasking. It prolongs the duration of multiple projects.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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    What is multitasking in portfolio?
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