When Projects Collide

Creator and Author of Top Project Management Blog: Bradegeland.com

Ever had a plate full of maybe six or seven projects and they are all in different stages with no more than one or two taking up lots of your time at that moment? Life seems tranquil – or as tranquil as a project manager’s life can be – and you know that you basically planned the projects to stagger like this and it is working perfectly. It’s a great feeling and all is right with the world. You weren’t sure all the pieces were going to fall into plaice but at this snippet in time it is all working as planned.

What happens when your well scripted project world goes off the rails? It doesn’t take much. One project extends due to an unexpected change order. It’s a nice problem to have because it probably means additional tasks and additional resource effort so additional revenue for the project. But what it can also mean is that something like user acceptance testing (UAT) gets pushed out. That’s not a major project issue, but it may become a major project manager, business analyst and project team issue if you are suddenly managing two separate projects with two separate needy clients going through user acceptance testing at the same time.

The idea here is to get through a situation like this on both projects, keep the team or teams focused and progressing and keep the customer or customers from losing confidence, seeing any missed deadlines, helping you on the front lines if necessary and not calling up and screaming at your CEO about the delivery team not delivering. There, that should all be easy, right? Ok, not easy, but here are 3 key actions you can take to help everything stay on track and productive…

Try to negotiate new dates with the client. The problem you’re facing is that due to some unforeseen circumstances – a slow down in one project or a change order moving dates and changing the timeline or another project jumping forward suddenly – you now have two very active phases going on with two different projects and it’s stretching you and any shared project resources much thinner than you anticipated. One strategy is to try to negotiate new due dates with one or both of the project customers allowing you to now stagger the two projects to alleviate some of the workload that is stretching your project resources thinner than planned on the two projects.

Seek additional internal resources. It’s always an option to seek additional resources. The immediate issues with that is new resource learning curves, potential extended time lines because the new resources need to be brought up to speed, and a definite budget hit because new resources cost money. If the issue is caused by one project’s changing requirements then you can possibly get the new resources covered in a change order. Otherwise, eating the extra resource expenses yourself may be the best way to get the work done and keep the customer happy and reference-able.

If applicable, originate a change order. Scope management can get both very difficult and very necessary during times like what I’m describing. If the shift in project timing on a phase or deliverable is due to a client need or even an existing change order that didn’t include this extra effort or problem, that doesn’t mean you can’t now go back to the client with a revised or new change order. Just be careful to weigh the importance of this action – you don’t want to lose a client or future work over a small effort or small amount of revenue. Make sure it’s a hill you are prepared to die on.

Summary / call for input

The bottom line is this – you need to figure out a strategy quickly. One customer will not understand nor agree with you putting another customer’s engagement at a higher priority than theirs… unless the other project is a manned flight to Mars and even then… What they want is their project delivered on or close to the original due date at the agreed upon price. You may have to swallow costs yourself to get there, but I’ve done that with my project clients and consulting clients in similar situations if the long term relationship is important to me and it almost always is.

Readers – what’s your take? What experiences like this have you found yourself in and how did you handle it? Did it end successfully? Please share and discuss.

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