How to Do Many Projects with Few People (Part 1)


Given the problem (most managers call it a 'challenge') of running many dozens of projects concurrently, with just a small number of people, I've been asked a few times how we organize projects and resources in our company. Well, there's a lot to tell about this subject, and my attention span (as a manager) is rather short. So I'll spread that information over several posts.

Many of our customers have simple, small requests: requirements that take just a couple of days or weeks to fulfill. This means that the organizational complexity (some employees call it 'chaos') is vastly different from other companies, where they have teams of many employees working on just one project, often for many months at a time. But I am sure that lots of people face similar problems (or challenges if you prefer) as we do, working on numerous small projects. So let me tell you what we did…

We have many multi-functional teams, where each team is between 4 and 10 people, depending on the types of projects that they do. We firmly believe that everyone who's working on the same projects should be seated together. This vastly improves the project-level communication, and it enables employees to better understand each other's work. For example: there's no point in seating all project managers together, as they are all managing different projects. Their only communication would be about the latest soccer matches, and the new receptionist.

Projecten04

In the case of our software development teams, each team has a number of software developers, one front-end developer, one project manager, one team manager, and (soon) one tester. Our project managers perform the 'ScrumMaster' role, but they also concern themselves with resource planning of their team members across the different (sometimes conflicting) projects in their teams, and any interdependencies among the projects. Their primary concern is that the time they have allocated to projects is, indeed, being spent on those projects. They can often be seen (or heard) scolding people who are trying to steal time from their teams, with questions like "Can you help me with this little problem?" or "Can you call this customer? It shouldn't take more than half an hour." But, given the reduction in red faces and scents of burning hair, this seems to happen less and less often these days.

to be continued…

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