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We are a small team and can afford only one project manager (PM). As a result he's basically managing all of our projects. To keep the quality of our business, we would not like to overload him.

What is industry standard of how many projects one PM should manage at the same time?

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    The number of projects a PM can manage is roughly equivalent to the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Rather a lot depends on the square footage of the pinhead, and the shoe sizes of the PMs. Line-dancing is not a recommended best practice when dancing on a pin. – Todd A. Jacobs Jan 26 '14 at 23:37
  • @AshokRamachandran: It's behind a password-protected wall. :-\ – Daniel 2 days ago
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TL;DR

What is industry standard of how many projects one PM should manage at the same time?

There's no such thing; individual projects vary greatly in the level of effort required to manage the project properly. In addition, each project management framework varies in how much overhead is involved.

Therefore, the correct question is "How many hours per week are really available to our Project Manager for managing projects, and how many hours does each project consume from his pool of available hours?" That question is at least answerable, but only your organization can answer it.

Available Hours and Organizational Overhead

Practically speaking, there's a fixed amount of hours available for each project manager. Whether that's a sustainable 35-40 hours, or whether it's 80+ hours per week until that person burns out, there's always a cap on a person's hours available to manage projects.

From those hours, you need to subtract work-related overhead that isn't really project management or framework overhead. This may include:

  • organizational meetings
  • time tracking
  • responding to non-project emails and meeting requests within the organization
  • other miscellanea

In general, you can expect to find that around 4-6 hours per day are the maximum effective hours you can reasonably expect a full-time Project Manager to have left after subtracting this overhead from the pool of available hours.

Framework Overhead

After subtracting all the organizational overhead from the pool of available hours, you then need to subtract the right amount of framework overhead. This is actually work, but is related to the project management framework rather than the details of the specific project.

For example, around 30% of a project manager's time is consumed by attending framework meetings and generating framework artifacts in Scrum. Other frameworks may differ in the percentages, but most will fall somewhere in the 15-30% range. YMMV.

Task Switching

In addition to everything else, the productivity cost of managing multiple projects is likely to be around 40%. The American Psychological Association says:

[S]hifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.

In other words, the more projects you put onto a project manager's plate, the fewer projects that person can effectively manage. Again, your mileage will vary.

The Real World

In general, a Scrum Master should manage only a single project at a time. However, that person might be able to handle as many as three if none of the projects are complex or complicated, and task-switching is kept to a minimum.

Even if your numbers are calculated differently, there is still a limit. If you want to run more projects than you have allocatable hours, your organization will need to budget more resources (time, money, and people) to managing those projects. That's rarely what people on a tight budget want to hear, but it's still the truth.

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    As usual, a great answer. +1! – Tiago Cardoso Feb 3 '14 at 15:23
  • I like this answer because it points out the costs of task switching and also the advantage that some automation could bring (for example to automate creation of SCRUM artifacts) – Rudolf Olah Feb 15 '17 at 14:36
  • I know this is an old answer, but your last paragraph says "A Scrum Master should manage only a single project". I think that should read "Project Manager", or it should be "a single team", because Scrum Masters don't manage projects. – Erik Jul 28 '18 at 10:26
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This is an old thread, BUT since I stumbled across it I thought I would point out that the data shows 8 project per PM in high performing organizations. 11 project per PM in LOW performing organizations.

http://www.pmsolutions.com/blog/view/optimal-project-manager-load/

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First and foremost its the kind of project based on which it can be calculated that how many projects basically can be handled by a PM. Like I am into online marketing and I have seen PMs in my industry doesn't go for more than 4-5 projects to give desired output. Upon overloaded they may have quality concern on their work.

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A Project Manager does a macro management and if you exptect him to do micro management it will end up in putting more burden on him and you cant expect him to manage more projects..

Each project you have should have a Business Analyst/ Tech lead who can manage the team and if they face any roadblocks which cant be solved only to be reported to the PM.. In this way you can reduce the burden of your PM and you can make him engaged in more projects..

There is no ideal number in how many projects one PM should manage at the same time, it depends on the skill sets of your PM..

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I recently began working as PM for a person who shovelled me uninhibitedly with plethora of ideas he’d like to see materialised. I have thus quickly found out I have exactly four ‘project pipelines’ in my brain.

I believe there is a limit to how many projects can one keep himself mentally engaged in. I don’t believe the number is strictly a function of available hours as suggested in other answers; the hours should only determine how timely can one push things forward. (However, not working full-time will likely subtract from the number of projects one can keep moving—but because that person likely has other things on the side to manage too.)

I do acknowledge that a difficult project can only be complemented effectively with minor, easy ones.

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Additionally the Project Management approach would alter this figure.

For example a Scrum Master running an Agile Scrum project may need to spend more effort per project than a Project Manager managing a 3rd party delivery from a contracted agency.

I've always said that 2 big, 2 medium and 2 small projects are a nice way to compose my portfolio of work.

However really big stuff I would expect to focus solely on. So it really is variable.

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My view on this is it depends on how the project is managed. I work in construction. If I am doing all the project management, include cost, schedule, quality etc. then I can manage 3 small to medium sized jobs, as long as the clients aren't too demanding. Ideally they would be in different phases, one in design, one in construction and one in defects period.

As the number or size of projects increases, my management has to change. I will bring in specialist schedulers, cost managers, quality managers but remain fully engaged with all aspects of the projects. This is how I managed 50 small and very similar projects.

The next step is to bring in assistant project managers, managing one or two projects each. Now you are starting to work as a portfolio manager. Rather than knowing all the details of the project, you make sure that they are initiated and planned well, receive regular progress reports, and only get involved to deal with exceptions.

So in summary, I don't think there is a maximum number of projects a PM can manage, but for a given management style, a ceiling will be reached.

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I can tell you that 12 is too many. That is what the owner of the constructions subcontractor expects of me and has assigned to me. So to even have a chance at not completely screwing everything up I've had to work longer hours, which as a salaried employee I do not get paid extra for which hurts. I will quickly admit, I am a brand new project manager and have taken courses towards my PMP, but haven't taken the exam yet. Currently I am managing 12 construction projects and the smallest, by far, is 6 uber-high end townhomes in DC within a stone's throw of the Capital and my largest job is a high end 44 story apartment complex in Baltimore. With the rest falling in between that, but more towards the Baltimore job than the townhomes. So I would say that easily 80% are fairly complex jobs. I am running them with no project team and little to no assistance from anyone else in the office. When I started here as a PM I felt overwhelmed managing 7 projects of similar sizes, but now I miss those days. Trying to explain the reality that there is only so much time in a workday falls on deaf ears. Don't even get me started on the fact that we have absolutely no systems, standards, or project management software to assist. I'm forced to plug away at everything with excel templates that I have to develop in a system so full of viruses and malware that I'm not sure if it is someone inside the company deleting my files and changing the formulas in my spreadsheets or some hacker. So in the construction field as a subcontractor I would say an experience project manger shouldn't go over 7 projects if he has similar conditions as I do and have any chance of producing a product of any quality.

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    This feels a bit like ranting about your employer, which doesn't sound like a good idea if you include both your name and identifiable projects. (It also doesn't really answer the question, but that should probably be the least of your concerns) – Erik Jul 28 '18 at 10:28
  • Hi, Pedro. Welcome to PMSE. While I think your answer attempts to address the original question, it really only does so after a lot of anecdotal background information that doesn't come across as objective. Please consider improving your answer to avoid downvotes. – Todd A. Jacobs Jul 31 '18 at 16:39
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Whether the team is small or big, it always depends on the PM's responsibility of managing projects. But that is really good that you do not want to overload your PM. When you have the intention of this then try to check whcih are the projects which you could handle easily with your team, I mean out of 5 if you could hadle 2 and then assign it to your team and you just have to review once in 2 hrs then this is really going to workout ! Give the deadlines to your team and if you have only 3 people in your team then check who is the most responsible person, make that person as your lead under you and assign the task to him giving two people under him but at the same time check what are the projects which are really difficult and then you and the guy who is like a lead under you, sit with him and plan which could be the easiest way to sort things, I mean it can be test plan, or the review or the execution !! May be in some way you will make your PM to be free for a while ! This will surely work out !! You can test the way I told you ! There is no Industry standards as such that the PM should handle ! He can handle any num of projects, depending on his capability. And when people like you are there to help him then you are making the Team grow and even the Industry could grow easily :) All the best ! Let me know if you have got the answer for your question !

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