A model for assigning projects to project managers in multiple project management environments
Dragan Milosevic, Ph.D.
Department of Engineering and Technology Management
Portland State University, Oregon, U.S.A.
Peerasit Patanakul, Ph.D. candidate
Department of Engineering and Technology Management
Portland State University, Oregon, U.S.A.
How to assign a project to multiple-project managers in high-velocity industries? This inductive study of four companies in such industries explores that question, leading to the development of appropriate assignment criteria. Current research evidence indicates that to be effective in project manager assignments, management should consider strategic elements of the organization, the project's requirements, the competencies of project managers, and organizational/personal limitations as assignment criteria as they prioritize projects, match projects and project managers, and recognize limitations. Such effective project manager assignments lead to better performance of the project and the organization.
This study explores the project assignment process of organizations in high-velocity industries, in particular those that implement new product and software development projects in multiple-project environments. It focuses on the process of assigning projects to project managers, especially those who lead multiple, simultaneous projects. (While “multiple-project managers” is not an industry standard, we will use the term to designate such managers in this paper.) In fact, only a limited amount of research literature discusses project assignment processes and methodologies (Adams, Barndt, & Martin, 1979; Hauschildt, Keim, & Medof, 2000; Mian & Dai, 1999), especially in multiple-project environments, even though project assignments are an important decision in project management (Badiru, 1996; Forsberg, Mooz, & Cotterman, 2000) and multiple-project management is a current common practice (Fricke & Shenhar, 2000).
This article is organized around a research question: How to assign a project to a multiple-project manager? Our focused settings are high-velocity product and software development industries where the concurrent implementation of multiple projects is rather common. These industries encounter rapid and discontinuous changes in customer demand, competition, and technology that often make information unavailable, inaccurate, or obsolete (Eisenhardt & Bourgeois, 1988). For example, in the course of this research, one of the companies in our sample underwent a significant technological change, replacing its product platforms. It also encountered a substantial competitive change, resulting in outsourcing all production efforts and most of its design engineering activities, and it acquired several smaller companies in other parts of the world.
As the results of this study, we report a set of propositions, criteria, and processes that will, we hope, enhance traditional views of project manager assignment. Those views focus assignment on good matches between projects and project managers by considering project requirements and the competencies of the project managers. Our evidence suggests that in addition to these criteria, project manager assignments, especially those of multiple-project managers, should be made with explicit consideration as to the strategic elements of the organization as well as some organizational limitations. These additional considerations can assist in project prioritization, project/project manager matching, and recognition of limitations; these are our proposed mediating steps in the assignment process. The empirical grounding of these ideas is the area of discussion in this article. After all, appropriate project manager assignments will enhance the performance of projects and eventually the performance of an organization (Adler, Mandelbaum, Nguyen, Schwerer, & Elizabeth, 1996).
Several studies in the literature suggest that a project manager is one of the success factors in project management (Pinto & Slevin, 1988, 1989). One example is a study by Brown and Eisenhardt (1995), which indicated that a project manager who has power, vision, and management skill is a driver of the process performance, the product performance, and eventually the financial performance of a project. An assignment of a project to a project manager is, therefore, among the more critical project decisions (Adams et al., 1979; Balachandra & Friar, 1997; Shenhar, 2001). In essence, with an appropriate assignment, a project manager is more likely to manage a project to its success (Hauschildt et al., 2000) and, eventually, the success of that project may contribute to organizational performance (Adler et al., 1996; Whitson, 1992). This is particularly important for organizations in high-velocity industries that tend to use projects as a vehicle to their business success.
Despite their importance, studies on project manager assignments are limited in the literature. Several studies do propose skill sets of successful project managers, and they imply that these skills can be used as criteria for project manager selection and somehow for project manager assignments (Archibald, 1975; Frame, 1999; Gaddis, 1959; Pettersen, 1991; Thamhain, 1991). Several other studies propose that assignments should be based on criteria regarding project requirements as well as project managers’ skills in order to identify good matches between projects and project managers (Adams et al., 1979; Hauschildt et al., 2000; Mian & Dai, 1999). Even though these studies are more specific to project manager assignments, they do not explicitly address two important issues: How do the strategic elements of an organization impact project manager assignments? How do organizational limitations influence these assignments? First, it is not clear how existing assignment processes account for the impact of strategic elements. Second, it would appear that organizational limitations, such as the number of competent project managers, are not an issue. In reality, these two issues are very important and need to be addressed in order to successfully assign projects to multiple-project managers.
In current business practices, some organizations, especially in high-velocity industries, view projects as the engine of corporate success, survival, and renewal (Bowen, Clark, Holloway, & Wheelwright, 1994). Usually, these projects are selected according to the strategic elements of an organization (Pennypacker & Dye, 2002), with an eye to selecting those that will provide the highest value to the company's strategy (Cooper, Edgett, & Kleinschmidt, 1998). Therefore, assigning these projects to project managers without any consideration of the organization's strategic elements may eventually make the organization vulnerable.
Also, in many organizations, several projects are implemented at the same time (“a multiple-project environment”) (Fricke & Shenhar, 2000; Ireland, 1997; Kuprenas, Jung, Fakhouri, & Jreij, 2000; Milosevic & Patanakul, 2002; Pennypacker & Dye, 2002; Platje & Seidel, 1993). In such environments, firms may over-commit their resources (in this case, multiple-project managers); that is, they may have more active projects than their resources can support. As a result, projects take longer to get to market (Harris & McKay, 1996). The cure may lie in resource capacity planning, that is, matching the resources required for active projects with the resources that are available (Wheelwright & Clark, 1992). In other words, if resource capacity planning is not part of the project assignment process, which seems to be the case with existing assignment processes, multiple-project managers may not have adequate time to work on the projects assigned to them.
Noting the above observations, we conducted this study to explore processes of project manager assignments in multiple-project environments, especially the assignment of project managers who simultaneously lead a group of multiple projects. Our setting was high-velocity product and software development industries. The limited research in project manager assignments, especially in the multiple-project management environment of high-velocity industries, led us to an inductive study of case-study research. In addition, we established a panel of experts and followed the Delphi method for evaluating our findings.
Our research question was “How to assign a project to a multiple-project manager?” We set the following expectation: “to understand project manager assignment processes and to identify important assignment criteria.” Our research focused on market-leader companies in high-velocity industries that implement their projects in a multiple-project environment in which some project managers lead one project at a time, others lead groups of projects, and still others lead programs (see Exhibit 1). However, our focus was on assignment processes of multiple-project managers who simultaneously lead groups of multiple projects. By “high-velocity,” we mean those industries that have rapid and discontinuous change in technology, customer demand, and competition. Our specific focus was on product and software development in high-technology industries.
Exhibit 1: The project assignment process of multiple-project managers
To accomplish our research, we have included three main phases in the study: data gathering, data analysis, and validation of findings with experts.
Phase 1: Data gathering
In this phase, a literature review was conducted to obtain an understanding of research regarding project manager assignments in general. Since there was not much empirically grounded research in this area, we found it appropriate to choose a case-study research methodology. One benefit of this methodology is that the findings are drawn from their real-life context (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 1984). In this study, we used theoretical sampling (Eisenhardt, 1989) to determine the number of cases to use; we therefore stopped conducting additional case studies when incremental learning was reduced (Glaser & Strauss, 1965, 1968). We conducted our research in four specific companies in high-velocity industries (in both hardware and software development) that implement their projects in multiple-project environments. These companies are leaders in their respective markets. Exhibit 2 provides a description of the companies.
Exhibit 2: Companies included in the case-study research
We performed case-study research by studying the process of project manager assignments in each company through semi-structured interviews. These interviews were conducted on two levels of the organization, multiple-project managers and their superiors, in order to obtain information from different perspectives.
In each interview, which was tape-recorded, we used at least two investigators: One asked questions and the other(s) took notes and asked additional questions. Each interview began with questions about the company's strategic elements. Then, we asked brief questions regarding the company's project management process, followed by a list of questions about their process of project manager assignment. We always asked our interviewees to determine what was effective and what was ineffective in their process. Immediately after each interview, the investigators discussed the interview findings and recorded their impressions for use in data analysis.
Phase 2: Data analysis
After each interview, the interview was transcribed and coded (Eisenhardt, 1989; Miles & Huberman, 1980; Struss & Corbin, 1990). Then within-case and cross-case analyses were conducted to ensure the construct and internal validity of the findings (Yin, 1984). Based on the theoretical sampling, these findings were used to sharpen the succeeding interviews. The data-gathering phase was finished when the findings were saturated, that is, when our incremental learning on the process of project manager assignments had diminished. We compared our findings with the literature to identify similarities/dissimilarities and for external validation (Eisenhardt, 1989). At this stage, we developed our propositions for project manager assignment and an initial list of assignment criteria. Then, the criteria went through a process of data condensation and grouping before being evaluated by experts in the next phase.
Phase 3: Validation of findings with experts
We identified a panel of experts to further evaluate and validate our findings, especially the assignment criteria obtained from data analysis of the case studies. The panel consisted of distinguished experts with knowledge and experience in project management. These individuals are well recognized in the project management community and were impartial with no potential gain from the expected outcome of this study. To achieve a balanced mix of perspectives, we selected six experts from different professions: researchers, consultants, and practitioners. The purpose of the mix was to help minimize the impact of prejudice, if any (Kocaoglu, 1983).
In the experts’ evaluation and validation, we implemented the Delphi method (Linstone & Turoff, 1975) (see Exhibit 3), which assisted us in obtaining the experts’ opinion on the assignment criteria. From the experts’ evaluation, we obtained an integrated list of assignment criteria, including the level of importance of each criterion.
Exhibit 3: Process of experts’ evaluation (the Delphi method)
Results and Discussion
In the literature, many authors argue that project manager assignments should be made by considering project performance (Adams et al., 1979; Hauschildt et al., 2000; Mian & Dai, 1999). Using different approaches, they suggest those assignment criteria and methodologies needed to assess the demands of projects and to find project managers who appear to possess those characteristics that will meet the identified demands. One of the strongest methodologies appears to be that of Adams et al. (1979), who propose a contingency approach for project manager assignments, one that uses the concepts of the Scoring Model, which is based on attributes for matching a project to a project manager. Hauschildt et al. (2000) categorized types of projects and types of project managers, arguing that project managers should be assigned to the types of projects that they are most likely to manage successfully. Mian and Dai (1999) promoted reliance on the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP), focusing on technical, administrative, and interpersonal competencies. All of these approaches appear to be applicable to situations in which the organization has a sufficient number of project managers available to take on new projects, which is not always the case.
The evidence from our study points both to issues present in the ideas of the above authors and some new issues. We found that first, organizational strategic elements have an influence on project manager assignments, especially in project ranking before the assignments are made. One reason for this is that some organizations, especially those in high-velocity industries, use projects as building blocks of their business strategy (Cleland, 1990). The success of projects, especially the critical ones, is very important to the accomplishment of these strategies. Management often pays attention to the assignment of these projects to ensure that they go to competent project managers. In alignment with the literature, our results showed that project requirements and project manager competencies are also considered during project manager assignments. This consideration assists in identifying good matches between projects and project managers. Additionally, our evidence revealed that project manager assignments are influenced by some organizational limitations, such as the resource capacity of multiple-project managers. The detailed discussions on our findings are included in the following sections.
Project manager assignments and organizational strategic elements
In the project management literature, different authors have discussed organizational strategic elements. However, most of the discussion has focused on the use of organizational strategic elements in project selection (Adler et al., 1996; Eisenhardt & Brown, 1998; George, 1999; Maruca, 2000; Meyer & Seliger, 1998; Meyer & Utterback, 1993; Riesenberger, 1998; Scarcia, Herrera, Sparadoski, Lichnowski, & Ehrgott, 1998; Tatikonda, 1999). Studies specifically concerning project manager assignments are rare. Nevertheless, Adams et al. proposed that in project manager assignments, the project demands should be assessed, in very general terms, as to the uncertainty within the organization and the firm's dependence on the project (Adams et al., 1979).
The evidence in the present research demonstrates a different view. We found that the strategic elements of an organization are often considered very specifically in project manager assignments. In particular, these elements are first used in project prioritization. Then projects are assigned to multiple-project managers. In formal terms, we can state this as:
Proposition 1: The greater the consideration of organizational strategic elements, the more effective are project manager assignments .
Before being assigned, projects are prioritized based on their relative contribution to the strategic elements of the organization. From this prioritization, management will know the degree to which that project is critical to the performance of the organization. Preferably, the critical projects will be assigned to the most competent multiple-project managers, those who have credibility in leading projects to their success. As one interviewee stated, “If it [a new project] is something that is more critical, you [management] obviously have to use the most experienced person that you can afford to put on the project.”
When we explored, in detail, those strategic elements often considered in project prioritization, we found that the organizational goals used are those related to the business strategy of the organization. These goals are tiered into business, operation, and technology aspects. The following business-related goals are often used: increased profitability, increased revenue, new markets created, increased market share, improved customer satisfaction, and new business alliances created. For the operation-related goals, our informants suggested the following: accelerating time-to-market, enabling staff development, and balancing resource capacity. The last group included the technically related goals: to strengthen/leverage technological competence, to support technological innovation, and to facilitate technological knowledge transfer.
Using this list of organizational goals and the Delphi method (Linstone & Turoff, 1975), we asked our experts to evaluate and rank these goals (1 = not important, 7 = the most important) as project prioritization criteria for project manager assignments. The ranking from our experts of the top five are shown in Exhibit 4.
Exhibit 4: Top five organizational strategic elements and their importance
Project manager assignments and project requirements
To assign a project to a project manager, assessing project requirements is a necessity. Adams et al. (1979) proposed that requirements of projects can be assessed in terms of project characteristics, namely economic, organizational, technological, and behavioral. In general, many authors propose that such project requirements can be derived, for example, from the complexity of projects, project size, project duration, level of technological uncertainty, interdependencies and interactions among projects, the experience and sophistication of clients, and the degree of stakeholder involvement (Birnberg, 1997; Duncan, 1999; Shenhar, 2001). In essence, an understanding of project requirements will help identify the right project manager for a project.
The evidence from our study also supports these findings. Project requirements are always a consideration of management, and they are important factors in making project manager assignment decisions. In formal terms, we can state this while:
Proposition 2: The greater the consideration of project requirements, the more effective are project manager assignments .
In project manager assignments, project requirements are assessed in order to identify which competencies are needed for the project and to what degree the project needs those competencies. Management then uses this assessment to identify a project manager who possesses those competencies. As one of our interviewees stated, “I look at the project and if I see that this is a really high-risk project and that we have never worked with this technology, then if I know I have a project manager who is really strong on risk management, I will assign the project to him…[Or] if the schedule looks a little bit aggressive, and I know we are going to compete for resources, I will assign a project to a project manager who is really proactive….”
When we examined which project requirements were considered in project manager assignments, we found that the following were most important: the degree of technical and commercial risk, organizational complexity, how critical the schedule is, technology novelty, task complexity, and team dispersion. Project size and project duration were also important assessments to make. For software development projects, our interviewee mentioned that several additional questions were important: “Is this a new feature? Is it integrated with another application? What is the level of testing we will have to do?”
Exhibit 5 shows the top five project requirements that our experts recognized as important in project manager assignments. Our experts recommended that performance requirements and quality requirements should be considered as well.
Exhibit 5: Top five project requirements and their importance
Project manager assignments and the competencies of multiple-project managers
Prior research has suggested that knowing the level of competencies of project managers is important for project manager assignments. Such knowledge helps identify those project managers who appear to possess the competencies needed to meet the identified demands of the project (Adams et al., 1979; Hauschildt et al., 2000; Mian & Dai, 1999). In the literature, although not specific to project manager assignments, competencies of successful project managers have been widely discussed (Archibald, 1975; Einsiedel, 1987; Frame, 1999; Gaddis, 1959; Pettersen, 1991; Posner, 1987). In sum, these competencies, which assist project managers in leading individual projects, can be categorized into technical, administrative/process, human/interpersonal, and business/strategic competencies.
The evidence in this study revealed the same conclusion. In project manager assignments, management's assessment of the competencies of multiple-project managers is helpful in making the assignment decisions. In formal terms, we can state this as:
Proposition 3: The greater the consideration of competencies of project managers, the more effective are project manager assignments .
We found that, in general, assessment of project managers’ competencies included an assessment of their track record of successful project management. Thus, not surprisingly, it is preferable that a multiple-project manager with proven competencies corresponding to the identified requirements of a project is assigned. As one of our interviewees observed, “If I [management] have a complex project, I’d be looking at the experience level of the multiple-project managers, their skills, their versatility, and their track record… I’d try to get the best match up of their backgrounds with the needs of the project.”
When researching which competencies project managers should possess and which should be used in project manager assignments, we found a different list of competencies from those proposed in the literature. Our evidence suggests that multiple-project managers should possess two sets of competencies. The first set, for leading an individual project, is quite similar to the one in the literature. However, the second set, those competencies that multiple-project managers should possess in order to coordinate a group of projects, was not found in the literature. Our evidence also suggests that both sets of competencies are important for determining the assignments.
The competency set for leading an individual project includes technical, administrative/process, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and business/strategic competencies. Several of those interviewed in our study noted that administrative/process and people skills (interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies) are very important: “You [multiple-project manager] should have a solid foundation in project management… You should be able to communicate and influence people … You have to be very organized, thoughtful, and methodical.” Business/strategic competencies are also important: “Multiple-project managers should be able to make the right trade-off decisions on the project.” However, we found evidence that some companies do not require their multiple-project managers to have strong technical expertise; rather, they prefer skills with the big picture of the technical aspects of the project. For example, one interviewee noted: “They [multiple project managers] should understand when we are talking about the importance of the system architecture being defined, how critical that is to the project.”
The evidence also revealed that multiple project management competencies, which are necessary for coordinating projects, are also important for project manager assignments. These competencies include obvious experience in managing multiple projects plus interdependency management, multitasking, simultaneous team management, and interproject process. Multiple-project managers should be able to manage interdependencies and interactions among projects related to shared milestones, resources, and technology. They should be competent in multitasking in order to “minimize switchover time between tasks,” as articulated by one of our interviewees. We also heard in our interviews that having different management styles can help multiple-project managers simultaneously lead several project teams. In addition, multiple-project managers should be able to integrate planning/scheduling, monitoring/control, and resource management among projects. One experienced interviewee commented, “If some of my projects had the same kind of deliverables, sometimes I did them together.” We found that understanding the level of these competencies possessed by multiple-project managers can assist in estimating their resource availability. One interviewee mentioned that multiple-project managers who are proficient in multiple-project management competencies lose only small amounts of time in coordinating projects, stating rather explicitly that “they can do more for less.”
Exhibit 6 shows the top five competencies in each category that should be considered in project manager assignments.
Exhibit 6: Top five competencies in each category and their importance
Project manager assignments and organizational/personal limitations
In the literature, several authors recognized the importance of organizational limitations in project management. Although not specific to project manager assignments, Adler et al. (1996) suggested that an organization should not implement too many projects at the same time since it might exceed its resource capacity, which in turn might eventually lead to project delay. Platje et al. (1993, 1994) recognized some of the organizational limitations from interdependencies and interactions among projects and suggested that an organization should manage them in a coordinated way to the benefit of all projects. In terms of the project manager's workload, Kuprenas et al. (2000) found that the experience level of a project manager is a determinant of his workload level. However, one study from Kapur International (1993) showed that management may not have the luxury of assigning projects only to a project manager who manages four simultaneous projects without taking into account that she may lose about 20% of her time switching between tasks. Similar findings appeared in the study of Rubinstein et al. (2001). However, the literature on project manager assignments does not discuss these aspects in the context of project manager assignments. Nevertheless, our evidence strongly indicates that organizational/personal limitations are important factors determining project manager assignments. In formal terms, we suggest the following:
Proposition 4: The greater the consideration of organizational/personal limitations, the more effective are project manager assignments .
From our evidence, organizational/personal limitations restrict project manager assignments. One often- mentioned limitation is the resource capacity of multiple-project managers. One interviewee noted: “I [management] don't want to load them [multiple-project managers] up to the point that they can't be effective. With four projects, I think, a multiple-project manager is going to lose a lot of effectiveness and a lot of efficiency because he is changing gears too much. This is really inefficient.” Before assigning projects, therefore, management should consider whether multiple-project managers are available, that is, do they have sufficient resource capacity to take on additional projects? In general, resource capacity is measured roughly in the unit of the number of projects or, as in some organizations, in the unit of the number of person-hours per time period.
We also learned from the interviews that the type and phase of projects are important factors in project manager assignments. A multiple-project manager may not be able to simultaneously lead several projects of a certain type or in a certain phase. “It is very difficult to handle a breakthrough product development project and a platform project at the same time,” commented an interviewee.
Our evidence also shows that, in some organizations, the strength of the project team and the availability of support staff are considered during project manager assignments. We heard from our interviewees that “a strong project team can release a multiple-project manager from managing details” and the help of support staff can “increase a multiple-project manager's time spent on value-added activities.”
Interdependencies and interactions among projects are important. This limitation leads to the assignment of several projects that have strong interdependencies and interactions to the same multiple-project manager. In addition, management always prefers to assign a project to a credible multiple-project manager whom they can trust to lead a project to success.
We also found that the career path of a multiple-project manager, including personal preferences, is often considered during project manager assignments. As one of our interviewees stated, “I got this project that I am working on now because I told my manager that I wanted to do it.” Exhibit 7 illustrates the top five organizational limitations as identified by our experts.
Exhibit 7: Top five organizational/personal limitations and their importance.
Project assignments and performance of organizations
(In this section, the influence of project manager assignments on the organizational performance is discussed. Even though this influence is not a focus of our research, we have learned much about it through the study.)
As we have already mentioned, several researchers have proposed project managers as a key project success factor (Brown & Eisenhardt, 1997; Pinto & Slevin, 1988, 1989) . This proposition appears to be true where there is an appropriate project manager assignment. What we found both from our evidence and in the literature is that management prefers to assign a project to experienced project managers who have good track records in successful project management (Fricke & Shenhar, 2000; Hauschildt et al., 2000; Kuprenas et al., 2000). Such assignments may lead projects to their success. In turn, the success of these projects enhances organizational performance (Adler et al., 1996).
Because organizations in high-velocity industries use projects as their business engines (Pennypacker & Dye, 2002), the projects are significant to the accomplishment of the organizational strategy. In other words, project performance has a direct impact on organizational performance. Since project manager assignments influence the performance of projects, and the performance of projects directly influences the organizational performance, we would like to propose that project manager assignments are important to project performance and the achievement of the organizational performance.
Proposition 5: The more effective project manager assignments , the greater will be the performance of projects and the organization .
Perhaps a success story based on our case study can help demonstrate Proposition 5. Company LCD views product development as the source of its business success. An appropriate project assignment was one of the factors that assisted the company in successfully launching its new products on schedule—and ahead of its competitors. This success provided the company with an opportunity to gain tremendous revenue and profits. In turn, these gains strengthened its technological competence regarding its investment in R&D. Thus, concluding that project manager assignment is one of the factors influencing both project performance and organizational performance, we propose a model of project manager assignment that summarizes the findings of this study.
Toward a conceptual model of project manager assignments
The set of propositions above includes criteria that should be considered in project manager assignments. In this section, those propositions and criteria are presented in the form of a model organized around three mediating steps of the assignment process (Exhibit 8).
Exhibit 8: A conceptual model of project manager assignments in multiple-project environments of high-velocity industries.
The evidence of our study revealed that the strategic elements of an organization should be considered in project manager assignments (Proposition 1). This is done through the mediating step of project prioritization before projects are assigned. In this step, management prioritizes projects based on the degree to which they contribute to the accomplishment of the organization's strategic elements. The projects that contribute more will have higher priority than those that contribute less. Based on this prioritization, the priority of an individual project also illustrates the importance of that project to organizational performance. We found that an understanding of project requirements may help facilitate project prioritization for project manager assignments (Proposition 2).
Preferably, after identifying the importance level of a project, a strategically important project will be assigned to a competent project manager whose competencies are well matched to the project requirements. As one interviewee commented: “If it [a new project] is something that is more critical, you [management] obviously have to choose the most experienced person [multiple-project manager] that you can afford to put on the project.” This leads to the next mediating step in the assignment process: project/project manager matching. In this step, the project's requirements have to be identified (Proposition 2). In addition, the competency levels of multiple-project managers have to be assessed to identify those whose competencies correspond to the project's needs (Proposition 3). In other words, these can be good indicators of an appropriate match between projects and project managers.
Besides considering strategic elements, project requirements, and competencies of multiple-project managers, management should also recognize organizational/personal limitations in project manager assignments (Proposition 4). This leads to the next mediating step, the recognition of limitations. One example of limitations is the resource capacity of a project manager. Management should be certain that a multiple-project manager is available to take on an additional project, i.e., assign a project to a multiple-project manager when he has sufficient resource capacity to respond to the project's demands. “You [management] may have to rearrange or reprioritize the work that he (the multiple-project manager) has got or you have to look for an open window,” stated an interviewee. An understanding of the level of competencies of project managers, especially multiple-project management competencies, may help. Management estimates the resource capacity of multiple-project managers (Proposition 3), and the assessment of project requirements may assist in the estimation of project demands (Proposition 2).
After going through these mediating steps, management should be able to assign strategically important projects to those competent project managers who are available to lead them. These assignments are thus done with respect to other organizational/personal limitations as well. As a result, project managers should be able to lead projects to success, and the success of these projects will enhance the performance of the organization and the accomplishment of the organizational strategy (Proposition 5).
Contributions, strengths, and limitations
The most original contributions from this research study are propositions, criteria, process, and a conceptual model regarding project manager assignment in multiple-project environments of high-velocity industries. Our propositions can be summarized thus: Project manager assignments should take into consideration organizational strategic elements, project requirements, project manager competencies, and organizational limitations. With these considerations, project manager assignments should enhance the performance of projects and of the organization, including the performance of project managers in leading projects to success. In addition, others can use these propositions as directions for future research on project assignments.
In the domain of an integrated list of assignment criteria, several studies propose project requirements and competencies of project managers as main criteria (Adams et al., 1979; Hauschildt et al., 2000; Mian & Dai, 1999). We extend these to include criteria concerning organizational strategic elements and organizational limitations, something not reported by other researchers. This study also proposes the level of importance of each criterion based on expert judgments, which is rarely found in the work of the other researchers. It is our hope that these levels of importance may be a useful resource for future researchers and practitioners.
In the domain of the assignment process, this research proposes two additional steps: project prioritization and limitation recognition. These steps are valuable extensions of the works of other researchers (Adams et al., 1979; Hauschildt et al., 2000; Mian & Dai, 1999), which focus only on project/project manager matching. With our additional steps, the assignment process tends to be more practical in current multiple-project environments, especially those of high-velocity industries.
The conceptual model we propose here integrates the propositions, criteria, and mediating processes for project assignments and project/organizational success. It shows all major variables and their links in a clearer way than the existing models of project assignment.
The strength of this study is its focus on a process of project manager assignment, especially that of multiple-project managers who lead groups of multiple projects in high-velocity industries. Its findings contribute to current knowledge because, in spite of the critical nature of making assignment decisions, especially those of multiple-project managers, empirically-grounded research on this area is limited.
Even with its grounded research process, this study has some potential limitations. First, since the study analyzed the project assignment processes of only four market-leader companies, the sample size was small. However, those analyses were systematically performed following case-study research methodology, and based on the theoretical sampling, it proves itself to be adequate for analytical generalization (Eisenhardt, 1989; Glaser & Strauss, 1968; Yin, 1984). In addition, to ensure external validity, our findings were compared with the literature and evaluated by a panel of experts. Second, the study proposes the level of importance of each of the assignment criteria as evaluated by a panel of experts. Even though our panel is composed of only six experts, they are top researchers, practitioners, and consultants. In addition, a rigorous procedure was implemented in expert selection (Kocaoglu, 1983), and the Delphi method (Linstone & Turoff, 1975) was used during the experts’ evaluations of the assignment criteria. The third limitation may be our specific focus on the environments of product and software development projects in high-velocity industries. However, this should be considered as a strength since such environments are currently of strong interest to researchers and will surely increase in number on future research agendas. Additionally, several technology-driven organizations seek an effective approach to managing product or software development projects.
This study has examined the process of project manager assignments, especially those of multiple-project managers who lead groups of multiple projects. The results of the study offer a list of propositions regarding project manager assignments in multiple-project environments of high-velocity industries. These propositions are organized as a model of project manager assignment, and include assignment process and criteria.
For implementation, an organization might adapt the mediating steps proposed in this study to its process of project manager assignments, which in turn might include:
Identifying strategic elements of the organization for project prioritization.
Understanding project requirements.
Prioritizing projects based on their contribution to those strategic elements.
Identifying candidate project managers and their level of competencies.
Identifying corresponding level between the project's requirements and the project manager's skills
Identifying the organizational/personal limitations regarding project manager assignments
Assigning a project to a project manager with respect to project priority, the project/project manager match, and the organizational/personal limitations.
In terms of the criteria for project manager assignments, an organization can use the proposed criteria including their level of importance as guidelines for selecting those assignment criteria that are pertinent to the organization's strategy and culture. This must especially be emphasized when these criteria are used for assignments in different industries. Since our intention is not to suggest that this list of criteria can be generalized across industries, we propose that organizations in other industries use this list as a framework to develop a customized list applicable to their industries.
Conclusion and Future research
This study proposes a set of propositions summarized as a model that includes a process and criteria for use in project manager assignments in multiple-project environments of high-velocity industries. In using this process and these criteria, project manager assignment can be done with consideration to both project performance and organization performance. With this consideration, the assignment process may help facilitate the alignment between business strategy and project management.
We believe that the five propositions may provide directions for future research on project manager assignment. In addition, the research on assignment criteria can be extended by conducting research in different settings, for example, different types of projects or in different industries. Lastly, the research on the development of a quantitative model for project manager assignment—which is the focus of our future research— can be pursued by using the propositions, process, and criteria suggested in this study as foundations.
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