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Today, we’re diving into a question that’s often overlooked but holds immense importance for project managers: How many construction projects can a project manager effectively oversee? This topic isn’t frequently discussed, yet it’s a critical consideration that directly impacts a project manager’s productivity and success. Join us as we explore a groundbreaking productivity study that sheds light on the number of projects a project manager can realistically manage and what to do if you’re overseeing too many. 

The Effects Of Context Switching

Our insights stem from a remarkable class experience, courtesy of my brother Felipe Engineer and the team at In a scrum master training session, I was introduced to a productivity study that revolutionized my understanding of scheduling and productivity: the effects of context switching. Context switching occurs when a project manager shifts their mental focus from one project to another, resulting in significant productivity loss.

According to a study by Gerald and Weinberg in 1992 (referenced in Quality Software Management Systems Thinking, page 284), the impact of context switching on a project manager’s productivity is staggering. When a project manager oversees one project, they can maintain 100% focus on that project without any productivity loss. However, as the number of projects increases, focus time diminishes, leading to decreased productivity and efficiency.

For instance:

  • With two projects, focus time is split into two segments, with a 40% productivity loss.
  • With three projects, focus time divides into three segments, resulting in a 40% productivity loss.
  • The pattern continues, with productivity loss reaching 60% for four projects and 75% for five projects.

Beyond five projects, productivity plummets, and the project manager’s ability to effectively manage projects diminishes significantly. It’s evident that overseeing too many projects not only compromises productivity but also increases the risk of project failure.

How Many Construction Projects Can Project Managers Manage?

Based on these findings, effective project management in construction typically involves overseeing one to three projects. While larger projects may require undivided attention, smaller projects still benefit from focused oversight. In my 25-year career, I’ve rarely seen project managers successfully manage more than five projects simultaneously without experiencing significant challenges and setbacks.

Disadvantages Of Handling Too Many Projects

Managing an excessive number of projects leads to various disadvantages, including constant distractions, overwhelming email communication, back-to-back meetings, and an inability to focus on critical tasks. Moreover, it contributes to a stressful work environment, negatively impacting the project manager’s health and personal life.

What To Do If You Have Too Many Projects

If you find yourself overwhelmed with too many projects, there are practical steps you can take to mitigate the challenges:

  1. Delegate Responsibility: Assign dedicated superintendents or foremen to oversee individual projects, ensuring boots-on-the-ground leadership and effective communication.
  2. Time Blocking: Plan your week strategically, allocating focused time for each project and minimizing context switching.
  3. Protect Your Time: Establish boundaries and communicate your focus time to your team, allowing uninterrupted periods for critical tasks.
  4. Invest in Personal Organization: Explore scrum courses, personal organization planners, and time management resources to enhance your productivity and efficiency.

In conclusion, effective project management in construction requires a strategic approach to project oversight and time management. By understanding the impact of context switching and implementing proactive measures to protect your time, you can maximize productivity and drive project success.

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Discover Jason’s Expertise:

Meet Jason Schroeder, the driving force behind Elevate Construction IST. As the company’s owner and principal consultant, he’s dedicated to taking construction to new heights. With a wealth of industry experience, he’s crafted the Field Engineer Boot Camp and Superintendent Boot Camp – intensive training programs engineered to cultivate top-tier leaders capable of steering their teams towards success. Jason’s vision? To expand his training initiatives across the nation, empowering construction firms to soar to unprecedented levels of excellence.

On we go!