“I can’t be overdrawn. I still have checks left.” We have all heard this before, or at least know the intended meaning. It’s a reference to overspending and not being careful with your finances. After all, if you have checks left to use, then there must be funds to back them up, right?

Wrong! Not knowing how much money is left in the checking account leads to overdrafts. So why do some people avoid looking at the balance of their bank account? Because they don’t want any bad news, which they know is waiting for them when they finally do look.

How does this apply to project portfolio management and further to a Project Management Office (PMO)? Most large organizations have dozens of projects in progress or in waiting in their pipeline at any given time, and more are being added.

It’s the taking on of new projects and the timelines that IT leaders commit to that become the problem. Having checks in the checkbook doesn’t mean there is money in the account, and having extra lines in your project portfolio list doesn’t mean your resources have the bandwidth to do them.

Timelines should be driven, among other factors, by the resources available to work on a project. Just like writing a check without the funds to back it up, expecting a project to be completed during a time period where you have no resources to work on it is a recipe for disaster. It makes those projects part of 60% of IT projects that fail to meet their success criteria.

Unfortunately, many senior leaders ignore this problem and simply pile additional work onto already over-taxed resources. They are writing checks without looking to see if they have the resources to back them up. They hope against hope that the team assigned to the project will ‘make it happen’. Managers often suffer in this scenario, too, as they are asked to do ‘more with less’ and ‘get creative’ with their staffing.

So now let’s add in the PMO. Typically, the project management office has the responsibility of managing the project portfolio. The person or persons who manage the portfolio adjust resources and forecast timelines of the projects within the portfolio, so that those can be clearly communicated to senor leaders. But then, along comes the new project that was promised on a specific timeline without any consideration of the projects already underway. Now, not only is the new project in jeopardy, but so are many of the pre-existing ones as timelines are shuffled, resources are re-assigned, and (inevitably) deadlines are missed.

There’s a cure for this problem, which starts with an organized and methodical way of taking on new projects within your organization. More on that in a future post. The processes needed to launch new projects and set realistic expectations are not complicated, it just takes discipline. The same kind of discipline it takes to track your finances and not bounce checks.