Managing (or should I say juggling?) multiple projects is not for the faint of the heart but, sooner or later in our careers, we all experience such situations since a) resources are scarce, b) organizations can’t afford to hire additional staff, and/or c) when you are good at what you do, you end up being punished rewarded with more projects. Despite not being able to be dedicated to a single project is nowadays a common scenario, there is not much guidance out there of what to do, thus, today I’m going to give you my hints and tips on how to survive when managing multiple projects.
Prioritize your projects:
all clients and all projects are equal but some are more equal than others. Don’t simply assume that all projects are important. Check with your PMO (project management office) or Portfolio Board which projects deliver the most value and prioritize your effort accordingly. If there is no portfolio prioritization in place, discuss the issue with your project sponsor and project board. Unless you become an ‘octopus’ project manager, it will be impossible to dedicate the same level of love and attention to all projects equally.
Prioritize your own time:
don’t despair with your over-allocation, every day is an opportunity to excel. Start the day by planning what it is that you really need to accomplish that day. Use checklists to set your daily goals and find your ‘secret spot’ where you know you will not be interrupted. It is easy to get distracted if you are in a room full of colleagues but sometimes you just need to focus on one thing at a time to get the job done. Also, don’t neglect the power of quick wins: they will keep you motivated and will certainly please your stakeholders.
Distinguish between importance and urgency:
not everything that is important needs to be done just now. Learn to use your time more effectively by distinguishing between what is urgent and what is important, and manage your time like a president, using the famous principle developed by President Eisenhower. Take care of tasks which are urgent and important first, then urgent but not important. Don’t waste your time with tasks that are neither important nor urgent, you can do them once things are quieter.
with so much work, it is easy to have things falling between the cracks and, if these things are dependencies between projects, my friend, you have a problem in hands. A useful tool to ensure that all dependencies and impacts are identified and timely managed is a Dependencies Log, which can be supported by a Dependencies Map. A Dependencies Map is a very powerful mechanism to communicate with your team and stakeholders since it visually represents interfaces and points of dependencies between projects.
Set up a masterplan:
while masterplans and sub-projects are mostly used for managing programs, they can be very handy for managing a set of non-related projects too, particularly if using the same pool of resources. By putting all your project plans under the ‘umbrella’ of a master plan, you will be able to easily flag dependencies, as well as better manage deliverable and the time of the teams, since all data will be centralized in a single place.
with so much going on, it’s understandable that you want it all to go according to plan but you should resist the temptation to micromanage the work of your team or to do all the work yourself. You already have plenty on your plate, mate! Project managers tend to play superheroes and be the one and only responsible for all mitigation and resolution plans for risks and issues. Please don’t perpetuate that trend. Delegate some of the work to trusted professionals in your management team. Remember, accountability and responsibility are closely linked concepts but they are indeed different.
Learn to say ‘no’:
pay attention, one of the reasons why you are in your situation in the first place is because you accepted the new project that was assigned to you. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. Often project managers are too optimistic and overestimate their own capacity, however, make no mistake: problems happen. Be humble and acknowledge your own limitations and how much you can take on.
Ask for help:
in some organizations, there are dedicated project support offices (PSO), intended to assist project managers in delivering their projects on time, on a budget, and according to requirements, which typically also include functions of the secretariat. If you are in the need for an extra help, contact your PMO or PSO and request a dedicated support analyst to help you out with all the planning, tracking, and paperwork of the project.
Raise it as a risk:
a good project manager identifies all the key risks that can impact the project, even if that means suggesting that his/her own availability is a concern. When it comes to risk management, communication is essential. By adding your limited availability to promptly address project issues and manage work as a risk in your current projects, you are not showing incompetence or complaining but rather showing your professionalism and giving visibility over a real problem, in this way setting the right expectations to your stakeholders.
Don’t just rely on your memory:
it may sound like an additional overhead but, after a couple of meetings, you will soon enough realize how easy it is to mix deadlines and names of suppliers if dealing with multiple projects. Having an effective document management approach is essential to ensure that you are on top of your game. Do not neglect the importance of writing things down!