In today’s hectic workplace, where “lean” is the buzzword of the day, it’s rare for a Project Management Professional (PMP) to be able to concentrate on only one project at a time. In most companies, project managers are expected to juggle between multiple projects, without letting anything fall through the cracks. While this can be challenging, it’s not impossible.
Managing multiple projects can be what separates the men from the boys in today’s workplace. As companies strive to keep costs in check, the manpower to fully and comfortably staff projects may not exist. At the same time, new projects are constantly being added to company’s backlog in order to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The combination of these factors increases the focus on project managers, and their ability to get things done in an effective, efficient and timely manner.
When new projects are dumped on your shoulders, you need to know how to deal with them, and how to make them fit in with everything else you’re doing. You’re the PM, and the company isn’t going to be interested in hearing excuses. So, to help you out, here are our 10 Commandments on how to manage multiple projects:
1. Establish priorities
It often seems as if every project is the highest priority for your company’s executives. Everything has to be done right now, and below budget. Nevertheless, some projects have a greater potential for benefit than others. Those should be the highest priority ones. While it might seem that all projects are important for executives, the reality is something else… and you have to find out which ones are more important than others.
When you haven’t been given clear priorities, establish them yourself. If you look at the various projects from the viewpoint of potential benefit to the company, it would make it clear which ones are the most important ones. Don’t make the mistake of only thinking about financial benefit when you do this though, as other benefits can ultimately accrue to a greater overall advantage to the company. Having open communications with company executives will help you establish priorities.
Once you’ve established priorities, get someone with the appropriate authority to sign off on them. Be clear when you speak to them, letting them know that you’re not trying to shelve any projects, but rather that you want to establish which project gets precedence, if and when there is a conflict. You’re only planning ahead.
2. Develop your schedules in parallel, not in a vacuum
All of your projects’ schedules have to mesh together in some way. If you have several critical items, from several different projects, that are all due at the same time, you’re going to find yourself stretched awfully thin. It’s best to create one master plan, with all the critical milestones on all your projects on it. That way, you can fit the various schedules together and look for conflicts earlier.
Planning this way helps ensure that you aren’t overburdening any of your resources, including yourself. You need to ensure that each department, work center or individual that is involved in any of those projects is scheduled in such a way that they can get everything done. This is actually an advantage that you have, when managing multiple projects, instead of having each project managed by a separate project manager.
3. Schedule your work as ONE project
When it comes to your own personal work schedule, and the work schedules of your team members, schedule your time as if it was all one big project. Don’t try to think in terms of spending X percentage of your time on project A and Y percentage of your time on project B. Look at what tasks need to be done and when they need to be done by. Then, schedule yourself accordingly. You’ll find that this causes you to spend more time on one project one day and more on another on a different day. That’s okay, just as long as it balances out in such a way as to get everything done. Ultimately, that’s your goal.
4. Focus on what you are best at, let others do the rest
When you don’t have enough staff, it’s easy to try and do everything yourself. But, you need to remember, you’re the project manager, not a worker bee. While that doesn’t mean that you can’t get your hands dirty, you need to be sure that you have the time to do so, before committing yourself to anything.
It’s good for the team’s morale when they see you working alongside them. But, do so wisely. Make sure that the areas you choose to work on are areas where you are strong. Learn to delegate the rest to others to make your time have the greatest possible impact (even if it means keeping your hands off of something that you enjoy).
5. Don’t depend on your memory
As much as they keep upgrading memory on computers, nobody has come up with a memory upgrade for the one between your ears.
This is even more important when managing multiple projects. The more areas you are working on, the more details to keep track of. If you depend on your memory, you might remember it eventually; but eventually might be too late.
A good rule of thumb is “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” Force yourself to develop the habit of writing everything down. That way, when you need it, you can find it. Today, there are online tools and even mobile apps that can help you keep things organized and up-to-date. We recommend Trello.com which is also supported by mobile apps. You can use it as an Action Items List for yourself, or even give access to others for review and upgrade.
6. Make good use of checklists
Checklists are a great way to make sure that everything gets done. Every task that gets assigned and every detail that needs to be completed should appear somewhere on a checklist. That way, you don’t have to remember them.
You can use checklists as a reminder to get status reports from team members. When those team members tell you it’s done, ask to see it. Until you see the work completed, it stays on that checklist. Again simple tools like Trello.com can be used to keep things organized and check-marked.
7. Keep communications open
Make sure that you communicate with every team, every day, even if it’s just for a moment. That moment you spend shows that you’re still interested, still involved and think that the team members are important. At the same time, it gives the team members an opportunity to identify risks early and tell you about any problems they are having.
If you want something done, you need to check on it. People will do what is expected and inspected. It’s not enough just to expect it. That moment of time taken to inspect it, is what makes sure that it’s really done and done correctly.
8. Manage your time
Time invested in managing your time is the best time spent. You need to go into every day with a plan. Granted, things will happen to try and destroy that plan, but having that plan puts you a leg up on that day. When you don’t have a plan, the day manages you, taking you where it will, which probably isn’t where you want to go.
Don’t let yourself get bogged down in any one thing. Everything seems to take longer than you expect. That’s okay, just because it’s trying to take longer, doesn’t mean that you have to give it that extra time. If a meeting is scheduled to last an hour, and the hour is up, end the meeting. Everything else can wait until next time.
A very important part of managing time and delegating properly is to realize the importance of any one activity or problem. There are those who will bring every decision to you, expecting you to make it for them. Empower people to make their own decisions; then you don’t have to.
Often, we can get caught up in things that are urgent, but not really important. How did those things become urgent? Many times, it’s because somebody didn’t do what they should have, when they should have. If that’s the case, put it back on them and let them run around in circles taking care of it; don’t let it become your problem.
9. Don’t become project secretary
The amount of paperwork that is associated with some projects can be daunting. Just trying to keep everyone informed can be a task to challenge Hercules. You aren’t the file clerk or the secretary for every project team member. As much as possible, delegate those clerical tasks to others, so that you can concentrate on managing the project. A good secretary makes your life easier, not harder.
10. Don’t let others manage you
There are always those who have their own agenda. These people don’t see you as a manager who is getting projects done for the company; they see you as a resource for their agenda. Watch out for them. They’ll try and piggyback their pet project onto one of yours. You have enough work to do without taking care of them. Another way that people try to manage you is by telling you what to do and when to do it. Granted, your boss has this right, but he and his bosses are the only ones who do, especially if they have already established your priorities. If you are the project manager, then you need to manage the project. That starts with managing your own workload.
There you have it. Ten steps to successfully managing multiple projects. Granted, there’s a lot of effort to do all that, but it’s much more work if you don’t do it. To be successful in managing multiple projects and multiple priorities requires staying on top of your game. Success in project management is a combination of factors. However, more than anything, it requires keeping yourself focused on managing and not on doing the work yourself. No matter how much of a temptation there might be to get down and dirty with the troops, keep it under control. Yes, it’s good to rub elbows with them, but whatever you do, don’t let that keep you from doing your primary job; that of managing.
How to Get Better in Managing Multiple Projects
To help you improve your capacity in managing multiple projects and at the same time earn some PDUs, we are providing some suggestions below: