How to Manage Multiple Projects at a Time
Do you ever feel SO damn swamped with projects that you’d rather just raise the white flag and take a nap instead?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good nap, but here are some project management tips that will help you reduce stress and rest peacefully once you know your multiple projects are being managed effectively.
Before We Dive In
Let’s quickly recap some basic methods for managing a SINGLE project. Before you attempt to be a master juggler, let’s make sure you can toss and catch one ball (or maybe a bowling pin, a flaming torch – whatever your juggling heart desires).
While preparing to execute a project, I always focus on developing five main things:
- Create the SCOPE. A solid, comprehensive project scope will include a couple of the below items. It’s key to make sure all stakeholders are on the same page about what the deliverables are, and when they should be considered “done.”
- Create the SCHEDULE.
- Establish anticipated costs and set a BUDGET.
- Figure out who are your required RESOURCES. (When I say resources here, I’m focused on the people we need to make this project happen. Will I need a dedicated rep from accounting? A graphic designer? etc.)
- Identify potential RISKS and have ways to mitigate them.
I could elaborate much more on all the above, and there are endless project management methodologies and tips out there, but we’re focusing on the juggling today.
The Dos & Don'ts of Effective Multi-Project Management
Managing multiple projects at a time, whether through the same team or across several teams, requires a lot of finesse. You must start with the above items we already discussed.
A lot of the time, rather than feeling like you need to do a lot of extra things, you need to focus more on avoiding doing certain things. Let me unpack this a little bit.
- DON’T double-book your resources. Make sure your resources are balanced and working within their capacity. If they don’t have time to deliver quality work, they probably aren’t happy, your clients & stakeholders won’t be happy, and you won’t be happy. Sounds like a real buzzkill for everybody.
- DON'T chase projects with resources. Meaning, don't continually shuffle resources around hoping to "help" other deliverables that are behind schedule. (Okay, I admit I do this sometimes. But it's a risk, and we just agreed to mitigate risks!) You’re asking for a domino effect of other goals veering off track.
- DON’T schedule major milestones to line up across projects. Space them out.
- DO be very careful to manage dependencies between projects. If one deliverable has the potential to derail other projects, be all over it like it’s the last drop of beer on earth.
- DO share lessons learned. “Well, that blew up in our faces. Let’s maybe avoid completely shitting the bed there next time.”
- DO encourage project managers to raise issues early. If you’re the PM, encourage your team to raise them to you, then take those issues to key stakeholders. Internal people first! Don’t scare external folks before troubleshooting within your own company.
- Let's say you use the common project status reporting as either "Green" (project is on track), "Yellow" (project is at risk if certain issues aren't addressed), or "Red" (project is at risk, and immediate management action is required).
- It's better to have a project go green, yellow, red, red, yellow, green, green, than to have it go green, green, green, green, green, green, RED. The abrupt and unexpected halt in the latter will infuriate your stakeholders. I often tell project managers that they’re similar to doctors vs. patients. Sometimes good doctors lose a patient. Sometimes quacks save one. So, just because a project goes sideways doesn't mean they're a bad project manager. For the love of God, just tell me the real patient (project) status!!
- If you succeed in the above, then you can "manage by exception.” Spend more time helping projects that are in trouble. Don't do the work for the team! I’m all about being a team player, but as a project manager, doing the work for people creates a dependency. Coach them, bring in more money, resources, etc.
- Lastly, DO eliminate roadblocks for all your projects in advance. You’ll thank your genius, smooth sailing self later.
Tools to Help with Project Management
Fear not, if you're feeling like you might drop your juggling torches and set your professional life ablaze, there are many project management tools, such as Teamwork, to help you get a better grip.
Everyone has their own style, so you should also look into Asana, Wrike, and Trello if you want to find the best fit.