If one asks me about an ideal project, I will probably imagine a single team of 10-20 people. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. It is more common when a project manager is forced to lead a few smaller projects within his organization. Such a situation adds more complexity to the manager’s work because he has to balance his time and efforts between several projects and make sure that all of them are on track. This is a real mastery to juggle several projects at a time and in this article I`m going to give you a few tips on how to succeed in it.
Tips for Managing Multiple Projects at a Time
Self-organization is the core of your success when managing multiple projects, because having several projects under your supervision implies that you will regularly experience a shortage of time and focus shifts. You have to make decisions faster and adjust quicker. So, to succeed in this endeavor you must be organized, which means having in place proper tools, methodologies, and systems.
When you manage multiple projects, your project plans become really critical. With proper documentation in place you establish expectations, ways of working and formalize the updates.
Break your day into blocks
When you work on several projects simultaneously, there is a big temptation to start doing multitasking to keep up with everything. Unfortunately, humans are very bad at multitasking. So, instead of multitasking when managing multiple projects, do serial mono-tasking (a term coined by Mike Clayton), which means that you`re doing one thing at a time, and only when you complete it or put it on hold, you can switch to another task.
It is easier to achieve this by grouping together the activities that you perform during the day. You can either group similar activities together in one block, for example, all admin activities, or you can group together activities for the same project or the same client. This will help you to stay organized and prevent you from jumping between different kinds of activities and spending extra time on switching the focus.
Overlay your projects on a single timeline
It is important to understand the time cycle of each project you`re managing. On some projects things hardly change from one week to another, whereas on other projects something happens almost every day. Recognizing this time cycle means that you know how frequently you need to check in with each project. You can check in on the slow time cycle projects once or twice per week, however, on the faster time cycle projects it makes sense to check in several times per day or even to be involved almost all the time (constantly being alert to what’s going on).
Take all of the key milestones of all your projects and put them onto one chart. It will allow you to spot in advance a hot period when several projects have a big milestone happening at the same time. If you can manage and move the milestones of your projects, it makes sense to shift the timing of important milestones of different projects so that you don’t get overwhelmed. This will allow you to get a reasonable spacing between the major milestone on project A and the major milestone on project B.
Plan your working week ahead
Another useful practice that may help you in managing multiple projects is planning your next working week ahead. Review at the end of each week what’s coming up the next week: the key milestones, important meetings, etc. Plan the necessary amount of time for each project based on the priorities of the particular project`s tasks, and always leave time in your calendar for surprises, block out spaces to deal with the problems of which you are not aware yet.
Such advance planning will help you to be more organized and get into the working week smoothly without slow rollout, which is unacceptable under the time pressure one faces when managing multiple projects.
Hope these little tips will be useful for those managers who are overwhelmed with multiple projects. However, if you`re used to doing this juggling for quite a while, please, share what your tips for managing multiple projects are.