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How to Manage Several Projects at Once

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Managing multiple projects simultaneously is a common challenge for most project managers. Balancing competing priorities, aligning different project teams, and maintaining productivity can seem daunting. Drawing insights from Elizabeth Harrin’s expertise as shared in the podcast episode from “Manage This,” along with additional strategies and tools, this blog explores effective ways to juggle multiple projects without dropping the ball. Elizabeth Harrin is an author, speaker, and mentor who helps people manage projects with straight-talking, real-world advice. An APM Fellow and author of 7 books, she is on a mission to make sure you can deliver better quality projects with more confidence and less stress. 

Understand the Landscape of Your Projects

The first step in managing multiple projects effectively is to gain a clear understanding of your entire project portfolio. Harrin suggests categorizing your projects into workloads using the food analogies of “sushi,” “spaghetti,” and “side dish.” This metaphorical framework helps in visualizing how projects relate to each other.

  • Sushi: Each project is discrete and independent, much like separate pieces of sushi on a plate.
  • Spaghetti: Projects are highly interdependent, tangled together like spaghetti noodles.
  • Side Dish: Projects are secondary to main responsibilities, akin to a side dish complementing a main course.

By categorizing your projects, you can better manage resources and expectations and design strategies that are tailored to the nature of your workload.

Portfolio Management

Effective project management starts with comprehensive portfolio oversight. Knowing all the projects you are responsible for, their status, dependencies, and impacts on each other allows for more strategic planning and prioritization. Create a visual representation of your project portfolio to track progress and quickly identify areas requiring attention.

Strategic Planning

Plan meticulously but flexibly. Harrin emphasizes the importance of scheduling and the management of dependencies. Use tools like Gantt charts for complex projects or simplified milestone charts for an overview. Ensure that your planning process accommodates changes and has contingency pathways to handle overlapping project demands and resource constraints.

Develop Key Skills

Harrin identifies critical skills that project managers need to hone when managing multiple projects.

  • Scheduling: Avoid conflicts and resource crunches by creating a cohesive schedule that accommodates all critical milestones across projects.
  • Managing Dependencies: Identify and manage inter-project dependencies effectively to prevent bottlenecks.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Maintain open lines of communication with all stakeholders. Keep them informed and involved in decisions to ensure continued support and alignment.

Prioritize and Delegate

Effective prioritization is crucial when managing multiple projects. Not every task contributes equally to the success of a project. This project management truth is even more critical to keep in mind when you are managing more than one project. Use prioritization techniques such as MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have this time) or the ABC method (categorizing tasks from A, most important, to C, least important) to assess and rank tasks based on their urgency and impact. This method helps in making strategic decisions about where to focus resources and effort.

Delegation is equally important. Identify key team members with the right skills and capacities to handle specific tasks. Delegating effectively does more than just lighten your workload; it helps in developing your team’s skills and building their confidence. This not only optimizes project outcomes but also enhances team morale and promotes a culture of trust and accountability. Be sure to provide clear instructions and the necessary authority for team members to execute their tasks without constant oversight, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Leverage Technology

In today’s digital age, leveraging the right technology can significantly enhance project management efficiency. Project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Microsoft Project provide robust features for task management, scheduling, and real-time updates. These tools facilitate better planning and coordination across multiple projects, ensuring that every team member has access to the latest information.

Furthermore, collaboration tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom can streamline communication, making it easier to share updates, conduct meetings, and maintain connectivity with remote or distributed teams. Integrating these tools into your daily operations can enhance transparency and ensure that all project stakeholders are aligned and informed.

Maintain Communication

Communication is the backbone of effective project management. It becomes even more important when you are managing resources across multiple projects! Establish a regular communication schedule, such as weekly or biweekly check-ins, to discuss project progress, address challenges, and plan next steps. These meetings should be structured to maximize efficiency: prepare an agenda in advance, keep discussions focused, and document action items and decisions.

For stakeholder communications, prioritize clarity and conciseness. Develop regular project reports or dashboards that provide critical updates in a digestible format. Remember that stakeholders may not require every detail, so focus on delivering key information that impacts decision-making and project outcomes.

Focus on Productivity

Avoid common productivity pitfalls like multitasking, which can dilute focus and lead to increased errors. Encourage single-tasking among your team members to enhance focus and efficiency. Establish dedicated blocks of time for specific activities such as checking emails, conducting meetings, or working uninterrupted on high-priority tasks. Time blocking is a smart practice for project managers. Cal Newport’s book Deep Work is a great place to learn about this practice.

Set an example for your project teams by learning and practicing healthy, productive work habits. Encourage the use of to-do lists, organizational apps, or digital calendars to keep track of tasks and deadlines. A clear and organized workspace can significantly reduce stress and improve productivity.

Continuous Learning and Adaptation

The field of project management is ever-evolving, with new methodologies, tools, and best practices emerging regularly. Stay informed about the latest trends and innovations in project management by participating in workshops, webinars, and professional courses. This not only enhances your skills but also ensures that your project management practices remain current and effective.

Regularly seek feedback from your team and stakeholders. This feedback is invaluable for identifying areas for improvement and adapting your processes to better meet the needs of your projects and teams.

Practice Ethical Management

Adhere to the highest standards of ethics and transparency in all aspects of project management. This involves being open about project challenges and realistic about what can be achieved within given constraints. Ethical management builds trust among team members and stakeholders, fostering a supportive and positive work environment.

Ensure that all decisions and actions are fair and transparent. Avoid conflicts of interest and be mindful of the broader impact of your project decisions on the environment, community, and society. Ethical leadership not only enhances your reputation but also contributes to the long-term success and sustainability of your projects.

By combining Harrin’s expert advice from the podcast with these additional strategies, you can enhance your ability to manage multiple projects with efficiency. Remember, the key to successful multi-project management is not just about surviving, but thriving through effective planning, communication, and execution.Velociteach offers comprehensive training for project managers to help you achieve greater success. Whether you’re preparing for the PMP Exam or focusing on professional development, you’ll be able to find what you need with our library of training courses, podcast episodes, blogs, and other resources. Get started today!