When you’re managing an unusually complex project, it can feel as if entire days are spent planning the implementation, predicting and managing risks, and communicating with team members. If multiple projects fall on your plate simultaneously, everything is amplified, and you’ll likely regret that the ability to clone yourself doesn’t yet exist.
Take a deep breath. Other project managers have done it, and you can do it too. Here are some strategies for managing multiple projects without losing your focus- or your mind.
1. Define Each Project’s Needs Before It Begins
One of a project manager’s most critical responsibilities is defining the scope of the project and assembling all necessary resources before work begins. This step should be obvious, but when faced with a vast workload it can be too tempting to dive right in and start clearing your plate. Doing so can create future problems that only add to your workload, so plan everything before launching.
The pre-launch stage is also the time when you establish the right expectations with each client or stakeholder. Ask them a few simple questions to confirm that everyone is on the same page and that their business goals are clear. These goals dictate project priorities, timeline flexibility, and overall expectations.
‘Delegating’ is a project management buzzword for a reason. You will never have the time or ability to do all the work necessary for each project, so don’t be afraid to leverage your teams. You chose each member for their skills and expertise in their respective areas, so point them in the right direction and let them work. You will still need to supervise and guide them, but you will no longer feel pressured to do too much by yourself.
Delegating is a win-win strategy when you have several projects on the go. You empower your teams by providing them with opportunities to take ownership and deliver stellar work, and you have more time to devise strategies, address changes in direction or priority, and in general keep all the projects on track. Remember- even Superman had help!
3. Use a Project Planning Software to Monitor Progress
If you’re managing multiple projects, planning software facilitates the tracking of time, tasks, and overall progress. Toggl Plan is an excellent tool because it’s highly visual, which makes multi-project management more intuitive and efficient. Its custom color feature lets you color-code projects for easy overview and evaluation. Other benefits include:
- Your team members can estimate the amount of time needed to work on each project
- You can determine if your resources are over-allocated
- Overlapping dependencies and milestones are easier to detect and address before they can compromise any projects.
4. Manage Dependencies
Project management software like Toggl Plan also simplifies the process of managing several interconnected dependencies. Color-coded visual presentations reduce the possibility of critical resources overlapping on equally important milestones. If resources and milestones shift or change, you can see and evaluate how they may affect all your projects and take appropriate action.
5. Avoid Unrealistic Deadlines
Stakeholders will sometimes impose unrealistic deadlines, even for multiple projects. It’s also common to make an estimation error and conclude that a project can be completed a lot sooner than requirements and resources dictate.
Planning software can prevent scheduling errors but if a stakeholder has an impractical deadline, be direct with them about how such a schedule can affect the integrity of the project(s). You should also encourage your team members to speak up when their experience tells them that a timeline is not likely to work.
6. Avoid Scope Creep
Scope creep is common in project management. It’s problematic to deal with because it sets in so gradually that the damage is done before you realize it. Extra requests, new features, and unplanned changes both strain resources and make it difficult for multiple projects to stay on track.
When goals and success factors are clearly defined at the beginning, scope creep can’t set in as easily, but clients occasionally make spontaneous requests. Be prepared to have an honest conversation with your client if they ask for additions or changes that don’t align with the project vision or add any value. If they realize that such requests threaten the timeline, they may limit any changes to essential ones only.
7. Update Plans When Needed
There’s one thing you can guarantee in project management: things will change. Priorities will shift and resources will have to be redistributed to support the new goal or strategy. It happens all the time. When one or more of your projects experience a change in direction, update the original plans in your project management software, so that all your teams are on board. Otherwise, communication breakdown will result in conflicting expectations and make it difficult to get everything back on track.
8. Avoid Conflicting Priorities
When you’re managing multiple projects for different clients or different units within your organization, it’s possible that priorities will conflict, making it hard to stabilize each project’s deadlines and resources. Project planning software makes it easier to detect conflicts and rearrange priorities based on what is urgent vs. what is important. Urgency always takes priority.
9. Review Everything at the End of the Day
Set aside 15 minutes to half an hour at the end of each workday to review its accomplishments and decide if any changes should be made to the next day’s agenda. Input any revisions into your project management software so that all your teams understand what’s expected of them when they report for work in the morning. Taking this time to review and reflect will help you make balanced decisions and keep everything on track.
Having a full lineup of client projects is terrific- except when their timelines are concurrent and their deadlines match! Juggling multiple responsibilities at the same time is a huge exercise in strategic planning and resource management, but if you have a capable system in place for tracking tasks and projects, it can be done. Even easily.
Rose Keefe is an author and technical writer who has over ten years’ experience in supporting project managers in the manufacturing and construction sectors. One of her primary responsibilities was developing product manuals that supported efficient use of industrial equipment. She continues to write on the subject of time management and commercial productivity for trade websites and publications.