As a project manager, you’ll most likely manage multiple projects. And you’ll have to give each one the focus and energy to ensure it succeeds.
You’ll have competing demands and new challenges each day. Unexpected problems emerge and tasks can get off track. It takes incredible organizational skills to manage conflicting workloads and competing priorities. And on top of this, you must cope with the stress that comes from project overload. You need a reliable system and tools to help manage it all. These strategies and tools will help you manage multiple projects with confidence and poise.
Challenges to managing multiple projects
Individual projects have challenges. But if you’re managing an individual project, you’re able to give it more attention and energy. Managing multiple projects at the same time adds challenges on top of the regular project challenges and project risk:
- juggling and managing many resources and tasks
- competing priorities
- managing multiple stakeholders with different needs
- becoming overwhelmed
- the effort needed to keep track of everything
- task and context switching throughout the day (give a statistic here on how much productivity you lose)
- managing your time well
- more administrative work that comes with more projects: updating budgets, plans, status reports, and more
- an increased amount of communications
Managing multiple projects can be stressful, complicated, and challenging. But with the right tools and approach, you can manage concurrent projects with confidence.
3 critical skills needed to manage multiple projects
Managing multiple projects takes effort. Effective project managers draw on skills to help be more successful.
Communication is one of the most critical elements for successful projects. Know what and how to communicate to different audiences to get the information across. Use multiple communication channels such as email, phone calls, face-to-face, and instant messaging. Knowing how to gather information ensures you understand expectations, needs, and priorities.
Putting together a great plan doesn’t do you any good if you can’t keep up with it. Each project has complexities and activities to keep up with. You need organizational structure to help you stay on top of all the work.
Have a system to keep things organized to manage and monitor your project activities. Use project management tools and other systems, and use the approach that’s best for you.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. Find support and delegate work where possible.
Know what to give to others to let them grow and gain experience. You likely have project team members who want to gain experience in certain areas of project management. Don’t keep them from that opportunity. Delegate tasks that can help others get valuable experience. It could be a win/win situation for both of you.
9 Strategies to Successfully Manage Multiple Projects
The following 9 strategies will help you manage multiple projects, stay sane, satisfy stakeholders, and deliver solutions to happy customers.
1. Manage resources across multiple projects
Problem: You don’t know how much work your project team members have. You can’t see the work done by your team members across multiple projects.
Solution: Use tools that provide visibility across projects, so you know when shared resources are working and available.
If multiple projects share the same resource pool, be aware of these considerations:
- scheduling conflicts can keep teams from completing project activities on time.
- overloading your team members who are working on concurrent projects lead to missed milestones and burnout.
- underutilizing team members when they are available can slow things down.
If you have a resource manager, coordinate with them for the resources you need for all your projects.
Software for managing resources
Resource management tools can give you visibility and identify resource limitations. Here are a few:
- Paymo is a project management tool with powerful resource management abilities. You can plan tasks and dependencies within projects. And you can see team availability in a visual timeline so you can allocate resources. You can see all tasks across all projects by Task Priority/Due Date/Project.
- Hive is project management software with a resourcing feature that shows team members’ capacity and workload for each day. You can give visibility to others so team members aren’t overbooked.
- Monday.com provides project planning, tracking, and delivering in one easy-to-use online platform. There’s a workload view that lets you see who can take on more work and who isn’t. You have visibility to your team’s work capacity, and you can see and plan the work distribution for your team.
- Wrike Resource gives visibility into team member’s schedules and projects. You can adjust timelines to accommodate changing goals and needs. You can also track time spent on projects. It’s free for up to five users but scales up to an enterprise level.
- Float.com lets you create projects and assign them to team members. You can then see your team member’s availability and capacity. You’ll know who’s available or overloaded.
- Mavenlink lets you predict future resource needs to budget for and staff your necessary project resources. You can even include skills in your resource profiles. You can even do scenario planning to cover multiple potential situations. It scales to large enterprise-level needs.
- Resource Guru is easy resource-planning software for managing both team members and other resources like equipment and meeting rooms. It has a drag-and-drop interface to easily to shift resources and rebalance workloads.
- Runn.io is a resource and capacity planning tool that lets you forecast and plan your project resource needs. You can see resource allocation across projects from a high-level view. This lets you see where to address resource and scheduling conflicts. It also provides multiple reports based on various criteria such as project profitability, cost overruns, and cost variance.
2. Manage Tasks Across Multiple Projects
Problem: Managing high-level deliverables and milestones may not be enough to get all the work done.
Solution: Break your work down into smaller components, and keep up with tasks that arise during the life of your projects.
Each of your projects has a project plan made up of activities to help you meet your project goals and deliverables. You’ll of course create the project schedule and Gantt charts. But these won’t show every task needed to successfully complete the work.
And as you move through your project you will be adding tasks and action items as a result of meetings and discussions.
And you’ll likely have tasks across all your projects that are coming due at the same time.
Create a task list to help you keep track of the more granular activities. An action item register will help you keep up with these. You can look at each of your action item registers to keep up with what’s happening and what is due when.
Of course, continue to look at your project schedules, too.
3. Manage Expectations and Stakeholders
Problem: Stakeholders have different expectations.
Solution: Communicate regularly with your project stakeholders and understand their expectations.
Project stakeholders have different customers, needs, and drivers behind deadlines and deliverables.
And you must manage expectations on what you can accomplish with team members and resources working on multiple projects at the same time.
Be honest about conflicts and team member capacity, and what the team can accomplish. And be honest about balancing workload and competing priorities.
And you also need to keep stakeholders and each project sponsor informed of individual project progress and status. Be proactive in your communications. Also, be honest when problems arise. This builds trust and credibility, so your stakeholders know they can count on you to deal with their projects.
Ask your stakeholders how they prefer you communicate with them. Use templates and dashboards to standardize and automate your status updates for easier management.
Use a tool that allows you to give visibility to the work underway. Providing status reports can keep stakeholders informed. If you don’t have a tool that can automatically create status reports, use a status report template.
4. Create standard templates and checklists.
Problem: Starting from scratch at the start of each new project is time-consuming and risky.
Solution: Create templates you can reuse to simplify and streamline your planning.
If you’re starting your project plans from scratch each time, you’re rebuilding from the beginning every time. You run the risk of missing important details and spending more time than you need to.
Create templates and checklists to use every time you start a new project. Create templates for schedules, project budgets, and a project risk matrix, among others. You can reuse these to save time and make project planning so much easier.
Update these templates and checklists as needed.
5. Prioritize Your work
Problem: With multiple projects, it’s hard to know where to focus your energy.
Solution: Identify the most important work to focus on.
All your projects need attention, but you’ve got a limited number of hours in each day. Identify which actions will give you the biggest return on your investment of time and effort.
This involves looking at your projects from different perspectives.
Look across your projects and identify which ones have the highest priority. Determine which ones most closely align with your company’s strategic goals and objectives. Prioritize the work associated with these projects to ensure successful completion.
Also, identify what activities within these projects will make the biggest impact.
Take a step back regularly to review each project plan so you don’t miss anything.
There may also be activities across all projects that have upcoming or immediate deadlines that need higher priority for the day or week. Determine the short-term priority activities for the week.
And if you have conflicting priorities, having conversations with management can help you determine how to move forward.
6. Manage your time across multiple projects
Problem: It’s hard to juggle many activities across so many projects, and easy to feel overwhelmed in the process.
Solution: Determine ahead of time what you need to focus on. Use a structured system to help you plan activities for the day and week.
Because you have many activities across multiple projects, it’s important to manage your time to focus your efforts to work efficiently. Start each week and each day prepared to work on the highest priority items.
Know what you’re going to focus on for the day.
- Look at the week ahead and prioritize your activities for the week.
- As you end each day, look at the activities you need to tackle for the next day. Plan out your priority activities for the next day.
- If an unexpected high-priority item is added, you may need to make a trade-off among activities.
Have a system for keeping track of the items you need to do each day. Use a calendar or daily electronic to-do list.
If you prefer using pen and paper for tracking tasks and activities, there are several good options. These are three I’ve personally used and liked:
- Bullet Journal: Paperage Lined Journal Notebook, Hard Cover, Medium 5.7 x 8 inches.
- SELF Journal by BestSelf: Undated 13-Week Planning, Productivity and Positivity System for Max Achievement and Goal Success. Track Gratitude, Habits and Goals Daily and Weekly (Black). The Self Journal allows you to be intentional with your time, prioritize, and focus on what’s most important.
- 7 Minute Planner: At the time of writing, this is my current favorite. A coaching client shared it with me and I’ve been using it for many months. Each day has multiple ways to plan and track your work, along with a notes section. I’ll be purchasing another one soon.
7. Avoid Distractions
Problem: With so many projects, you can easily or try to do too many things at once. But when you switch tasks and projects, your productivity goes down by as much as 40%.
Solution: Focus on one project and one activity at a time.
Determine what the top priority is and how much time you want or need to spend working on it. Then put your other work away. Limit or minimize distractions. Put your mobile phone away and silence your alerts if possible. You’ll be far more productive.
Use a timer and a Pomodoro technique to help you stay focused.
Use time blocks to dedicate focused time to a critical task.
Read this: 11 Essential Time Management Skills
8. Know When to Say No
Problem: You only have so much capacity to take on work.
Solution: Learn what your capacity is and how to say no to more than you can handle.
Even though you may want to accommodate and please everyone, there are problems with taking on too much work:
- work quality suffers
- there’s an increased risk that you’ll overlook something
- your or your project team can experience stress or burnout
Recognize your limits. When you hear that someone needs help, don’t always jump in to take on more work. You have priorities that need attention. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Say no to those things that will keep you from reaching your top priority commitments. And if your boss asks you to take on more than you can handle, have a discussion on prioritization.
Learn this: When and How to Say No to a Project
9. Manage Stress
Problem: It can be stressful to manage multiple projects, stakeholders, and teams, along with competing priorities.
Solution: Know how to identify when you’re feeling stressed and how to manage that stress.
Here are some tips on how to handle stress.
Identify sources of stress. Are you overwhelmed because you feel like you’re not getting enough done? Or maybe you’re frustrated about having to deal with people who aren’t pulling their weight. Maybe your task list feels overwhelming. Identifying these issues helps you understand why you might be experiencing stress.
Take care of yourself first. Make sure you eat well, exercise regularly, sleep soundly, and practice self-care. This gives you the energy to focus on your work and your goals.
Set boundaries. If you know you’re going to be under pressure, set up boundaries around your workload. As a team leader, people will be reaching out to you often. If possible, don’t spend much time outside of work hours answering emails or taking care of work.
Schedule breaks throughout the day. Take short walks outside, go for coffee, or grab lunch with friends. These small breaks refresh you mentally and physically. They give you a chance to recharge before diving back into your next task.
Even experienced project managers can feel overwhelmed when they manage multiple projects.
These strategies will make you a more effective leader and ensure the success of your separate projects. And you’ll be calm and confident as you carry them out.
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