While managing a single project can be a challenging proposition, managing multiple projects truly separates the boys and girls from the men and women when it comes to project management.
In today's business world, where multitasking is a common, almost expected feature, more and more project managers find themselves tasked with taking on the challenge of juggling a variety of projects at once.
The following strategies are designed to help you manage multiple projects without driving yourself to distraction - in part by suggesting methods you can use to avoid getting distracted, as covered in the first tip below.
Keep distractions to a minimum
When you are tasked with managing a number of projects at once, optimizing the use of your time is essential.
As a result, it is imperative that you do everything possible to keep distractions to a minimum.
While it may be impossible to reduce the number of projects you must oversee, you likely can reduce the number of nonessential items you deal with on a daily basis.
These items can take a variety of forms, including:
- Non-project-related emails
- Idle conversation
- Non-strategic meetings
- Ad hoc tasks
Eliminating a large proportion of these distractions can free up the time to enable you to more productively perform your primary tasks.
How can you cut down on these types of nonproductive activities during your day?
A variety of techniques can be used for this purpose, including:
Schedule breaks during the workday
While it may be tempting to take a work-till-you-drop mentality when you are faced with a heavy workload from managing multiple projects, this can be counterproductive in the long run. The stress caused by overworking yourself can hinder your ability to concentrate, resulting in reduced productivity as it takes you longer to complete tasks than it would if you were operating at full capacity. By taking regular breaks, you can keep yourself focused and function as efficiently as possible.
Use a centralized scheduling process
Attempting to manage task scheduling for one project is difficult enough if you are communicating separately with each team member. When multiple team members are involved it becomes close to impossible. Using a tool that enables you to keep all scheduling information in a single location dramatically reduces your workload. Instead of having to email or call each team member separately, you can communicate with all of them via the scheduling software your firm uses.
Cut down on meetings
Only schedule meetings when absolutely necessary, and when you do, keep them short and to the point. While scheduling face-to-face meetings from time to time can be good for morale and building camaraderie, when you have widely dispersed team members having such meetings on a frequent basis can be difficult (and costly). As a substitute, video conferencing can be an effective method of holding meetings which are not as impersonal as simple teleconferences.
Use efficiency solutions
Efficiency solutions such as scheduling software can be invaluable when it comes to keeping you on track while juggling managing duties between several projects. These solutions can provide you with helpful reminders when a task is due or when a meeting is approaching. Solutions which help you organize and keep track of different tasks can also be extremely useful in this context.
Tools which provide weekly reports enable you to view works that have been done over the past week along with work that is scheduled for the upcoming week. This provides a handy resource for keeping you focused on the immediate work on hand. To view tasks on a longer time frame, keeping action logs on a project by project basis can be useful.
These logs allow you to follow progress made on each major task in the projects you are managing. These logs can be consulted when drawing up your weekly schedule to help you prioritize which tasks should be given the most attention during the week.
Practice rigorous prioritization
Make a practice of prioritizing your work to ensure that you meet important deadlines and milestones. When you are tasked with managing multiple projects, there is no shortage of work to do. The issue is making sure that you are performing the right tasks at the right time. Paying close attention to doing the most important tasks before the less important ones enables you to manage multiple projects as efficiently as possible.
Priorities can change, so you should review your priority task list on at least a weekly basis, if not daily, to make sure that you are staying on top of any critical issues that arise during the course of project implementation. A methodology that can help you when it comes to efficiently prioritizing tasks is management by exception, which stresses focusing on those processes which are most likely to prevent a project from going smoothly.
Using management by exception, you would prioritize dealing with issues that pose a threat to finishing a project on time and on a budget over dealing with routine matters which can typically be left to the team members assigned to a particular task.
Taking this approach is especially useful when effectively managing multiple projects, as it allows you to effectively juggle a variety of projects by directing your focus mainly on tasks designed to deal with exceptions rather than routine functions.
Managing multiple projects successfully is a team effort. To make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible, robust communication between team members is essential. As a project manager, you should do your best to stress to your team members that they need to communicate any changes or new developments likely to affect project implementation. If you are using a group collaboration tool for project management, encourage your team members to use the tool to update the status of each task they are working on a regular basis.
However, try not to let the use of software of this sort completely take the place of person to person communication. Sometimes phone calls or face-to-face meetings can give you a more direct understanding of issues facing the projects you are working on.
Practice an open-door policy, or the modern-day equivalent, by encouraging your team members to contact you with any questions or concerns they may have about the project. Doing so helps you take a proactive approach to any issues or challenges facing the projects, as the team members working in the trenches of the projects are most likely to be the first to notice any problems which may arise.