Project Management Guide
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How to Manage Multiple Projects

Different industries, companies and project management offices (PMOs) have different views on how many projects a project manager can handle. Often the number will depend on the size, complexity, and significance of the projects, as well as the capability of the individual manager. However, it’s becoming less common for project managers to only have one project at a time. As a project manager, you could find yourself juggling three to eight projects at the same time. Successfully managing multiple projects requires additional skills and tools than what is required for managing a single project. Even if your projects are very different, there is now one common resource across them that needs to be managed to reduce conflicts: you.

Three steps to managing multiple projects

There are three basic steps to successfully managing multiple projects:

Step 1: Create an integrated plan and schedule

The key to managing multiple projects is to be as proactive as possible. To do this, you need to plan in an integrated way. For example, if you have two separate project schedules, it becomes difficult to pinpoint when you’re expected to be in two places at once. Most scheduling software tools allow you to combine schedules or view them together for conflicts. This will enable you to pinpoint potential issues in advance and try to reschedule what you can. Ideally, you don’t want any two projects hitting a huge milestone simultaneously — particularly if it will require a lot of management oversight such as a product launch.

Step 2: Prioritize and delegate

As a new project manager, you may have only been given one project to get you off the ground slowly. But as you increase your work experience and are given more to do, time management becomes more difficult. You need to take a look at everything you’re doing and determine what you can let go of. There is a four-square method of task prioritization to determine what to do based on four factors: important, not important, urgent, and not urgent.

Create a list of all your tasks and then choose which of the four squares they belong in. Here’s an example of something that might belong in each square:

  1. Important & Urgent: Having a kick-off meeting for your new project to get started
  2. Important, but Not Urgent: Writing a project management report
  3. Urgent, but Not Important: Reassuring your customer the project is on schedule
  4. Not Urgent & Not Important: Sending the latest testing report to all the stakeholders outside of the project team

If something is Important & Urgent (box I), do it first.

Important but Not Urgent (box II) tasks should be scheduled for later, but be aware that if you don’t get to them soon, they have a way of moving into box I.

Urgent, but Not Important (box III) tasks should be delegated. Try to find someone else on the project team who has more capacity than you to take care of these tasks.

Not Urgent & Not Important (box IV) tasks should be reviewed to understand why they're being done at all. If no one reads the report, why is time spent creating it and sending it out? It may be important to someone you were unaware of — in which case, it will move to box II. Otherwise, stop doing the task.

It’s essential to keep an updated task list of everything you’re required to do, including deadlines and priorities. This way, nothing will be forgotten, and if something needs to be moved, you can quickly see which items are the lowest priority.

Step 3: Communicate constantly

It’s important to communicate with your manager, your stakeholders, and your project teams about your workload, to manage expectations, and get support if you have too much on your plate.

Further reading