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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 that project managers only have one project at a time. As a project manager, you could find yourself juggling 3–8 projects at the same time. Some people have even claim to juggle as many as 25 projects at one time!Being successful at managing multiple projects requires additional skills and tools than what is required for managing a single project at a time. Even if your projects are very different, there is now one common resource across them that needs to be managed to reduce conflicts: you.

3 steps to managing multiple projects

There are three basic steps to successfully managing multiple projects:

  1. Integrate your plans and schedules.
  2. Prioritize your workload.
  3. Communicate.

Step 1: Create an integrated plan and schedule

The key to managing multiple projects is to be as proactive as possible. In order to do this, you need to plan in an integrated way. For example, if you have two separate project schedules, it becomes very difficult to pinpoint when you’re expected to be in two places at once. Most scheduling software tools will allow you to combine schedules, or to view them together for conflicts. This will allow 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 at the same time. Particularly if it’s something that will require a lot of management oversight such as a product launch.

Step 2: Prioritize and delegate

You cannot do everything yourself. As a new project manager, you may have only been given one project in order to get you off the ground slowly. But as you increase your work experience and are given two, or three, or more, you suddenly don’t have time to do everything you used to do. Now you need to take a hard look at everything you’re doing and determine what you can let go. There is a four-square method of task prioritization to help you determine what to do based on four factors: important, not important, urgent, not urgent.

Create a list of all of 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 in box I (Important & Urgent), do it first.

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

Box IV tasks should be reviewed to understand why it’s being done at all. If no one reads the report, why is time spent creating it and sending it out? It’s possible it’s important to someone, you just weren’t aware. In which case, it will move to box II. Otherwise, stop doing the task!

It’s very important 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 out, 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, in order to manage expectations and get support if you have too many things on your plate. If no one realizes how much you have on your plate, they won’t be able to help and won’t be understanding if you suddenly miss a deadline. Even worse, they might pile yet another project on you!

Further Reading