Managing multiple projects? A strategy for handling conflicting priorities

Something that is rarely talked about with project management but is all too common is the need for project managers to look after multiple concurrent projects. When an organization has invested in the skills of a project manager and they prove their worth, this often results in the paradox of that individual being given more than one project to handle and thereby making it more difficult for them to achieve future success.

However, all is not lost. It is possible to manage multiple projects at the same time without dropping the ball. Here is a strategy to get you through it.

Divide your day

One of the best ways in which you can comfortably juggle multiple projects is to review your time management approach and how your work gets completed on a day by day and week by week basis.

First, spend a week logging all your time spent against every project, and what task you were doing. You may even want to consider using a time management tool for this; there are some perfect good and free ones online. Once you have the time logged, you can begin analyzing where it is spent. Are you jumping between tasks on a regular basis? Are you starting and stopping tasks rather than getting one thing completed? That is a sign that you are not using your time efficiently.

After analyzing, reorganize your working day into components, and try and stick to that arrangement. The components may not necessarily be project-specific but you might find a task-specific approach works better for you (for example, reading and responding to all emails once a day). The purpose of this exercise is to really try and make sure your time is well organized, that each of your projects gets a fair balance of your attention, and you are not getting side tracked by fire-fighting one at the expense of the others.

Delegate appropriately

Review the tasks you are carrying out on a regular basis on your projects and ask yourself the following question: are you doing any tasks that could be delegated to someone else in your team? It is common for project managers to take on tasks to try and speed up the project but you risk doing this at the expense of managing and overseeing the progress of the project itself.

Your team is there to get things done, so don’t be afraid to assign things out when it is appropriate to do so. You may even find that your team appreciates the fact that you are giving them more responsibility. Make sure to set deadlines and ask for progress updates from your team, so that you are not spending extra time trying to find out when things will be complete by.

Talk to customers about priorities

Taking to customers about their priorities is often seen as a bad move, because it automatically suggests to the customer that you cannot keep your commitments. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Talking about priorities is really about keeping the communication lines open with a customer. What you really want to find out is what their motives are for the project, what the most important aspects of the project are, and what elements of the project are more flexible than others.

This gives you information to hand if you need to use it at a later date to negotiate things with a customer. For example, you may use it to negotiate re-setting priorities if you find you have two conflicting deadlines. By keeping communication open, you may well find that you have one customer with a low priority project who is happy to be flexible about dates, giving you the opportunity to get a more urgent project finished and out the way first.

Keep one eye on the future

One of the main problems with managing projects concurrently is that if the projects are on a similar trajectory then you may have super-quiet periods and super-busy periods happening at the same time across all projects. This is an invitation for problems. For your own benefit, it is worth putting together a schedule of work across all your projects into a master program schedule, so that you can see at a quick glance if there are any future potential clashes on the horizon.

This gives you the opportunity to arrange something in advance to cope with the busy periods. Perhaps you can reassign one of your projects to another project manager, or you can talk to one of your customers about rescheduling some of the work. Whatever option you choose, you can only do this if you have a very good schedule set out to see exactly where and when the problems will occur.

Rejecting or reassigning work

The title of this sub-heading could have also read: saying no. Sometimes, the best course of action is to turn away additional work so that you can concentrate on the ones you already have. This may not be a popular move but it is always worth considering;  your status and your career progression within an organization will benefit more from performing well against the projects you are responsible for rather than attempting to do many things and once and doing them badly.

If you are stretched too thinly you won’t be able to give projects the attention they need, so learn when to say no.

Summary

Managing multiple projects can be hugely challenging for an individual. A project needs someone who can oversee it at a high level whilst having the capacity to jump in with two feet when things get complicated. That becomes harder to do when faced with multiple projects.

In order to maintain a consistently high performance across all the projects you are managing, don’t ignore the warning signs that you have too much on. If you do, plan a strategy for handling that in way that doesn’t compromise your performance across any individual project.

Brought to you by PMLink.com. Author: Lauren Lambie.

 

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