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How do you start to get your work under control when you are juggling several projects at once? That’s the question I answer in my book, Managing Multiple Projects.
The starting point is knowing how all the different parts of your workload fit together so you can manage them in an efficient way. And do not worry, I have a simple 5-step framework that will guide you through.
The picture below shows the Managing Multiple Projects framework. It’s not truly linear because not much in project management is. Most methods for getting work done require review and reflection so the ‘step-by-step to a specific end goal’ is rarely the perfect answer to the complexities of the modern work environment. There are too many complications and diversions that get in the way!
Instead, think of the framework as the five concepts that will help tame the chaos of multiple projects, leading to (hopefully) more confidence that you are making the right kind of progress.
You don’t have to look at them in order. It does help to have an understanding of your personal work portfolio before you try to plan your activities for the next few months, but if you want to dive into personal productivity first, go right ahead.
The pieces of the framework are:
Let’s look at each of those.
This is where you gain a consolidated understanding of your current workload in a way that helps you see patterns and groupings across all the things you are doing.
You’ll be equipped to talk about your workload in a different way – using portfolio management principles – and get tools to prioritize what you have to do.
This is where you combine your project schedules to give you a holistic, big picture overview plan of all your responsibilities. You’ll learn to look at task scheduling in different ways to help you make better decisions about where to spend your time and to avoid wasting effort on planning work that will have changed by the time you get to it.
This overview will inform whether you can take on additional work and when by improving visibility of what you are already committed to in the coming weeks and months.
This part of the framework teaches you how to engage and work with the most influential stakeholders – the people who are interested in and impacted by your projects, and those who have to contribute to the work.
You’ll learn how to keep track of all the people you work with and how to prioritize your time with them. Just as project schedules overlap, so too do people’s interests.
When you understand how your stakeholders interact with your various projects, you can use their time more efficiently too.
The best processes in the world won’t help if you feel personally disorganized and struggling with productivity. While productivity looks and feels different to different people, there are some common elements that many people find challenging.
In this part of the framework, you’ll learn and implement tips and tricks for managing your own work and creating focus time in your week to dedicate to the tasks that are a priority for you.
Finally (although it doesn’t have to come last in your learning), you’ll find it easier to be successful if your wider environment is set up for success.
Many people managing projects are not the top leaders in their organizations and can’t influence strategy, what tools are in use, or how many projects the business promises to clients. This section is about looking for things you can influence that will make your life easier and support your colleagues at the same time, such as by creating processes and checklists to make work repeatable and standardized.
That takes away some of the mental overload of having to think of what to do all the time so you can use your brainpower for more value-added tasks instead.
Putting it into practice
The framework is designed to be scalable whether you are managing two projects or twenty-two (hopefully you aren’t managing 222). You can take the pieces of it that feel the most important to you and use those, or adopt the whole thing as an extension to the way you work today.
If you want more information on how to make this happen for you, the step-by-step approach is covered in my book. That will help you make choices about how you can implement tips, tools and tactics, and it includes a roadmap for turning what you learn into action.
Managing Multiple Projects takes you on a journey to critically review your workload and make changes in how you work to be more efficient.
This is an edited extract from Managing Multiple Projects: How Project Managers Can Balance Priorities, Manage Expectations and Increase Productivity (Kogan Page, 2022.)
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