How to Manage Multiple Projects Webinar

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In this webinar we discuss tips and strategies for managing multiple projects. If you prefer to read, there is a transcript is below the video.

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Transcript

Hello and welcomes


Hello everyone, can you hear me? Okay? Can you see me? I’m Elizabeth I’m going to be doing the webinar today and I know you’ve got five minutes left to go before I kick off and I will leave that time because I want to make sure people have got enough time to join kickoff we said we weren’t but I thought I would switch a little bit early make sure that you can see and hear me and Shannon you can say you can so that is excellent.

So always a worry, isn’t it when you start using technology that you haven’t had a chance to look at for a long time thinking? Is it gonna work? Can you see me Can you hear me? And it’s working, which is brilliant.

So I can see we’ve got some people on already. Where are you from? Minneapolis. That’s Terry from Minneapolis. Hello. Anna and Emma. I recognize Marie. Hi Marie.

Well, welcome. Thank you for carving out the time in your day to be here for the webinar. So Tony has arrived from Boulder Fort Wayne. Oh my goodness, and oh hi, Eula. Buckinghamshire that’s a little bit closer to home. And sunny Scotland. That’s Melissa. And my inlaws went to Loch Ness, just last week, actually over Easter, and they brought back a little china Lochness ornament from Scotland and some pictures of Scotland, which were absolutely beautiful and beautiful sunshine.

And for people who don’t know what we think about Scotland. We think it rains there all the time. So from people down south in England, we have this expectation that it’s always raining in Scotland, and they had absolutely crystal clear, beautiful weather, and they went out on Loch Ness. They took some pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, which my children were very excited about. And I don’t think they quite realized that they were fake. So that they Yeah, it looks like a beautiful place. And if the weather stays like that, and then, yeah, I started to think we need to make a family trip up there because it looks just look so beautiful.

Where else did I miss anybody? Fort Wayne? Dallas in Texas. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Dallas, Phoenix, Arizona. I have been over to Arizona, but I don’t think I ever made it to actual Phoenix. Might have flown in there, I suppose. And Dallas, there was a conference I attended in Dallas. Fort Worth, so probably not what you think of as true Dallas. And that was a digital project management conference.

And Natasha from Orlando. It makes me sound like I’m really well-traveled. But PMI had a conference in Orlando as well, one year. So I went over to the PMI Global Congress, the North America Congress that they had in Orlando. So it makes me sound like I’ve been all over the world. But I think it’s just, you know, the big conference towns where PMI has events.

And I’m just happy to be. I have not been to Cleveland, Ohio, and I have not been to Michigan. So Adrienne, I have not been anywhere near where you are. I’m about an hour south of London in the UK. So we have reasonable weather today. It’s been a little bit rainy, a little bit sunny, and has a nice cooler weather over the holidays. And Brits talk about the weather all the time. So it is our go-to small-talk conversation topic.

And it’s about coming up to seven here in the evening. And we’re starting to see much lighter evenings now we’ve switched on to British summertime. So that’s, you know, it’s nice. It’s much better. It’s nice to have those crisp, crisp evening times. Although I have to say my neighbors have got a nest of bees. And I am not a big fan of flying insects. So going out into the garden and spending time in our garden with all the bees around. And I know that they are not stinging bees, and I’m not a big fan of flying insects. So yeah, I’m limiting my garden time at the moment just until the bee swarming settles down.

Right Boston, Massachusetts? Yes, I’ve been over there as well. Okay, we’ve got about a minute to go. We’ve got 45 people on the line at the moment that you can, you can see that as soon as we hit my computer saying it is seven I will kick off with some actual meaningful stuff about tips for managing multiple projects, which is why you’re here. You’re not really here to listen to me mull over all the different places and talk about the British weather. So shall we make a start? Let’s do that. Let me scroll back up because I’ve got some slides to share with you today. Hello, Chris from The Netherlands. And hello, Salah from India. That’s amazing. Alex from Nuremberg is joined in Denver, Colorado, Nicole. Well, welcome, everybody.

Introducing myself

Hello, welcome. I’m glad that you could be here today and that you’ve carved out time in your busy schedule, to join me on this session about managing multiple projects. It is a topic that comes up time and time again, in my Facebook group, and with people that I mentor, because, frankly, the days of having one massive, great big project to manage, are gone. For a lot of us, anyway. And I don’t know whether it ever was that way.

I think managing several projects at once is something that a lot of project managers do. And whether you’ve got the job title project manager, or whether you are managing multiple projects within your day job, it’s something that we need some strategies to help us manage. Because, you know, you can get busy, you can get struggled with overload. And I definitely know that feeling, and I’m having it this week.

So hopefully, by the end of this session, you will have some strategies that will help you be able to think about how to better manage your work to group your work together and things like that. So I will share with you what I have learned and tested and picked up from the books I’ve written, the people that I’ve worked with, all kinds of different ideas that hopefully some of them will work for you.

Right, let me show you the slides. And I will do a bit more about me. So hopefully, you can see those slides. Okay. So for those of you who have not met me before, I’m Elizabeth Harrin. I’m a project manager, I’m the blogger at Rebel’s Guide to Project Management. And you’ll probably know that because you probably found out about this webinar through either the Facebook group or through getting an email from me, I’ve written a couple of project management books, I juggle multiple projects, just like you.

So you’re probably here because you want to spend less time juggling and more time making progress on your projects. And so you are in the right place if you feel that your plans are out of control. Even if you spend a lot of time doing planning, I certainly feel like I spend certainly a big chunk of my day trying to get on top of my work. I’m doing planning. So you’re in the right place if you weren’t managing multiple projects to be easier. And if this wasn’t the webinar you were expecting, then you’re probably in the wrong place. But hopefully, you’re all here.

What we will be covering

So this is what we’re going to be covering today. We’ll be looking at Milestone planning, dependency management, multi-stakeholder management, and governance across multiple projects. And I have somebody emailed a question about that.

So we’ll pick that up as well during the session, but also we’ll talk about reporting and things at the end as well because I’ve got that in the FAQ, and some personal effectiveness of personal time management. Each of those topics are massive, huge webinars in their own right. So today, I’m picking up some of my best tips to give you some quick takeaways to make your life easier in the office tomorrow. At least, that’s the theory.

Hopefully, I can do that. And before kickoff, I wanted to let you know that I’ll also be telling you a bit more about my mentoring community project management rebels at the end. So you just know that’s coming. And if you’ve got questions at any point, you can paste them into the chat box, which is underneath the video, you can see there’s the chat box there. But there are also questions underneath the video that you can, you can see and there’ll be time for questions at the end. I’ve already had people email me questions, and I’ve got those. But if you’ve got questions that you haven’t asked yet, by all means, paste them in. And I will pull those out. And I’ll try and get through as many as I can.

So you’ve all been telling me where you are from, which is fantastic. But I want you to tell me what role you’re in. So if you haven’t found the chat box already, you can see that on it’s on my right-hand side of the screen, it’s probably there for you. And before we get into the main part of the presentation, I just wanted to find out a little bit more about the roles that you’re in.

So are your project manager. I can see I’m an Assistant Program Manager, head of program project management. Okay, so we’ve got a mix of people, product owners, business transformation, people are a project coordinator. Okay, a wide range of different roles. Patricia as a project manager, excellent.

Okay, so hopefully, there’ll be parts of this presentation that will help you juggle all of your workloads, regardless of your role. And as I said before, lots of people end up managing multiple projects but don’t have the job title, project manager, so coordinator, Sarah as coordinator from a small state agency, if that official job title isn’t project manager, that you’re still managing projects day to day and probably several of them.

So there’s people who look like that managing massive, great big pieces of work like Salesforce implementation there with Prashant, but other people with roles are definitely juggling. So let’s get started. And we’re going to start off by talking about combined milestone planning. So this is all about how projects are linked.

Milestone planning

I thought it would be worth for, just so that we’re all talking about the same thing, to explain what I decide what I define as a milestone. So we all know what we’re talking about. Milestones generally represent big moments in projects, they are the stepping stones that summarize a chunk of work. And you can use them for planning because they represent points in the project that helps you see where you’re going.

So on this slide, you’ve got the end of the design phase as one milestone a piece of work has finished, then you’ve got the end of the build phase, and of the test phase, and then project close. So you’ve got different points in the project that symbolize big pieces of work being done. This is the definition that comes from my Shortcuts to Success book, which is a date when a particular chunk of work is due to be completed. So that’s if you wanted the official definition, that’s what I would use.

So what’s the tip? My tip for you is to overlay your milestones. This is a technique where you look at all the milestones across all the different projects that you are working on at the moment. And the idea is that you identify where the pinch points are, for your time. So you need to have milestones on your projects, or at least key dates, you need to collect all of those milestones together.

So that you’ve, you’ve got them easily accessible. And I would use a spreadsheet for this, but it doesn’t matter. You could use post-it notes on the wall, you could use anything that works for you. But if I were to get a spreadsheet, I would have dates down the page, months, or even maybe half of months. So week one, week two, week three, or the first half of the month, second half of the month.

And then, I would have my columns for projects. And the columns for the projects are important because then you can start mapping the two together. So I would go down each project column and add in the dates where the key milestones are going to fall. And then I would do that for all of them.

All my projects for all the dates, and then you just look and look and see where all the overlaps, where are the really busy times that are going to be pinch points for you personally, which might be where you have two or three projects going like bang, bang, bang off one after the other. Or you might be trying to kick off two projects simultaneously. There’ll be some scope, hopefully, for you to shift some of those milestones around.

If you’ve got the capacity to do that, it’s definitely worth it. Because visually plotting out your milestones will help you see if you’ve got several projects completing in the same month or major deadlines due at similar times. You can even put key decision points key meetings in there. And you might not be able to do anything about them. But at least you’ll know that they’re coming. And you can do things that will help you prepare, get ahead of the reporting and get ahead of some of the other actions, and pause to think about how it is taking time off over that busy period.

But if it’s within your power to make any changes, I would recommend that you plan out your work. So you don’t have too many projects kicking off, or too many projects being completed all at the same time. Because that is definitely a recipe for overload. So if you haven’t done that already, that’s something very simple that you can have a go at doing tomorrow.

Dependency management

We can do something very similar for dependency. So let’s look at how your project dependencies overlap. Again, I thought it was worth defining what we mean by dependencies because it’s one of those bits of project management jargon that we don’t always, people don’t always either fully understand. Or perhaps they use a slightly different definition than I do.

So for me, I define it as a relationship that links the order in which activities are carried out. And if you’re used to using Gantt charts, then you will recognize this kind of setup where you’ve got, I don’t know if you can see my pointer, but you’ve got little arrows that the black lines join the tasks together. And those are the dependencies.

So managing dependencies is what you would do within a project on a Gantt chart on a flow diagram like this. So you can see the black lines drawing the task together that shows you how the work is connected. But this is only one project. When you’ve got multiple projects, you need to look at how they all fit together. And why is any of this matter? Well, managing dependencies is important because it keeps projects moving. When you don’t know what’s coming, it’s really easy to get caught up doing something and forget that other people are waiting on another one of your projects to be able to do their own work. And likewise, you might have incoming work where you’re expecting some other project to deliver something for you to be able to carry on with your project work. And if you lose sight of that, then you could be sitting around waiting for that, if that person is to be completing their tasks.

So my second tip for you it, my second tip for you is to look for dependencies between projects and find out where each of your projects relies on the others. Again, you need to have a really good understanding of the different pieces of work that you’ve got on the go at any one time. And it’s worth if you have, if you’re working in a Enterprise Project Management Office or a team of project managers, it is worth talking to the other project managers about how your project impacts on this, and vice versa.

You might not think that it actually does, because if you’re doing work, that seems to be quite independent. You might not have identified yet, links between your projects, and either other people’s projects or other projects within your work remit. But it might happen. And often, you are the dependency; you and your team members work on multiple projects. So if you have a subject matter expert, an IT architect, a lawyer, a manager who needs to make a decision across multiple projects, they are your dependencies; they need to be available to work on your project at any given time. And they might be the link between if this person needs to make a decision on that business case, which has nothing to do with your work, before they’re able to free up the resources to work on your work.

There might be things like that, that come up. And if you work on multiple projects, you’re likely to have resources who also work on multiple projects. And so even if it’s, even if there’s no task related links between your project work, there might be people-related links between your project work, which effectively is resource availability. So look out for top projects where you are dependent on resource availability, even if there aren’t any other clear task-based dependencies. And also look for those task-based dependencies.

Horizon scanning is just a term, that means looking forward into the future to see what might come and trip you up. So it’s a really useful technique to do to sit down once a week to say, what’s coming next week, what’s coming next month, what might stop me from keeping my work moving in the right direction and prioritizing the right tasks at the right time. So I think, for me when I do my horizon, call it horizon is going to be in my diary. I just call it planning for the next week. But I do have time carved out once a week where I look forward at what’s coming. And towards the end of any month, I have another session where I look forward at what’s coming for the next month.

I don’t tend to scan out further ahead than a month at a time, because that’s what works best for me. But if it helps you to plan a quarter in advance, then do it. But when I do that, I often find things like oh, I forgotten I was having that meeting next week, I need to get the papers ready, I need to get the agenda ready for the meeting. I need to invite so and so because there are guest speaker things that you might not necessarily remember because what the big problem for me when I’m managing multiple pieces of work at the same time is that it is just so busy, and you do not have the headspace to think about what’s what’s happening on your work. So carve out some time every week to look forward. That’s that’s golden time for me.

Right. I feel like I’ve labored the point about that satisfactorily. So let’s move on.

Multi-stakeholder management

Okay, multistakeholder management, this is number three; we are bundling stakeholders together to make it easier to get their time. So again, let’s define what we mean by stakeholder. Here’s the definition from a different one of my books. And it is someone who is affected by or has an interest in or beliefs, they have an interest in the delivery and outcomes of a project.

So we’re talking about your project team, your project sponsor, your client, your customer, if you work in the public sector, then the end, you might have members of the public or stakeholders on the work that you are doing. One of the people in my mentoring group at the moment is working on building a church. So the congregation, representatives from the congregation are part of her stakeholder community. Stakeholders could be, you know, a broad group of people, but generally, we were talking about the person who is paying for the project, and the person who’s getting the benefit, and your immediate project team.

So what’s the tip here, and all projects together, where the stakeholders overlap, and be prepared to use the time with them to the best of your ability when you get in front of stakeholders. So you don’t have to have separate meetings about stakeholders about projects, if you’ve got similar stakeholders. And in my experience, often when we’re working on multiple projects, it’s because we’ve got some kind of commonality between why we’re doing it.

Daniela said you do not have any overlapping stakeholders, that does make it more tricky, because well, but this particular section works best if you do have stakeholders who overlap; I think the higher up the organization you go, the easier it is to see where your stakeholders are or where they overlap because you’ll, you might have one director, who has four or five different project managers, and each project manager might have four or five different projects, but they are all within the same directorate, they’re all within the same department. Or perhaps if you’re in a digital agency, for example, you’re doing multiple projects for one client.

So if that does, if that is the case for you, combine all your projects together when you have a meeting with somebody. But this only works if you get yourself organized. So first, you need to book the time with them as you would do normally anyway.

So you’re booking time to make to have a discussion about all of the projects where they’re involved, make a list of all the projects that they are involved with. Then go through the projects, cover them individually, it’s very difficult for people, if you jump around, they don’t have the abilities to keep all the details in their head, because, you know, managing projects isn’t their thing. It’s not what they do day to day; they’ve got too much going on. So give them a short summary to remind them what the project is, and then discuss whatever it is you need to discuss about that particular project. But be brief, because you’re trying to get through perhaps four projects in this one hour that you’ve got with them, or 45 minutes, whatever it is.

And because of that, be prepared to jump to the essentials, your plan for the meeting, so you know what the essential things are right; you should know what decisions you’re expecting people to make during that time. And prioritize the decisions and make sure that you are giving them the information that they need to be able to make decisions; I would definitely prioritize decisions over simply giving them a status update; you need information from them, you need decisions, you need them to take action to help move the project forward, you can email them a status update, they don’t, you don’t need to sit in front of them for that.

So if you’ve got personal time with them, either way, or sitting in a meeting room, or you’ve got them on the phone, prioritize the things that you need them to do out of your time. And be prepared for the fact that they might cut your meeting short because stakeholders are busy people; I suppose it depends if they are agency clients, they probably give you the time that you need.

If your project sponsor is the CEO, chances are you might get 10 minutes out of a meeting that’s been booked for half an hour. So plan in advance is the tip here. Really, if you know that you’re seeing somebody take advantage of that time to get what it is that you need from them. Stakeholders are very time-poor people. I see that all the time as people rushing around trying to get their things done.

So we as project managers need to be laser-focused when we’re asking them to do things for us or for the project. So if we’re asking them to sign off something, approve funding, make a decision, make a decision about risk mitigation, what course of action they want to take, will they do a recommendation, whatever it is, they need to know and also, you know your stakeholders far better than I ever will.

So if you know that you want, if you know them, and you think that they need to hear something about the budget, or they’re really interested in the plan. Give them what they need, but you respect their time, no more.

Project governance

Okay. So let’s talk about Project governance. Combining project governance is actually very similar. A very similar concept to combining just general status updating meetings. And when you manage multiple projects, you can streamline monitoring and control by bundling projects together for governance purposes as well.

So what do we mean by governance? This definition is from the Praxis framework, and if you haven’t come across Praxis before it’s praxisframework.org, it’s really worth going to have a look at. It’s a free open-source project management framework. It’s very helpful.

It looks really busy, it’s quite difficult to get your head around how the different areas of the framework fit together. But once you’ve cracked it, and if there is some helpful guidance and things, it’s basically how to manage a project from scratch, and loads of great resources. It’s all open source, which means if you want any of the materials within reason, I think some of its copyright, the authors where they’ve got guest posts and things. But if you’re working in a PMO, and you need some background information or documentation, resources, certainly check out Praxisframework.org and see what you can find there.

Anyway, that was a little side promotion for them. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but I just use them as a free reference site for project management material because I know a lot of people struggle to get access to professional standards because you have to pay to access the PMI, you have to buy the PMI book, you have to buy the APM book. But Praxis is free. So that’s good. And it’s put together by, you know, sensible people. Right, I stopped talking about them.

Governance is a system of good practice by which projects, programs, and portfolios will be managed, which is very vague. And Willie, it’s just a little bit, you know, doesn’t really answer the question if you ask me. So I started to think for people who are not really sure about what governance is, what does it look like in real life? For me, it’s about the monitoring and control. So it’s project boards.

Have you got a project board, or a steering group, whatever you call it, in your business, have you got that structure of having to be accountable to somebody who is more senior than you in the organization? So that steering group could be made up of your project sponsor, you as the project manager, the key customer who could be internal or external, and any of the other key stakeholders, but you really don’t want the group to be too big, you don’t want a project board of 15 people because they’ll never make any decisions. And it will be horrendous to try to organize a meeting.

So try to keep it five, or six people maximum, if you can. Formal reporting is another governance function. And you could report formally to the sponsor, you might also report to your project management office; you do that monthly.

A process for decision-making is another governance approach, which basically means you don’t just make up your decisions; you go through some kind of formal thought process that doesn’t have to be a lot. But the decision-making process for spending over half a million pounds, for example, might be a business case that gets signed off by the board of the decision-making process for choosing whether to have a meeting on Tuesday or Friday is your professional judgment. It could be formal or informal.

And you don’t have to have all of these processes documented. But for the bigger decisions that need to be documented, that need to have some level of accountability, that involve spending money, that involve making decisions that affect staff, customers, or the organization in some way. You need to be able to evidence how you’ve made that decision and what different positions that you considered, and how you came to your conclusion.

Then another thing that governance looks like is project assurance. So if you have been through a project audit or peer review on your project, then drop a comment in box because I think it’s nice to share the fact that we actually have to go through these things. And it’s been a while since one of my projects was peer-reviewed, but I have been through a project audit last year. And it was a very time-consuming and quite stressful experience to be audited by our internal audit function.

So project assurance is really making sure that you’re doing the project to the standards of the company, whether that is an informal peer review, which is just you as a project manager checking someone else’s project plan, reading through their project initiation documentation, looking at their monthly reports, and giving them advice or just talking about things that you would perhaps do differently, or it could be a full on internal audit review of a project.

And Daniella says they’re doing peer reviews, which is called project health check. Yes, I have heard actually, that lots of people do use the terminology project health check. And I think Peter Taylor, who’s a project manager who writes books as well, wrote a book called Get Fit With a lazy project manager. And that was all about project health checks, which is a very accessible book, actually, in terms of setting out how to do project health checks for yourself or on other people’s projects.

The unfortunate thing about being involved in peer reviews and audits is that they take you away from doing the project management because you have to free up time to support the review process. As a governance function, it’s very important. It’s useful for the organization to have confidence that products are being run professionally.

But as a project manager can feel quite frustrating when you’ve got a lot of things on the go all at the same time. Anyway, let’s move on. So that’s what governance is.

So how do you do it when you’ve got multiple projects? Look at having joint project boards, either for your projects where you’ve got a project sponsor, that’s the same or the customer that’s the same or the same team working, or they’re from the same department or team up with another project manager who has projects that have a similar sponsor, customer team, and run your project boards together.

And what that would look like in real life is you’d have a joint project board where there is some kind of commonality you’ve got your project sponsor in the room. You booked the room for an hour, you book the time of the sponsor for an hour. And you do a quick review, of course, perhaps for small projects. So you’re doing your governance checks, you’re presenting your monthly report, whatever it is that you were doing a project board with your agenda, and you’re doing it four times fast.

So two of them might be your project, and two of them might be your colleague’s project. But you’re just getting through it, and having that joint project board. And in fact, if you’re a PMO manager, why not set that up for two or three hours, get the whole month’s worth of reviews done, and have the project managers come in every 15 minutes to present to whatever project assurance groups that you have?

So there’s some, we’re just looking for streamlining people’s time, and not having to have multiple projects, meetings booked in their diary. So you’re looking for similarities that link your projects into a group; either, they could be a program in the true formal sense that they’ve got some other kind of characteristic or a person that links them together.

The other thing you can do is write joint reports where the projects have clear commonalities or dependencies. So what that would look like is one document, perhaps with separate sections that cover each of the different areas that you would like to want to look at. So look at the health check, in the sense of is your budget on track. Are you on track for milestones? Are you on track for hitting stakeholder expectations? Or quality measures?

In my monthly reports, I tend to have a are we on track with the dates? What are the upcoming milestones? What’s the progress that we’ve achieved this month? What are the things we’re looking to achieve next month, key risks, any decisions that need to be taken, put out a statement about the budget. So that’s quite a lot.

And what you could do is have those headings down the side. And then on a landscape piece of a piece of paper, or in some kind of spreadsheet, you could have the projects across the top. So as they intersect, you’re basically creating a report in a table format, where you are putting in the key milestones for the next month in the boxes related to each project, and you’re trying to shrink it down to fit it on a page.

The risk I find with trying to fit things on a page is the text gets really small. And this is a massive assumption. But the people, I tend to give my project reports to wear glasses. So they don’t like to see the text if it’s really small. So try to format it. So it prints on bigger paper. In the UK, we have A4 paper, which is the smallest size, it’s one page, and A3 paper, which is the next size up. So if your printer at work, we’ll print on A3 paper, that might be the way to go. Or just lay it out on the screen, and they can zoom in.

And so that’s one option that you can do to try to make up your own reporting template that serves your purposes. So whether you’re looking at what Project boards are reporting, don’t be afraid to make up your own program in inverted commas, your own program of work. So just because you don’t formally manage a program of work, and you’re not formally a program manager, doesn’t mean you can’t treat some of your projects as part of a larger, bigger picture because of what they have in common.

So, Stu, just to answer your question about subjects to put in the report on the left-hand side, I would put progress this month, progress expected next month, risks, issues, decisions, milestones, upcoming milestones, or statement about how much you’re on track with the Project Plan, and a statement about the budget, whether you’re over or under how much by but basically, whatever you think your project sponsor wants to read about.

Because sometimes they don’t know in which case I’d give them that kind of information. But over time, you’ll realize that actually, they don’t much care about the budget, perhaps. And actually, they’re far more interested in quality control criteria. So you can put that in instead. I’d say, regardless of what they think they’re interested in, telling them whether the project is on track, behind, or really seriously at risk. So a red, amber, green RAG rating on your project is really helpful. And you can RAG rate the headings of your columns.

So your project, the words that describe your projects, and Project X would be in red if it was a project, which is in trouble that they need to know about. Okay, so hopefully, stakeholders will thank you as well for doing this kind of thing. Because you’re creating less, you’re inviting them to fewer meetings, you’re freeing them up from attending multiple sessions with lots of different people, and you’re creating less documentation for them to review.

So where you can combine and I know it’s not going to work in every single situation because we don’t live in a perfect world where all these things work all the time. But if you can, it’s just a time-saving way of trying to consolidate your reporting.

Time management tips

Right, let’s talk about managing your time, a bit of personal effectiveness because so much of our project management work is about time management, isn’t it? Being personally effective, being productive. And when you’ve got multiple projects on the go, you have to be on top of your work. Otherwise, you will quickly feel like you’re being overwhelmed.

So look after your time, and set yourself some clear goals for personal and professional objectives that will help you prioritize. And for me, that looks like planning my week. So I’ve already hinted at how I do this. For me, it’s a Friday night or Sunday night, depending on how, how tired I am. And I will plan out what the coming week is going to look like.

Which looks like what meetings have I got, what deadlines have I got coming up for my different projects? Where are my team going to be? Where am I going to be? What travel plans do I need to make? You are less likely to forget something if you book in dedicated time for planning your time. And I know that that sounds a bit weird that you have to plan to plan.

But honestly, I’ve started doing this in January, and it has changed my stress levels dramatically. Because now I have a paper diary. And in my paper diary, once a week, I will write down everything that’s coming up, everything that’s booked in my work diary, my personal diary, and the key tasks I have to know to complete that week. All the things that are coming. And it just gives me visibility, and visibility removes the stress. I do that once a week.

I also try, if I can to stop doing part of my work half an hour or so before I actually leave the office. And that’s the time I used to plan what’s coming up tomorrow. And to plan to finish all those tasks that I’ve started in the day and hadn’t realized hadn’t finished. So you’ll look on my desktop, there are emails that I’ve started drafting and haven’t quite clicked send, there’s a document that I was reviewing. And I use that half an hour at the end of the day to tidy up. Because what I really don’t want to be doing is just closing down every window and running for my train. And that used to happen much more regularly.

It’s not a stress-free way to end the day. So whether that’s half an hour for you or just 10 minutes. If you can end your day in a calm and controlled way, it will help you focus on the key priorities for the next day.

So books and meetings, I do this as well; I booked time in my diary to do my work. And I know that sounds a little bit odd. But if I don’t, my time is booked by people who want me to be in meetings. Or if I’m doing something that’s difficult, like preparing a Gantt chart for the first time, or writing a business case or something like that, I want three hours to do it, I want a block of time to be carved out, not an hour and a half, then a 15 minute phone call, then an hour and a half hour meeting. I need to have the clarity of time to work on something that feels obsess a substantial task for me.

And that might not be the case for you, you might be much better at multitasking than I am. But I am not. So I’d rather have the time I do it by booking out time in my day. And I’ve met actually a couple of people recently who don’t have time to do any real work because they’re in meetings all day, and that is ineffective.

So remember, it’s your diary. You don’t have to say yes to attending every meeting, decline; just say no. Decline a few that you don’t think you need to go to and see what happens. And I bet you the office will continue to function just because you are not in a meeting.

The other thing that people do is book meetings for an hour. And they booked meetings for an hour because outlook tells them that it’s half an hour or an hour slot those are the default. But if you book your meeting for 45 minutes, I guarantee you you will be finished in 45 minutes, you do not need an hour. We talked to fill the time. So is it possible? But you know, try it set your next team meeting for 45 or 50 minutes and see if you can be done 10 minutes early. Win yourself back time in the day.

We’re having some conversations in the chat here. Yes, saying it’s difficult to say no to stakeholders. I used to think that too. But I don’t think that anymore because I’ve tried. It very much depends on who your stakeholders are. If you are going to say no to your client who is paying you for your time, and they are an external customer, let’s say you work in an agency or consultancy. You don’t say no to your client, I get that. But just because I’m invited to an internal meeting, there are times where it’s appropriate to say no, there are times where the CEO invites you.

And you have to say yes, I get that, but it’s just about looking after your diary and saying yes to the things that you can and delegating things that are more appropriate to either be served by another person, or say I can’t make it to that meeting, but I’ll send you a written update in advance. So Meet the action list. I’ll update it, you can update on my behalf.

And yes, good point there, Prashant Scrum meetings are restricted to 15 minutes. So there is a reason for that, your time is precious. Okay, and again, I’ve talked about horizon scanning already, but it applies to your personal time as well as to your project. So you’ll look forward at the issues that your project might be facing over the next month, look forward yourself at the personal problems and challenges and tasks that you’ve got to do so that you know what’s coming up.

For me, typically, the thing that bothers me the most is stakeholders not doing what they said they would. So if I know that I’m expecting them to deliver something by a certain time, I can put time aside in my week to chase them. Because chasing people, yeah, I love doing that. Of course, we all like chasing people for stuff that they should have done already.

Right. So getting your own personal time management sorted out is basically the key to making all of your juggling work. If you are disorganized, if you don’t have systems for staying on top of your multiple projects, your brain is going to explode with all the things that you have to do. So if you don’t have a system that works for dealing with your to-do list, my number one top takeaway from today, or that’s not in any of the slides, is to find something that works for you. Find a to-do list mechanism. My paper diary works for me, I also have a notebook that I use. I know people use apps on their phones.

I saw a very interesting tweet yesterday, actually, from somebody who said, we think nothing about going out for dinner and spending 30 pounds on a dinner. But we hesitate to buy a to-do list app, which is 3.99 in the app store, that might have a far greater impact on our lives. And because he just bought something, he bought an app that he really liked, and it was helping him manage his to-do list.

So I don’t mind, it doesn’t matter to me, whatever technique works well for you, whether it’s your inbox, or a diary, or an app, or whatever, but you need to be able to stay on top of your time. Okay, so those are five things.

Project Management Rebels

Note: some details about Project Management Rebels have changed since this webinar and you learn all about the latest offering at ProjectManagementRebels.com.

So hopefully, you logged in today, because you wanted to spend less time juggling your projects, and more time doing the things that really matter and leading your project forward. Or perhaps it was because you were feeling that your plans were out of control.

And you joined today because you were fed up spending all of your time planning. And yet your project still feels like you haven’t got a handle on anything. And perhaps you’ve joined us today in the webinar, because you just felt it was just too difficult, too much to do too many working too much work on multiple projects, and it should not be this hard.

So the things I’ve shared with you today, I hope you’ve already picked this up from the way that I’ve been describing what we’ve talked about. These are not theory things. I know I’ve quoted bits and pieces from my books, but this is what I actually do in my job.

So everything I’ve told you today is what I’ve learned on my job from working with other project managers from the practical experience of managing multiple projects, some more successfully than others. But you learn from your mistakes as well. So if you have found something in the webinar that I’ve talked about today that is valuable, and you want to take some of these topics to the next level, then I’ve got something that might be able to help you with that.

Project Management Rebels is my mentoring program. And we’re about to open it up for a new cohort. And we’re specifically spending six months looking at managing multiple projects. And as I said this morning earlier on, each of those topics that we’ve we’ve talked about has lots more that we can go into.

Yes, so it’s a mentorship program. It’s not a course. Because while we’ve broadly set the syllabus topics over the next six months, and I’ll tell you what they are in a minute, the program content changes depending on what members want to know. So in the last session, we ran, I did a session on how to make your corporate slide decks more interesting. We had a call about quarterly strategic planning for multiple projects because that’s what people wanted.

And actually, I made the mistake of setting the agenda far too strictly at the beginning. And I ended up having to basically throw it out. Because, you know, I’m there to serve the people who are in the group, and willing to talk about the things that people are interested in and people want to know more about. But it works like this.

So the first week of every month, we have a deep dive into a subject. So we would zone in on one particular topic. And we would take one of these areas about managing multiple projects and do a massive, great big deep dive into it. We also have office hours every week. So that’s sort of answering q&a. And we have group calls, which is where we get together on Zoom. We have zoom calls, and we just spend an hour chatting, and the date and time of the call might move around depending on people’s availability.

But we brainstorm problems that people are having on their projects. We help people think through the challenges. And I think this is the great part about what makes it great because I when I speak to people, they often don’t have anybody at work who they want to share this stuff with. Because either it’s a very small company or perhaps it’s a big company and the way the mentoring scheme isn’t there and having some impartial, just another gang of people that you can talk to who are going through the same thing as you are getting together once a month on the on a zoom call where you can see people when we were on the webinar. That helps, in my experience anyway.

And then we have a session about tools. So it’s not just about software, but we have tools as a regular topic for discussion. They come up time and time again. How do you do this? What tool do you use for that? What technique are you using?

So we look at templates, frameworks, techniques for doing your job, and for making it easier. So that’s what it is, we run for six months. And we probably end up doing other things, extra webinars, get togethers, whatever. But that’s the core concept. And over the next six months, we’re covering a massive bunch of stuff to do with multiple projects, managing multiple projects, personal time management, organizing your work, and understanding how the work all fits together. And going deeper into some of the topics that we’ve touched on today, like scheduling, multi stakeholder management, managing techniques, and processes for reliability, stuff like that. And I think it’s amazing.

But there is a Members Only website with all the things on it and the content evolves. As we go, we do some monthly zoom drop-in calls I’ve talked about, we have a private Facebook group, and everything is online and recorded because, in this day and age, one of the biggest challenges for project managers trying to do professional development is that we can’t fit it in. I mean, when do you do it?

So having everything recorded, and available electronically means at least, you know, you don’t have to worry about missing something. Okay, so I wanted to be transparent about this. It’s $150. If you want to join the project management rebels group, it’s that’s the price overall for the whole six months, or 27 pounds a month, which is about the cost of a fancy coffee and a croissant a week. Maybe a bit more than that. But it’s anyway, I think it’s very reasonable. I would say that, but there we go. So there we go. You can find us at projectmanagementrebels.com.

I put this in because people asked me about it, do I have to give you my credit card information? And no, you don’t. It’s all done through a secure checkout portal. I don’t get to see any of your credit card information. It’s all done via a third-party secure processing website, which looks like that.

Q&A

Okay, so we’ve got some q&a time. Let me move on to the contact slides. If you want to get in touch with me about project management rebels or just about projects in general, you can get hold of me here. I’m happy to chat. Although I have to say I think that Twitter, the link is wrong. It should be Rebels Guide to PM. So probably not best to try Twitter.

But email or Facebook will definitely work. And you can get in touch with me there either to ask me if you think Project Management Rebels, to ask me if I think Project Management Rebels is a good fit. And I will tell you the truth. Last week I told someone I didn’t think it was for them. So don’t worry about me trying to sell you stuff. Or just generally about anything or as I think Shannon has shared in the chat box.

There’s our Facebook group as well and you can join us.

So some q&a. We’ve had, let me see if there’s any q&a at the bottom or have some in email. Yes, we have. Right. So let me start with a question which came in from Lisa. And she said her main concern is for the project team. How do you stay engaged with the team without getting lost in the detail? But not enough to do them justice in the status report? And how can you keep the team accountable when you’re struggling with multiple deadlines?

Right. So think about the core deliverables, think about bringing status reporting back to that; I would say you only have to report the things that people need to know about. So it’s worth thinking about what those are. I think we’ve touched on that earlier today. Progress towards key milestones, key dates, whether your schedule is on track or at risk, whether your budget is on track or at risk, what decisions are required, key issues where you need people to take action, key risks that you need to warn people about.

So when you’re talking to the team, talk to them with those parameters in mind. You need to know those things because they’re what you’re going to be reporting, but you don’t have to care about the detail as long as you trust that it’s being done. And this, you know, this is for teams that this is my suggestion for teams where you trust the people and that you are confident that work is moving ahead. Where you do not trust the people or they don’t have the skills to do the work, then that is slightly different.

And you do have to get more involved in the detail to help them and to make sure that the work is being done. But you don’t have to get lost in the detail to be able to think about the core deliverables and bring your status reporting back to that. Setting clear milestones will help as well because you can track progress towards those looking at where your deadlines are, making sure they’re communicated. You’ll need to have a good team around you when you’re managing multiple projects because you need them to do the work.

So look at how you can develop their skills, you can build trust in the team, and help them to be more accountable. You can’t do as much hand-holding when you’re juggling multiple things. So the more time you can spend supporting your team so that they are more self-sufficient, the better it will be.

So what’s that point about accountability? In my experience, accountability comes when people know what the consequences are, and how they work matters. So make sure that the team understands the bigger picture, and what the risks are of non-delivery.

Okay, Joshua, you had a question. Your question was unconcerned about the trade-off of making incremental progress on all fronts, and possibly failing to complete any. Making progress, versus getting one project closer to completion at the expense of the others. When all the projects have externally imposed deadlines, which is a better strategy?

That’s difficult to know without knowing what the projects are. And you’re absolutely right, that making progress on one project, and not multitasking on your projects is a more efficient way of working. So if you can do that, it’s better. In my experience, that doesn’t always work. Because the people that you need, won’t be able to spend 100% of their time. So while it might be okay for you to say, the next three weeks, I’m going to focus on this, if your resources can’t do the same, then you’re not gonna make any progress.

So it depends on the availability of the people who are actually going to be doing the work and how much time they can dedicate to you. But it’s, it’s certainly worth looking at how you can prevent multitasking, across projects, the best to the best of your ability and group work together so that chunks of work are happening at the at a reasonable time. So you’re trying to get as much progress done in a sprint or whatever you want to call it as possible. So I think that it’s definitely worth doing.

The risk that you’ve got there is you start to slip on that project. So you spend your first three weeks working on project one, if that takes three weeks, and two days before you can switch over to work on project two. By the time you get to project five, you’re perhaps maybe a week behind and you don’t get on finished. So you’re going to have to take a judgment call as to how likely it is you can complete everything on time so that if you’ve got externally imposed deadlines, you do not miss them.

And what you might find is that you could run two projects in parallel and then do projects in sequence or something like that, depending on the resources and the risk factor that’s associated with the project.

Right. Prashant says, is there any simple way to create critical paths for a project, possibly on an hourly basis, and a free tool because MS Project is too heavy?

If you are planning your project, hour by hour, then that’s, that is a lot of planning to do. And I’m not sure what value that adds. I personally don’t plan anything that takes less than a day. Unless it’s a meeting you know, I put a meeting, a project board meeting or a review meeting or something in my planner is a milestone just to mark the fact that that’s when it has to happen. But you should only really plan it in increments that you can realistically track.

But assuming that that is the case, and you do want to track at that level of detail. Most project plans, most project software will create critical paths automatically for you. If Ms Project, I don’t believe that MS Project would be too heavy for a plan where you have to plan hour by hour. But if you think you do have to plan at that level, and you don’t want to use MS Project, then Teamwork, Julie suggested Teamwork, there’s a free version.

There’s quite a few different open-plan project management software tools that are totally free, like Open Project. But that is quite complicated and time-consuming to set up. What else do I use? I’ve been reviewing GamePlan this week that has a short free trial. There’s not a lot of free project management tools that are free forever. I’ve not come across any that would do critical path.

So something like Asana or Trello would give you access to manage your tasks for free but I’m not sure that they would do critical paths and probably not hour by hour. To GamePlan has got a free trial that was quite good and it’s very visual. So I quite like that. Proggio which is P-R-O-G-G-I-O is another visual way to display your tasks. I think that’s got a 14-day free trial.

So it depends if you want to create it and just have it, then that’s one activity. If you want to create it and use it for months and months to manage a project, then I think you’ll need to do a proper software analysis of the different products that are out there that would meet your needs. And actually, on the website on Rebel’s Guide to Project Management, there is a guide to how to choose project management software. So there’s a PDF you can download that takes you through how to define your requirements. And you what questions to ask vendors, how to create shortlist, stuff like that, that might help you.

Okay, Melissa has a question. Any tips on effectively taking over a project from someone else? Yes, I do have a whole ebook on that. Actually, I was starting a new job and not having an in-person handover. It’s difficult, you need to spend time with the team, you need to sit down with the stakeholders to find out what their expectations are, you need to go through all the documentation that you’ve been left and work out how realistic you think it is, what they’ve achieved. And I can see that Shannon has shared a link there to how to take over an existing project article that might give you some more pointers as well.

There’s also 16 questions for project initiation. So if you look on the blog on Google search for that, the initiation questions would probably be quite helpful for you starting a new project, regardless of the point in time that you’re starting it.

Felix has asked for a sample template for status reporting of multiple projects. And Shannon, you’ve shared the link, but that one is that won’t cover multiple projects that will just cover one; you’d have to adapt it. But Felix, that is a fantastic idea. And there’s no reason why we could not create one. So I’m trying to find sticky notes; I can write that down, and we can create multiple project sample template thing that we could use. Let me just pause while I write down multiple project report template. And again, you know, create a Word document that you can edit it to whatever you think works best for your team.

Okay, I was asked, can we get a copy of the presentation? Yes, I can make the slides available.

Katherine said any suggestions for tools, tips or techniques to track work and nonwork projects? Because professional tools are not available for personal projects?

Yes. And I have this exact project problem as well. Because you need as a project manager, a holistic view of your whole life, your whole life, whatever your work-life balance with the work and your personal commitments as well. And that is why I have reverted to using a paper diary. I could put my camera on, actually. Could I? No.

Yes, so I’ve reverted to using a paper diary now; for exactly that reason. That I can is laborious, but I can copy my meetings into my paper diary. And then I know what’s coming up. And I can cross reference that with children’s birthday parties and all that kind of stuff. But you’re right, you can’t, or your boss would not be perhaps so happy for you to put all of those personal commitments inside your work diary as well.

So something that syncs so something maybe like Google Calendar, if you can get your project plans from whatever software that you use to sync with Google Calendar. And then you can have your personal things in there as well. My ability to sync anything is nonexistent. So that’s why I’ve gone back to paper, but I do think the other people seem to make it work. So you could have that option where you’re syncing things together. And you could talk to your staff, talk to your manager about whether or not you could set up a project, a private one, personal just for your personal work.

Okay, so Adrian has said, when you tell people, you’re a project manager, how do I explain it quickly? What’s my elevator speech? This is really hard. I wish I had something that was better that I could just tell you. I say that I help people get work done. I get work done through other people, which makes me sound really lazy. And it’s, I say my job is to help other people deliver change. But again, it sounds quite business jargon, doesn’t it? So it’s around organizing the work and getting it done.

However, I would say think about what, this is such a great question. It would be so great to post this in our Facebook group, actually, because I bet you’ll get 100 different answers. And I often find when I talk to people about managing projects and what I do, they don’t have a clue about what it actually involves. But it’s herding cats, it is getting people together to make the right decisions to get the right work done at the right time to the business gets the right result, basically, and cross your fingers that they understand. And Julie said herding cats. I’ve just seen that, brilliant. Yes, that’s the classic project management response.

And a question from Elizabeth. I’m conscious that we’re coming up to our time, so I will have this one as the last question I think today. Do I have a technique to put my mind off work when I arrived home during high-stress periods? No, I wish I was better at this. I actually find it worse when I’m working from home because my commute from here, this room you can see me in is my home office to the house is three steps. And that is not a long enough commute to help me unwind after a difficult or stressful day.

My buffer time at the end is where I start to look at what’s coming up the next week and completing tasks. Those are the kind of that that are my sort of winding down and trying to get my head in the right space. If I commute, I’d have about an hour on the train. And that is really good downtime, in which case I will watch something on my iPad or watch some drama program or a documentary or I’ll listen to a podcast or I’ll play music, because that helps me wind down.

But if I can’t use my commute time, then I am really stuck at trying to easy quickly switch from home to work in the space of the two minutes that it takes me to turn off my computer and go about the day means to come up with a great suggestion for you, which is to write down all your tasks, put down all those things that stressed you. And it’s a good way to relieve stress; writing it down helps you identify the stresses. So true. Thanks very much for sharing that.

Great, okay. Well, I haven’t I know I’ve run out of time to answer those final few questions. But I think that I’ll try and catch up with those people by email to make sure that you get all your questions answered.

And I just wanted to thank you for saying thanks so much for joining us on the webinar today. I really appreciate you making time out of your day to come along and to listen to that. So hopefully, you’ve taken away some tips or had the opportunity to be able to try out something new in the office tomorrow. So thank you very much for coming along tonight. And hopefully, I’ll see you on my next webinar. Bye

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