Managing multiple projects
It’d be nice to think that if you know how to manage multiple tasks at the same time, you’d also know how to manage multiple projects at once.
The reality is that balancing multiple projects is a slightly different animal. Whereas the tasks in a project are usually managed and done by the same people within an airtight project management process, multiple simultaneous projects are often kept largely separate, with their own team configurations and project managers.
In this guide, we talk through the factors that add complexity to managing multiple projects, and how to accommodate these complicators in project management.
What is the most efficient way to manage multiple projects at once?
In our view, the most effective strategy to manage multiple projects at the same time is to bring all your team’s projects into a single system.
We specifically use the word system, because it’s important that the different projects and situational factors within it can communicate and adapt to each other. The system should be able to respond at a project level to events such as:
Change in team member availability
Change in resource availability
Change in dependencies between projects
Lots of organizations use project management software to help them manage multiple projects. (We should know – work management is what we do.)
Some project managers still prefer managing multiple projects the old-fashioned way, with printed calendars and charts, but most would agree software has higher potential for efficiency and accuracy.
Sharing people and resources between projects
One of the inherent challenges of managing multiple projects is keeping track of your team’s resources. Whenever one project’s allocation of resources is increased, this lowers the availability of resources to the team’s other active projects. Conversely, if a project is completed under budget, more resources can become available to other projects.
Team members’ time is a resource that every team will need to share across multiple projects. Who is going to work on which project, and when will they do the work?
Teamwork’s platform facilitates the allocation of people with Workload, a dashboard where project managers can view each team member’s availability, and assign or reassign tasks to them. This ensures everyone can be used to the best of their potential, and it might help prevent star team members from ending up in the middle of a tug-of-war between projects.
Other examples of resources a team may need to share out between projects include budget, manufacturing capacity, storage space, and access to marketing channels. Since the most pertinent resources vary between industries, it’s down to each team’s leadership to work out which resources need to be monitored as part of project management.
Things can get interesting when one project’s resource requirements change unexpectedly, especially if this happens when the team’s resources are already being used to the full. It’s sometimes the case that a project can only keep going if it is possible to cut the resource budget for another project.
Resource allocation can cause conflict between project managers whose respective projects both need a slice of the same delicious “Resource Pie”. In such cases, it’s down to the senior stakeholders to mediate between projects and come to a resolution based on the value, needs, and priority of each project.
Managing dependencies between projects
Delivery of one project might only be possible after another project, or a part of another project, has been delivered. For example, a brand’s project to build a new website might need to be completed before a separate project to launch a new product can be completed too.
Most project managers are familiar with the idea of dependencies between tasks in a project. However, dependencies between projects need to be handled differently. There may be different project managers leading the projects, in which case it is crucial to have clear and thorough communication between the project managers. This can be encouraged by arranging regular catch-up calls between project managers, where status updates on dependencies are top of the agenda.
The best way to identify dependencies between projects is detailed project planning. In particular, project managers should try to surface potential dependencies during stakeholder interviews.
Managing multiple projects’ objectives and deadlines
For some senior team members, the most important part of managing multiple projects is ensuring objectives are completed and deadlines are met. This is best facilitated through a top-level analytical view of all the team’s projects. The view should show live info on key points like deadlines and ‘milestones’ for each active project.
At this level, managing multiple projects merges into enterprise project management (EPM), the vocation of managing all the projects of a large organization. Team members responsible for EPM tend not to manage any particular project on a granular level. Instead, they look at high-level metrics for each project and measure these against the organization’s overarching goals.