Advice for managing multiple projects

VOICES | Project Perspectives

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Michael Nadeau, PMP

business analyst and project manager, Irwin Mortgage, Noblesville, Indiana, USA

Create a project snapshot in Excel. Column A can be the list of projects; Column B can be the status of each; Column C can be estimated completion dates; Column D can be outstanding issues; Columns E through J can be earned value performance indicators, etc. Each tool is just a high-level template for a project manager to stay on top of multiple projects. Of course, one can modify it to organizational needs and processes. This technique helped me ensure that my projects were moving forward, and I could keep track of progress and understand which areas may need more attention based on performance indicators.

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Charanjeet Singh

project manager, Online Business Systems, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Every project manager, knowingly or unknowingly, manages multiple projects. You might be managing a project big enough to be a program and hence running parallel workstreams within it, which is like managing multiple projects.

In the past, I have used simple tools like an Excel sheet to maintain high-level information about each project in one place to give me an overall picture. Having a server-based scheduling/ project management tool is great, but you can manage multiple projects without that, too. Like other things in life, if the projects are not related to each other, then you just have to compartmentalize and switch the “context” of your thinking as you move from tasks of one project to the next.

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Mark Cundiff

managing director, Nautilus Consulting LLC, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Just as in a single project, finding where resource elements overlap is key to synchronizing and combining multiple projects. In the event that the only common variable is you, I would question the purpose of combining schedules that are otherwise independent. Once you set up an independent schedule for each project, you can then proceed toward how the schedules should best be interfaced and managed. Also, the overall process is going to be influenced by the software chosen, as each has its own peculiarities with regard to combining projects.

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Andrew Procca, PMP

technical officer, National Research Council of Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

My rule of thumb is three projects or major activities at a time. If you try to focus on more, there is a tendency to be inefficient as you incur “overhead” each time you transition from one task to another. If I truly had more than three projects active requiring significant attention, then I would attempt to:

  • Delegate as much decision-making down the project hierarchies as is practical.
  • Use a database to track meeting notes and action items in addition to project management software. The most difficult work is dealing with team members at levels below the detail of the project plan. Without a method to track and manage the information and short-term plans (action items) resulting from low-level interactions, many things can get lost in the heat of battle.
  • All major decisions should be noted and organized—particularly scope changes.
  • Focus on only three things a day, keeping a flexible slot available for critical issues. If I find myself firefighting all day, I'm not being effective. Rotate through the various projects this way.
  • Shed all non-project-management-related tasks and responsibilities. Otherwise, some of your projects can stall.
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Patrick Beyer, PhD, PMP

project manager, Morgridge Institute for Research, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA

Get yourself a good project management software package. Microsoft Project and Primavera work well on building multiple projects into one portfolio with shared resources, cost tracking and milestone tracking. That helps, but it's up to you to be organized, be able to monitor progress and manage change control. Break your tracking into one-day, three-day and seven-day packages so you can get an idea of what is happening today, three days from now and a week from now. Ask yourself, “What are the critical tasks for these periods, and are they on track?”

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Saadi Adra, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMP, PgMP, OPM3® Professional

general manager, CMCS Lebanon, Beirut, Lebanon

I think organizing multiple projects as a program is only viable if they are related in some sense, so as to share the same benefit. When there are three independent projects, for example, then you must budget your time. If there is no project management office, the key is to have three baselines next to each other on a document—especially the two-week look-ahead for each. Manage the long-lead items first, as delay in these will be quite critical. Then identifying your priority for each half-day will be easy. Don't do anything technical at all, as one technical activity can keep you from managing your projects for days, which is dangerous. You have to macromanage and delegate micro tasks to others.

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Manjunath Shetty Subbaiah, PMP

project manager, UHS Hospitals, Johnson City, New York, USA

I am managing the entire software development for a startup and a healthcare IT implementation project. The projects differ in scope, time and resources. I prioritize my time by focusing on what needs attention immediately. At the end of day, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Agile project implementation has been successful where the focus of deliverables is estimated in terms of hours and days, not weeks or months. The moment an estimate is made weeks out, I start to lose focus. I always strive to have a visibility of the next two weeks of deliverables. Otherwise, I will start to lose control.

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Caroline Herron

partner, Caridon Business Solutions, Johannesburg, South Africa

If your related projects share resources, align the individual schedules to resource calendars, ensuring that you have minimal resource conflicts. Also, critical path tracking and resource constraint management will help to make sure that you remain on track.

Risk management is the most important factor when managing multiple tightly related projects. Dashboards provide key critical information at a glance when questions or issues arise.

I found my administrators to be champions when provided with opportunities to shine. Give credit to all your resources who perform well. Good people skills will take you and your teams a long way toward success.

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Kiumars Mahmoodzadeh

project manager, Tam Iran Khodro, Tehran, Iran

Today, one of the cost-reduction methods implemented by companies is to use project managers for several projects at same time. I am managing three projects simultaneously. It's not easy, takes more time than normal and is stressful—but it's possible. If your projects are in the mining, energy, aerospace or military fields, these are large initiatives, and it is risky to manage several of them at the same time. One mistake can lead to disaster.

My policy to manage multiple projects is to use one worker and several professional team coordinators for all of the projects. That gives me enough time to focus on significant items such as risks and customer communication.

PM NETWORK FEBRUARY 2012 WWW.PMI.ORG
FEBRUARY 2012 PM NETWORK

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