Are you managing multiple projects at the same time?
Managing projects is no walk in the park.
And yet, companies manage to do it.
Ever wondered how Elon Musk is able to balance full-time gigs as the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX? There’s also Jack Dorsey balancing Square and Twitter, and the late Steve Jobs, who famously ran both Apple and Pixar simultaneously.
While I’m not suggesting you go out and build multiple companies, it’s a reality that a project manager routinely is in charge of multiple client projects, spawning multiple demands at the same time.
Since this is a common dilemma, we’re here to share our top insights, and a productivity tip or two, about how to manage multiple projects simultaneously.
This Article Contains:
(Click on the links to jump to a specific section)
- What does working on multiple projects look like?
- How to organize multiple projects simultaneously?
Let’s get started!
What Does Working On Multiple Projects Look Like?
Managing multiple projects means that you’re juggling various project activities, deliverables, deadlines, multiple clients, and stakeholders.
Yeah, and all you need is like a hundred more arms and a supercomputer for a brain.
Unfortunately, every single project brings its own challenges and unique demands, operating procedures, project risk, and a host of other administrative tasks.
And with every new project you sign on, you need to:
- Manage a new client or stakeholder
- Put together a project team
- Create a proper project plan
- Be responsible for timely task prioritization
- Set up a framework to monitor resource management
- Relay progress of project activities
- Establish a chain of command for teamwork
- Integrate all of this into a multiple project environment
At the end of the day, you might feel like Moira from Schitt’s Creek here:
Look, we get it.
Managing multiple projects can feel super exhausting!
Which brings us to the next question…
How many projects can one person manage?
Ask any project manager how many projects they’re handling, and you’ll get a range of numbers. Sure, there could be real-world examples of project managers who multi-task across ten projects simultaneously.
However, I’d recommend that a reasonable number of projects for an effective leader to take on are three to four separate projects at once. This ensures that you won’t burn yourself out, which could be devastating to your team too.
However, the number ultimately depends on your capabilities as a project manager.
And you may already have some management skills needed to survive in a multi project environment.
So what you need now are a couple of pointers on what’s the best way to manage multiple projects to help you stay ahead of the project schedule.
Spoiler alert: it’s not Microsoft Excel.
If you’re wondering how to manage multiple projects using Excel, hold that thought.
No, seriously. Excel isn’t the ideal software for project management.
That’ll be like sending snail mail to your friends in the era of Facebook and WhatsApp!
Check out our no-nonsense reasons on why you don’t need to know how to manage multiple projects in Excel.
How To Manage Multiple Projects Simultaneously?
Here are six tips on how to manage multiple projects at work:
(Click on the links below to jump to a specific tip)
- Have great organization & structure
- Implement sprints
- Optimize retention & decision-making
- Set due dates
- Perform systematic status updates
- Delegate effectively
1. Have great organization & structure
In project management, as in life, the old maxim holds true: “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” So having the right organizational structure and hierarchy for your project makes a huge difference.
Revolutionary stuff, right?! Now, before you run off to tell your friends about this groundbreaking productivity tip, let’s elaborate a bit on why there’s more to this than meets the eye.
Firstly, it’s easy to spend your time “preparing” but what really matters in a multiple project environment is that everything is in place to help you flow from one project to another with ease.
And it’s not just about spending time planning client projects, but it’s also about having what you’ll need for high project performance in a multi project environment.
Some things you’ll need here include:
- Organized communication channels for managing concurrent projects
- Logical categories with organized tasks for every single project in your project management software (for example, a Gantt chart, Kanban board, etc.)
- Clear processes in place for handling fires should they occur in a single project or across concurrent projects
But that’s okay, because . . .
A project management software like ClickUp integrates all this functionality in one place and goes as far as making toggling across multiple projects a breeze. It’s the best software to manage multiple projects effortlessly!
Used by 100,000+ teams from startups to tech giants like Google, Ubisoft, and Nike, ClickUp is the world’s highest-rated project management tool.
No need to mentally “shift-gears” as you transition back and forth between project A and project B (and others) in a multiple project environment.
You’re always in fifth gear, powering ahead with ClickUp!
Normally, you have to make several “tasks” for one project.
But with ClickUp’s elegant Hierarchy, a project team can use categories and sections within the tool to divide the project activities of a new project into manageable entities.
Additionally, this project management tool also offers a proprietary Multitask Toolbar to manage multiple tasks of multiple clients at once.
While some teams may prefer integrating with a different tool for each function, the most important thing is that you have the systems in place that you’ll need for project progress.
And if you’re wondering how to manage remote projects and virtual teams, check out our in-depth guides on:
- Remote Project Management 2020: Processes & Tools
- 3 Key Virtual Team Challenges (And How To Solve Them)
2. Implement sprints
Even without adopting a full Scrum approach to manage multiple projects, you’d be amazed at the impact sprints can have, especially on a small project.
If you’re a project manager, Scrum master, or team leader, think about reorienting your project team around high-intensity bursts of coordinated teamwork. Consolidate work that would otherwise be very time-consuming.
The main reason for this is “Context Switching,” which basically means that when you’ve been working on a task associated with an individual project all day, it’s easy to know what needs to be done to make progress and why.
However, if you’ve been multi-tasking and you’re now revisiting a task after a few days (or weeks), it takes time for you to get back up to the same “cruising speed” you were previously enjoying.
Though less acute, another reason is the psychological effect of rallying a team around a shared cause.
When you can energize team members and feed off one another with a specific, meaningful goal in mind, you benefit from the obvious byproducts of an engaged and committed project team.
So the next time you have a team meeting, like a daily Scrum, tell your members:
(More sincerely, of course.)
Lastly, many a project suffers from a lack of focus on day-to-day project tasks.
By focusing on one goal within a single project, and doing different project tasks related to that goal, no resource has any uncertainty about what their purpose is, or why.
3. Optimize information retention & decision-making
In project management, it’s important to allow your mind to absorb key information and consider hard decisions in your project plan before rushing into another deluge of real-time reports from a different project team.
While it can sometimes feel like you’re wasting time, planning meetings in a way that allows you to take time and reflect afterward can have an enormous impact on information retention within your project.
By giving yourself this space, you’re increasing your ability to manage expectations and impact your team’s project performance with compelling insights and better decisions.
The immediacy of results makes this something you should implement with your team no matter how much progress you’ve made with a project.
4. Set due dates (and stick to them!)
Time-tracking is a crucial problem that many teams fall prey to during project planning.
It’s easy to keep changing or putting off dates, especially if nothing is “forcing” you to place a higher priority on one project over another.
But you’re not dealing with a Netflix watchlist here.
You’re going to have to get down to it eventually.
If you’re managing multiple projects, you and your team could get confused about how your work overlaps or relies on different elements. So prioritization is of the utmost importance when you’re managing related projects.
You just gotta set your priorities straight, alright?
To help you with prioritizing time management, use ClickUp to set Due Dates for your tasks and deliverables.
Placing all of your tasks in a task management software like ClickUp helps you see which team member is working on what, whose workload is too much, and when any project is due.
You can then make smart judgments about what needs to happen first according to your project schedule. After all, setting deadlines is an essential part of project planning and management in general.
5. Perform systematic status updates
So how do you ensure that a task is being updated (a) regularly and (b) accurately?
If you don’t already have an answer to this question, stop everything you’re doing!
Without properly updating project progress, any project management efforts you make are doomed from the get-go.
No, we don’t mean putting a Facebook or WhatsApp status update!
While everybody knows you should “keep people up to date”, like the client or a stakeholder, few teams have a process or the right tool in place to ensure systematic status updates in a multi project environment.
Remember, people want to do a good job, but you have to make it easy for them to do so through smart project management. Systematic updates also help you manage stakeholder expectations better.
How to do systematic status updates for your projects?
Step 1: Assign ownership for each task to a single resource who is aware of their responsibility for the task.
Step 2: Define your expectations. Write down the exact steps a task owner or resource is expected to follow (with respect to updating its status) and on what timeframe (“update x, y, and z each day” vs. “update x once a week”).
Step 3: Schedule accountability by having third-parties (either an employee in a different department, the project sponsor, or other project stakeholders) review that the task owner or resource is following the protocol correctly.
Step 4: Learn from mistakes and improve. If a resource isn’t following the protocol, review to see if the effect(s) are better or worse for the overall goals of the project team.
If worse, look for issues with the protocol itself (ambiguity, imprecision, lack of nuance) that could have caused the breach in protocol and address any specific negative consequences. If better (yay!), implement/update protocols, and reward employee(s) for their creativity and/or initiative.
The most important thing is ensuring that your project schedule and task list are clearly defined and that there is no room for misunderstanding.
This is also important even if you’re handling a small project. You want your project team to always be motivated, understand the project plan, the project risk if any, and have a clear view of the multiple demands that must be met.
You’ve got to keep them hustling!
Sure, this is tough to get on day one, but as long as you reflect on any misunderstandings, you’ll be able to develop a multi project management system that works extremely smoothly with your project plan.
6. Delegate effectively
As task delegation is so obvious, it’s tempting to leave it off the to-do list.
However, countless teams fail to delegate tasks effectively during project planning, so it’s clear that many teams don’t fully understand the importance of delegating tasks while managing projects.
The three pillars of effective delegation for resource management are clarity, authority, and accountability.
And while it may be hard, you need to focus on the concepts in that gif, not the cute kitties.
It might seem impossible, but you can do it!
Without all three concepts, any resource management efforts you attempt during multi project management will cause more project risk than anything else.
For example, if you’re empowering a designer to build a landing page for a new project, they need to be 100% clear on exactly what the task is.
You’ll need to:
- Be upfront about the work breakdown structure
- Communicate specific expectations from the client
- Set the project deadline
- Describe the workload
- List any resource they have at their disposal
- Give them the authority to make decisions
Without clarity, your team will stab in the dark and inevitably meander down a wrong path that resulted from misguided prioritization.
However, when the project scope and work breakdown structure are both clear, you’re empowering teamwork in a way that enhances productivity while also giving them a sense of fulfillment in meeting multiple demands.
And don’t forget to check-in with your team about their progress! This ensures that they are held accountable to their goals.
Using project management software that forces you to define the task list in a logical and clear way for your team minimizes the possibility of issues arising.
The foundation of ClickUp is built upon being able to drill-down to a granular level for task management, while also enabling you to observe project progress from a high-level perspective.
To help project managers and teams do their best, ClickUp offers a wide variety of features like:
- Multiple Views: drill down specifically into each task within a multiple project environment using our Board view, List view, Box view, Gantt chart view, Calendar view, and more
- Native Time Tracking: know the exact time your team members work on a task
- Workload view: manage resource planning and resource allocation by comparing how much work is assigned to each team member and their work capacity
- Portfolios: describe a high-level overview of everything that’s happening in the Workspace for efficient portfolio management
- Mind Maps: visualize the task or project planning process with Mind Maps
- 2-Way Calendar Sync: sync your Google Calendar and ClickUp for managing events, deadlines, and overall project schedule
- Automation: automate repetitive project tasks for better project performance
- Pulse: identify where your in-house or virtual team spends the most time
- Agile Dashboards: perfect for the Agile project management methodology, the ClickUp Dashboard lets you manage projects with customizable graphs like Velocity, Burndown, Burnup, and Cumulative Flow graphs
Not every team should be balancing multiple projects, but sometimes opportunity calls, and all of a sudden, you have no plan for managing various client projects.
While we’re sure you’ll rise to the challenge, the best thing you can do while managing multiple projects is to implement the advice above and ensure you have the right processes and tools for managing multiple projects successfully.
Whether you combine multiple tools for multi project management, or just use ClickUp to improve your productivity, you must position yourself to succeed from the outset.
But if there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s that ClickUp is the best software to manage multiple projects efficiently.
Get ClickUp for free today and be the legendary project manager you were always meant to be!
Wes is ClickUp’s fearless Chief Operating Officer. He also has a degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee. When he isn’t helping the worlds most productive teams get more done he can be found on the water wakeboarding in Tennessee.