It was so much easier before. When someone would say that they have too many projects, that would usually mean two or three, tops. Nowadays, too many projects can span from 5 to 12 projects done simultaneously.
In today’s competitive market, companies that do not adjust their workload well enough or quickly are at risk of losing their valuable talent. In other words, a team can be great, the work motivating, but if the pace is unsustainable – soon enough the company will see their best project managers heading towards the door.
Of course, when we talk about the number of projects, we are not generalizing. The number of projects that can be managed simultaneously by one person depends on the nature of the projects itself, mainly how long it lasts and how many people are involved.
It’s simple. Projects managed properly have their scope, time, and cost baselines aptly established during the planning phase. During their execution, these projects are run in a way that allows them to be finished as close to the initial baseline as possible.
Quite a few smaller projects can be managed simultaneously without the danger of failing to meet the planned goals. We are talking here about a project that takes 3 to 6 months, handled by a team of 2 to 5 people. With larger projects (12-18 months in duration with a team size of 25 or more people) the story can be headed in a different direction. The bigger the project – the bigger the risk. Especially if it doesn’t have the sole attention of a project manager.
However, when projects are similar and there is a routine in nature to an organization when it is done (unlike when the project in question is highly unique) – more project can be managed at one time, without stressing out a team leader and a team itself.
Also, technology, standards, and processes have allowed us to be more efficient when managing projects thus allowing a great number of projects done simultaneously.
Anyhow, when there are numerous projects on hands, a team overburden can kick in, followed by costly productivity, quality problems, and employee burnout.
First of all, executives can notice that their project manager is doing less managing and becoming more of a simple status reporter. Overwhelmed by the size of their responsibilities, they have less and less influence on the direction of the projects.
It’s clear that this is a very inefficient way for the organization to deliver good results.
What can be done?
For starters, try taking advantage of all the benefits new technology provides you with. Different software can help you keep track of all tasks, expenses and responsibilities. This makes prioritizing and delegation far simpler.
However, there are a few more tricks you can use to keep your head above the water when the number of projects just keeps piling up.
…with other project managers in your organization. Make sure you don’t wander off by comparing yourself with others on a different kind of projects. Compare apples to apple and take a close and detailed look at whether your projects are the same as the project manager’s you are comparing yourself to. Let’s call this reality check. Talk to them and see what are they doing differently then you are. Don’t be shy to ask whatever might help you get through.
Prioritize and rank your projects before planning your next step. And while at it – be detailed and try looking ahead. Organize your day in such a way that you know what needs to be done now and what can be set aside for a different time.
Try giving 75% of your time to the optimal number of projects that have the highest priority. This way, you will make sure you give your best to assignments which deserve it most.
The other 25% will be finishing substantially later, but as that time is dedicated to less important tasks – relax. The consequences will be mild. Your total performance will be better than your peers, and that will give you more justification for following this advice.
Distill down everything you can to one instead of multiple pages. Also, apply the same documentation across the board and keep it short. Make sure all of it safely left aside and available at all times. Be consistent when doing it.
Did you know that sometimes we can say no without really saying no?
Well, we can.
Do your best to show your senior manager the entire span of your duties and responsibilities and how you handle it all. Let them come to the conclusion on their own – that you may not have the time to take on a new project right now.
However, the best way to avoid a heart or panic attack is to detach yourself from your work commitments every time you leave the office for the day. This way, you’ll come in fresh the next morning and ready for new challenges.
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