Portfolio Juggling: Tackle Multiple Projects and Keep them Straight
Most project management teams work on multiple projects at the same time—many times with conflicting deadlines. With the fast pace and high stress, sometimes things can get a bit confused. This is especially likely when all of the projects are for the same client.
Mistakes that are seemingly benign can still have severe repercussions. A missent email might have confidential information. A vital task could fall through the cracks. Mixing up two deadlines can seriously affect both projects. The list goes on.
But few PMOs have the luxury of saying “no” every time they get more work. So how can you keep all these projects straight? We offer a few tips that may help:
When the going gets tough, the tough get anal-retentive. Label everything properly. Everything. Email subject lines should explicitly identify its associated projects—whether by name or by code. This also goes for any internal emails that have anything at all to do with a project. All project files should be within designated folders, with relevant documentation bearing the project ID in the header or footer.
If you find that color coding things helps, go nuts. This can also be helpful when you make your production calendar, so you can see at a glance which projects are at what stage. It’s far more effective than keeping a mental list.
If you’ve got the manpower, try dividing your team into separate “task forces”, dividing them either by account, by project, or by task. Consider rotating their assignments every so often. This keeps their skills sharp, and prevents them from getting too bored working on the same thing over and over.
If your team’s not big enough to work on multiple projects in parallel, then set up a production queue. Having all of the tasks lined up will be a lot easier on your team’s stress levels than having them all on the table at once.
Having a production queue also gives you an excuse to push back on clients whose feedback comes in dribbles. Each change gets them sent to the back of the line. After a few times of those, they’ll become way more diligent in collating their edits.
Multitasking has pretty much been debunked as an effective work habit, and project managers should strike this off their list of “skills”. Each project requires a different mindset and list of requirements, and when you constantly jump from one to the other, you’re eventually going to miss a few things.
Treat Projects Like People
This is kind of an unusual project management technique, but hear me out. Every project is unique, even the “turnkey” one that’s just like the one you did a month ago, whether it’s the design theme, the client, or a particular combination of features. Run with that and make your project portfolio a unique combination of “individuals.” If you’re feeling playful, maybe you can even build on these themes and name projects after characters on favorite shows, or make unit badges or insignia for teams working on them—whatever you think can help keep projects uniquely identifiable while being fun.
Project managers may not be able to do anything about conflicting deadlines and overloaded work calendars, but we can affect how we tackle them.
Do you have any other suggestions on how to juggle multiple projects? Share them in the comments below!
Image credit, Flickr, Criss Cross Circus
Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.