To be a project manager sometimes require actions on multiple projects and of course, you will deal with multiple stakeholders from the high-management body. In the book Everyday Project Management by Jeff Davidson the author expresses some details about this sensitive topic. Project managers need to balance many projects at a time and to satisfy the needs of all parties involved in the projects and the programs.
In this chapter, you learn how to keep your wits on multiple projects, help your bosses not to overload you, handle multiple reporting structures, and be assertive when overload seems unavoidable.
Multiple Projects at a Time
Sometimes you’re required to manage this and manage that. Businesses will usually assign smaller projects to up-and-coming managers, such as you, as a form of on-the-job coaching. By permitting you to try your hand on small temporary projects, this will make you fully qualified to take bigger ones. Some organizations also enroll recently hired staff to work as project team members on small projects, so that they will obtain a more comprehensive picture of business processes and, in time, can manage some of the more modest projects themselves, on their route to managing larger ones.
Managing small projects—even one-person projects—requires many of the same skills and essential elements found in the largest of projects. As you’ll see in Chapter 16, “Learning from Your Experience,” the skills that you acquire, and the insights and experience you gain, represent grist for the mill.
By its nature, project management tends to be a short-term, challenging endeavor. The opportunity to tackle small projects, and even a series of small projects simultaneously, invariably is a worthwhile career challenge.
Attitude Adjustment—Reframe your focus about participating in or managing multiple projects as opportunities worth mastering. As you hone your planning, monitoring, and organizational skills, you become a more valuable employee to your organization. Undoubtedly it has launched previous projects where managers failed to achieve the desired outcome. Either budgets were overrun, time frames were missed by a mile, morale dropped to zero, or chaos ruled!
Complexity in project management with multiple projects
Globally, technological inventions happen every few seconds, with hundreds of associated relationships, possibilities, and more ambitious provocations. The growing adoption of technology in the community guarantees that you’ll always have more with which to contend. In particular, the progress in both the size and the deployment of the Internet indicates that information is distributed at much higher velocities and quantities than ever earlier. Knowledge is power, and people use it to market or exchange assets, build new enterprises, or formulate new ways to gain a leg up on competitors.
Perhaps most onerous for the project manager, as we proceed into the future and as society becomes more complex, is the fact that more-stringent documentation is increasingly required by clients, customers, governmental entities, and even our own organization. The upshot: It’s becoming harder to embark on any project without more documentation.
No project goes unscathed. Hiring or firing someone, buying a product, selling something, expanding, merging, casting off—virtually any business function you can name requires more documentation, which contributes to each of us having to handle an increasing amount of administrative-type tasks.
In some organizations, you’ll encounter scores of small-to-medium-sized projects with various starting and stopping times throughout the year. Some of these projects are not sufficiently large or complicated to merit the services of a full-time project manager. Thus, individuals might be assigned to manage a project while still maintaining some responsibility for their principal role elsewhere in the organization. Such managers could also find themselves in charge of several small projects whose time frames overlap.
A Tale of Two Offices
In your own career and life, whether you call them projects or not, you probably have already perfected techniques for handling a variety of simultaneous issues or priority items. One key to managing multiple projects effectively is to maintain a clear and separate focus so that when you’re working on Project 1, that is the only issue in your mind, and likewise when you are working on Project 2. If you’re leading a variety of small projects, mentally separating them has benefits.
My friend and fellow professional speaker Al Walker, from South Carolina, managed two projects a few years ago with aplomb. As a speaker, Al had the continuing task of preparing for his roster of forthcoming speeches. He had to ensure that flights were secured, project materials were delivered to the meeting planner in plenty of time, hotel accommodations were made, and so on. Then, he was elected to the presidency of the National Speakers Association, a post that lasted for one fiscal year.
Al took on the responsibility admirably. He knew that 3,000+ members of the organization were counting on him for effective leadership. To establish a separate focus, Al rearranged his company’s offices so that he had a distinct and separate office for his speaking business and another for his role as NSA president. He even had different phone lines installed, plus duplicate support equipment, so that he did not have to shuttle items back and forth between the offices.
As Al walked from office #1 to office #2, in seconds, his focus and attention shifted dramatically.
Extravagance Not Required
Al’s approach might sound extravagant. Certainly, you need to have both the space to set up an additional office and the resources to stock both offices adequately for the projects at hand. Yet, many people can accomplish nearly the same. Who doesn’t have doubles on some office equipment? Nearly everyone has the room to carve out additional space, perhaps not in a physically distinct office or cubicle, but somewhere within your office, organization, home, vacation home, or other space. You can buy room dividers/noise barriers such as those employed by companies whose workers populate cubicles.
While Al’s approach might not be feasible for some, the start-up procedures along with the associated burdens for creating a second office or second work area are offset by the mental clarity and emotional resilience you engender. As you’re able to maintain the two work areas, managing two projects becomes more viable. When faced with two major projects of fairly equal weight and complexity, the “two office spaces” approach works as well as any.
Does the above discussion mean that if you’re managing three projects it would be advisable to create a third office? No! You can carry any concept too far.
The project manager reports to more than one boss at a time
Related to the issue of managing multiple projects is having to deal with multiple bosses, either on one project or on several projects. The immediate challenge is that either boss is likely to encroach on the schedule you’ve already devised in pursuit of the assignments doled out by the other boss. Understandably, you could experience a range of anxieties and concerns when having to relay to one boss that plans might have to be delayed because of other activities in which you’re involved.
Relations with many bosses, especially in the case of a multiple-boss situation, need to be handled delicately. After all, depending on your organization, bosses could
- Have the power to terminate you without consulting anyone else.
- Conduct performance appraisals that affect your chance to advance in the company.
- Define your job responsibilities. Indeed, the bosses personally might have written your job descriptions.
- Schedule your work activities. In this respect, your boss might have control over each and every hour that you spend at work, what you work on, how quickly you have to proceed, and which resources you’re provided.
- Have leverage over what benefits you receive.
Reporting to two or more bosses generally is a no-win situation for a project manager
Reporting to two or more bosses generally is a no-win situation for you. Since you likely lack full control of the situation, you might need to become professionally assertive with your various bosses. In all cases, remain receptive and candid with them. Don’t errantly promise everything to everybody and hence create incredible pressure on yourself!
To assert effectively, choose the right time and place, get the listener’s attention, pay attention to your tone of voice, state what you want openly and honestly, speak in specifics not generalities, ask questions to foster understanding, seek feedback, and listen to and acknowledge what the other person is saying.
When dealing with each of your multiple bosses:
- Praise your bosses when they merit praise. Many employees forget that a boss is a person, too, and one who needs positive feedback as much as others do.
- Assemble your evidence. If you have a point to make, arrive armed with supporting artifacts.
- Don’t dump on your boss. Your boss is not a shoulder to cry on for what went wrong on the project or, for that matter, wrong at home.
- Pace your communications. Don’t overwhelm a boss with more than he or she can comfortably handle. Your project might be only one of many.
- Take personal responsibility for any department-wide activities or projects in which you’re participating.
- Present your situation or problem as succinctly as you can, while maintaining an effective level of interpersonal communication. Don’t drone on.
Project management is not about workaholics
What about the situation where you’re asked to take on too much work, stay too many hours, or handle more responsibility than you’re comfortable handling? Here, the ability to assert yourself is certainly valuable.
Suppose you work for a boss who’s a borderline workaholic. No, make that a full-fledged workaholic! How can you maintain your job, consistently offer a good performance, maintain sufficient relations, and still have a life? You say no without making it sound like no:
- That’s something I’d like to tackle, but I don’t think it would be in our best interest since I’m already handling XYZ.
- I can certainly start on it, but because of the DEF deadline and the XYZ event, I’m certain I won’t be able to jump into it headlong until the middle of next month.
- If we can park that one for now, I’m sure I can do a good job on it. As you know, I’m handling the HIJ and wouldn’t want to proceed unless I could ace the job. If you’re eager to have somebody start soon, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest Giselle.
- Help me here; I’m not sure what level priority this needs to be in light of the lineup I’m already facing….
Stand Up the position of the project manager
Some professionals, fearful that they could lose their job along with their health insurance benefits and other perks, endure various forms of work-related abuse because they lack the ability to assert themselves.
Here is additional, mildly more forceful verbiage, to draw on, depending on circumstances:
- I’m stretched out on Project A, and if I take this on, I won’t be able to give it nearly my best effort. The other tasks that I’m handling will suffer, as well.
- Is there anyone else right now who could take on that project? I need to develop a better handle on what I’m already managing.
- It’s best that I not be put on Project K, if that’s okay with you. I’ve been running long and hard for several months now, and if I don’t regain some sense of personal balance, I feel I’m putting my health and my home life at risk.
- I wish I could: I’ve been burning the candle at both ends on Project M, and if I take on more, soon there will be nothing left.
Asserting Yourself in Dire Situations
Despite your protestations to the contrary, suppose your boss or bosses keep piling on the work and responsibilities. No matter how often and how effective you are at asserting yourself, you’re frequently besieged with more assignments and more projects. Here are the two basic options to address the situation. The second option is not recommended:
◾ Push for a compromise situation where you take on some of the new work. Or, take all of it on, but suggest that you’ll have to receive additional project resources, such as more people, a bigger budget, or more equipment.
◾ Knuckle under and simply take on the added assignments with no additional resources. Avoid this at all costs! Instead, compute how many staff hours will be necessary to tackle the added assignment, how much that would cost, and what the overall return will be. And then graciously accept the new project. Likewise, if you need a bigger budget in general, new equipment, or other project resources, figure it out and then ask for it!
Managing more than one project at a time conclusions
Managing more than one project at a time, or reporting to two or more bosses, generally is more arduous than managing a single project or reporting to a single boss. Still, you can endure and even prevail. People juggle projects, and bosses, and live to tell about it. With a few of the tips above, you too can become adept.
◾ Constant advances in technology make us constant multitaskers. This can be a valuable and marketable skill. Managing more than one project at a time is achievable if you can mentally—and maybe also physically—separate your responsibilities.
◾ Your bosses are human and at least as busy as you are. Respect their time by being concise and organized in your communications, while issuing kudos and praise for their efforts when they are due.
◾ As a person with a life, sometimes you have to assert your own rights and be assertive in declining additional responsibilities or requesting more support.
◾ When you’re asked to take on more than you can comfortably handle, seek a compromise, or find additional resources, or both.
Project Management Recourses and materials
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