How to Manage Multiple Projects: 8 Essential Steps
As if managing one project wasn’t hard enough, just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on it, another project comes along and throws you into the deep end of multi-project management.
With conflicting priorities and an abundance of high-priority tasks, it can be hard to ensure that project timelines are being respected and that all client expectations are fully met – if such a thing is even possible. Thankfully, you’re not alone in this, as data shows that only 15% of project managers have the luxury to focus on a single project at a time (The RGPM 2021 Project Management Report).
In this article, we’ll help you manage multiple projects by providing an overview of the main multi-project management challenges and how to best anticipate and resolve them. Whether you’re coming from a design, marketing, software, consulting, architecture or any other project-based industry, you will find something that can be applied to your business processes in this guide.
See also: Resource Planning for Multiple Projects: Best Practices for Efficient Multi-Project Management
Manage Multiple Projects Successfully in 8 Steps
1. Prioritize Projects
In a best-case scenario, responsibilities and tasks across different projects would not overlap, but rather succeed each other neatly. However, anyone who’s managed multiple projects at once knows that this is a pipe dream. This is why one of the main concerns for effective project management is good prioritization. This applies to the smallest units of work organization, such as tasks, all the way to the larger project picture.
Project managers managing multiple projects need to be able to juggle tasks and dependencies across team members with regard to their urgency and importance for the project’s success. On the macro level, effective prioritization means being aligned with the company’s strategic goals and knowing which projects should be pushed forward, delayed, rebudgeted, etc.
An important point to make is that managers managing multiple projects can’t focus solely on individual project success:
In sum, while the use of an individual project process is important for leading each project, multiple-project managers also utilize an interproject process and a process for managing interdependencies among projects.
The devil is in the details, and in the case of multi-project management, project managers must have accurate data on how projects affect one another.
Two of the most important metrics that can help managers contextualize managing multiple projects are agency utilization rate and profitability. Your agency utilization rate gives you insight into how effective team members are, helping you balance project teams across projects in order to get the perfect distribution. In turn, you can generate profitability metrics that tell you which projects are the most valuable.
With Productive’s robust financial management and forecasting systems, project managers can get full control over their budgets and forecast profitability for current and future projects. Any change on the project level is reflected immediately in reports, with automatic warnings in case of budget overruns.
Managing multiple projects is significantly easier when your prioritization is backed up by powerful real-time analytics.
See also: Financial Forecasting and Capacity Management For Agencies
2. Manage Time Across Teams
In order to be able to manage multiple projects and extract high-level data from your company, project managers should ensure that time tracking is integrated into the business process. Not only is keeping accurate time estimates the first step towards generating key business analytics, but it can also bring numerous improvements to your day-to-day processes and team collaboration.
Project managers who know exactly how many hours it takes team members to accomplish certain tasks can perfect their bottom-level project prioritization and achieve optimal employee utilization.
Research shows the most frequent reasons for voluntary turnover are poorly handled workloads and stress (2020 Work Institute Retention Report). To keep employees productive and reduce the chance of burnout, it is crucial that no individual is overburdened with tasks or under-utilized within the team. Accurate time estimates can also contribute to creating and maintaining reasonable expectations toward clients.
Productive helps teams and managers keep track of their time and stay on top of their priorities with a native time tracking feature. Thanks to a desktop timer, employees can manage their ongoing timer more easily, or simply input their time manually after a task is finished.
Managers can also decide when time entries are locked for editing, as well as schedule hours for their team ahead of time, simplifying repetitive tasks. If you’re part of a software development agency that uses Jira but is interested in enhanced resource planning and time tracking, this is also possible thanks to Productive’s integrations, which also include QuickBooks, Xero, Slack, HubSpot, Google Calendar, and more.
See also: 13 Best Agency Time Tracking Software
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3. Manage Your Work and Resources
Resource planning, also known as capacity management or resource management, is the process by which a company distributes and manages its resources. Under resources we understand the totality of company goods, meaning everything from property, finances, and technology to people. For agencies that provide services to clients, human resources are usually the most valuable good – this is why handling them correctly is so crucial.
Like reports and project management, resource management is closely tied to time management. Managing billable and non-billable hours, as well as your cost-per-service metric that is derived directly from hours, creates the basis of any resource plan. Additionally, Productive includes human resource management in the form of leave management for time off and sick days, supporting effective planning with accurate and timely data.
With clear visualizations of your project schedule, Productive provides streamlined resource allocation that considers new staff or subcontractors with placeholders. Moreover, you can easily check which team members are working on which projects and for how many hours, and make adjustments in case of internal or external changes.
Create custom reporting fields or use handy templates to get insights into your resources by teams, their skill, seniority, cost-per-service, etc. Productive provides you with all the necessary tools to empower high-level project strategies for managing multiple projects.
Check out how Productive empowered a worldwide digital agency: Resource Planning For Professionals: Managing 350+ People Using Productive
4. Communicate Effectively With Your Project Team
Creating a good project plan and communicating this plan effectively across all project stakeholders are two different things. For both your internal teams and outside communication, creating an open project space can significantly improve collaboration.
Firstly, ensuring that all teammates can check task progress offloads the multi-project manager and allows employees to stay accountable and engaged. Secondly, this project space can be shared with the client, removing the need to put together separate report sheets in favor of delivering real results quickly.
A staple of most project management software is the visualization of work management. In Productive, teams can cooperate on projects while customizing their board views to whatever suits them best: simple lists, spreadsheet-like tables, calendars, and timelines for more time-sensitive matters, or Kanban boards for teammates used to agile project methodologies.
You can easily switch through projects by favoriting your most frequently visited ones and adding them to the project sidebar – and if you have a lot of current projects, creating and sorting them into folders provides easy organization. Within projects, you can organize different teams and departments into boards, keeping everything in one place.
For client communications, project boards can be shared with full or limited access rights, so managers can tweak how much they want to share. Clients can leave comments directly on tasks, supplying direct context and creating a handy record of all project communication.
Productive is also available as an app, so all parties can stay on top of their project wherever they are. Add to this automated notifications that are stored in your project inbox, and information loss becomes a thing of the past.
5. Ensure Project Visibility
Effective delegation is closely tied to good communication. A manager who is working on multiple projects at once will naturally need to consider delegating tasks more frequently than a project manager who is able to focus their attention on one project only.
For this, ensuring full visibility will allow team members to onboard more quickly onto new tasks by effectively providing them with all of the necessary context and information. One example of good practice is to ensure that all task-related communication is happening on the task itself, creating a record of all relevant updates in case other employees need to take over.
Additionally, research has shown that one of the most common factors that impede project success is a “lack of clearly defined objectives and milestones to measure progress”, accounting for 37% of strategic initiative failures (PMI’s Pulse of the Profession 2017).
An end-to-end project management tool such as Productive can help provide full project visibility, keeping employees motivated and efficient with a clear timeline of current and upcoming responsibilities.
6. Maintain Your Documentation
Another crucial part of team collaboration is creating and updating project documentation. Often, it won’t be enough to gather information simply across tasks, as this, too, can lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Some key insights need to be gathered in one place – this is usually done through Google Docs and stored on private accounts, or a company-shared Google Drive.
However, organizing your documentation within a separate service is unnecessary when you can use project planning software that comes with integrated collaboration features.
With Productive’s Docs, you can create and collaborate on documentation within your project, seamlessly linking your project goals and project planning process with document gathering and sharing. You can view your documentation across a single project or all projects on the platform, making it easy to switch between multiple projects and find the information that you’re looking for.
Docs are also directly connected to task management, as you can create and reference tasks directly from text. No more scrolling endlessly through Slack or pinging teammates about each and every document; with Productive, you can benefit from having all your project operations in one place.
7. Standardize Processes Across Projects
In order to be able to keep track of multiple projects, it is important to achieve as much standardization of the project process as possible. If you’re tracking different metrics, or handling the workloads differently, it will be extremely hard to compare the two projects and get the relevant data to make the right decisions.
An example of a lack of standardization can be something as simple as using different task statuses to denote the same workflow steps, or as far-reaching as using an entirely different project methodology.
If I had to choose the main benefit of switching to Productive, it would be having visibility of everything in one place: from sales through resources, projects to delivery, plus the time logging and profitability figures in one place—being able to track the end-to-end lifecycle of a project.
This is where all-in-one platforms like Productive come in, by providing a solid management framework for all projects that can be customized and built upon. For example, by integrating lightweight customer relationship management in the form of sales funnels, Productive bridges the gap between different teams and unifies workflows on one platform.
Track and manage your pipeline in Productive – you can easily tag additional parties so that information about status changes, such as won or lost deals, is communicated immediately. Additionally, you can export quotes directly from Productive and turn won deals into projects immediately. This is just one example of how Productive can simplify your day-to-day operations.
8. Choose the Right Project Management Tool
Finally, we come to the crux of the issue: choosing the right software to track project progress and ensure that challenges are being resolved and project deadlines are met on time. There are a lot of options available that you might want to consider, from enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to capacity planning solutions, which makes picking just one management software tricky.
Thankfully, there are some considerations that you can take into account to gauge general vendor quality, no matter how specialized your agency’s needs might be.
The best tools out there will usually be comprehensive enough to solve issues for a variety of different agencies, including software development, marketing, or design, while also specialized enough to solve common agency challenges with helpful strategies, such as poor communication, project risk, and complex financials.
Although specialized tools can be a good choice for an agency seeking to pinpoint one pain point or complement other tools, all-in-one software can significantly save time and resources by serving as one source of truth for all your business operations.
Powerful tools such as Productive can help you effortlessly follow all of the above steps for managing simultaneous projects by:
- Enabling advanced project visibility
- Enhancing communication between stakeholders
- Simplifying critical resource management oversight
Another good trick to find the right tool is to check what the community is saying on reputable third-party review sites, such as G2 or Capterra. Tools, such as Productive, that have a rating higher than 4.5 denote good customer service and a client-facing methodology that ultimately signals that your software will be able to scale with your business.
Investment in software can be both costly and challenging, so make sure that the software you pick matches your long-term goals by demonstrating a commitment to constant improvement and communication with the community.
Related: Workstreams Explained: Boost Your Agency’s Project Management
Takeaway: How to Manage Multiple Projects
There is no clear formula for success when it comes to project management. Leading a project smoothly comes out of experience – trying out a variety of strategies and seeing which one suits you the most. After all, each agency has its own unique circumstances, projects, and employees.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from the experience of others. We hope that the resources and tips provided in this management guide will be helpful in creating a custom strategy that improves your agency’s results and optimizes project management in the future.
If you’re looking for management software to execute this strategy, consider booking a demo with Productive, the all-in-one project management tool for agencies.
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