7 Traps to Avoid When Managing Multiple Projects

by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

Managing multiple projects is one of the most difficult things I do. When I first started out as a project manager back in the day I tracked projects with calendars on my wall and diagrams of how the dependencies ran into each other. People laughed but those were the tools I used before project planning software came along. Whether or not you have experienced the same evolution to today’s tools, there are three universal tips for successful project planning before the kick-off that I want to share with you. What I’ve found to be a highly critical factor in successfully managing multiple projects is setting things up correctly before the action begins.

Let’s look at some of the traps in project planning that that we all get into, so that you are aware and can prepare yourself. The following is a list of 7 common traps you should be mindful of when managing multiple projects and not succumb to these.

The first is not tracking dependencies. If you don’t track the dependencies, you tend to get derailed on all your projects.

The second trap is over-allocation and over-committing resources. If people are over-committed then not only the current project but all projects get off track.

Allowing a critical resource to have overlapping milestones is a third trap. Sometimes we are the critical resource on those projects, but if you find that one or several of your resources have overlapping milestones such as an implementation date, that’s not really a good idea and you need some way to ensure that what your resources are assigned to can be done.

A fourth trap is shifting critical resources to higher priority projects. We’ve all seen situations where a superstar, that one person who holds the key to results, gets shifted to a higher priority. Maybe something happens on another project, and they are needed. They get pulled from one project and put on another, which helps the one but negatively impacts the other. Have a backup plan for that situation, and know what you will do if that critical resource gets taken away. You need to identify that as a potential risk and at least have the discussion or agreement with your change control board on what the backup plan is.

A fifth trap is unrealistic deadlines. It’s a common thing to not really estimate appropriately or stand up to say that something can’t be done. We need to rely on our team members, so encourage them to stand up and announce when things aren’t realistic, otherwise you can’t take anything back to your stakeholders or change control board.

A sixth trap is not updating and rebaselining plans. Even though it’s one of the easiest things we can do, it’s where most projects fail. Things will change and reprioritize, that’s a given. Many people just don’t go back and rebaseline their plan with stakeholders or change control board when things are reprioritized. But if we do so appropriately and timely then our project stands a far better chance of being categorized at the end as successful instead of unsuccessful.

The final and seventh trap is conflicting priorities or incentives. When multiple projects serve different business units or initiatives there are conflicting priorities and so it’s hard to stabilize the tasks, deadlines, resources and even budgets. Some groups are driven by different incentives as well. Maybe sales and marketing is incented by one thing but your technology group is incented by something else. If they are incented differently they are not driving for the same result, which ultimately will not end in success for your project.

Be aware of the traps, and know what to put in place before the kick-off to ensure successful project planning. For those who still use project planning techniques from another era, make your life simpler with solutions that project managers of multiple projects use—templates and software. Templates allow you to do things quickly and efficiently, and are easily put into place. There’s software available that enables you to manage multiple projects effectively; you define, resource and manage with one central tool, and can easily spot when your resources are over-allocated or when milestones are overlapping and dependencies cause negative responses for each other.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt) of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.

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