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Managing multiple projects at the same time can be challenging. Maybe you've been asked to take on several internal projects, are juggling a handful of external ones, or are even expected to balance assignments both inside and outside of your organization.

Regardless of the circumstances, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the numerous requests, the different reporting expectations, and the contradictory priorities. How can you keep your team, and yourself, on track? 

I’ve been managing international projects for more than 15 years—here’s what you need to focus on.

1. Set Your Boundaries

When it comes to taking on multiple projects at once, you need to be realistic about your skills and capacity. You need experience to give you the credibility and confidence you’ll need to lead. If you are new to project management, beginning with one or two projects to hone your skills is probably a better choice—both for you and your organization. That’s how I got started, and pacing myself allowed me to learn what works and what doesn’t. 

The bottom line is, you know your limits and boundaries better than anyone. If your organization is expecting you to take on an excessive work schedule—one that will actually lead to poor project outcomes—it’s important to speak up. You must set reasonable expectations for yourself and your team in order to be successful on all fronts.

Pro Tip

Pro Tip

Reflect on previous projects you’ve managed. Have you been asked to take on too many different projects in the past? What about the process was stressful for you? Were the projects successful? What skills would have helped you better handle the situation?

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2. Understand Your Team’s Limits

Multi-project management is all about teamwork. The members of your team have boundaries and limits too. How much work can they take on? What are the priorities that may require their attention?

When project planning, it’s important for you to know your team members' availability to take on work, what’s already on their to-do lists, and any personal constraints (including personal holidays, national holidays, time off, etc). The last thing you want is team-wide burnout.  

This is where having the right project management software to help you with resource management can be incredibly useful. Your tool can provide you with a clear dashboard of who on your team is working on what, the status of those tasks, and who may be overloaded with assignments. It can help you better understand what resources are being used so you can make more informed decisions about prioritizing and delegating tasks.

It’s also important for you to know your team’s skills—what they are good at, want to develop, and need to improve on. This will help you prevent bottlenecks and friction with your stakeholders. For example, having only one data scientist working on an artificial intelligence project isn’t going to work. As a project leader, you’re probably not the one who will be able to decide or invest a budget for professional development, but you are the one who can identify the needed skills for your project portfolio and advocate for your team.

Pro Tip

Pro Tip

Knowing your team will not happen immediately. You must talk with each team member and have regular check-ins to learn more about them, their work styles, and their goals. During your one-on-ones, ask questions that will help you better understand their workload capacity and skill gaps. For example, you can ask: “What is currently the most stressful part of your job?” and “What’s one skill you’d be excited to learn that could help you do your work?” Don’t consider these conversations a waste of time; they are the backbone of your ability to quickly answer your stakeholders’ requests.

3. Communicate With Your Stakeholders

When you manage multiple projects, you will get many requests concurrently from project stakeholders. Of course, every request will be “urgent.” 

In order to sort through the noise and understand what requests are actually the highest priority, you need to have insight into the bigger picture. What are the real constraints of each project? What are the expected project timelines and deliverables? For example, if you understand that you’re working on a regulatory project, you’ll know how important it is to deliver it on time and follow the project schedule.

The key here is stakeholder management. You need to build close relationships with each of the stakeholders on your various projects. Have regular conversations with them to better understand their constraints, needs, and expectations. Be transparent with them about your team's issues and the solutions you’ve employed. Similarly, keep them updated on your achievements and progress on project goals. This is another place where your project management software can be incredibly useful for organizing and distributing information.

These regular discussions will help you develop a realistic roadmap and know your margin for delays. If you have a good relationship with your stakeholders, you’ll also feel more at ease saying “no” to requests.

Pro Tip

Pro Tip

Make sure to document the characteristics of each project in a shared file that’s easily accessible across your project teams. Include the deadline and rationale for each project in this file, and update it regularly as new information becomes available. Inform your team of any project changes as soon as you know them.

4. Manage Your Time Efficiently

When managing multiple projects, you must be a time management master. 

As a project manager, it’s going to feel like most of your time is spent in meetings. Between meeting with your team members to discuss achievements and roadblocks, and meeting with project stakeholders who need information about your project progress, it can end up being a lot. 

To help you manage the chaos, here’s a look at how I approach my calendar. Every morning, I start by checking the pending action points under each project to see if anything is being held up. Who do I need to ping or connect with to make sure the project keeps moving? I also try to schedule all of my conference calls in the morning. Before setting up a meeting, I ask myself how important it is to have the discussion in person. I also try to limit the duration—setting up a 50-minute meeting instead of a full hour. In the afternoon, I time block slots in my agenda dedicated to focused work. For each project, I also create calendar reminders for important milestones and due-dates. 

Pro Tip

Pro Tip

You also need to be an expert at task management. For two weeks, try keeping track of how long it takes you to complete certain items on your to-do list. You may be surprised by what you find. For example, maybe you’re spending way too much time consolidating your notes after a meeting. You can try using a tool that automatically records and transcribes your video calls to save time.

5. Take Advantage of Templates and Automations 

When managing multiple projects, templates are your best friends. It’s important to standardize as much as possible. If you haven’t already, create templates for project kick-offs, delivery, go/no-gos, etc.

You don’t even necessarily need to start from scratch. There are plenty of templates available online or through your project management software. It may take some time to create them or customize them for your needs, but you’ll save a ton of time moving forward.  

Pro Tip

Pro Tip

Once your processes are standardized, it also makes it easier for you to automate repetitive tasks and workflows that could be slowing down your team. For example, many project management tools and apps allow you to automate notifications, time tracking, task assigning, and more. They may also offer integrations with the tools you’re using to communicate with your team and stakeholders, which can help you streamline that process as well.

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Yasmina Khelifi
By Yasmina Khelifi

Yasmina Khelifi is a French telecom engineer and a project manager. She has worked in the telecom industry for over 20 years with the primary industry stakeholders. She is a passionate project volunteer at PMI. She also writes articles about leadership and project management for, Harvard Business Review, and Forbes. She is the host and founder of the podcast "Global Leaders Talk with Yasmina Khelifi." Yasmina is the author of How to Become a Culturally Aware Project Manager (eBook; Bookboon Learning). Yasmina can speak six languages and has an MSc in Mobile Telecommunications. She holds three PMI certifications: PMP, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and subscribe to her newsletter about global leadership.