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Planning resources for multiple projects running simultaneously (or with some overlap) is a challenge for both project managers and organizations. PMs need to ensure that each project is appropriately resourced and that if resources are on multiple projects, they aren’t overbooked or underutilized.

If you’re new to juggling multiple projects and want to ensure you’re resourcing them appropriately, you’re in the right place.

6 Tips To Plan Resources For Multiple Projects

Here’s a few expert tips for planning resources on multiple projects.

1. Use Resourcing Software

During the planning process, using resource planning software to lay out all project schedules can be helpful. When you enter all project details (like tasks and their durations) into the software, you can generate a report showing how much time each team member has booked on project work vs. open for other projects.

Having this in a single report or dashboard can help you see if you need to conduct additional resource management, reschedule deliverables, or bring on a freelancer or resource from another team to help with load balancing.

When setting capacity in your software, consider things like team or agency-related meetings, breaks, sick days, or PTO, as well as any workers with nontraditional schedules, to get the most accurate information from your software.

Another bonus of using resourcing software is that it can help you forecast. Whoever is in charge of booking new projects can see any gaps in the schedule or need periods and hopefully fill them before they come up in the schedule—maximizing efficiency and billable time.

Here's a shortlist of the best resource management tools on the market:

planning resources using software Asana screenshot
Software (such as Asana, shown here) makes it a lot easier to see team member utilization and capacity, helping with planning and forecasting down the road.

2. Prioritize Projects

When managing multiple projects, it’s critical to your success (and sanity) that you prioritize. Different projects come with different results, and they can’t all be the most important project for each team member or resource. Having a priority order can help you better manage project resource traffic jams.

For example, a year-long seven-figure project in a digital agency may take priority over a one-month ad-hoc project. If a resource is double booked, you should have them work on the year-long project and see if someone else (or a contractor) can take on the tasks for the smaller project. If the answer is no, it’s worth seeing if the deadline for the smaller project can be changed.

Note: The time to have this conversation is well before the deadline. Not a day or two before, or worse, the day the deliverable is due.

prioritize projects screenshot from Asana
This view in Asana shows a portfolio of projects with priority levels assigned, making it easier to decide who should work on what.
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3. Monitor Resource Utilization

Project resource planning and management is not a one-time activity. You need to keep up with it in real time to ensure that projects are moving along as anticipated. And if you’ve managed multiple projects, you know this is rarely the case.

Sometimes, things happen. For example, the client on project A needs an extra week to review and approve the designs. The sponsor for Project B wants another round of concepts. The designer for Project C got the flu, and the web developer on Project B had an emergency medical procedure this week.

If this scenario had you nodding furiously (or dreading managing multiple projects), you understand why you need to monitor these changes and update your resource management software as things evolve.

You may also want to try laying out a few scenarios to ensure all projects are covered and moving along as smoothly as they can as the timelines evolve.

4. Keep An Eye Out For Scope Creep

Similar to the way schedules can evolve, so can project scope. When managing multiple projects, stakeholders are likely to ask for additional revisions, new features, or, worse, changes to the direction of the entire project. These changes to scope can also change project schedules and necessary resources.

For example, if a stakeholder decides to add some additional website pages or creative assets at the end of the design phase, that could be a bigger issue than extending the schedule and adding hours.

Your designer might be booked on another project, and having them hang back to work on these additional assets will jeopardize that project’s timeline. This is especially important if your designer brings specialized design skills to your project and can’t be interchanged with another designer on your team or company.

To resolve the scheduling conflict, you will need to get creative. Consider completing the additional design work later in the timeline, telling the stakeholder you can’t accommodate the request, or bringing on another designer to provide additional support.

Another way to combat this issue is to anticipate it and ask proactively at the kickoff if stakeholders see additional needs not captured in the project plan. Even if the additional scope (read: scope creep) isn’t identified precisely, at least everyone is thinking about it and being mindful.

5. Plan Ahead For Busy Times

Ok, this one might seem like an obvious tip. But instead of focusing on the fact that you need to plan ahead for those busy periods, let’s focus on how you might go about actually doing that. In project management, we all know some version of the quote, “When man plans, God laughs,” but this is more about controlling what we can and having some backup plans.

If you’re resourcing multiple projects (as you would in a digital agency or similar environment), you should be looking at resources both in the short term and long term.

Knowing that you’re going to be really busy either seasonally (leading up to Black Friday, for example) or temporarily (you have three big projects kicking off in a specific time period), you can start planning for this early. This might look like adding additional staff, adding padding to timelines, or blacking out that period so that additional work can’t be scheduled.

If a busy period pops up in the short term, and you can’t be proactive, think about burnout prevention. Overallocation of resources is a recipe for burnout, and you want to work with your project team and your leadership team to devise ways to prevent this from happening.

If you see people maxing out their hours on one project or working a lot of (approved) overtime to meet project milestones or deadlines, consider offering recharge time to allow for a much-needed break.

6. Keep Monitoring Project Progress

In addition to checking in with your resources, make sure you have an eye on the progress of all projects that are in process, as well as any new projects that may be in the pipeline.

Delays anywhere in the process can lead to additional bottlenecks or teams that have gaps in their schedules. Neither is ideal when trying to manage a number of work streams that may converge.

If you see a project in your portfolio is moving away from the planned schedule for any reason, it's always smart to be proactive and seek to understand what may happen to the overall resource allocation based on the way the project is progressing (or stalling out).

Tools For Planning Resources

Here are some different types of software that are useful in planning resources:

  1. Resource management software: There are so many great choices for resource management software on the market today. Choosing the right one for your needs will depend on the size of your team, the type of projects you manage, and your budget.
  2. Gantt charts: Plotting project schedules in a series of Gantt charts can help you understand where your busy periods are and see if there is open time in someone’s schedule you can fill. They provide a nice visual and can be color coded for easy reference.
  3. Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets: If you have smaller teams and less complex projects, you can use spreadsheets to manage your resources. Also, if your project management software isn’t great for resource management, and you don’t want to add another tool to your tech stack, a trusty Excel sheet can get you the information you need in a fairly user-friendly way. The main drawback here is that it can be more complicated to show dependencies, and there isn’t the same level of functionality to automatically show issues that you’d find in software designed specifically for project resource management.

Common Challenges With Planning Resources For Multiple Projects

common challenges with planning resources for multiple projects infographic
Here are a few common challenges that will pop up as you're planning resources for multiple projects, and how you can go about solving them.

If you’ve managed a project, you know resource management isn’t the easiest. And, when you add multiple projects and a larger resource pool to the mix, things can get even more challenging. 

Let’s look at some of the most common challenges of planning resources for multiple projects and some ways to overcome them.

Ensuring the right people are available for the right projects

When planning multiple projects, it can be challenging to ensure the right people are available at the right time for the right project. 

Lay out all of the project schedules as early as possible when developing your staffing plan. The goal is to find a way to keep the team’s utilization as consistent and full as possible without either overwhelming a team member or having anyone sit idle.

Resource leveling when you are overloaded

If you find that you have projects underway and need to do some resource leveling or load balancing during your projects, it can be especially challenging to ensure all projects have their needs met with the right resources if certain people are overbooked.

You can start by using your resource planning tool to level out the schedules and then look to see where the gaps are. If you can’t fill in the gaps with the perfect resource, you want to look for the next best option. This could include:

  • Having the ideal person oversee a newer or more junior team member to get the work done on the same schedule
  • Moving some deadlines or adjusting the project plan when possible
  • Bringing in some temporary help to relieve the pressure on your core team

Using good decision-making skills and teamwork

As the project manager, your job is to advocate for the needs of your project team, but there may come a time when you need to make the best decision possible because of timing, budget, or resource constraints.

One of the hardest parts of this is trusting your gut and making the best decision possible with the information you have available.

If you and your team hold regular retrospectives, whether every sprint or at the end of the project, you will have some time to reflect on the decisions you’ve made and talk about how you might want to handle similar situations moving forward.

Remember, the more you do this, the better at this you will get.

Another challenge that comes up a lot is working together as a team. While you might not always agree with everyone on the project team and how they want to approach something, it’s important that you all work together to maximize your efficiency and complete projects together.

Managing conflicting priorities

Another really common challenge when planning resources for multiple projects is managing conflicting priorities. Each project’s stakeholders are going to claim that their project is the highest priority and needs to be done first.

And while there is a kernel of truth in that (for them), your role is to look at the bigger picture and prioritize the work based on how it impacts your team and organization.

Now, this is easier said than done. When the VP of operations is in your face demanding their initiative be moved to the top of the pile, it's not going to be fun. You'll need to push back and (calmly) explain why their project is a nice to have and someone else’s is mission critical.

Managing stress for both the project manager and the project team

Multiple projects and multiple resources can come with a lot of stress. While managing stress as a project manager can be challenging in general, adding more projects and more resources ups the ante.

Finding healthy ways to manage stress for both yourself and your team is really important. If you know you’re heading into a busy and high-pressure season, remember to take breaks, schedule walks, eat healthy, and consider peppering in some planned PTO to recharge.

If none of this feels possible, take a breath and try to find a way to work with your team to make it happen. And remember that perfect is the enemy of good, so keep doing your best.

If your organization has a good human resource person, check in with them to find out what resources might be available to you and your team.

Join Us For More Insights On Planning Resources And Juggling Multiple Projects

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Marissa Taffer
By Marissa Taffer

Marissa Taffer, PMP, A-CSM is the founder and president of M. Taffer Consulting. In her consulting practice, she helps organizations with project management processes and tools. She also serves as a fractional project manager supporting digital agencies, marketing departments, and other consultancies.