While managing a single project is hard enough, managing multiple projects concurrently can be a daunting, almost impossible task. Indeed, a project portfolio requires project managers to think even deeper about risk management and the global vision and strategy of their organisation.
How to manage multiple projects at once? This guide will present the challenges associated with multi-project management, tell you the steps to follow to go about this tall order while providing you with the best project management tools.
The challenges of project portfolio management
Working on multiple projects is now common practice across businesses looking to solve more complex issues and improve productivity. But the multiplication of internal and external projects in companies means that the scale and complexity of project management have increased dramatically.
Managing a project portfolio brings its fair share of challenges for project managers to tackle:
- Project portfolio management requires keeping a global perspective on multiple projects, to make sure they are headed in the right direction and have coherent objectives.
- Project governance becomes more important as projects impact more and more business activities. Piloting large, diverse projects may involve being familiar with the business as a whole.
- Resource planning and risk management become increasingly important: project schedules might clash, leading to delays and cost overruns.
What to aim for when managing multiple projects
To overcome these challenges, project managers must keep in mind the following objectives when managing multiple projects:
- Evaluating the scope and benefits of each project: this is essential in order to better prioritise them.
- Streamlining the roadmap: if projects overlap, it could be necessary to terminate less beneficial or duplicate projects.
- Analysing relevant information: efficient progress tracking goes a long way toward increasing the Return on Investment (ROI) and enhancing decision-making.
- Ensuring objectives are coherent: each project must be in line with the vision and long-term goals of the organisation.
- Optimising the allocation of resources.
- Fostering efficient communication between all relevant stakeholders.
Making sure project planning is done carefully and timelines are clear are some basic principles. But managing multiple projects implies going further, by intelligently prioritising and piloting each project seamlessly and in a coherent way.
The objectives of project portfolio management all pursue the same goal: to increase performance and, in the long run, the profitability and efficiency of the entire business.
How to manage multiple projects at a time
You can achieve these objectives by following the 7 easy steps discussed below.
1. Define a global strategy
This step is essential for your projects to be coherent and align with the organisation’s long term goals. Your roadmap must always be in line with the global vision outlined by your company.
Taking the time to define a global strategy will help you:
- Guide your actions: if you know what to do next to suit the needs of your company, you will be able to plan your actions accordingly, hence you won’t waste time on time-consuming project activities with no added value
- Communicate with team members and stakeholders more effectively if you all share the same vision
- Have a global outlook on diverse projects, set priority levels and track global progress
2. Set concrete objectives
Tracking project progress can’t be done without setting clear, concrete objectives. Be sure to find ways to measure success with relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These metrics should follow the SMART guidelines, meaning they should be:
- Simple or Specific
For example, these metrics could be:
- The progress rate
- The cost difference between expected and actual
- The quality of deliverables
Setting such goals is also useful for stakeholders: you can keep them informed in real-time and manage expectations by discussing these goals with people such as the project sponsor.
3. Analyse your projects
The analysis of your projects should be designed to allow you to categorise and prioritise your projects based on the criteria you deem appropriate.
To conduct your analysis, you can ask yourself questions such as:
- How does the ROI of this project compare to long-term goals?
- Could the project be merged with or replaced by another project?
- Is this project riskier than the others?
- What is the cost of the project in relation to others?
Sorting your projects into different groups must help you position them with regard to your global goals and define their priority.
4. Prioritise your projects
Once you have a clear understanding of the role of each project within the global roadmap, you should prioritise them using tools such as the Eisenhower Matrix.
This step functions just like regular task management: you can see projects as task lists you must organise and trim. Delegate tasks (or even entire projects) to team members if applicable, and decide which project should take priority over which.
5. Plan for the execution phase
Once your projects and tasks have been assigned priority levels, you can start actually planning how they should be conducted. Using project management software and professional tools, you should now:
- Determine which resources should be allocated to each project. Managing resources across multiple projects can be tricky. You should try to keep a global view of your projects to ensure possible synergies can be realised for added efficiency.
- Estimate the budget required for each project. Again, with multiple projects, try to take into account the impact the budget assigned to each one could have on others if necessary.
- Plan the way forward, meaning when tasks should be done and by who. Use the priority order defined during the previous step, as well as tools such as the PERT diagram to account for the relationship between each task.
6. Track your progress
Thanks to your KPIs, you should be able to track the progress of your project in real-time and at different scales. Measuring the progress made will help you communicate your achievements and anticipate the future needs of your projects.
If you find that your KPIs don’t give you sufficient insight into your project portfolio, don’t hesitate to review them to account for different priorities or shine a light on other aspects of the effort made by your teams.
7. Refine your strategy
With efficient tracking, you should be able to compare your progress against expectations and objectives. If you realise you won’t be able to meet your goals, or if your projects don’t align with the global vision of the business, you should revise your strategy.
Day-to-day changes will inevitably affect the development of your projects or their outcome. Your strategy must not be set in stone, and you can use agile project management methodologies to react to change more effectively along the way.
The best tools for managing multiple projects
The challenging nature of multi-project management means it is often necessary to resort to using specialised project management tools to keep track of project progress and manage priorities.
These can make tracking and reporting much easier, which in turn reduces the risk of going off-track or over budget. The main benefit of using project portfolio management software (PPM) is that they provide custom dashboards to keep an eye on all your projects at a glance.
These are useful for things such as:
- Visualising project progress, resources and needs or even risk
- Measuring the ROI of each project
- Deciding quickly and making better choices by having more information at hand
☝️ These tools are highly customisable, meaning that they can adapt to all kinds of projects. You can build dashboards that reflect the specific details and metrics you need to assess the state of your projects. Be sure to follow the steps described above to select the best indicators and goals.
Ready to tackle your projects head-on?
Using these tips and the right tools, you should now be ready to rise up to the challenges of managing multiple projects!
With projects taking on increased importance in all business areas, and companies turning to agile methodologies and digital tools for increased efficiency, the role of project managers has evolved to an even more pivotal position.
Be sure to never lose sight of the global vision of your company to keep your projects going in the right direction, and use metrics and project management software to always stay in control, no matter how many projects you are in charge of!