10 strategies for successfully managing multiple projects

If you’re managing a team or program, you likely have multiple projects in progress at the same time. But keeping track of all the moving pieces can get complicated, and fast. Without a good process for managing multiple projects, it’s hard to know what work to prioritize, how to help your team effectively manage their workload, and if everything is all getting done on time.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Whether you’re struggling to organize and manage work across multiple projects or ensuring your team has a manageable workload, these ten strategies will help you keep everything on track.

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Designate one place to house all of your projects

  • Problem: Lack of visibility across all of your projects.
  • Solution: Plan and manage all of your team’s projects in the same place.

After weeks of planning and getting buy-in on your projects, your team is finally ready to get started. However, if all of your plans are scattered across various docs and spreadsheets, and you’re coordinating the actual project via emails and meetings, managing your projects becomes time consuming. You miss essential pieces of information because you don’t have access to files or aren’t copied on an email. Or your team ends up duplicating work because they didn’t know someone else is already working on it.

For example, if you’re managing a product roadmap with multiple product launches, you’ll want to know exactly how many launches there are, what each includes, and when each is happening. Planning and managing all of your launches in one place lets you quickly see everything that’s in progress and the status of your entire roadmap. What should you use as a multi-project management tool? If you aren’t already using one, a project or work management platform is the best kind of tool for the job—and ideally one that’s flexible, easy to use, and collaborative. At Asana we (no surprise) think Asana is a great option to consider.

[Download ebook: What is work management — and why your team needs it]

Define goals, plans, responsibilities, and expectations at the beginning

  • Problem: You’re seeing inconsistencies in deliverables and processes.
  • Solution: Clearly define goals, plans, and responsibilities.

Without a standard workflow or project planning process, each project is likely managed differently. As a result, deliverables are inconsistent, time is wasted setting up a new process each time, and work is more likely to fall through the cracks.

To fix this, make sure the plan, process, and responsibilities among your team are clear from the beginning. At the project level, this means clearly outlining goals, every step and piece of work that needs to be completed, when each is scheduled for, and who’ll be responsible for it. Be sure to also build in time for feedback and approvals—which can too easily get dropped if you’re rushing to complete a project without a clear plan.

Next, make plans, processes, and responsibilities clear at the program level. Set team-level objectives and clearly communicate the projects that will help you achieve them. Your project goals should help your team achieve these and, in turn, these team objectives will help your company meet its goals.

[Read: How to create and share effective project status reports]

To create a consistent project management process, set a few team-wide conventions. For example, for large projects you might require project leads to create a brief before outlining the project plan. Additionally, make templates for projects your team does often. They’ll help ensure that projects are executed the same way every time—without having to re-think every little step that went into them.

Prioritize the work that will make the most impact

  • Problem: You’re not sure what projects to prioritize for your team.
  • Solution: Look at how projects ladders up to larger company goals. What will have the most impact? Start there.

While it might be tempting to chip away at the easiest projects first—resist. Instead, prioritize them based on what will make the largest impact on your company goals. “Your top priorities should align with these goals and help you get one step closer to achieving them,” says writer Kasey Fleisher Hickey. So prioritize work strategically on both a macro level (i.e. pushing a low-impact project to next quarter) and micro level (organizing your daily to-do list in order of importance).

For example, your team might be working on five product launches at the same time. While they’re all about the same size in terms of effort and work required to complete, one of them has the potential to make a much larger impact on new customer revenue than the other four. A second, however, would have the most impact on customer retention and LTV. Since you know that LTV is a higher priority for the company, you’ll want to make sure the second product is fully staffed before deciding who has time to work on the lower priority projects.

[Read: How to manage multiple projects in Asana]

Not only will you be able to better allocate time and resources, but you won’t be left in the dark wondering if your projects will contribute to company goals.

Empower your team to be flexible when priorities change

  • Problem: Your team doesn’t have an easy way of tracking shifting priorities and reassigning work.
  • Solution: Get a bird’s-eye view of all of your team’s work.

Setting team priorities and aligning on work is key—but so is being flexible enough to pivot when you need to. But if you track your work in spreadsheets and to-do lists across multiple tools, it can be hard to know what your team is working on at any one time. As a result, when priorities change, you don’t know what they need to reschedule, how busy everyone is, or how to track the work you’re putting on hold.

By sharing a central source of truth with your team, you can manage multiple projects without worrying about shifting priorities. Because everyone’s work is visible, you can get a quick sense of your team’s bandwidth and current tasks. Then if you need to reprioritize tasks, you can do so without worrying the task will be lost completely.

[Read: Manage multiple projects with Asana Portfolios]

Finally, remember to keep the communication flow open—offline and on. Whether it’s in your project management tool or in your regular 1-1 meeting, check in with your team members about their workload and double check that everything’s on track.

Manage and communicate expectations clearly

  • Problem: You and your stakeholders are mis-aligned about what’s happening when.
  • Solution: Communicate where work happens.

Teams that suffer from communication issues do so because they lack visibility into their work, their partners’ work, and their cross-functional stakeholders’ work. When you don’t have insight into the work others are doing, you lack the context to understand why timelines are shifting, whether priorities remain the same, and how the project is progressing.

When you manage communication where work happens, you empower both your team and your cross-functional stakeholders with the full context behind your work. With real-time updates, everyone has access into how work is progressing, too.

[Read: How to write an effective project status report]

The best way to do this consistently is to find a work management tool that allows you to share status and progress updates right where work is happening. Instead of sourcing data and updates across spreadsheets, documents, and other tools, you can easily gather the information with the click of a button—and share it out with stakeholders in just another click.

Look at work across projects to balance workloads and timelines

  • Problem: You’re not sure how much (or little) work each individual teammate has on their plate.
  • Solution: Make sure you have a way to see employee workloads across projects.

There’s a second pitfall to planning each project in a different place: you don’t have a way to see all of the work a single person is doing across all of your different projects. This means you’re more or less relying on your team to let you know when workloads are too much or too little. This makes it difficult to get ahead of problems, like missed deadlines, before they spiral out of control, or (on the flipside) recognize underutilized talent.

Managing all of your projects in the same place is a good first step to solving this. But next, you’ll want to actually see all the tasks in each project, who they’re assigned to, and their date ranges so you can spot overbooked employees and project timeline conflicts. Then you can defer, remove, or re-delegate tasks to keep your projects on track. Not all tools have filters that allow for this, so make sure you choose one that does.

[Read: How to effectively manage your team’s workload]

For example, you may have a designer who is responsible for a small task, like editing a couple of photos, for your next product launch, but also single-handedly designing, printing, and delivering brochures, business cards, and posters for a conference happening—next month! At the same time, another designer has extra bandwidth. If you’re looking at everyone’s workload side by side, you can quickly spot this discrepancy and reallocate work accordingly.

Adjust project schedules to maximize team productivity

  • Problem: Project start dates aren’t coordinated and, as a result, employees are overbooked, work gets blocked, and projects delayed.
  • Solution: Schedule each project with your full portfolio in mind.

Even the most carefully planned project can get derailed if it’s not scheduled with the full scope of your team’s work for the month, quarter, or year in mind. For example, if you try to launch three different web updates at same time, they might end up conflicting with each other or dragging on longer than expected because your team is trying to do too much at once.

Instead, schedule and coordinate your team’s work with the full scope of your program in mind. Here are a few tips:

  • Stagger start dates for similar projects: Especially if you have the same group working on multiple projects, it can be helpful to stagger the start and completion dates of each so individuals aren’t trying to finish their work for five different projects at the same time. Instead, they’ll be able to focus on one before moving on to the next.
  • Look out for dependencies: Do you need to complete that infrastructure overhaul before building a new website? If so, schedule the dependent project for after your planned completion date of the first.
  • Flag duplicate tasks: If you have the same piece of work in two different projects, consolidate it. Make sure that piece of work—whether it’s onboarding a new vendor or buying equipment for filming videos for marketing—gets done in time to keep both projects on track.

Timing can make all the difference in keeping multiple projects on track and helping your team be their most productive.

Delegate work—but retain visibility

  • Problem: There’s a fine line between micromanaging and being an absent manager. How can you walk it?
  • Solution: Share a central source of truth with your team, so you can check in on work when it’s necessary.

No manager wants to be a micromanager, but losing sight of tasks and feeling like you’re in the dark about work being done on your team can make it nearly impossible to be an effective leader. The good news is, there’s hope.

By sharing a single source of truth with your team, you have a way to track all of the work everyone is doing. When all of your team’s work lives in a centrally shared project, you can get at-a-glance insight into what’s on everyone’s plate, when those tasks are due, and how they’re progressing. That way, you can check in on the tasks if necessary—without micromanaging them.

[Read: 3 ways to increase project visibility]

Track and save your workflows—instead of reinventing the wheel each time

  • Problem: You’re rebuilding your workflows at the beginning of every project.
  • Solution: Templatize and simplify your project planning process.

Picture this: you just finished your quarterly marketing campaign, and you’re getting ready for the next quarter. But you don’t remember how exactly you set up your work—it’s changed so much since then, and you’re already managing multiple projects as is. You’re not sure what the initial components are. How do you replicate the campaign without making sure you don’t miss any crucial tasks?

Stop reinventing the wheel at the beginning of every project. Instead, templatize and simplify how you start your projects. That way, you can use your workflows as templates over and over again. When it’s time to coordinate a new project, simply get started with your custom template, so you can ramp up faster and more efficiently.

Additionally, make sure you’re updating your template regularly with new tasks or steps you’ve added to the process or new workflows you’re building out. Think of your template as a living document—to have the most effective and efficient process, you should keep updating it with best practices and new insights. Finally, make sure to keep your template in your team’s central source of truth so everyone has access to it, and can start the project easily.

Manage multiple projects successfully, every time

As a team lead, managing multiple projects at the same time is often a reality of the job. Hopefully these tips will help you keep track of all of your program’s moving pieces, stay organized, hit your deadlines, and achieve your goals—every time.

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