Balancing multiple projects is very different from managing a single project.
While tasks in a project are usually completed by the same team within a tight project management process, multiple projects often come with their own team configurations and project managers.
So, how do you manage several projects at the same time and keep it all together? Read this article to find out.
3 key challenges in managing multiple projects
Challenge 1: How to share resources between projects?
Keeping track of your resources is the core challenge of managing multiple projects. When you increase one project’s allocation, you reduce the availability of resources to other projects.
Who is going to work on which project? When will they do the work? You need to know the answer to these questions, or you’ll face scheduling issues, missed deadlines, and lower project profitability.
To solve this problem, managers use dashboards that centralize all the information about team member’s availability to ensure smooth allocation and avoid tug-of-war between projects for star employees.
Some of the tools that gives you better visibility are:
- Availaibility Heatmap (see here)
- Workload calendar (see here)
- Utilization / Availability / Vacancy reports (see here)
More about resource allocation process you can find in these articles:
- What is resource allocation in project management (and how to ace it)
- Resource planning in project management: why is it worth doing this (right)?
Additionally, if you are interested in a more finance-centered approach, you can also see how overheads in projects overlap. We discussed this in our article on how to include overheads in the costs of billable hours.
Challenge 2: How to manage dependencies between projects?
Sometimes, the delivery of one project is only possible after another project is delivered first.
For example, a software development team first needs to develop a mobile application’s UX/UI before starting to write code.
Dependencies between projects are nothing like dependencies between project tasks. In this case, you’re looking at different project managers leading the projects. This means that communication needs to be swift and open, with regular status updates and catch-up calls.
One of the solution that gives you a big picture on project dependencies is project portfolio calendar with WBS (see here)
Challenge 3: Managing objectives and deadlines across multiple projects
It’s natural that you want to make sure that each of the projects realized by your teams meets its objective and deadline. But how do you do that while supervising multiple projects being completed at the same time?
What you need is a top-level analytical view of all the projects and their progress measured against key points like deadlines or milestones.
At this point, you don’t manage projects on a granular level but look at high-level metrics to measure how their completion fits into your overarching financial goals.
One of the most important tools to measure and control it properly are:
- Project's progress report (see here examples)
- Comparison between high-level estimations and actuals
- Cost allocation key formula to be sure that your projects are enough profitable
It's also worth measuring ETC (Estimate to Complete) at this level.
More about ETC and how to predict threats across multiple projects you can find in this article: How to Calculate the Estimate to Complete (ETC)
How to manage multiple projects at once (and meet deadlines)
1. Organize all your projects in one place
Lack of visibility across all projects is probably the most common problem IT companies experience. How are you supposed to know what’s happening in each project when juggling several Excel spreadsheets?
The solution to this is to keep everything in one place.
Find one solution where you can plan and manage all the projects and people allocated to them.
You’ll be able to quickly see everything in progress and check the status of each project.
If you combine it with financial insights like we did in Primetric, you can also check how much of your budget the project has burned so far and compare your estimations with reality based on tracked working hours.
2. Prioritize the work accurately
You get approached by two clients. Both projects look interesting, but you have enough resources to realize only one of them. Which one should you choose?
It makes sense to prioritize work that has the most impact on your bottom line. You need to know which projects to prioritize for your team.
To get there, you need a tool that will help you in prioritizing work strategically on both macro and micro levels.
Once you set your priorities straight, you’ll always ensure that higher-priority projects are fully staffed before allocating team members to projects with lower priority. This will help you to avoid scheduling conflicts.
3. Help your team to handle changing requirements
In some IT companies, people might be working on more than one project per week or even day. You need to support your team in tracking these shifting priorities and reassignments.
What you need here is a bird’s-eye view of all of the allocations. Sure, setting priorities is important, but so is being flexible with your allocations if you need to.
If you track work across multiple spreadsheets, knowing what each person is working on the at a given time will be very challenging. When priorities change, you’ll have no idea how busy people are, who can be rescheduled and how to continue tracking work put on hold.
A solution that acts as a central source of truth will help you manage multiple projects without worrying about changing requirements and shifting priorities. Everyone’s work will be fully visible, so one glance will be enough to get a quick sense of your bandwidth.
4. Check employee workloads across projects
Another common problem when managing multiple projects is not knowing how much (or how little (work) each team member has on their plate at the moment and in the future.
You need to have a way to see employee workloads across projects. If you don’t, you’ll be relying on your team to tell you whether their workloads are too small or too large. How will you get ahead of problems like missed deadlines, overworked employees, or underutilized talent?
To solve this, start by managing all your projects in one place. Your solution also needs to show you employee allocations so you can easily check who is assigned to which project and its date range. Identifying overbooked employees or project timeline conflicts will be much easier.
5. Don’t forget about your project portfolio when scheduling a new one
So, you’ll be running two projects at the same time. If you fail to plan ahead and their start dates aren’t coordinated, you risk overbooking employees, blocking work, and even deploying project progress.
To avoid this problem, schedule new projects with the full scope of your team’s work in mind. It can be a month, a quarter, or a year - the important thing is that you spread these projects in time to avoid scheduling conflicts or overwhelming your team.
6. Make sure that you have all required information (that is up to date)
This starts with your employees’ availability to skills, experience, hourly rates, vacation leaves, and contracts.
On the other hand, in order to prioritize well, you also need to know the profitability of each project as well as the deadlines. This is how you can determine which project is the most important one at the moment and react accordingly.
7. Don’t forget about the big picture
Having a spreadsheet is ok as long as you can quickly find all the necessary information. But if it takes you 20 minutes or a few hours to compile data, you should definitely find a more efficient alternative.
Keeping an eye on the big picture is important. Your solution should enable you to quickly change the perspective from people to projects, zoom in and out, check where there are money leaks and potential threats. All of this is crucial for a quick and efficient decision-making process that doesn’t give you a headache.
8. Plan long-term and make it simple
If you run multiple projects and you plan in the short term - let’s say 2 weeks ahead - you might be in big trouble.
When I talk with managers, I hear this many times:
“Arek, we don’t know how much work will be required in this project within the next two months” or “The client constantly changes the requirements, so how can I possibly estimate that?”
Stop whining and make some simple assumptions based on historical data and the future probability of your cooperation.
If you work in Agile projects and they consist of constant client requests (e.g., on a weekly basis), just assume how many FTEs of your people you may need in the future and make reservations. Thanks to that, you can understand the tentative workloads better.
If you don’t know how much the project will last, just ask yourself:
- Is it possible that it will end in the next month? Or maybe in two months?
- For how many months did we sign an agreement with the client and what is the notice period?
- What is the average required workload from the previous periods? What does my backlog look like?
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself these questions and make assumptions. They will only get better and better with time. Thanks to software like Primetric, you can also get back to historical data after few months and, based on that, improve your future estimates.
9. Don’t forget about the tentative projects
Just because a project is tentative doesn’t mean it shouldn’t become part of your planning process. These early allocations and reservations will help you to avoid overbooking later on when one project urgently requires the attention of one of your specialists.
Resource planning for multiple projects
When you're running several projects at once, resource planning can be tricky. You have to figure out how many resources are needed for each project and then make sure those resources are available exactly when they're needed.
How does it compare to planning resources for a single project?
Instead of a single team, you'll need to know how does the capacity look like across the entire comapny and see the dependencies between resource utilization in different projects.
Below I suggest a couple of tools that can help with this.
Projects progress report
Resource planning software like Primetric provide detailed reports showing the progress of your project together with utilization of your employees based on the logged working time.
Thanks to such reports, you’ll never lose track of your projects’ progress.
Project calendar with employee workload
Such a calendar serves as a single source of truth for everyone from sales and PM/delivery to the financial team and executives. One look is enough to know what’s going on across your projects, which employees will be available soon, who is overbooked, and which vacancies you need to fill soon.
Resource utilization reports
Instead of assigning your resources randomly, consider project profitability and prioritize projects based on impact. A solution that delivers resource utilization reports will help you to avoid under- or over-allocation before your project starts and keep your utilization rate in check.
Zoom in / Zoom out
Another perk of software that includes a calendar is that it’s divided into people and projects. You can zoom it in and out by days, weeks, or months to view the capacity of individual employees (to check who is overloaded with work or who is on the bench).
A software solution with built-in financial reports is very helpful in forecasting project realization rates, resource availability, or the number of vacancies within the next few months. Easy data visualization is essential for data-driven decision making.
Some software solutions include time tracking, ideally with valuable dashboards showing predictive timesheets. You can use them to see the tasks people in a given project should be working on. Most importantly, they can display the costs and revenue generated by each team member - per project, client, or within a specific date range.
Managing multiple projects is tricky, but the right software solution can make it much easier thanks to all the insights and access to real-time data.
Give Primetric a spin - I can guarantee that you’ll never switch to spreadsheets again.