What is the ‘best way’ to handle multiple projects? This is a question I am asked on a regular basis.
I usually start by saying that this is a time management and personal organisation issue as well as a project management question. Let me explain why I say this.
From experience of working with individuals or project teams what comes across is that people get involved in work they should not be doing. This is not job description stuff I mean they work on aspects that add no value to them, the organization and their stakeholders. When I mention this to groups there is usually a nodding of the heads. I refer them to the Steven Covey model of urgent and important and many people relate to the fire fighting rather than the more organized approach. Removing the clutter allows you to focus on projects that make a difference.
So, to come back to the title of this blog; how do you handle multiple projects? Neville Turbit in a really useful article ‘Project Multitasking’ quotes a Time Magazine article which looks at the brain’s ability to multitask. This article quotes research findings where people try and perform more than two or more related tasks either at the same time or alternating rapidly between them. They found that errors go way up and it takes far longer – often double the time or more to get the job done than if done sequentially. “The toll in terms of slowdown is extremely large – amazingly so” quotes David E Mayer Director of Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan.
Turbit suggests that quite often people view project managers as multi tasking. But, the research suggests that this is not an efficient way to work. He suggests it is better to focus on one thing at a time and get that done rather than ten things and take twenty times as long.
He then asks an important question; should you give project team members one or two tasks to complete or ten tasks to complete? The research suggests one or two. If you do have to give them ten then give them a priority so they work consistently on one at a time switching between tasks.
He also recommends something I have suggested to many client groups; that people should set milestones for smaller steps. By doing this you will focus on short term goals for delivery- provided of course you keep the long term objectives in mind.
However, greater emphasis needs to be placed on the issue of priorities. Whether it is project priorities or task priorities does not matter. Someone somewhere needs to spell out even in broad terms what the criteria are for setting the priorities. When I mention this to people on project management courses they say sponsors suggest everything is a priority! How true this is I cannot say however I do encourage the thing that is missing; a dialogue between sponsor and project manager (and team if appropriate) to debate these important issues.
Interestingly the article by Turbit goes onto describe how to deal with email. He has a 5 stage approach which looks practical and supports my introduction to this blog! I started by saying that people need be well organised.
If you are one of those that is well organized great, if not…you will struggle with delivering a project let alone multiple projects. If you are one of those that is well organised, please, explain to those that do not have your skill how you do it! It could save a lot of time and heartbreak!
Read the Time Magazine article here