As the scale of our Foundation has expanded, I’ve found myself splitting my time between that and my regular coaching sessions. As I’ve decided to do more and more new things, I’ve had to learn new skills. I’ve found myself doing things I’ve not done before, regularly feeling uncomfortable, and frequently out of my comfort zone.
Taking on more and more separate projects has meant I’ve had to learn to manage myself, my time and people differently. And as I’ve learned from the experience, I’ve become more comfortable at what I’m doing.
So here are 10 things I’ve learned about managing multiple projects:
1. Know your outcomes. For each project you take on, think about exactly what your hoping to achieve. This allows you to work out exactly what’s needed and to prioritise when you have limited time, money and other resources.
For example, if the project is about delivering the best quality possible, you might spend an awful lot of time getting things exactly right; time that may not be paid for. Your client may want quality, but your company might expect a profit. You’ll need to balance the technical quality or the amount of work done, with the financial budget available, and the timescale that the work is needed. You may need to compromise where the line is between quality, money and time. Agree at the beginning if this can be done, otherwise you risk leaving the client and/or your boss disappointed later.
2. Budget. And I don’t just mean money. Budget for time. Make sure you think about what needs to be done by everyone on the project and estimate how long this will actually take. Check before you start, if you have the amount of time you need. If not, then think how you can either get more people or time, or do less work. More time doesn’t just magically appear.
Hoping that you’ll somehow be more efficient is generally misplaced. Be clear how this will happen – exactly what things can you do quicker, or what will you do less of?
3. Who, What, When. Work out the things that are the most critical, i.e. that need to be completed by a certain time, so you have enough time for other things to follow. Sketch out a timeline so you know these critical dates. That way you can check periodically if everything is on track.
4. Get things done. Once you know what to do – do it. It’s no good thinking about the finish line or how good it will be when you’ve won. Get started on what needs to be done next. Projects are successful because you actually get on and do what’s needed. Get yourself a reputation as someone who gets things done. That way other people will want to work with you.
5. Manage actively. It’s still your responsibility to deliver the project, even though you may delegate certain tasks.
Think about those working for you and how they need to be managed. What’s their level of skill/ability to do this particular work and how motivated are they?
If you just ignore them until the end of the job, expecting everything to be alright, you might get a nasty surprise.
Think about your past experience of working with them. How did they perform? What’s their level of capability? Irrespective of their grading or level, how well do you think they can actually do the work you’re asking them to do?
If they’ve demonstrated to you before that they are capable and committed to doing a good job, then you may just need to provide support and encouragement; briefing them fully, explaining the outcome and timescales + any key dates or reviews.
If they lack skills, then you may need to explain in small chunks; check when they’ve done each one; correct if needed before moving on to the next small chunk. If you have any doubts or concerns, manage them closely.
As someone becomes more experienced and you have more confidence in them, then give them more space; get their ideas; agree what they’ll do by when and check in less frequently.
If you have any doubts or concerns about someone’s ability or motivation, then manage them more closely. Only delegate completely if they are up to the task.
6. Check in. Once you know the key things that need doing on individual projects, put reminders in your diary to so you can check whether the project is on track. Check if things are on time, if the right work has been completed and the quality is up to standard, and whether you work for a business or a charity, check if the project is on budget financially. Like any organisation we have a limited pot of funds. Therefore once we’ve agreed a budget, we have to work within this budget. If a manager uses up the budget early in the project, and asks for more money later because they’ve run out, the chances are the answer will be no. They’ll have to think of a way to earn any extra.
7. Plan your own time. Managing people and projects takes time. So make sure you allow YOUR time for this. Set aside time in your diary. If you’re time is already full with the jobs you have to do, then you won’t have time to manage as well.
Allow time to plan and budget, to brief and provide guidance, to check and correct. And allow yourself time to think – especially if you have multiple projects.
Remember the conductor of an orchestra doesn’t play any instrument – but the orchestra couldn’t play without them. Managing is a vital part of every project.
8. Its ok if you don’t know all the answers. As you take on new projects and challenges, its inevitable that there will be things you don’t know.
You already have lots of skills and experiences – they’ll help you to get started. So use what you do know and go with your best option.
And where you’re not sure, you can do research on some of this, on the internet or by asking people in your support network who may have done something similar. Learning from the experience of others is the way most people progress, and good people are usually happy to share if asked.
You may have others on your team who do have this expertise – use it; or bring people in with specific knowledge where its needed.
9. Be decisive. There are times when its good to consult, get everyone’s views and agree on the way forward. But there are also times when someone needs to make a decision. And if you’re leading the project – that means you!
Accept that it might not suit everyone but there may not be a solution that does. Explain why you’ve made that decision, so that those who may not agree, at least understand the process and reasoning behind it. Make sure that even if they don’t agree with the decision, they are prepared to follow it wholeheartedly. If not, maybe they shouldn’t be on the team.
10. Be flexible. Be aware that things may not work out the way you’d planned. This is not necessarily anyone’s fault – its impossible to anticipate everything that can happen or control every element.
Start with your best option, listen to feedback and if it works go ahead, if it doesn’t then amend your approach or try the next best option. Engineers and developers follow the principle of a minimum viable product, where they develop an idea or product that has enough features to test out. They take on board feedback and continuously adjust their design until it meets all the user’s needs. It’s a good approach because sometimes we don’t know exactly what the end result will look like until we’ve started.
Remember, it doesn’t always have to be YOUR way and the best ideas don’t always have to be yours. The key is whether it delivers the end result.