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Managing Multiple Projects

Most training, methodologies, and discussion involving project management centers around managing one project very well. While the reality is that most of us are juggling multiple projects simultaneously, and that this reality is what causes many of our problems. Different projects compete for the project manager and the teams attention.

 

The general consensus on how to reduce overcommitment is to increase throughput and decrease demand. It is also important to have a good handle on your team's workload and risk. You need good communication to ensure that your stakeholders are never under the impression that you are making progress on their project when you are not.

 
Integrated Project Scheduling

When managing multiple projects, integrating your project schedules to ensure that different phases of different projects can be executed in harmony at the same time. Create a master plan showing all your projects. Leverage technology to help you do this. 

 

Try to get buy-in from all your project stakeholders to allow you to use the same format of project reporting and communicating. Are you supposed to leave a daily project voice mail status report for one customer, do a written report weekly for another, and e-mail casually as-needed with another, and use Earned Value status reporting for one and Gantt charts for another?  Aim for similar timing and formats.
 

 

 
Shifting Gears and Distractions

Shifting mental gears takes time and energy. This is one of the reasons multitasking may seem more efficient on the surface, but may in reality actually take more time in the end.

 

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. According to the APA article "Switching Costs", in experiments published in 2001, Joshua Rubinstein, PhD, Jeffrey Evans, PhD, and David Meyer, PhD, conducted four experiments in which young adults switched between different tasks, such as solving math problems or classifying geometric objects. For all tasks, the participants lost time when they had to switch from one task to another. As tasks got more complex, participants lost more time. As a result, people took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs were also greater when the participants switched to tasks that were relatively unfamiliar. They got up to speed faster when they switched to tasks they knew better.

 

In a 2003 paper, Nick Yeung, Ph.D, and Monsell quantitatively modeled the complex and sometimes surprising experimental interactions between relative task dominance and task switching. The results revealed just some of the complexities involved in understanding the cognitive load imposed by real-life multi-tasking, when in addition to reconfiguring control settings for a new task, there is often the need to remember where you got to in the task to which you are returning and to decide which task to change to, when.

 

Even more interestingly, Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.

 
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