Advice for Project Managers: How to Better Prioritize Work and Projects
Dear Elizabeth: I manage a team that that is always juggling multiple project tasks. How can I keep my team focused on their top priorities, and help them know what the latest priorities are? – All Over the Place
Dear Place: Welcome to my world! Juggling is the norm, I’m afraid, but it’s great that you’ve accepted it, and you’re looking for ways to keep the focus.
The first question, and forgive me for asking, is: Do you know what the priorities are?
If you do, it’s a far easier job than trying to work them out, so let’s assume for now that you are clear on what the team needs to do to complete their projects successfully. (If not, find out what they are and then apply the following tips.) Here are three tips to help the team stay focused.
- Keep in touch
There’s a balance between micro-managing and staying on top of the work, but try to find it! Keep close to the team so that you can steer them in the right direction. Daily stand ups (even if you aren’t an agile team) are a good way to check in and make sure everyone understands what the priority is for the day.
- Explain the priorities
Don’t just tell people what the priorities are. Explain why. This gives people some context so that if they can’t work on the top priority for whatever reason (say, they are waiting on a colleague for information) they can make better decisions about what to do instead.
- Stop the distractions
As a project manager or team leader you are the one to shield the team from annoying distractions. Keep them out of office politics, protect them from the day-to-day headaches and give them the space and the tools they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
Hope that helps!
Dear Elizabeth: My team members are constantly being pulled away to help other teams with their projects. I can’t say anything because the requests often come from upper level management. How can I protect my team from being randomized? – The Randomizee
Dear Randomizee: This is such a frustrating problem. You thought you could deliver by next month and then suddenly your key resource is gone. Cue a huge reschedule and an unhappy sponsor (not to mention the upheaval in the team).
This comes down to not having clear priorities between projects. If your project is the most important company initiative then your resources are secure, because execs and stakeholders will be aware that it has to happen.
There are two things at play here: having those priorities in place, and people respecting them.
First, get the priorities clear. You need someone to look at the portfolio of work and prioritize the projects—someone from your Project Management Office or a team manager. This person needs to give each project a clear ranking so that everyone understands where each initiative fits in the grand scheme of things.
Second, respect the rankings. That means that if someone tries to pull your resources on to another project, and that project is less important than yours, you have something concrete backing you when you say no – even if the person is more senior to you. If the requester doesn’t listen to you, the overseeing project manager will back you up and you have the escalation route.
This also means that you have to respect the rankings. If someone needs your key people for a project that is more important than yours, then you must acquiesce. After all, you all work for the same company and it’s the company’s success that’s important. When a more strategically-driven initiative needs extra hands, everyone should rally to make that happen.
I know this isn’t an easy answer, but it’s the cleanest way to stop the act of randomizing people and breaking up teams at the whim of executives.
Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”