Many project managers cut their teeth by successfully managing a series of single projects. After showing such competence, the real test comes when they take on a portfolio of two, three or more projects to manage simultaneously. That challenge separates the project managers from the true leaders.
When that leadership test arrives, you’ll have more responsibility than authority (a hard transition) and you’ll be stretched into new areas and competencies (a great opportunity). Your work will include a number of new challenges like selecting, motivating and persuading team members in other departments; dealing with more unforeseen circumstances, and coaching team members to execute important project work while performing the daily details of their jobs. It’s not always the easiest transition but a little planning ahead can help you along.
Here’s a list of how to be a leader of multiple projects and teams:
- Prioritize your projects, whether you have two or 10. When setting priorities, consider timelines, money, strategic corporate considerations, available resources and—let’s face it—office politics. With your overall priorities set, your team members can create their own individual work priorities.Then, consider using a project management software that can help your teams establish and meet their priorities. The right planning software can automate a lot of the bureaucratic work on projects, such as: communicating the project plan to clients, stakeholders and team members; generating drafts of to-do lists for your team, storing all relevant data in a single repository, etc. When you—and your team—know the priorities that matter, everyone can take effective action on the work that makes a difference to everyone involved.
- Establish who’s in charge early on. Situations where you share project portfolio responsibilities with a colleague from another department can be fraught with uncertainty. Before you start, get buy-in from your co-leader and your respective bosses on who makes which decisions. If you don’t do it up front, ambiguities can derail your project later on. Setting concrete expectations at the start of a project and answering all outstanding questions lowers the chance of conflict along the way. A good leader knows the right questions to ask in order to have the best working project possible.
- Beware of scope creep and escalating objectives. You’ve seen it: A well-defined project adds more goals and tasks but not the corresponding amount of resources, and the project is thrown off schedule. When new objectives are proposed, ask for more time, money or people to cover the new tasks. Protect your team and think through each new proposal—don’t be an automatic “Yes” person.
- Anticipate change by building it into the process. Unforeseen circumstances will force adjustments. Combat the unknown by building additional time or resources into your initial project plan.
- Stay consistent—until change requires adjustments. When you change the project plan arbitrarily and without reason, you’ll cause confusion and lose trust among your team, your boss and your client—especially if they don’t understand why or what you’re doing. However, when circumstances demand change it’s important that you respond quickly. Be clear with each constituency and communicate why you’re instigating the changes and how the new plan will achieve the original objectives, or better ones.
- Be the rock for your team(s). A leader keeps team members on task without panic or distraction; helps balance ongoing work and project tasks, and prevents the unavoidable crunch time from becoming disaster. Be a visible manager. Walk around and interact with others, sit with individual team members who are struggling and have an open-door policy as much as you can. The more in touch you are with your team, they less likely they are to get overwhelmed and stuck.
- Find quiet time to think. It’s easy to get sucked into the day-to-day, but a leader finds ways to step back, see the bigger picture and anticipate how broader factors affect projects, company and clients. Close the office door (at least figuratively for you cube-dwelling project managers) to focus on the broader context.