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BlackMesh: Don’t Set Fire to your Laptop: Managing Multiple Projects without Losing it! (PART I)
Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s New England Drupal Camp – otherwise known as “NEDCamp.” A special thanks to those of you that attended my session and to the organizers for putting together an excellent conference!
Upon posting my presentation slides online (you can find them here: https://nedcamp.org/new-england-drupal-camp/sessions/dont-set-fire-your-laptop-learn-how-manage-your-multiple-projects), I realized they’re not going to be terribly helpful since I am rarely inclined to condense all of my talking points into a slideshow. Therefore, I decided to write a two-part blog that will elaborate on crucial points I made during the presentation; this first post will focus on task prioritization and keeping all your projects and clients straight.
Throughout my presentation, we discussed different things to consider when trying to prioritize multiple projects. Three categories come into play for me when determining overall priority: 1) Client; 2) Tasks, and; 3) Other factors.
In this corner of our industry, we work with individual clients of varying sizes. It‘s therefore essential for us to understand each client’s priority.
There are six factors I take into account when prioritizing my client accounts:
Budget. This is generally the only factor people use in prioritization.
Client Deadlines. In my kick-off meetings, I always talk about deadlines with my clients. Questions such as, “Do you have any contracts ending we need to know about?” “How about internal blackout dates?” “Any launches coming up?” Asking these questions can give us a lot of insight to the client expectations as well as what is important to them. This is also a great start for a candid conversation around those dates and expectations.
Growth potential. If your current project with the client is a proof of concept or one of a series of projects, prioritize it as though you have those additional projects or the proof of concept was successful.
Internal or external. Internal customers are often a bit more flexible with their deadlines and priorities with respect to external customers. Learn where that priority lies, and, if the project is critical to the organization, you need to know that when prioritizing as well.
Partnership potential. This is something that can often be overlooked. If a client has potential for partnership (e.g., sending you more business, being vocal on social media, participating in a case study) take that into consideration when prioritizing.
Relationship. If the relationship with the client is in a bad space, I want to make sure I take that into consideration and use the project as an opportunity to turn things around.
There are four factors for determining overall priority based on tasks:
Importance. We’ll talk a lot more about importance vs. urgency in the next post, but, in short, a task is important if it moves you towards the goal of your project.
Urgency. A lot of people equate urgency with importance, but these are distinct things. Urgency is deadline based and is not related to the project goals.
Value. When picking what task to prioritize, higher value tasks will go to the top.
Effort. If a task is low effort, but still important, those will often get prioritized just to get them complete and out of the way.
Other factors I take into account when looking at my priorities are:
Overall risk to the project, client, and relationship.
When taking these factors into account, I consider the whole picture when determining my priorities. Going off just one or two of these can lead to dangerous blind spots for your projects.
Another challenge to managing multiple projects is to keep everything straight when it comes to client teams, deadlines, schedules, and resources. For all aspects of your projects, nothing is going to replace hard work. Take the time to learn your projects, teams, deadlines, schedules, and resources. Putting time into this will save time in the long run as well as potential embarrassment in front of your clients.
Be specific in your notes and don’t assume you’ll know what you mean later. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll remember what I meant,” but don’t take it for granted. If you’ve switched topics and projects three times since your notes, you probably won’t remember. Aim to write your notes as if another team member will be reading them.
For your clients, don’t underestimate the power of face time and building relationships. This not only helps you keep things straight, but also essential to a successful project. While we don’t always have the luxury of traveling to client site, there are things like conferences, hangouts, and Skype to help grow these relationships.
The first thing I do when assigned a project is read the statement of work (SOW) or contract. Knowing the documented details helps me keep things straight and facilitates conversations about changes and expectations.
Schedules, deadlines, and resources often require similar different tactics. For all three of these, I recommend you keep a master calendar. Know who is working on what and when. This will avoid overscheduling as well as insight into your team members’ priorities.
There is a good chance your resources are working on more than just your projects. Get to know your team members’ priorities. Your number one project may be number three for them. Knowing these priorities can help you schedule accordingly.
In the upcoming second half of this series, we’ll discuss common pitfalls to managing multiple projects and how to best utilize your quieter times to make your busy times more manageable.
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