Project Manager Pain Point # 1 - How to manage Multiple Projects!

Project Manager Pain Points – How to manage Multiple Projects?

Over the course of my 30 years in the project management industry, I have managed a lot of projects across many companies. When you are in the role this long, it is bound to happen; you get assigned a lot of different projects, with different sizes and complexity. The one thing that I have found and continue to say is “Long gone are the days when project managers are managing a single project”. It just does not happen anymore. Unless, of course, the project is huge, complex, and requires a single project manager to be on it full time, in those cases, most project managers are going to have manage multiple projects. When that happens, sometimes it gets crazy and you see project managers having 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 projects all at once. Crazy right? Yep, but it happens so a ton of different reasons and we will get to that later, but for now, let’s just acknowledge it happens, and we need to give project managers a path to be successful. Before I go too far, what I wanted to invite you to watch a YouTube video I created on this topic I think you will enjoy!

YouTube player

What did you think of the video? Do comment below in the video! I am really excited to hear what you think.

Over the last 20+ years as a PMO Manager, what I have done when assigning projects to project managers is that I use a ratio of 3-4 projects per project manager. See, in Waterfall, that ratio makes sense, because our development and test phases of the project are the longest and I have found that project managers can often take on a new project during that time. I have seen this time and time again, during those project phases because the development and test teams are so busy, the project manager has more time to take on a new effort with little impact on his/her current project.

Why are we in this situation?

Again, I think it is important to understand why we are in this situation. Not only so can we acknowledge it, but we can also plan on how to be successful because it does not feel like it is going away soon. I think the biggest reasons companies are asking project managers to take on so many projects at once, comes down to some very specific reasons.

These include:

  • Lack of understanding what it takes to successfully manage projects.
  • Catch-up from COVID and wanting to get as many new ideas and products out to the market as fast as possible.
  • Companies moving to Agile so want to go faster and therefore believe that projects can be done quicker with less process and structure.

See, there are many reasons and justifications for companies to assign multiple projects to project managers, but regardless of why we are in this situation, we are in it, and we need to move forward. Let’s move now to looking at ways that project managers can manage multiple projects and still be successful. But before we do, I have a quick story.

Billsstorytime I have been doing this a long time, and thought it would resonate better if I told you a quick story of a peer project manager of mine who was running 15 projects at the same time. We were both working at the time at a large software company here in Washington state and I asked him over coffee one day how was his projects were going? I said John “How are you possibly managing 15 projects at one time? He said Bill “I am not, I am barely doing anything properly on 3-4 of them, but 15 not at all”. I can barely get to them all each week, let alone do risks, issues, actions…etc. And there is no way you can do proper project schedules across 15, no way!

But before I continue, let me ask you a question, “How can you manage 15 projects at once”? Do you think you could do all the risks, issues, action items and status reports and still be successful? What happens when one or two of those projects go into Red status and you now have daily status meetings and daily status reports that are due to your executive teams? It is impossible if the projects have any size or complexity to them to scale across 15 and do really well. I have yet to see it in my 30 years.

How do project managers successfully manage multiple projects?

Ok, I believe that there are three key steps to take to manage multiple projects successfully. Let’s look at them now.

1 – Having a Project Methodology

First, it is about having a structure and a methodology for each project. For waterfall projects, for example, that’s easy because most people follow a structure along the same processes PMI® have established from a process perspective. So, each project would start with initiation, then planning, then executing, and then close out. Regardless if you are running Waterfall/Agile in IT, or a construction project, you are going to have these same main phases. The goal for this step is for the project manager who is managing multiple projects to follow your company’s methodology and then follow the individual steps/processes in each of those phases. Even the Agile projects in IT will have a series of processes and ceremonies that the ScrumMaster would follow on those projects.

2 – Having a Project Structure (Common Tools and Repository)

Now you have the methodology you are following, we need to now focus on this from a tools perspective. There is nothing more important than when project managers setup a project environment for storing their files. Especially in this remote world we live in today, having a SharePoint® site, for example, setup for team members to access the project files around the clock, is critical. For years, I have set up a SharePoint® site that has a common set of logs (Risks, Issues, Actions, Decisions). For my meetings, I would store in OneNote on that same SharePoint® site and sent the team to that site for all project related work. I understand that not all companies have access to Microsoft(R) software, and that is ok, just get your project environment setup with whatever tool set you have available to you. Once setup, start inviting your team members to access all the project files from this one location.

3 – Rinse and Repeat for every Project

Now, you have the project methodology and your project environment setup; you are ready to set up your next project following the same processes. Let’s be clear: this is where the magic happens and project managers are given the chance to scale across multiple projects. See when you setup your projects by following steps one and two by following these same processes, it now just becomes a rinse and repeat process for you for the next set of projects you are assigned. Your project environments are the same, your status reports are the same, your risk and issue logs are the same. Cookie cutter. That way, when you are managing your projects, you have a common look and feel across your projects. You can quickly bounce from project to project easily. This is what I have done for years when I was managing multiple project and it was a lifesaver. It was really the best way to keep me successful.

What do you think?

Ok, wait, let me cover one more bonus item which I think is important I really can’t forget it.

4 – Meetings and Rhythm of Business Calendar setup

Ok, this is a bit of secret that I rarely share, but thought this would be a good time to share it for you today. One of the key things that has helped me be successful is ensuring I have a series of project calendars setup for every project I manage. Those calendars have been life savers and have allowed me to keep all my projects main events/events all organized. Better yet, these calendars have kept me from overlapping major project events and when I use these calendars alongside with Outlook® and SharePoint® calendars, it even keeps me more organized. Don’t tell anyone, but those calendars have been a project management trick I have used for a lifetime now and been critical to my success.

Does that make sense? It is what I have been doing for years!

If you like this article, you are going to love this one on my Project Management Playbook. Check it out here, I think you will love it. Another article, I think you will love which I thought I would share is Project Management Communication Plans – Tips & Best Practices.

Bill Dow, PMP

Relevant YouTube Videos:

Connect with me on Socials

Want to see all my Products, Courses, Templates….? Check it out here:
Facebook Business Page: 
Facebook Group for support/questions: 
Join my newsletter: 
YouTube Channel Link: 

Related Posts:

Bill Dow, a PMP-certified expert in Project Management Offices (PMOs), has co-authored books on the subject. With over 20 years of teaching experience and having built 10 PMOs across 4 companies.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap