How to Manage a Project while Doing your Regular Job

If you are reading this post, then like many other managers and PMs, you may have been given an extra duty of “Project Manager” for a new project in your organization. Not that your management has relieved you of your normal job role and duties—they just think you are the best person to manage this project and think you can handle it.

If you are a “git-r-done” kind of person, this is going to be a common occurrence. In today’s fast-paced business world, it’s likely that you’ll have more than one thing to work on at any given time for your whole career. To address this situation, I thought I would share eight (8) tips on how to juggle multiple projects and work – while keeping your sanity:

  1. Learn to Prioritize! If you had a full time job or your “work plate” was full already, then it is obvious you will have to prioritize tasks and projects in order to survive. Prioritization means determining the order for dealing with tasks. But the key to successful prioritization is using the right factor to determine the relative importance of each task. Tatyana Sussex suggests 6 steps to this in “How to Prioritize Work When Everything is #1.” One of her main points is to differentiate between what is urgent vs. important.
  2. Plan and document each project or work target. The old saying “Plan your work and work your plan” has been attributed to many people, from Vince Lombardi to Margaret Thatcher. But I bet it comes from experienced managers who probably had the same type of workload as I’ve had! What this means to me is starting with a clear agreement on what “done” looks like. (By the way, this is a key part of Agile/Scrum projects) This defines the end game. It also requires having a common understanding of this end game with the project sponsor and key stakeholders. All of this must be in place before you establish a timeline of actionable steps and begin to work through them. I addressed the importance of project planning in a previous post.
  3. Find the right resources and assign the work! You don’t need to do every task and part of a project yourself. Recruit, steal, find and assign people and resources to get the tasks and work done. An earlier post by Dr. Karen McGraw on how to interview and select the right candidate addressing recruiting the right people. Another key skill is knowing how to work with people at all levels: peers, subordinates and bosses because the project’s ultimate success will depend on it. Finally, when you assign a task, do so with clear and specific requirements and targets, then get out of the way—DON’T micromanage.
  4. Learn to be Flexible. Change is a fact of life, and so is uncertainty. Even the best plan is not immune to the unexpected. In the middle of one of our projects nature dealt us a flood that put lives, property, and the project at risk. Be willing to scale up or down to suit real-time project needs. Making course corrections or changing priorities when events happen is the best strategy to keep all of your work and projects moving forward.
  5. Streamline the work and tasks. Eliminate unnecessary work and non-productive tasks! I am always amazed at how projects and work processes have wasted effort included in the requirements. In addition, during your project you may be asked to do more with less, as organizational needs and situations change. I provided some suggestions for doing this in a previous post.
  6. Communicate often and effectively. Learn to communicate effectively and spend less time checking up on work. Put processes and tools in place that can communicate status easily and quickly. Learn what communication is best for each project member and each part of the project. Email may not always be best, and online conference calls may be wasteful in time. (In a previous post I offered tips to help you manage your email.) Use a variety of communication techniques which streamline messaging and help you to manage communication more effectively.
  7. Know your own limits. Knowing your limits means managing expectations, understanding your own limitations, and being realistic about them. This is a key productivity concept for any program manager. When you get overloaded, you are not effective. Taking on too much will be detrimental to your overall productivity and to your well-being. Personally I get real grouchy when I am in overload mode. Molly Connor provides some tips for things you can say to help you manage within your personal limitations.
  8. Get something accomplished every day. I try to set targets for each day that allow me to feel good when a complete items each day. They don’t all have to be large or significant, but the key is to get the work products and project tasks completed. To achieve my targets, I schedule chunks of uninterrupted time whenever I can. Research shows that it takes your brain 15 minutes to re-focus after an interruption. Convey the concept to your resources and team members. Some people even create a “To Stop List” in order to get rid of distractions that can get in the way of achieving tasks.

I wish I had used some of these tips early in my career – I wouldn’t have burned so much mid-night oil! See which of these tips you can implement in your work style as you are assigned those “extra” projects.

If you have additional tips for juggling lots of work and projects, please share as a comment.

 

The Annual Performance Review – is it Time for a Change?

All managers (Project Managers, department heads, Executives) in most organizations have a responsibility to provide feedback to their staff members.  Over the years I have found that many people view this as an agonizing task and some completely ignore performing this key process.  I recently read a great post by Lindsay Scott on developing Project Managers and employees, (http://www.arraspeople.co.uk/camel-blog/projectmanagement/five-questions-about-project-management-development/) in which she summarizes a book she read by Kimberly Janson “Demystifying Talent Management: Unleash People’s Potential to Deliver Superior Results”.  Her post made me think about how organizations today (and projects) don’t actually take time to give effective feedback to staff and employees.

No matter what you call it: performance appraisal, review, feedback, development, etc., the only way to help people improve and perform better is to engage them in effective feedback and conversations about their performance, objectives and career.

There are many books and articles written on developing employees and performance feedback techniques.  But what I see happening is that companies and organizations are changing the whole concept of giving feedback with many abandoning the traditional “annual performance review.”  The key term replacing “ranking and rating” is feedback.  And the timeliness of the feedback is key to the process.

I personally prefer the concept of conversations that are held throughout the year, during which you discuss performance and give feedback.  Many of you will say that your HR department wants to have these “conversations” documented in the personnel folder.  And I am sure the standard forms they give you are not for holding “conversations” and providing effective feedback.  So I thought I would share a format that I have used for many years both on projects and with employees to provide meaningful and actionable feedback on performance.

My feedback format has 2 main parts and deal with both positive and negative feedback.

  1. Section 1: Feedback from the Employee. The questions and discussion here should be tailored to the organization, job, or project.  I have some general questions that can be used as a starting point:
    • How are you doing? (Do they feel like they are making progress, are they frustrated, do they want more challenges, etc.)
    • Describe any likes or dislikes with your current assignment/project/etc.
    • Do you have what you need to get your job done effectively? (This can be tools, knowledge, skills, etc.)
    • What are your goals for the next [project, quarter, job, etc.]?
  2. Section 2: Giving Feedback to the Employee. I like to give feedback in three sections or groups – starting with the most positive and moving to the least positive:
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has demonstrated and he/she should keep doing!
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has not demonstrated or done consistently – you would like to see more of these.
    • Job skills and behaviors that the employee has demonstrated and should stop doing because they impede performance or trigger negative consequences.

 

While you have to give specifics to back these up, I find it is much easier to categorize performance into these 3 groups.  You are basically telling the person that they have both strengths and weaknesses.  By being honest and positive with the conversation, you should be able to steer the individual to more productive behaviors and ultimately increase their value to themselves and the organization.

I hope this post helps you to get a handle on what can be the best or worst process in your management toolkit.  Do you have any tips on giving performance feedback?  Leave a comment.

For those interested in digging deeper, here are few articles that I think you might find useful:

 

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