Managing Multiple Projects

Waterfall Model
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I’ve discussed project management recently with a number of people who work in more “traditional” software development issues, where projects tend to be large and involve many people working on a project for long periods of time. They often give me odd looks when I tell them that typically my company has around 20 projects on the go at any point in time, with an average length of well under a month.

Bear in mind that these are actual projects, not “operational” things like supporting existing software or running an SEO campaign.

I’d be interested in discussing how to manage this sort of situation with other people – what to do when all of the traditional project management tools go right out the window; how to avoid stressing out staff by making them switch back and forth between many different tasks etc. What kinds of tools do you use to track large numbers of very short projects (I don’t have hours usually to set up a file in MS Project or other similar tools – I write quick checklists on a notepad and then wander from desk to desk)? Is anyone using agile techniques (especially controversial things like two people per screen)?

10 responses on “Managing Multiple Projects

  1. sol

    Two people per screen can get annoying. Very fast. Nothing like someone else smearing their big, potato-chip greasy finger on their screen in vague swirly motions while dribbling crumbs on the keyboard. Yeah… most people don’t like when I do that. 😛

    Seriously though, I think it’s better as 1.5 people per screen – two people have a brief, intense debate over some issue for the project for maybe 10-15 minutes, then one person goes away to work on some other task and the seated person actually does what they discussed. repeat again in about 80-100 minutes. Having the two people actually SIT there while only works can cause the other person to fall asleep. Does the second person really want to sit there and watch the other guy click through some 23-step config wizard? watch as they try to connect to a slow database and keep forgetting the password? Wait for the machine to compile something when they can’t even switch to another task?
    Does the guy doing the actual work have the self-restraint to not kill his partner after the 53rd “you forgot a semicolon” in the space of 10 minutes? People need some space to work. Put too much pressure and the situation is not unlike uranium reaching critical mass – something’s gonna blow!

    I don’t know what sort of tools would be best for managing these microprojects, but if they’re as quick and small as you say, maybe just get a good dayplanner from an office supply store? Or the digital equivalent, Outlook (or something like it).

    1. Jeremy Lichtman Post author

      Hi Sol,

      I did a bit of that working on projects at university. It worked out well there, probably because neither of us was eating anything greasy.

      I’m going to look at Basecamp, and possibly some other tools. I find that the setup time is way too slow though – writing checklists in my notepad and then putting in sticky notes seems to work, although I’m sure it doesn’t inspire much of a good impression on others.

  2. Lucian Ioan

    Dear Jeremy,

    By writing those checklists you are still losing time. Either way you do it you loose time. It depends now how much time you lose. We have developed a product RationalPlan Multi Project that is trying to manage multiple projects that share resources. You can enter the tasks, assign the resource on multiple tasks in one move, and instead of wandering from desk to desk you can just email the assignments (also in .ics format). Give it a try:

    1. Jeremy Lichtman Post author

      Hi Lucian,

      Your product looks like a solid competitor to MS Project. Or rather to MS Project plus Sharepoint. I still find that the setup time on software like this is going to run more than about 5 minutes, which is how long it takes me to scribble a quick checklist. The quality of results may be better though this way. I also forgot to mention that we’re a completely Ubuntu-based shop, which may or may not effect whether we can run your software. I’ll take a peek though, and I appreciate the link.



  3. Elie

    There’s also FogBugz ( that may be usable for you, which would help track not only the tasks, but how much real time (that is, including the inevitable breaks, etc) is spent on any given task, which would make planning future projects easier and more accurate.

    1. Jeremy Lichtman Post author

      I’d forgotten about FogBugz. I’ll have to evaluate that as well.