When You Can’t Juggle Any More Projects

Cover of "Juggling (How to Make Series)"

Cover of Juggling (How to Make Series)

I know a lot of other nonprofit techies out there. When I have a chance, I get to talk with them about once a month. I’ve easily identified one thing about all of us – we all are juggling a lot of projects. To some, we may even be trying to juggle too many projects. Right now, I am personally in that spot where I feel that all of my projects are up in the air and not many of them are in my hands being controlled by me. It’s a very scary spot to be. So, I started to research this “juggling projects” for some insight on what to do and how to do it and unfortunately, there is no step-by-step guide on how to manage this little side-show my tech projects have become in ways.

One of the best resources I came across very early this morning while I couldn’t sleep (worrying that one, or more, of my projects was going to suddenly become a medicine ball and crash down on me) was by Vijay Aluwalia titled Juggling Projects With Forgotten Strategies.  One of the things I liked most was there wasn’t one suggestion that said “Say No” – because most often, I find that the art of saying no is disallowed for my situation right now.  But I want to list her suggestions and give some of my interpretations of what she is pointing to, especially from the angle of the nonprofit techie.

1. Identify the current universe of projects, both  being worked on and desired. – It is sometimes very difficult for me to not focus on all of the projects already up in the air. These are projects that are essentially outlined for me in our Tech Plan. Yet, I also have that internal list of “I would like to do” projects that I know will benefit my agency. It was refreshing just to take a moment and split a piece of paper in two and write down current ‘have-to-do’ projects and future projects. It also reminded me, as soon as one of my current projects is completed, another one is going to be added into the mix. Another thought here is that it’s much easier to juggle projects that I help determine than projects given to me. I need to find a voice about these “I would like to do” projects and advocate for them.

2. Clearly link the expected value of the project to  the strategic objectives. Map out the resources required to implement each  project. – I admit, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to really important projects. There are always issues or concerns when I bring in too many other people. Interestingly enough, I read another resource this morning about by Matt Cohen titled Juggling Projects. He quotes Charlie Dancy as saying “The extra hands are an advantage, the extra brains are a problem.” This quote is my stumbling block and I need to learn how to handle this better. However, Vijay Aluwalia points with this suggestion to one way I can make giving parts of a project over easier – link it to a strategic outcome and provide the resources. I can’t just assume that my coworkers have the clear vision that I have of a task so I need to make sure to take the time to provide the vision.

3. Create a decision-making process for prioritizing  projects. – I admit it, my gut screamed “But I don’t have the decision-making process!” when I read this suggestion. But taking a deep breath and truly thinking about this suggestion made me realize that I do have some ways to prioritize projects. I find that I do this much more successfully with steps within projects and very well when it comes to address the onslaught of HelpDesk tickets that I find myself facing. I think for projects that can be clear-cut – rolling out new computers – the best strategy is outlined in David Allen’s Getting Things Done process. This is the way that I address HelpDesk tickets. Take it a step further and explain to others how you are making decisions. I find that my tech department staff is starting to follow these principles too.

4. Conduct a gap analysis on the resource  requirements against higher priority projects. Get the resources you need to  succeed. – I didn’t get to this point of feeling that there are too many projects in the air without realizing it doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in a day. To think that I am going to stop and do a gap analysis right now, well, it’s not going to happen. But I didn’t want to pan on this suggestion because there are some projects, especially with nonprofit tech, that you actually do this with and you might not know it. I equate gap analysis to be like writing a grant for technology. When you are writing a grant, you have to justify why you need the monetary resources to purchase equipment or to develop a database. You gather quotes and you outline the anticipated outcomes of completing the project. You provide timelines of when you expect outcomes.

5. Implement a process for how projects are  initiated, delayed, accelerated and cancelled. – Again, my gut screamed out “You aren’t allowed to cancel projects!” when I read this one. I’m not going to focus on that part of this suggestion. But the other suggestions of initiated, delayed and accelerated really are things that I can control. Last year when I found myself with a network that was beyond maxed out, I had to get that project to replace the hardware of the network accelerated. It wasn’t easy. I found myself having to outline the pros and cons to addressing the issue right then to upper management. It was scary because that list of cons were very scary to  me. Guess what, they were scary to the upper management too. By addressing those pros and cons when trying to identify if a project needs to be slowed down or sped up, you will see who your allies are and more often than not, those pros and cons will provide you the buy-in you need to delay or accelerate.

6. Involve team members from various groups in the  entire process. – I find my champions of certain projects very easily. They aren’t all tech department members. Some of my best champions are from the accounting department and development department. I also think this step points to something that no one really wants to write out as a tip – but you naturally also know who aren’t your champions. Without identifying them and having a strategy on working with them on a tech project, that project can end up in the air a lot longer than you desire. These people appear to me to react more encouragingly towards tech projects when they see more than the tech department driving the project.

7. Get buy-in from senior management  throughout. – I’ve alluded to several things that indicate that I work hard towards the senior management buy-in on these tech projects. I have an Annual Tech Plan that is written by my department but ultimately is approved by a board Tech Committee. Larger projects get managed by someone in upper management (this can create other challenges, but that’s not for this post). Having this support makes it easier to go upward and say “I’m really struggling with this many things on my plate, I need your help in addressing the details”. If my superior is not on the same track as me, I am not going to get the help I need.

8. Make the data (from all the points above)  visible. Colleagues will be so much more supportive if they see and understand  the bigger picture, why decisions are made in a certain way and how they are  impacted. – I’ve already shared one way of showing the information – making a pro and con list. But there are two other things I have been doing to help support projects. First, for large projects, I provide at least two options on how things can go and I spend the time to make it as easy to understand. This usually means graphics to illustrate the technical aspects. By providing options, they are part of the process. Very rarely do I not get asked “which one do you think we should do?” Second, proof of concept. I don’t just take the word of the vendor that the equipment is going to do exactly what they say it is going to do. I found out from a decade of experience that there is always something about my network that makes it harder after I have made the purchase. So the new digital screen software that I wanted, that company had to provide me a demo and equipment to make sure that it worked in my environment before I signed off on that contract. Vendors are willing to do that and upper management likes to see you taking the extra step to ensure success before starting.

9. Have the courage to make tough decisions and get  senior management to support compliance. – Yep, that gut was screaming on this last one too. I know some nonprofit techs that got this art of saying no down to a science and it is accepted. I know that there are others like me that are in unique situations that make saying no a lot harder. Sometimes I find that the tough decisions that I have to make are to reboot a server in the middle of the day. It really just counts on the environment. Yet, I’ve never had upper management get upset when I’ve rebooted in the middle of the day because they realize that I do not just randomly reboot things without a reason.

I’m hoping that some of you have suggestions for juggling projects. Do you have a book that gives a step-by-step process guide on how to handle it? I’m looking for the resources and I’m sure others are also. I know that I feel better when I can identify that there are so many things up in the air.

And lastly, my own suggestion – plan a vacation or trip to make you look forward to walking away from the juggling act for a while.

Additional reads:

Balls of Steel: Juggling Projects

How to Juggle Multiple Projects and Clients Without Going Crazy

“If the throw is right…” Juggling multiple projects

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