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Managing Multiple Projects

How to manage multiple projects using simple graph paper.

By
Stever Robbins
March 24, 2009
Episode #075

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Today’s topic is how to track a dozen things at once.

So I’m the point person for somewhere between three and four student projects. I figured it would be a cinch. How hard can it be to keep track of four projects comprised of 22 students, 3 faculty members, and 4 sponsors, who only have to deal with 16 or 17 administrators around 3 different topics? What could be easier?

Herding cats. That could be easier. Because I get easily confused. I could keep track of mommy and daddy when I was young because one of them had a beard. I wasn’t always sure which one, but at least I could tell them apart.

My project here started out easy. I wrote up the project description for one group and sent it to them. Then I started work on the project description for the second group, but the faculty member for group three called to chat. So we outlined group three’s project, while I accidentally sent the description for group two to the administrator who would be working with group one,

Then I had to get back to project two—or was it one—to help them schedule their next meeting with the administrators. Er, which administrators? I think the administrator I was just talking to was from project two. Or one. Or three. Or … argh!

Similar Projects Cause Great Confusion

What made this so hard to deal with is that all the projects were roughly similar. They all had students, faculty advisors, sponsors, and administrators. Plus, I had to do the same things for each project: create a project overview, prep the administrators who would be talking with the students, and check in with the faculty sponsor to set up a schedule.

Because the projects were so similar, I was able to confuse which steps I’d taken on which projects. Salvation came in the form of engineering graph paper. That’s graph paper with a wide column one, and the rest of the columns narrow. Don’t worry, if you visit this episode’s transcript, I link to a website that will help you print all the engineering graph paper you could imagine.

Use a Grid to Track Progress

On each row of the graph paper, I wrote the names of the student team. To protect the innocent, let’s call them Cougar, Buffalo, and Snort.

I labeled each column with the steps the team had to go through: project overview written, admins prepped, faculty check-in complete. There were lots of other steps, but you get the idea.

As each step got completed for each team, I would just check it off in the grid at the intersection of the team name and the step. When Snort’s faculty advisor interrupted the phone call with Cougar where we were planning the project overview, I was able to check off the Snort/Faculty-Check-In-Complete box, so I wouldn’t forget and re-check-in later. Then when I finished with Team Cougar’s overview, I could check that off. With a single glance, I now know which teams still need to do which phases.

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