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How do you manage hundreds of Projects?

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  • How do you manage hundreds of Projects?

    I know that GTD was conceived for the busy executive so I'm sure there must be some built in ways to handle my situation. I am absolutely committed to the @waiting context. If I ever fall off the GTD wagon I'll still use @waiting. As a manager, I don't know how I'd work without it.

    I'm probably going to ramble a bit, so here is my main question upfront:
    I'm still having a little trouble figuring out how to track the hundreds (literally) of ongoing projects for which I am responsible.

    I was lucky enough to find GTD a few months before starting a new job, so I played around with it a bit on the old job and jumped into the deep end the day I arrived here, demanding a labeller and stealing stacks of folders from the supply cabinet to keep them handy in my office. It was wonderful setting up a filing system from scratch.

    I started from Day 1 getting my inbox (paper and e-mail) to zero daily. My two implementation issues seem to be (1) @Read equals a one-way ticket to Procrastination Station; and (2) I have 6 employees reporting to me, each with 50-100 potential projects that may at any time require action. My phone can ring any time of day and any person from the head of government to a reporter to a concerned member of the public will ask me a specific question about any of these hundreds of projects (or a new one I haven't heard of yet!).

    I tried keeping one project list but it was too long and too confusing and things were getting lost.

    So I split my work project list into 4 sections. I think that 3 of them are working as they should be:
    • Program Area 2 (includes things like Database Improvements, Identify Pandemic Planning Requirements, Set up Advisory Committee);
    • Committee Projects (includes committees I sit on or I delegate someone to sit on and any specific projects that come out of that);
    • Administrative/Management (includes Review Staff Learning Plans, Get a new branch truck, Fill out forms for Mat Leave, etc.)

    But Program Area 1 is currently a list of Clients with a note of which staff member is responsible for the file. It is incomplete: there are many more in my e-mail system and the complete list exists in a database. I've been adding only the projects that come up and require more from me than an e-mail response (currently have only 60 listed). Some of these "Projects" though are really groups of related projects. Now, I could have several next actions for these projects and keep the details in Project Support files but I'm still feeling some resistance to reviewing this part of my project list during the weekly review.

    I'm wondering if the resistance is because the list is too long or because I know it is incomplete?

    Would it make more sense to list a more detailed project associated with the file and keep the list of active files separately?

    Again, sorry for the length - but I've seen some amazing ideas on this forum and any suggestions and/or experiences will be appriciated.

    Cheers!

  • #2
    I've run into this a few times myself. From the start of the Project Planning chapter:
    The key ingredients of relaxed control are (1) clearly defined outcomes (projects) and the next actions required to move them toward closure...

    (Emphasis mine.) The thing to notice here about projects is this: Projects end.

    Of course, everything ends... eventually. The rule-of-thumb I use is about one year.

    If you have something that doesn't have a clearly-defined outcome and that isn't going to end in about a year or so, it's not a project.

    I have a feeling that if you vet your lists based on these criteria that your number of projects will decrease to a manageable level. That's just a small part of the many wonderful benefits of defining your projects in this way, but it's a good place to start.

    (I sometimes lament that DA used the term "project", since it's been so used and abused by every other system out there that it's almost lost all meaning. I kinda like "quest" myself.)



    Cheers,
    Roger

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks for the reply. I do try to make sure that these are active projects I'm talking about. I need to add to my weekly review a step to make sure that each one listed is still a "Project" that needs doing, and is not now completed (for now).

      My total list of projects would be several thousand if I included the ones that were not being actively worked on (luckily these are stored in the database, so they can live there indefinitely until they suddenly become a project again).

      The several hundred active ones are ones that require something from me and/or my staff as soon as possible.

      Of course, many of them at any given time are in @waiting after we've requested additional information from someone outside but I still need to be able to push them along as needed and make sure they don't stall. The 60 I've currently got listed are just those that I've pushed or personally worked on in the past couple of months and there are many more I've pushed through a simple e-mail that I didn't write down on my list. I'm finding this list of 60 overwhelming during the weekly review, but I know there are still a couple hundred more that my staff have in some form of incompletion.

      Comment


      • #4
        I think I need a bit more detail on some of your projects in order to say anything helpful:

        Originally posted by SiobhanBR View Post
        [*]Committee Projects (includes committees I sit on
        Do those committees all have clearly-defined outcomes? Will they all be disbanded within a year or less?

        Originally posted by SiobhanBR View Post
        Program Area 1 is currently a list of Clients with a note of which staff member is responsible for the file
        Do you have a clearly-defined outcome for each Client project? Will every one of those people cease to be a client within a year?


        Answering these questions might help me figure out what's going on.



        Cheers,
        Roger

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by SiobhanBR View Post
          I'm probably going to ramble a bit, so here is my main question upfront:
          I'm still having a little trouble figuring out how to track the hundreds (literally) of ongoing projects for which I am responsible.
          You can't.

          Sorry, it's just not possible for one individual to personally manage that many projects at once.

          Which is why you have staff. Delegate delegate delegate. Define outcomes for each of your direct reports, get status updates to bring you up to date as regularly as necessary, and then leave them alone to do their jobs. You only need to track the things that you personally need to do.

          One thing that might help is to define just what "keep track of" means in your context. I doubt very much that the head of your government needs to know that the Next Action on the Widget Factory project is "@Phone Call John Smith re:updating Widget substation." Neither do you, unless you need to intervene with Smith's boss on your direct report's behalf. On the other hand, it might be very helpful to have a quick summary of what the Widget Factory project is, who the key people/organizations are, and where you are in the project's timeline. Decide what information you need to have at your fingertips, and get your staff to help you build a system to put it there. Get the rest off your desk and out of your way.

          Hope this helps,

          Katherine
          Last edited by kewms; 11-06-2009, 02:38 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Incidentally, if both the head of your government AND concerned members of the public are calling you directly, something is wrong. You need to screen your calls, either electronically or through a human assistant, and delegate the ones that others can answer.

            Comment


            • #7
              Good replies all. Let's see if I can clarify.

              @kewms - To try to clarify "keep track of": My NA for most of these projects is in @waiting for my staff to draft a letter/report/meeting request. But I do then have to review the drafts/comment/meet with internal and external people to discuss or otherwise move the project forward. However, I don't want the @waiting list to get too stale - so what I'm tracking is the status of each project or where it is in the process. Whose court is it in and is there anything I need to be doing about it? The process is very well defined; it's just that everyone has so many projects and not everyone is doing GTD.

              Good point about the head of gov't vs members of public. In reality, I would usually be contacted by my superior to provide information that they have been asked to produce. I would of course delegate this to the appropriate staff member, but would have to review it, potentially discuss it and then discuss with my superior the content and any potential issues. Everybody delegates!

              Again, usually, I would forward calls from the public to the staff person concerned but I am responsible for fielding them when they either (a) don't know who to talk to, (b) have not been satisfied with the response or (c) can't get hold of them. I sometimes get them delegated from my superior (and again would normally delegate down to the staff member responsible depending on the issues).

              I think I am getting better at delegating - that's why my @waiting is so important. I need to know what I've asked for and when I get it so that nothing gets stuck for too long.

              @Roger - Let's see if I can give some useful detail. For the Committees Project List, I have the Projects associated with each committee on my project list. Many of them are long-term but they are most definitely Projects (albeit with sub-projects) and will eventually end. Although I do understand the idea of an end outcome, the timeline for some projects is truly longer than one year. It doesn't mean that it's not a project, but it is certainly worth a look through these to confirm that.

              For the longer list, though, yes these are projects that will (hopefully!) get a specific resolution (via a document from my office) within a short period of time (everybody wants it tomorrow, of course). They are then often changed and will go through the whole process again (I recognize this as a different project.) In the meantime, they exist but require no activity from me and are therefore off my active list.

              I probably should have also mentioned that I do keep @agenda for each staff member. So some of these projects could go there and during a regular meeting I could zip through them getting a status update for each. That way, only ones on which I am required to act substantially would be on my project list. That might pare it down a bit more.

              Comment


              • #8
                re: Getting Control of Hundreds of Projects

                I'm probably going to ramble a bit, so here is my main question upfront:
                I'm still having a little trouble figuring out how to track the hundreds (literally) of ongoing projects for which I am responsible.

                I started from Day 1 getting my inbox (paper and e-mail) to zero daily. My two implementation issues seem to be (1) @Read equals a one-way ticket to Procrastination Station; and (2) I have 6 employees reporting to me, each with 50-100 potential projects that may at any time require action.

                My phone can ring any time of day and any person from the head of government to a reporter to a concerned member of the public will ask me a specific question about any of these hundreds of projects (or a new one I haven't heard of yet!).
                Do you have voicemail? Turn the ringer off, if possible; or at least firewall key times of the day for processing by turning the ringer off temporarily or rerouting your calls to someone else during that time. If you need permission from your supervisor - emphasize that having that extra hour or two a day will improve your ability to focus when you are answering calls.

                I tried keeping one project list but it was too long and too confusing and things were getting lost.
                Use a Someday/Maybe list or file folder to defer projects. You can use the Someday/Maybe list in two ways: (1) they really are not active projects right now (2) to simply cull your list down to the most important projects you need to focus on for *today*. You can always bring the projects out of this Someday/Maybe folder tomorrow (or for your Weekly Review). For now, you can focus on just those that are the most important today.

                For my setup, I can drag projects to a Someday-Maybe folder on my mac. I click a little button and all of the tasks connected with my Someday-Maybe projects disappear. Then I can focus on just those I need to focus on for the day. If I want some of those other tasks back, I drag them out of Someday-Maybe, click the button, and all of the related tasks show up again.

                So I split my work project list into 4 sections. I think that 3 of them are working as they should be:
                This is good. Productive people have at least 40-100 active projects at any given time. I currently have 113 active projects. Looking at anything over 40 projects though is too overwhelming for most people. And once the list starts to approach 100 it can be a lot to look at to be meaningful to you. The way I cut through the overwhelmingness of these 113 projects is to do exactly what you did: divide them by section or area. In my case I have tags that I use next to each project name. You could do the same with yours:

                Project-[PA2] Database Improvements
                Project-[PA2] Identify Pandemic Planning Requirements
                Project-[COMMITTEE] Developed portfolio for client X
                Project-[COMMITTEE] Pushed agenda Y forward
                Project-[ADMIN] Finished Staff Learning Plans
                Project-[ADMIN] Get new branch truck
                Project-[ADMIN] Fill out forms for Mat Leave

                Also, don't forget to include projects that are *not work-related*! You need to be able to see your whole life in context. You may not be able to work on them when you're at work, but it is still imperative that your one list have *all* of your projects, and these include things like relationships, family, holidays, etc. Just adding these might help add some greater peace of mind because you know you have everything captured and are looking at it.

                But Program Area 1 is currently a list of Clients with a note of which staff member is responsible for the file. It is incomplete: there are many more in my e-mail system and the complete list exists in a database.
                Get things out of your email program if you can. Email is a disaster zone for productivity. Cull emails for what is relevant, copy and paste and put it into a trusted place you can review later, or just print it out and highlight the relevant facts. This will keep you from reviewing the same email thread over and over again every time you have to email someone (a *huge* waste of time when you add it all up).

                Now, I could have several next actions for these projects and keep the details in Project Support files but I'm still feeling some resistance to reviewing this part of my project list during the weekly review.
                Spend some time thinking about this resistance. It probably simply comes down to the fact that you don't regularly review them now, so you don't trust yourself to put them there and review them later. You just have to force yourself to review them once a week during your weekly review. Just do it (no matter how long it takes) and your trust will start to increase.

                The only other important thing here is to try not to "spring load" your projects. In other words, don't overplan - those plans will become obstacles as dynamics change. So only plan as much as you need to for the moment knowing that you will have to recalibrate along the way. This also means not hyper-sorting your projects, adding lots of sub-projects etc. The more "nested" things you have - no matter how organized - the easier it is for things to slip through the cracks. This is why I'm a firm believer in bringing all Sub-Projects out to the main level of your Projects list and grouping them together with some sort of project tag so you can see them together (for my approach on Projects/Sub-Projects see this Quicktime video called "What About Sub-Projects?" located here).

                Hope some of this helps.

                Todd
                Last edited by Todd V; 07-01-2011, 11:31 PM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  re: @Reading

                  @Read equals a one-way ticket to Procrastination Station
                  On reading, the three things that have helped me the mostů

                  Slap a posti-it note on each reading item and:

                  (1) Specify the purpose for reading it
                  Someone sent it to me, to learn how to ski, to be informed before committee meeting next week, etc.

                  (2) Specify the estimated time
                  Write down (under 15min), (under 30min), (under 60min), (under 120min), (>120min).

                  (3) Keep all of your reading in a Read-Review folder you keep with you all the time and pull it out any time you get a chance.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    You know you are GTD'ing too much when you wake up at 2:00 am and lay there thinking about projects and next actions for two hours: My baby started kicking me as if to say, "Mom! I'm one of your projects and your next action is to get some sleep!" After carefully considering my available contexts, I agreed with my unborn child that sleep was the desired next action, but that my energy level was not letting me do it. So I got up, had a glass of milk, and read for half an hour before trying to go back to sleep.

                    Thanks for your thoughts, Todd.

                    I spent the weekend thinking a lot about my projects and action lists and now I'm more confused than ever! My long list of Delegated Projects are definitely projects (a specific outcome), but my other lists, with which I have been comfortable during my weekly reviews are hiding a significant number of non-projects!

                    If I define project as DA does - An outcome to which I am committed that will take more than one action step - things like "Improve golf game" and "Play the piano" are not really projects. These are really "Areas of Focus". Play the piano is an action but not a project (for me I just go downstairs and play); although "Learn the Sibelius piece" would be a project.

                    Does anyone keep a separate "Areas of Focus" list? Oh wait - there's a whole thread on that!

                    Quote: Do you have voicemail? Turn the ringer off, if possible;

                    I actually am very good about ignoring my phone when I'm working on something else. I'll process my voice mails and e-mails at various times throughout the day.

                    To clarify my current setup: I use paper lists for my projects and next actions. Although I get a lot of items electronically, I still like putting pencil to paper - it is just the way I work. So moving things around from S/M to Active won't work very easily for me. My S/M lists (one for work and one for personal) are fairly extensive already and I'm pretty good about reviewing them regularly to see if I want to activate anything.

                    Oh and I didn't mention it in the original post, but I do keep a Personal Projects list in addition to the four work project lists. This is an extensive list as I have many, many personal interests and goals (but as I noted at the beginning I've got to remove some of the non-projects from here).

                    I am actually liking the way I've got my e-mail set up, following DA's recommendation. My in-box is always empty. I have three folders "within" the inbox (that's so that I can access them from my Blackberry) labelled @Action, @Read, and @Waiting. When I process my e-mail inbox I do the 2-minute actions, delete the trash, move reference information over to the reference folders (which are stored on a different server I cannot access from my Blackberry) and then move the remaining items into @Action if I need to do something, @Read if it was a document or link I need to spend more than 2 minutes reading, or @Waiting if it was a notice from someone that they'll get me something. I also put my Sent Items in @Waiting when I e-mail a request for something.

                    I zip through these folders regularly, except for the @Read, which is another problem for me.

                    Quote:
                    On reading, the three things that have helped me the mostů
                    Slap a posti-it note on each reading item and:
                    (1) Specify the purpose for reading it
                    (2) Specify the estimated time
                    (3) Keep all of your reading in a Read-Review folder you keep with you all the time and pull it out any time you get a chance.

                    These are great ideas! Most of my @Read is electronic, but I can still edit the e-mail (or better yet the subject) with an estimated time and a context to remind me why I want to read it. I think I also need to just schedule some @Read time. Something like half an hour every Monday and Friday morning. At least then I'd get to some of them.

                    These forums are great! Thanks again for all the food for thought.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Projects vs. Programs; Active vs. Archive

                      Although I'm still growing my GTD habits, I use the ClearContext IMS, which does enforce some level of discipline on my e-mail organization, which becomes a reflection of my open loops.

                      I think of the overall structure of my life as a hierarchical collection of "programs," which are like projects, except that they never end.

                      Within each program/sub-program is an "active projects" folder. That's where projects go.

                      When I review, if a project is done, BUT leads to another, I update the folder name.

                      If it's simply done, I move it to an archive folder.

                      If it's dead in the water, I either delete it or move it to Someday/Maybe.

                      This enables me to avoid having to track things like each week's status update as a separate project. "Status updates sent timely and complete" is a little program, and every week, it surfaces in my review, and spawns the appropriate next action.

                      Hope this helps.

                      -m

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