Taking on Too Many Projects
I realize when we work in an organization that assigns projects to project managers we often don’t have much choice in taking the assignments or turning them down. We can say no to a new project, but if our senior management — which obviously knows what’s on our plates at any given time — thinks we have the bandwidth to take on more work, then we should take on more work, right? What kind of poor project managers would we look like if we said no to more work? Our PMO director must know that we can handle it. And if we show concern over having too much on our plate, does that make us look lazy, weak or uncooperative? Maybe not, but most of us think that is probably the case.
So, if we feel overwhelmed with our current workload only to find more work being thrust upon us, what should we do? Take it? Probably not, because it can be a recipe for failure. The only thing worse than looking lazy, weak or uncooperative (as mentioned above) would be to end up as a complete failure having all of our projects go south as we become even more overloaded, overwhelmed and under-supported. What can we do? Say no? Maybe, but we need to be strategic. Here are four potential actions or responses we can provide when we are concerned about our current project load and feel that more work will lead to failure…
Discuss the priority of the project with your supervisor. First, discuss the project’s priority level with your supervisor. The new project may be hot and one you want to take on due to its importance and visibility (and career implications). Or you may find out that it is a much lower priority than some of your current projects and, therefore, this discussion may empower you to take it to the next level and compare it against your current workload in order to show your supervisor that it’s not a good idea for you to take an additional project on right now.
Review your current workload and issues with your supervisor. After you have learned more about the current project — and if you find out this new project isn’t more desirable or of more importance than your current projects — you may be ready to state your case for saying no to the new work. Go through each of your projects with your supervisor — the current progress on each one, outstanding issues and trouble points, and what the customer’s current satisfaction level is on each project. The idea is to establish the fact with your supervisor that what you are doing is already a full load and it’s all important…they should probably look for leadership for this new project elsewhere.
Ask if others may have more immediate bandwidth available. Another approach would be to discuss your workload with your supervisor in comparison to other project managers in the organization. Not to point out slackers…not at all. But hopefully to establish that others may have more room on their plate than you do at the moment.
Go to executive management. Finally, if you feel strongly enough about the situation and its potential detrimental effect on either your current projects or this new project, then you may have no choice but to go higher up the food chain. Especially if you are still being forced to take on this new project and you are absolutely dead-on certain that taking it on will have far-reaching negative effects. You must do this realizing that it could have significant repercussions — both in saying no to an assignment and going over your supervisor’s head to do it. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Use your best professional judgment.
Sometimes we can say no without really saying no. By showing your senior management how hard you are working (believe me, they may not be aware) and how many issues you are currently working on or through or under (again, they are likely not aware), you can help them come to the obvious conclusion that you may not have the time to take on a new project right now. Or they may leave your discussion thinking you’re a wimp and there’s nothing you can do about that — obviously they just don’t get it and that’s a risk you may have to take. It’s up to you, but no action on your part means you definitely take it on and risk failure on one or more of your current — and very important — projects.
How would you handle situations like this? Have you ever been in this position? What did you do? Please share your thoughts and experiences.
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