Dealing With Multiple Activities in Civil Engineering Project Management

Shira Smolko

Project engineers have to deal with multiple tasks at once. It may seem overwhelming at times, especially when you may have 10 to 20 active projects under your control.

It is imperative that project managers understand the status of each project, their urgency and deliverables. It also seems the better you are as a project manager, the more projects you have to handle at once.

When you manage multiple projects it is vitally important that you understand the final time deadline (the delivery date) and the overall budget.

Ultimately, the client is interested in two things, when can I have it, and how much will it cost. If you can satisfy time and budget constraints, milestones (as per the client’s expectations), you will be ‘held in high esteem’ by your client.

In order to manage and juggle this many projects, it is vitally important that you understand 5 things

  1. The final deadline and budget (
  2. The importance and priority of the project
  3. The overall tasks – High Payoff Activities, and Low Payoff activities.
  4. Activities that can be delegated or outsourced.
  5. Your role as a project Engineer / manager.

1. In order to effectively manage multiple projects, you need to understand your total workload , and compare the projects deliverables. This is usually done using a project planner, or project management tools such as Microsoft Project. Once all projects are considered, hopefully not all deadlines and deliverables are NOT due at the same time. The Tip is to find out the REAL deliverable date. Often when a client is asked when they need to project completed, they have a buffer built in so they can ‘sit on it’ for a short while. If you establish the real activities that will follow the ‘deadline’, you may be able to safely extend the final date with the client – with no detriment. If this is not the case, at the least you will find out the importance of the final date.

2. Not all projects are as important as each other. Some projects have other consequences, and tasks that cannot be achieved without the delivery of the initial project. Without sounding callus, you definitely want to look after your most important clients who have constant work flow and pay well and on time. In most cases, it is these most valued clients that should be looked after as priority number 1, as they are your ‘bread and butter’. . Keep them happy and your business should continue to motor along. At the same time you need to take good care of new clients who may have millions of dollars in future work for you depending on your performance. They will usually not display all of their cards to you, so the best thing is to make sure you look after them and meet your deadlines. Ultimately you don’t want to spend 100 hours on a project that is only worth 50 hours payment. It is fine balance between current and potential future work. The trick is to recognise project importance early , and their future work potential.

3. Within many projects there high payoff activities and low payoff activities. High payoff activities are those that will get the most benefit out of there completion, and low payoff activities don’t generate too much benefit at their completion. The tip is to recognise which activities / tasks are high payoff activities right at the start of the project. It is these activities that should be given the priority and attention they deserve. Low payoff activities could be either tackled later, or delegated to others (it is important however to monitor the progress of low payoff activities otherwise they may be forgotten until the end – or at a critical time). Constant updates to the overall task schedule is a great way to stay on track and monitor your progress on each project.

4. You don’t want to spend your valuable time on low payoff activities that can be done by others. Project management is also about delegating or outsourcing activities that are better completed by someone else. Sometimes it is better to outsource a ‘time consuming complex design’ to an expert in the field, while you manage the process and the overall project. The old saying “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself” is not always the case in engineering and project management. You need to recognise and do a cost analysis on your time and cost on their cost (and delivery time). While they are completing the task, you could be working on or managing another high payoff activity, which will ultimately allow an overall timely delivery of the project.

5. As a project manager, you should be generally ‘managing’ the project, and should not be ‘in the trenches digging the holes’. That is the job for the ‘soldiers’ or workers under your control. It is however important that you understand their skills and what they should be delivering for you. By ‘staying on top’ of this element (periodic meetings and minor milestones), reduces the frustration of you having to ‘check and change’ their progress. It is your responsibility to deliver , so you should ensure all things are moving ahead in a timely manner, and communicate effectively and regularly with your team, and your client.

Utilising each of these 5 areas will help organise your ‘juggling act’. Hopefully all of this makes sense, and you are able to apply it in your role. Even if you are not yet project managing, you can still apply some of these principles in your engineering career.

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