3 Tips for How to Cope With Project Overload

Woman juggling tasksAs project managers we all have those times that come up where one project or activity takes up most or all of our time. It’s a PM way of life ‚Äì it can’t be helped. And when that one project jumps up and takes all of our energy, resources and available time, it becomes so difficult to keep track of the other things going on and other work that we have on our plate ‚Äì which is often other important projects, leading other team members who need us, and engaging other project customers who are looking to us for project leadership and direction. Yes, it would be nice if we could shut out the rest of the world and focus on the one project that needs 110% of our attention right now, but we can’t do that. We must still provide adequate oversight of the other projects we have going on ‚Äì otherwise we run the risk of failing at every project we are currently leading.

So, when one project is looming so large and experiencing issues that require just about everything we have to give right now, what can we do to ensure that we aren’t dropping the ball on the other projects we are managing?

Generally, I employ one of these three actions or steps – depending on the overall state of each project and depending on how dire the situation is for the main project in question:

1. Assign someone as a temporary point person on the troubled project.

If the best thing to do is to offload the problematic project, then assign a trusted resource from the current team to take over for a couple of weeks or so while you focus your attention on the several other projects on your plate to get them back up to date and in good standing with the project customers. Offloading the problematic project, though, even if the needs or issues are very big, is not the best recommended option. By doing so on such a project, you may send a very negative message to the project customer and risk losing further ground on the project by turning project management duties over to individuals who are not PMs and are busy just trying to fight the current issues on the project. In this case, the next option is a far better choice.

2. Assign temporary leaders to the projects in good standing.

Likely, this is the wisest choice and this is the one I’ve actually used the most when faced with this type of situation. Ideally, meet with the project team on each project and brainstorm on the best way to attack the situation ‚Äì possibly even incorporating the use of mind mapping software to help you plan the temporary move of responsibilities. Then take action by offloading the regular weekly PM oversight duties to someone else on the project team ‚Äì often it’s the business analyst. Stay involved as much as possible to make sure day to day management of the project is occurring. By assigning someone else to be the primary PM contact and point person for a couple of weeks or so can help you free up enough time to focus on the big issues facing the project in question. This will help you get through the valley that you’re going through at the moment.

3. Get temporary outside help for the troubled project.

This is my least favorite of all three because it is costly. Also, doing so brings in someone new to the project who the customer is unfamiliar with and it can send a message to the customer that things are really bad ‚Äì when they really may not be that bad. Anything that causes the customer concern or unrest is bad. But if you have no other choice, this may be the proper action to take. Go to senior leadership or the PMO director ‚Äì whichever is appropriate for your organization ‚Äì and get an additional or temporary PM assigned to the project to assist. And if the issues are such that what you really need is of a somewhat different position ‚Äì say a business analyst or technical lead ‚Äì then go for that type of resource. But don’t keep them any longer than necessary because they will be a fast drain on the project budget.


No one likes to admit defeat on a project and we usually won’t have to even when times seem the darkest on a project engagement. Recognize early enough that you either need a little extra help or you need to re-focus more time to a given project and shift resource responsibilities accordingly. Done strategically, you can help ensure that you cause the least amount of project and customer disruption. The key is to make sure the customer sees that any change is positive and that you’re still focused on the success of the project.

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