Plate Spinning and the Art of Project Management
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Plate Spinning and the Art of Project Management

How often have you heard someone complaining about having too many plates to spin? It is a phrase I have used myself, always with the feeling that the plate spinning is really difficult.

Have you ever watched someone spinning plates? It's not something you see every day, but you use to get plate spinners on television in variety shows in my younger days.  Plate spinning is a surprisingly good analogy about being able to hold the bigger picture, (the impressive display for example of 108 spinning plates, which is the world record), and keeping track of each small element.

There were two things I noticed. They would start spinning the first plate, then the next one and possibly a third. Then they would go back to plate 1 and 2 to make sure they were running okay. Then they would start spinning plates four and five. Then go back and check on the first 4 plates, maybe giving one of them an extra boost, and then go onto plate six.

The second thing I noticed was that even when checking in on a plate for a moment, it was with total focus.

Now this is all very useful to observe if you ever wanted to start up a circus act, but how is this relevant to our busy everyday lives? Well, we can use at the same sort of thinking when running multiple projects.

What generally happens, (and this is feedback from my clients), is that a) a plate gets forgotten until it crashes to the ground or b) you drive yourself to distraction by trying to give the same amount of attention all your projects at the same time. This potentially ends up with all the plates smashed around your ankles.

A habit I have developed is a "check in". Depending on how many projects I have going on at any one time, this is always once week and sometimes more frequently if there are deadlines to be met. The check-in take less than 15 minutes. It isn't about doing any of this stuff, but just checking the progress of each project – are they still spinning or are they tottering? This helps you identify your priorities, spot any potential problems and helps you set goals for your week.

Once you know the status of each project, you can then focus entirely on one project/plate until you have that spinning safely, then you can focus on another project.

If this has struck a chord with you and you want support in getting passed this or other issues,  check out how we could work together and get in touch.

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