Why, in project management, are small projects treated as the “poor relation”?
Many Project Managers aspire to manage large projects and programmes – large, transformation activities with high visibility, significant resources and a lot of kudos!
As such, an aspirational Project Manager’s response to being allocated small projects with small budgets might be “Why can’t I have the big project?"
This attitude may be why delivering a small project can take longer than expected, even when it’s something a business needs. Although small projects can be a quick win to help a business unit or team, they can often get lost along the way, resulting in an unimpressed small project customer.
This thinking is unfair to small projects, as they present a great opportunity for Project Managers to add value to the business and learn more about it.
Small projects versus big projects
Unlike larger, high priority projects, small projects often don’t get allocated the resources they require and Project Managers will need to become a “one-stop-shop”.
Without the large team you’d have to support you on a big project, you’ll need to get in and get your hands dirty for the project to be successful. The arms-length, directive style of project management for larger projects won’t work here and tasks such as gathering requirements, calculating benefits, coordinating testing and working with the business to implement process change may now be your responsibility to deliver and you will need to understand completely what’s going on.
Delivering the right outcomes needs intimate knowledge of what’s going on in operational units and recognizing the risks – and this means getting to know your customer really well. Smaller projects also bring cost and time pressures: you will need to work smarter and more effectively, disregarding any activities that add no value.
Best practice principles for smaller projects
Best practice principles in project management are about being a good leader, understanding customer outcomes and benefits and ensuring all activities go towards achieving those things. The same principles apply for small projects.
As an example, PRINCE2® is a scalable framework that can be tailored to smaller projects. The structure that PRINCE2 offers fits small projects and ensures there is customer engagement with delivery. It’s all about the implementation of PRINCE2: picking what’s important and using the framework and governance that applies to projects of all different sizes.
Solutions for managing smaller projects
With multiple small projects you typically have a range of stakeholders and projects at different stages with differing risks, issues and organization dynamics.
For this you will need to wear different “hats”; you need to be highly organized and be able to switch hats at will as the needs of each of the projects dictates.
So, I’d recommend not keeping a lot in your head. Instead, use a Project, Programme and Portfolio Management (PPPM) tool if you have one and keep track of the tasks, issues, risks and a diary of all project decisions made so you can go back and verify where you are and what needs to happen next. These tools also offer collaboration capability that provides the same visibility to people in your teams.
It’s very important to dedicate time each week to review your multiple projects and assess what’s happening: get your team together and plan in detail the weekly activities and key milestones, being mindful of risks and issues that might derail the project.
For people who are new to project management or are in their first project management role, small projects are a “growing experience” and offer a great opportunity to develop and refine your skills. You can try something which, if it doesn’t work, you can quickly fix and move on without major consequences.
Look at every project – including smaller projects – as a learning opportunity, a great way to get more experience and understand your strengths and weaknesses as a Project Manager.
See our section on PRINCE2® for more information on project management.
Do you have experience of managing small and large projects and have you found you were able to tailor the PRINCE2 or other project management framework for both? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.