“Why am I still having problems with small projects?
This plaintive question is one I’m asked from time to time. I’d like to give some reasons why project managers struggle to manage small projects.
Pitfalls of Small Projects
1. You think these endeavors are simple. In general, smaller endeavors have less risk. However, these may have a complex set of variables.
Be sure to analyze the complexity. For example, you may engage your team to develop a context diagram and/or data flow diagrams early. This exercise allows the team to understand the context of the project.
2. You don’t have a charter. Individuals are assigned projects at the last minute with a tight deadline. Rather than discussing the undertaking with stakeholders and documenting the business case, problems, goals, and deliverables, the project manager hits the ground running. Later, stakeholders demand costly changes.
Make it a priority to engage your key stakeholders and develop a project charter. This exercise will provide a good foundation and reduce the changes later. For smaller endeavors, one should be able to create a charter in short order.
3. You are applying the wrong level of rigor. I see two extremes: First, managers do not follow any methodology. Second, managers perform unneeded tasks.
Keep it simple. Determine the steps you plan to take and develop the planning documents that will provide real value. Execute and stay with the plan.
4. The Project Sponsor is invisible. Many pint-sized-projects have no sponsor at all. The organization may assign a sponsor, but the sponsor has abdicated his or her role to the project manager or someone on the team.
If you don’t have a sponsor, solicit a fitting sponsor. Discuss with the sponsor their role and ask for their commitment.
5. Your team has been poorly staffed. Often, these undertakings are assigned leftover resources. Any warm body will do or will it?
For all endeavors, define the required knowledge and skills. Seek to staff the team accordingly.
6. Poor risk management. Yes, smaller ventures typically have less risk. This does not mean there are zero risks.
Risk management should not take much time, but be sure to integrate risk management in your project activities. Simple qualitative analysis should be sufficient for evaluating the risks.
7. You are not performing change management. A stakeholder asks for a change in the scope. It’s not a big change. You say okay.
Users request additional changes over time. The cumulative effect becomes significant.
Decide upfront how you will manage, track, and report changes. When is a change order required? Who has to approve it?
8. You are managing a project no one cares about. Projects may be selected arbitrarily. In some cases, the project does not align with the company’s strategy. The team knows the venture is a low priority and give it little attention.
This is a management issue. Management should create a Project Board that reviews requests for strategic alignment.
9. Your team is too large. Your project may be small, but it impacts several areas of the company. Everyone feels like they need someone on the team. You have fifteen people on the team when a handful will do.
Create a small core team. Make sure the team represents the primary stakeholder groups. You may wish to create a supplemental team of individuals who may be engaged as needed.
10. You are using the wrong tools. One may spend more time setting up their tools than managing the effort.
Keep things simple. For example, rather than using complex scheduling tools, you may use Excel.
11. You are managing too many projects. An individual may have a heavier load than they can manage. These managers may have difficulty prioritizing and juggling all the activities resulting in wasted time.
The resource manager should be careful to assess each project, estimate the time required for each project manager. Monitor success rates for these endeavors and make adjustments as needed.
12. You have not identified the important stakeholders. Surely we know who the stakeholders are or do we? We are tempted to skip the stakeholder identification.
Don’t make the common stakeholder mistakes. Small projects can touch a complex set of variables. Neglect in identifying and managing the stakeholders can be costly later in the project.
How About You?
Take a few minutes to review your small projects. Do you need to let go of some misconceptions and make some changes? Create some new habits. Don’t allow yourself to slip back into unproductive behaviors.