I often get asked whether project management best practices used for large projects are applicable to smaller projects. This fundamental question is one that all project managers must face when managing small projects. Utilizing the best practices on a small project can be done without creating too much paperwork or overhead.
The best practices are the things that countless project managers have done on thousands of projects because they achieve the best results. Just because you are managing a small project, you cannot neglect them. If you do, there will be regrets later when your project fails. Here are eight best practices for better management of smaller projects.
- Focus on project delivery
A persuasive argument against using project management methodologies for smaller projects is that they are process-centric and usually result in volumes of project documentation. The fact is that any method which focuses on producing documentation at the expense of delivering the real business benefits will be a hindrance. Project management is about achieving business objectives, not creating reams of documents. The project manager needs to be sure the documentation and overhead requirements are scaled to the project. The critical decision project managers need to make is "how much documentation is essential?"
- Define objectives and scope
Even the smallest project needs to achieve objectives and meet the requirements. As a project manager, it is essential to work with the project sponsor to define what these objectives and needs are. You are assessed by the delivery of the project, and if requirements are met—you are accountable for this.
You still need to take note of who the stakeholders are on a small project as well. By identifying stakeholders, you can ensure that you cover all of their needs when you set the objectives and deliverables.
- Define requirements
Somebody needs to follow the requirements for the actual work to produce the project deliverables. Even if the deliverables are small, they should still be written down, even if just a few sentences. Documenting requirements for deliverables and then having them reviewed by others allows errors to be found. Your aim should be to record a detailed enough set of descriptions of the products or other work to be delivered.
These descriptions are used by the people who perform the project work and produce the deliverables. Even if these requirements take no more than a page of documentation, it is crucial to write them clearly and unambiguously.
- Project planning
If you were to climb Mount Everest, you would never do it without a considerable amount of planning. Even if you walk up a hill, there is planning involved – what time do you go? What should you take with you? It is the same for even the smallest projects. You must determine which activities are required, estimate how long they will take, work out the resources needed, and assign them to the team.
Activities need to be communicated effectively to the project team members who are responsible for them.
- Track and reporting progress
If we still consider our small project team – a project manager and one other – the project manager will need to know about project progress. Measure progress in a variety of ways: a short daily discussion, email, or walkabout to determine the work completed, the work remaining, and a list of any roadblocks or issues. In most cases, this will be sufficient. The project manager must be aware of project progress to track the project effectively.
For even the smallest project team of two, the project manager will still need to delegate responsibilities to another person. They won't know what to do without adequate communication from the project manager. If the project manager doesn't assign activities, chances are they will go ahead and work on things that are not needed by the project. The project will deliver the wrong things, or the project will be delayed since time will be spent later on activities that should have completed earlier.
Remember, if the plan changes, and it will, the project manager will also need to communicate the changes to the team.
- Risk management
Make sure you have thought through the potential risks at the beginning of the project, monitor the top risks each week, and keep looking out for new threats and opportunities. Failing to manage risk properly is one of the leading causes for projects to fail. With little upfront and ongoing effort, you get a big payback if you manage the risks throughout the project.
On a recent small project, I identified the risks for the project. On the list, six were severe risks. I planned to avoid or minimize each. In all, it took a little over two hours to complete this analysis. Then, each week I spent half an hour reviewing all the risks and thinking of any new ones. At the end of the project, the impact of these risks ended up being minimal, with the overhead itself minimized.
- Change management
Regardless of project size, changes are likely to occur. Requests for change can come from many stakeholders and other sources, and it is your responsibility as the project manager to assess the impact of accepting them. Never simply adopt the change, even if you think it is small, without understanding the implications for cost and schedule. Without this step in place, you have a recipe for 'scope creep' – the work increases with each added change. Your small project may become much larger, and you will inevitably fail to deliver to your original budget and schedule.
For small projects, there isn't a need for any formal change control board to decide if the change is accepted. You also will not need a change form in triplicate. A quick discussion with the key stakeholders should be sufficient to arrive at the best decision if you have worked out the impact on cost and schedule.
In conclusion, small projects need project management best practices too. However they need to be scaled and minimized to match the size of the project. Here's to your future success in project management!
Want to learn more about how to integrate these practices into a project methodology? Check out our Micro Guide to the PROJECT Methodology.
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