“It’s just a small project”, “the team know what they are doing”, “the delivery date has been agreed with the client.” These phrases often voiced by management invoke dread in the heart of even an experienced project manager.
Being complacent with a project irrespective of its size is risky business. The same principles and methodology should be used on even the smallest project to ensure the right outcome. Failing to meet delivery timeframes and or going over budget is not a good look, and it’s likely to hurt your company’s reputation with customers.
In this guide, we identify the most common challenges of small projects along with our practical tips on how to overcome them.
Project management can be very rewarding especially when you exceed the expectations of a project, so let’s look at how things can go wrong and what you can do to avoid them.
At the start of the project, there is a huge tendency to just “get on with it”. There is probably no steering committee to oversee operations, no senior management oversight and “the team know what they are doing”. Going into a project without defining the scope or assessing risks is a recipe for failure.
Tip: If the team is available on day one, put them to work; breaking down and estimating tasks, preparing the work environment, prototyping and training. As the project manager, you need to plan the project, clarifying scope, defining goals and assessing risks.
The planning process needs to follow an established methodology such as PRINCE2, Waterfall or Agile that can be tailored to the needs of the project.
A small project will have a limited budget, restricting the options for staff and technology. There may not even be a budget as such, just an assumption that the team will get the work done in time.
Tip: In the planning stage, define the resources needed to complete the project. Present the project plan to senior management or the business owner with a recommendation on scope, timescale or resources. If more resources are needed, present this in a positive way. At the end of the project, you will be accountable for overrun or overspend.
Lack Of Senior Management Buy-In
It’s essential to get buy-in and support from senior management or the business owner(s). If the project runs into issues or perhaps has a team member poached for other work, there is no-one senior to help. Senior managers or the business owner/s can also offer good advice; after all they have a different perspective on business priorities and what makes the business tick.
Identify the project sponsor and stakeholders and agree on a communication plan, regardless as to the size of the business. If in doubt, weigh up who would complain if the project ran late or failed to deliver the agreed scope.
Tip: Keep communication regular and to the point. Be clear whether you are asking for their help or advice or giving information. If you identify a challenge, present the options and your recommendation.
Project Manager Workload
Running a project involves administration work such as defining tasks and checking when they are complete. On a large project, this may be carried out by a project support person; on a small project, it may fall to the project manager. Somehow, despite the project and team size, it requires a lot of effort.
Tip: Ask for admin help at the start of the project. An experienced project support person will be able to work part-time and ease the load. Choose a project management tool that fits your requirements and puts the initiative with team members to manage their own tasks. Notice the points in the project that require peak effort and manage your time around these.
It’s a given that in a small team or business, some people will need to take on multiple roles. Having a specialist on the team is a luxury and a risk. It’s a risk because they are vulnerable to being poached onto another project. It’s also difficult to get cover if they are off work due to illness.
Tip: In the early stages, identify each team member’s skill set. Discuss their preferences and aspirations. Are there career goals, skills and experience they would like to achieve? Build a strong, cohesive team where members are willing to work outside their comfort zone. Understand what motivates the team. Often it is a better understanding of the business needs behind the project and feels that their views are being heard.
If it’s necessary to supplement the team, say with contract specialist, talk about this with the other members. It can be pitched as a positive, an opportunity to learn from someone external.
The key to managing a small project is to follow a structured and robust process but tailored to the needs of the project. Being complacent about risk management, resources or challenges is likely to result in a failed project.