Small is Not Always Easy
- Dr. Meghashri Dalvi
Project Management varies depending on the project size, which is defined by number, scope, and complexity of deliverables. Team, financial resources, and duration also drive the project size definition.
Designing a new MIS report, choosing a new bug-tracking tool, or even personal projects like buying a car - these small projects look easy but they have their own unique challenges. Though their phases are shorter, costly errors can creep in just like big projects. Handling them requires the same methodology, same attention, and same caution.
The biggest reason for failure of small projects is not recognizing them as projects. Yes, you read it right. Small projects often get relegated to background activities, or labeled as operational processes. Coupled with low visibility, budget allocation or project sponsorship may also be lackluster. The team assigned may not be exactly matching the required skillset, and the team members may give lower priority to small projects. But in my experience, recognizing them as legitimate projects, giving the right priority, and getting them delivered fast actually works better.
The planning phase is critical for small projects. There is a tendency to skip steps, or go informal because of the smaller size. On the other hand, including all stakeholders and focusing on details is crucial here, especially as the timeframe of a small project does not leave much space for fixing errors afterwards. Smaller timeframe is another reason for
not spending enough time on planning. Yet, instead of going into a vicious cycle of blaming lack of time everywhere, committing sufficient efforts in the planning phase gives the ultimate payoff. The ratio of planning time to total time may look skewed for small projects, though it makes sense later.
Team building is another trouble area for smaller projects. The team does not get sufficient time to settle, while the smaller team size constantly pushes them together. There will be hurt egos and mismatched choices as assigned work overlaps. If these concerns are voiced right in the beginning, surprises can be avoided. Choosing the right tools for Project Management and communications will help generate the right rapport. Some level of informality will be a good idea here.
Risk identification and mitigation planning is a key area that often gets neglected in smaller projects. What can go wrong in designing a new MIS report? If the new bug-tracking tool doesn’t work, we can always go back to the old one. How much does it matter if the organization impact is low? While these questions seem innocent, risks and associated costs tend to accumulate and become a bigger bogey if not addressed in time. To avoid rework and blame game at a later stage, possible risks need to be identified and evaluated at the outset for any size of project.
Small projects are often internal projects without any tangible revenue or ROI. Few examples are organizing an internal informal event, updating company
website to a new template etc. Nevertheless, getting team members immediately involved and assigning a reasonable deadline can make them quickly achievable. Leveraging intangible benefits like a break from routine, an opportunity to be creative, or crafting a long-lasting asset works wonders in these cases.
Some of the small projects are done as a POC or pilot for a new client or a new large project. Business benefits are clear in these situations, and the team will include key members of the larger project team. In such cases, there is enough incentive to do the work fast and of good quality. These projects succeed, but in the euphoria, proper closure and good documentation may get overlooked causing distress when the bigger project kicks off. Whatever the size of the project, it needs to be formally closed with complete documentation in place.
Many will grumble about time spent in planning or closing activities because they look unnecessary and inefficient for small projects. From the Project Management perspective, however, these phases are a minefield of possible problems. Addressing them with due care can ensure project success, whether the project size is large or small.
Small is not always easy. Knowing the traps of treating it lightly, it can be made easy with early awareness and a disciplined approach.