Crucial Issues of Small Projects

Preceding page: Introduction to the Small Project Guide


Learn the Crucial Issues of Small Projects!

A handful of unique factors distinguish Small Projects from most other projects.
  • Deadline-driven
  • Interruption-prone (these two together are caustic!)
  • Inexperienced Project Managers
  • Industrial-strength PM skills harm, rather than help
  • They are too-often understaffed
  • Because of smaller teams, it can be difficult to have all needed skills
  • A “fire fighting” mentality focuses on fixing symptoms, not curing root causes
  • Inadequate attention is given to business needs and requirements, in the rush to “just fix it”
  • Unclear analysis up front results in difficulty getting quick closure at the end
  • Sometimes, fixing the symptoms result in new problems

Yes, we know, some of our customers have identified these “unique factors” for most of their larger projects, too. But that was before they began using our portfolio management, project prioritization, and resource management methods. And, benefiting from the combination of management information provided by Small Project Guide and our larger PM methodologies.

The fact remains, Small Projects are different; they must be managed differently from larger ones; and differently from ongoing operations, as well.

Just What is a Small Project?

Our Small Project definition is based on work since 1982 with organizations with a wide variety of project and program sizes. During that work, we analyzed a wide range of influences, including logical groupings of projects of a range of sizes from 8 hours to 100,000 hours, that has led to our “Fourple Factor” rule: For each quadrupling of project size (based on work effort), a handful of items must change:

  1. Small Project GuideThe role of the Project Leader or Project Manager
  2. The experience of the PM with projects in this size range
  3. The proportion of “doing” versus “managing and leading” time
  4. The PM processes and tools that are most appropriate for the size range
  5. The minimum percentage of time all core team members should be allocated
  6. The ideal duration range for the project

Any significant variance from appropriate ranges in any of the above items tends to doom the project, or at least make it a much-less-efficient and timely effort. Given that understanding, we define a Small Project as one that is 8 to 360+ hours of total effort, and done within 3 months. Small Project staffing usually includes the project leader as a primary contributor, “with a little help from your friends”. All of which are available to the project at least 25% of their time on the days they work on it. Common sense? Uncommonly applied, which is one reason why, for too many organizations, your small projects are your least efficient ones. Of course, there are other reasons, based on the items above.

Now Wait A Minute!

Note how we buried that 8-360 hours of effort above as the Small Project range! There are multiple fourples within that range! Well, you caught us: SPG is actually three related methods, for three different size ranges:

  • JEDI: Just Effectively Do It for 1-24 hour projects; a 1-page template for capture of the most-important project communications. Why effectively? Because often, when project teams “just do it,” they fail to do it well.Speedy File
  • VSP: Very Small Project for 25-120 hour projects; a 10-page template, and
  • SPG: Small Project Guide for 121-360+ hour projects; with an up-to-44 page Speedy File template.

For each project path, we provide templates and Adobe Acrobat-based .pdf narrative instructions.

Some people, and some organizations, class Small Projects completely differently. Our classifications are based on our research and practical experience with the dynamics of projects of certain size ranges, proven for over 40 years. And yet, we acknowledge other preferences for “small project” definitions. In fact, here is a story about that: In one of our first Small Project Management workshops, at a major Defense Contractor, we asked the question, during class start-up, “In your mind, what is a Small Project?” A grizzled older engineer replied:

“Sonny, a Small Project is anything less than a Billion Dollars.”

Again, everyone has their own perceptions—-and that was back when a Billion Dollars was a lot of money.

SPG in Context With Other Project Size Ranges

The graphic below helps establish the context of the Small Project Guide®, including the three smallest project sizes and experience levels, with other size ranges. It also shows the most common roles of Project Managers. Note that our full categorization of project size ranges also includes, not shown on the chart, Initiatives and Programs. Note too, that the top two levels map to IPMA Competence-based Certifications IPMA Level B® and C, and the PM Practitioner maps to IPMA Level D®.

Small Project Size Ranges

I’m PM Certified! Does That Help?

Exam-based certification can be a great starting point in learning about project management, especially if it is IPMA’s Level-D, which probes skill, because results are based mostly on open-ended essay questions. But multiple-guess exam-based certs are tests of short-term retention. As everyone knows, this knowledge, if  not applied, dissipates within 2 weeks of the class. Practical experience, application, competence-building, and PM Performance is what makes the difference between ineffective PMs and effective ones.

We wrote, published, and taught our Small Project Guide long before PMBOK® and PMBOK Guide. Our Small Project Guide was in use by market leaders before Max Wideman published the first PMBOK in 1987. The Small Project Guide is based on real-life practices, that are explicitly tuned to small projects; practices that have helped tens of thousands of PM practitioners, and their organizations, to succeed in their projects. Those practices include an emphasis on start-up actions, including defining a relevant business case, good objectives and decent Requirements, together with understanding the key interpersonal skills.

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