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6 Common Challenges in managing small projects (and how to overcome them)

June 12, 2018

tips to overcome project managenebt problemsOrganisations tend to be fairly poor at defining their projects in terms of criticality and risk. Yet these are key attributes when it comes to deciding how much management and governance a project needs.

Instead, the importance of a project is often seen as directly related to how large it is, how many people are involved, how long it will last and how much budget is assigned.

Yet it’s often the small projects that get completely out of control, experiencing scope creep, or eating up resources before it gets onto the radar of the project’s sponsors.

Every project should be planned with the same scrutiny using a universally recognised and structured project management methodology like PRINCE2, which is also designed to be flexible enough to work for projects of any size and scale and in any industry.

Here then, are six common challenges that emerge in the management of small projects. Let’s look at how they can manifest themselves and how they can be overcome.

1. Not realising small projects can be complex

The fact that a project has a short timeframe and a low budget doesn’t mean that it’s simple.

For example, a project that makes a seemingly small change in working conditions for employees may involve HR, staff representatives and others in order to deliver the change.

A failure to recognise this complexity may lead to a project manager being appointed who is simply not experienced enough to recognise the possible pitfalls and plan around them.

Similarly, a small project can be a critical one if it has deliverables upon which other, larger programmes are dependent. So to manage this problem, assess projects on factors such as criticality, rather than on simpler measures such as budget.

2. Under-estimating the risk

A small project can be as risky, or riskier than a big one – it entirely depends upon what it is doing. There is sometimes a failure to assess the possible reputational damage from a project, and this can occur whatever the size of the project.

A possible result of using an untried project manager, who is assigned to cut their teeth on a small project, is that they are unlikely to appreciate the risks that may be involved.

A risk log is a great way to identify, assess and mitigate known risks. But the quality of the risk log is to a large extent dependent upon the correct risks being included. So whereas a more experienced manager may have identified and included a risk, a less experienced one may not realise that such a risk exists.

3. Exception reporting

When a project has a small budget, a 5% or 10% overspend may be a trivial sum. However, in organisations with strict governance rules around budget management, this breaches project tolerances and must be reported through an exception report, no matter what the amount.

If an organisation is using a scaled-down version of PRINCE2, it’s essential that these control elements are still included in the management of the project.

4. Scope creep

Small projects are more prone to scope creep than larger ones. It’s much easier to slip in extra tasks when they are only going to add a week to the schedule. Yet this lack of control is not a good training model for less experienced project managers who may be assigned to smaller projects.

An employee who is starting out as a project manager needs to be briefed as to the importance of demonstrating control, even on a small project.

And just as on a large project, the change log needs to be used to formally document changes to the scope, schedule, budget or deliverables.

5. “Under the radar” project execution

One of the problems with small projects is that people who can’t be bothered to fill in project documentation try to keep all the projects they require small enough to operate under the corporate radar.

Maybe they have not been trained and don’t quite understand the project management methodology, so they try to avoid using it, even though it’s the corporate standard for project management.

Problems tend to occur when a project doesn’t start up in a controlled way, with a clear mandate, business case and project initiation document. These documents are all scalable – they can be as short or long as the organisation requires. If they’re not done at all, it’s all too easy for the project to lose sight of what it’s meant to be doing.

6. Small teams are more vulnerable to staff absence

Smaller projects will inevitably have smaller teams, which can present a real problem when a team member is absent, for whatever reason. This can have a significant impact, whereas with larger teams it is easier to weather the impact. This becomes especially acute if that team member has specialist knowledge or skills.

Smaller projects require each team member to become a bit more of a generalist so they can wear a wider range of ‘hats’ at once, should there be staff shortages.

Planning ahead is also essential and PMs need to know what will happen should any given member of their team be absent at a critical moment in the project’s lifespan.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by David Baker who has over a decade’s worth of experience leading project teams in global projects for infrastructure and internal IT projects. He now works within the training industry for PRINCE2 Training, who provide courses and certification in PRINCE2, Agile, Lean Six Sigma, ITIL, PMP, and Scrum project management methodologies. You can connect with David and PRINCE2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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