In large organizations, projects come in many shapes and sizes. Small projects are much more common, but they tend to get overlooked because they don’t attract the resources and internal promotion and level or buy-in like larger projects do. However, that’s not to say they don’t come with their own set of challenges and the potential for innovation and professional development. Here are the most common challenges project managers face when heading small projects.
1. Irreplaceable Team Members
With smaller projects come smaller teams. This requires each member to fulfil multiple roles that sit outside their area of expertise. By donning many hats, individual project team members can quickly become irreplaceable should they be taken ill or need to take time off work. The effect is inevitable scope creep, as timelines slip and team members struggle to adapt.
Although absenteeism and employee multi-skilling on small projects are forces outside of your direct control, there are means of mitigating their worst effects. For small teams, it’s important to rely on contingency planning and risk prevention tactics. Multi-skilled teams that have the ability to delegate and step in for other members is also an absolute must on smaller projects. Planning and risk management must also take into account the effect of a team member being absent and appropriate breathing room should be factored in for other members to get up to speed before picking up the slack.
2. Lack of Specialized Knowledge
Smaller project teams mean a wider set of skills need to be applied by each team member to carry out the work and bring the project to fruition. On occasion, a lack of specialized knowledge can pose a serious problem. There is only so far overlapping roles and teamwork will get you when intimate specialist knowledge is lacking.
There are two ways to deal with this problem. You can recruit a highly specialized project team, but this is not a practical solution and may leave skills shortages elsewhere in the business. The other, more practical solution is outsourcing specific tasks to a technical specialist. Although hiring outside help isn’t ideal and presents its own challenges, it does offer the opportunity for pairing project team members up in order to develop their own skillset.
3. More Accountability
With greater accountability comes greater risk. PMs running smaller projects do have more autonomy over the overall direction of that project and while this can be seen as an advantage it also puts a lot of pressure on them.
Greater accountability can expose strengths as much as it can weaknesses in project managers. Prep before project launch. This means getting a full understanding of what’s involved, the area of the business you’ll be operating in, and an understanding of where your own lack of knowledge lies in order to identify areas you can educate yourself in.
4. Increased Workload
PMs overseeing smaller projects are still accountable for the direction and successful execution of the project on time and on budget, but the nature of small projects means they will likely have an increased administrative workload too. Checking timesheets and filling out progress reports may not represent the best use of your project manager’s time, but they are tasks that need to be done nonetheless.
PMs need to be as honest and realistic in their assessment of timescales and workloads involved as possible, given the size and makeup of their team. If they feel that additional help will be needed at any stage, ask for help. The more rounded the skillset and knowledge base of your project team, the more flexible and adaptable you can be, as tasks can be shared or reassigned if necessary.
5. Less Attention
Smaller projects tend to get less attention from senior management as they are often not seen as critical assignments. While the lack of attention from senior management may facilitate more autonomy from a project manager, it is crucial to have senior buy in and an engaged sponsor to see any project through to its conclusion. Address the engagement issue from the outset. Make sure that an appropriate senior sponsor has bought into the project and will give your project the support and attention it needs throughout the project cycle when it needs it.
6. Fewer Resources
Smaller projects tend to get tiny budgets which means having fewer resources. There is even the chance your own project members may be requisitioned temporarily if a larger project requires their skillset. All of this can cause project creep and can cause your team to feel undervalued, seriously impacting morale.
Working on less illustrious projects within an organization can be frustrating for some employees, especially those looking for recognition. Project managers must step in as leaders, being good motivators, and team players. Creating a well-functioning small project management team means developing interpersonal relationships built on trust and comradery and it’s the PM that needs to facilitate this and champion the project to team members, as well as senior management.
David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with Prince2 Training. Working on courses such as PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum, Lean Six Sigma. Prince2 Training delivers world-class accredited training solutions to thousands of organisations and individuals throughout the world. You can connect with Prince 2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.