Friday 18 August 2023

Practical Project Management Strategies for Small Projects



Project Management

This article explains how to adopt project management best practices on small projects without incurring a lot of paperwork and expense. 

These best practices are the result of countless project managers working on thousands of projects. They are called best practices because they always help managers achieve the best project outcomes...
As a project manager and project management trainer, one of the questions I often hear is whether management best practices that apply to large projects also apply to small projects. 

Whether small projects need to adopt best practices in project management is an important question that every project manager must face.

Focus on project delivery.

One of the main arguments against recommending a project management approach is that process-centric practices generate a lot of paperwork that is unnecessary and unfeasible for small projects. This is a very strong argument that makes any document-focused approach a hindrance to delivering real business benefits. 


After all, the purpose of project management is to achieve project business goals, not to create the archival kingdom. This article is transferred from the Project Manager Consortium
In the field of software development, there is currently an active discussion on best practices for software development. 


Recently, some professional software professionals have proposed several smart and effective software development methods, because the traditional method is too focused on documentation.

These new agile approaches focus on delivering software products rather than documentation. Knowing this, I think project managers can learn something from these new approaches to software development. In short, it leads us to focus our management on project delivery rather than documentation in the project. 


Of course, project managers still have to face the question of how much documentation is needed in the project? 


Adopt best practices.

I firmly believe in the principle that "you need to decide the result, too late". It can be tested in a very simple way: if it helps to achieve the business goals of the project, then we can take these methods and document them; Conversely, if it doesn't help achieve business goals, there's no need to waste time on it. With this point understood, I believe that we can implement best practices to a minimum in all projects. Project Manager Alliance article, deep dive.

This article is transferred from the Project Manager Consortium

Let's discuss the elements of best practices in turn to see if the benefits of adopting them outweigh the costs.

Define the scope and goals of the project.

The first point of our best practices is to define the scope and goals of the project. Even the smallest project has a goal that it must achieve. 

As a project manager, it may also be in your interest to identify these goals, as whether the project ultimately achieves them is an important evaluation criterion for your work. Therefore, it is your responsibility to define and achieve the goals of the project.

If you don't define and document these goals, all you can rely on is the kindness of your boss. When your supervisor examines your work and believes that you are not meeting the project's expectations, clearly defined and documented goals are your basis and insurance.

The same is true for the definition of project scope. If you don't define the scope of your project, the most likely consequence is that your project will get bigger and bigger along the way; Although you may be managing a small project in the beginning, it won't be long before you realize that the project has grown larger than you expected.

In small projects, you still need to identify and document the project's stakeholders. Only by identifying all stakeholders can you ensure that your project objectives and deliverables include all of their needs.

Define deliverables.

Someone has to be responsible for the actual work to realize the deliverables of a project. Although sometimes deliverables don't take a lot of time to complete, we still need to keep the necessary records. Having someone else review these complete records can help you find and correct errors.

Project members responsible for actual production use these descriptions to help realize deliverables. Although sometimes these descriptions are no longer than one page, it is still important to have clear and unambiguous descriptions. 

The lack of necessary descriptions will only lead to an undirected understanding of the deliverables by the members responsible for production, resulting in a lot of time wasted on correcting errors at a later stage. Therefore, defining and documenting deliverables is the second important aspect of our project management best practices.

Project planning

The third part of best practice is project planning. Let's say you're going to climb a mountain, and you can't set out without any planning. Even when climbing the hill behind your residence, you may make some necessary plans: such as when to climb? 

What necessities do I need to bring? 

  • No matter how small the project is to manage, you still have to consider: 
  • what activities need to be done through the deliverables; 
  • Estimate the time required for these activities; 
  • Determine the human and other resources required and allocate activities and responsibilities appropriately.

All of the above needs to be documented and communicated among team members. I've seen a lot of people get stuck at this step and think they might need to use some project planning software, such as Microsoft Project.

This is an unnecessary expense. It is very common for project managers to waste a lot of time on how to make their Microsoft the project planner is more aesthetically pleasing and forgets the real purpose of using the software and the project planning.

Instead, I think Microsoft is using Excel bar chart is the best way to plan small projects, because this method is simple and sufficient. Start by filling in some key dates of the project in the top row of the table; Then fill in the first column on the left with a series of tasks for the project; Finally, mark the start and finish times of each task in the corresponding places. This makes it clear at a glance how long each activity takes to take.

In addition to the bar chart, you need to record some important events (milestones) in the project. These milestones represent key dates, such as the date on which some deliverables are completed, or the dates by which some major activities are completed. The responsibilities of each project member must also be clearly documented in the project plan.

Communication and project communication plans

Even in a two-person project team, the project manager still needs to assign tasks and responsibilities to another person. Project managers should not subjectively assume that others understand what they should do even without effective communication. 


If project managers don't assign specific work to others, they are likely to do what they think they need instead of the work that the project requires. There are only two possible outcomes: either the deliverables of the project are not up to par, or more time is spent on tasks that should have been completed, resulting in project delays.

You can choose to communicate the project plan to other project team members via email or print it out and distribute it to everyone; Or better yet, you can have a team meeting and then go through and discuss the project plan with the rest of the members. 


One thing to keep in mind is that if there are changes to the project plan, then you will also need to communicate with other members about those changes.

Fundamentally, a project communication plan describes the information needs of each stakeholder throughout the project. 


Your communication plan needs to include a matrix that lists each stakeholder, the information they need to receive over the course of the project, the names of the team members who provided it, and how often and how they communicate. 


For example, a project sponsor may require the project manager to give an oral project presentation at each month's executive meeting. 



A project communication plan ensures that each stakeholder receives the right information from the relevant team members in a timely manner. Alliance of Project Manager, Project Management Issues.

Project tracking

Another best practice is to monitor and track project costs, duration, and scope. If we use the example of the previous two-person team, then here the project manager needs to know the progress of the other member's work. 

This can be achieved in several ways, including a daily email listing the work done, the unfinished work, and a series of problems encountered. 

In most cases, this method is very effective.

Similarly, a 15-minute face-to-face meeting can do this. A combination of the two approaches may be the best approach. 

In any case, the project manager needs to be fully aware of the progress of the project work in order to effectively follow the project.

Change management

Changing management is another best practice we need to adopt in our work on small projects. Even in the aforementioned duo project, changes are quite possible. Change requirements are usually made by the project's stakeholders; As a project manager, you need to estimate the impact that adopting these changes might have on your project. 


Specifically, you need to make a reliable estimate of the additional consumption and cost of the change. Adopting certain changes can affect the duration of your project, so you must be aware of your project's duration and budget so that you can correctly decide whether to adopt them.

In small projects, change management doesn't need a fancy change dashboard to help you make decisions. If you already have an estimate of cost and schedule changes, a quick discussion with key stakeholders may be sufficient.


I'm afraid the last thing you should do when it comes to change is to accept change lightly. Even if you think some changes are small, you can't decide to adopt them until you fully understand the impact they might have on cost and schedule. 


This is what we call "scope creep", which means that as we continue to adopt changes, the scope of the project also quietly increases. Your small project can grow huge without you knowing it, and you inevitably won't be able to deliver on time and on budget. 

Risk management

Risk management is the final part of the best practices we apply in small projects. Even small projects are risky. 

You must ensure that all potential risks are considered at the beginning of the project work and monitored regularly on a weekly basis. 

The 10 most important risks (monitor the first 5 if the total number of risks is small) while also being alert to new risks that may arise. Inappropriate risk management is often a major cause of project failure.

The cost of risk management is very low. In a recent project, I made a list of potential risks in a project. Of the 10 risks, 5 are important. 

I then made a plan on how to minimize or avoid these risks. Completing these steps consumed only a few hours of my working time. 

Each week after that, I would spend about half an hour reviewing these risks and considering whether there were new factors. 

In the final stages of the project, although some risks did occur, because I had planned properly at the beginning of the project, the impact of these risks on the project was minimal.

Therefore, small efforts at the beginning and on the march of the project will pay off handsomely.


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