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David Baker

Prince2 Training

Marketing Manager

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Six Common Challenges in Managing Small Projects


There is a misconception that small projects are somehow easier to manage, due to their less complex nature. This is to miss the wider challenges that are perennial to all projects, such as the spectre of scope creep, lack or resources and lack of senior buy in.

There are challenges very specific and inherent in small projects however making them harder to manage than larger ones. Project management methodologies like the internationally practiced PRINCE2 methodology, give projects and PMs structure and a framework on which to run a project, but these methodologies can become harder to adhere to when scaling down to a smaller level without losing control over quality.

In this guide, I want to explore six common challenges that tend to be present themselves in smaller projects, and the measures project managers can take to overcome them.


1. The Project Methodology is hard to Scale up and down

One way not to approach a smaller project is simply to remove the controls that you would have in place for a larger project. This has exactly the same consequences that it would have on a larger project - risks escalate without anybody putting any mitigation in place, the budget is not properly managed and timescales begin to deviate from the scheduled plan.

Robust project management methodologies, like PRINCE2 are designed to be flexible and a good PM will be able to take advantage of this flex in order to appropriately scale down the methodology in such a way that sticks to budget without impacting quality controls.


2. No Buy-in from Senior Management

If a project doesn't have a sponsor further up the organisation, it's very likely to founder because it hasn’t been allowed enough time or resources to for successful delivery. This is short-sighted because a small project, while not representing a major expenditure, may be a key dependency for a much larger project and risks to the business can still be substantial.

In order to succeed, a project has to have access to the right resources. When those resources are in high demand, a sponsor higher up the organisation must ensure that the project gets the access it needs (for example to IT specialists).

One essential rule in stakeholder engagement is to ensure that the sponsor is fully aligned with the business case and understands what the project is for. Only then will they be prepared to represent its interests higher up the organisation. If the business case has been approved at a reasonably high level in the organisation, the project will already be a priority. It is the job of the project manager to keep it a priority through pre-established communication channels running through a project’s steering committee.


3. The Project gets Landed with Corporate Baggage

When a project is perceived as small, it's all too easy for various parts of the organisation to load it with extra tasks. For example, a limited training effort becomes a major training exercise because extra days have been added or extra topics need to be covered and the project is a handy place to put that work.

A properly structured project management methodology can prevent this because agreement on its scope is part of the formal project initiation and any changes to that scope are recorded in a change log. The fact that a suggested change is documented and indeed costed, can have a cooling effect on those managers who have decided that the project offers a free ride for some bits and pieces of work that they will otherwise have trouble getting done.


4. Small Teams can be Vulnerable to Change

Small projects tend to have small teams and these can bring with them their own inherent problems. There will need to be more slack than usual in the project plan to tailor for the fact there is less slack in the project team due to its limited size. In worst case scenarios, a team member becoming ill or taking leave, can mean that everything grinds to a halt until they return. One way around this challenge is to try and build a multi-skilled team or get team members to train and learn from other team members so, if need be, they can take over some tasks should someone be off. At the very least, team members should know where documents are stored and what the other team members are currently working on.


5. Problems Accessing Specialists

A small project is unlikely to have the clout to pull in a wide range of skill sets in areas like IT and is even less likely to warrant a full-time specialist contractor. It's far easier in the planning phase for small projects to put aside budget for getting experts in when needed for short period of time. A small project team just doesn't have the clout to commandeer and sign off budget for specialist resources at short notice so this makes proper planning even more essential for small projects.


6. Stakeholder Engagement takes a back seat

Small projects are often under pressure to get everything done according to the project methodology in use, even when it has been scaled down. It's easy to put areas including communication or stakeholder engagement on the back burner.

The trouble is, that this can result in the project outputs failing to gain acceptance from senior users, leading to rework, time extensions and possible budget overspends. Even if the project doesn't have time for a whole series of engagement workshops, there's usually enough time to put an article in a staff newsletter.


All projects, big and small are challenging but hopefully using some of these tips, you can ensure that your next small project is also successful.


Author Profile Picture
David Baker

Marketing Manager

Read more from David Baker

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