Small projects present a whole host of problems and issues for businesses, whether its vulnerability to absenteeism or the challenge of sourcing a small team that have the skillset to see the project through to its end. As with every project, it pays to have a project manager with the requisite soft skills and technical expertise to get the job done, preferably one who is trained in implementing a universally recognised and structured project management methodology like PRINCE2.
Having a flexible yet structured methodology like this in place will always put you in good stead when it comes to planning and adapting to the challenges that present themselves in any project in any industry. That being said, there are some challenges that are very specific to working on small projects and in this guide I’m going to look at six of the most common and how to overcome them.
1. Irreplaceable Team Members
Challenge: On small projects, the temporary loss of a team member can have a real impact, whether it’s due to unforeseen absence or other events outside your control. This is because smaller projects require each team member to be more multi-skilled and take on a wider range of tasks and responsibilities (wearing multiple ‘hats’ at once). Stretching expertise likes this can leave you vulnerable if just one member disappears as that skillset is irreplaceable in such a small project team.
How to overcome it: To overcome this inherent issue in small project teams, it’s important to establish open communication channels and create proper risk prevention processes in order to quickly adapt to the absence of any given team member. Who will take on their workload and do they have the requisite skills? These are questions that need answers from the outset.
2. Not as many Specialised Roles
Challenge: As we’ve seen, smaller project teams need to be flexible and require each member to work outside their usual field of expertise. Whilst this can work well most of the time, problems can arise when very specialised or technical knowledge is required. Overlapping skillsets will only carry you so far in these instances.
How to overcome it: There are two options available to deal with this problem. The first is to plan for projects that require specialised skillset by building a highly specialised team. This will inevitably leave you vulnerable to skill shortages elsewhere. It could be better to have overlapping skills than a highly specialised team that can’t multi-skill. The other option is to outsource these tasks, either internally or externally. The obvious problem with this is that it puts pressure on your budget and requires senior signoff.
3. More Accountability for the Project Manager
Challenge: Small project teams will have a direct effect on the role of the project manager, with increased oversight and responsibilities an obvious consequence. On small projects, PMs will often pick up the slack from their team and this can expose unpreparedness as well as a propensity to adapt to new challenges in a difficult role.
How to overcome it: The simple answer is having a project manager who can think on their feet and knows the business inside out goes a long way in small project work. Preparation is key to avoiding the pitfalls of running small project teams but so too is a willingness to learn new skills that are relevant to the job in hand and being prepared to adapt to new situations and challenges as they arise.
4. More Workload for the Project Manager
Challenge: Small projects will often have a large proportion of administrative workload to deal with when compared to the relatively small team. This puts a lot of pressure on the PM, who will often find him/herself caught between a mounting pile of paperwork and actually leading the project towards completion.
How to overcome it: Understanding timescales and workloads before they become glaringly apparent is the secret to avoiding project managers sinking in a sea of red tape and slipping deadlines. Realism must always trump optimism in any project manager worth their salt and there must always be a willingness to ask for extra help if an increased administrative burden is likely to impinge on the PM from doing their job.
5. Senior Management can be less Attentive
Challenge: Smaller projects will often be seen as having less at stake, compared to grander and higher profile projects within the organisation. Regardless of the importance of any given small project in the grander scheme of things, this preconception amongst senior management will present its own challenges, namely a lack of attention and stewardship from those above the PM.
How to overcome it: When it comes to deliverables senior buy-in and support is absolutely essential to success. A lack of engagement from stakeholders, senior management and the steering committee can see a project wither and die on the vine. What’s needed are strong lines of communication between senior sponsors, the steering committee and the project manager, allowing PMs to address issues as and when they become a problem. Updates at key stages in the project’s lifecycle should also be arranged to keep those senior figures engaged, as well as informed.
6. Resources are more Limited
Challenge: As we’ve seen, small projects have smaller teams and, it should go without saying, budgets and resources are also more limited. In some cases team members or even the project manager his/herself may be requisitioned to larger and more important projects. This lack of resources and constant threat of losing the resources you already have, can put a lot of pressure on small projects to deliver on time and on budget.
How to overcome it: Teamwork and team cohesion is the only way to mitigate this inherent problem in small projects. A strong team will gel well together and are more effective at pitching in when the going gets tough. Many team members may have a desire to work on more illustrious projects within the organisation, but being part of a strong and well regarded team will create a sense of unity of purpose and raise morale when the going gets tough.
About the Author: 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 PRINCE2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.