How can I efficiently run miniprojects (less than six months with few dedicated resources)?

For less complex projects, the overall project management process may be streamlined and simplified, but it is still required. Planning, team building, establishment of minimal processes, and closure are all necessary.

This post is part of the series “Project Management Problems”; make sure to read the introduction.

It is based on questions and in general discussions on project management regarding frequent project problems. The discussions here are not on theoretical matters, nor do they dwell on the self-evident or trivial. The focus here is on real problems encountered by project managers working in the trenches, trying to get their projects done in today’s stress-filled environment. The discussion begins with some qualifications describing what the response depends on and includes factors to consider in dealing with the issue at hand. The responses are based on what tends to work, at least most of the time, for those of us who lead actual projects.

Doing Fast-Track Planning

Small, short projects are often very similar to projects you have done before, so one very effective way to ensure a fast start is to develop appropriate templates for project plans and schedules that can be easily modified for use on new projects. If such templates are not available, schedule a fast-track planning session with at least part of the staff likely to be involved with the project, and as you develop the project documents, retain shadow copies that can be used as templates for future similar projects.

Small projects are also often cross functional and may have few, if any, contributors assigned full-time. To be successful with this kind of project, you must involve the sponsor and other key stakeholders with planning. Work to understand the reasons why the project matters, and during the planning communicate why the people who initiated the project think it is important.

Building Your Team

Without a full-time, dedicated staff, you may have some difficulty in getting reliable commitments. Work with each contributor to establish a good working relationship and mutual trust. Identify any aspects of the project that seem to matter to your contributors, including any work that they find desirable or fun, any learning opportunities that they might appreciate, the potential importance of the deliverable, or anything else that each individual might care about. Get commitment for project work both from your team members and from their direct management.

Even on short, small projects, rewards and recognition are useful, so consider any opportunities you have for thanking people, informal recognition, and formal rewards.

Establishing Processes

The processes on small projects can be streamlined, but should not be eliminated. Change control can be relatively informal, and if the project is sufficiently straightforward it may even seem unnecessary. Nonetheless, you will be well served by establishing a process in advance to deal with any requested midproject changes. At least establish some basic requirements for requesting and documenting potential changes. Set up a review process that everyone agrees to in advance, and identify someone (ideally you) who has the authority to say ”no.”

Escalation is crucial on short projects where you may not have much authority. If you run into difficulties that you are unable to resolve on your own or require intervention to proceed, promptly involve your sponsor or other stakeholders who can get things unstuck. Problems on short projects can quickly cause schedule slip if not dealt with right away.

Communication may also be minimal on simple projects, but plan for at least weekly status collection and reporting, and conduct short periodic team meetings throughout the project.

Closing a Small Project

Projects without elaborate, complex deliverables are generally not difficult to close. The requirements are usually straightforward, so verifying that they have been met is not complicated. It may be a good idea as the project nears completion to do a ”pre-close” with key stakeholders to ensure that the initial requirements remain valid and to avoid surprises. Work to ensure that sign-off at the end of the project is a nonevent.

Conclude even small projects with a quick assessment of lessons learned to capture what went well and what should be changed. Adjust the planning and other template information for use on future similar projects. Also, thank all the contributors and close the project with a short final status report.

About the Author

Dany Hoyek
I am a Computer and Communication Engineer and Consultant. I have been leading, developing and managing millions of dollars worth of software development projects.