PM ChangeAgent Commentary
In July, Project Management Review (PMR, in China) published an interview with me, covering seven topics. The interview appeared in their online magazine, their paper magazine, and in PM World Journal. This interview topic is about Small Projects.
PMR: You’ve mentioned that the secret weapon of high-performing project teams is small projects. What is the logic behind this statement?
For many organizations, small projects are an invisible 20-35% of their entire annual expenses. Funding usually comes from an operations budget, and staffing is based not on prioritized portfolios, but instead, on ‘who isn’t doing anything important right now?’ Most organizations don’t even have a definition of what constitutes a small project, or apply a consistent approach for identifying, prioritizing, delivering, and evaluating their success.
I noted this in the early 1980s, as I was coaching my clients to develop portfolios of their projects. I saw, in the most-advanced organizations, including global businesses and government agencies at national and local levels, an understanding that small projects needed different treatment than larger ones. For example, they often solved symptoms, rather than spending the time to understand underlying causes. Many times, the same symptoms occurred dozens of times before finally, someone would realize it was far too expensive to continue doing repetitive ‘quick fixes.’ Then, they would finally understand the root cause, and permanently cure the problem.
I defined a taxonomy of project sizes, and surveyed my clients for the relative delivery efficiency of project results across those sizes. The analysis for each project size was very interesting:
- Small projects were the least efficient and least effective way to deliver project results.
- Very large projects, with multiple years of duration and more than 24 people on multiple project teams, were next-least efficient way to deliver results. (We did not have programs in our survey.)
- Large projects, six months to a year in duration, and one to three teams, were significantly more efficient that were very large projects, and faced lower risk.
- Medium projects, three to six months in duration, and having three to seven half-time team members, were the most efficient way to deliver project results.