Implementing Project Management Best Practices on Small Projects

Whether or not you need to implement best practices on small projects is an important question and one which all project managers must face up to.

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As both an active project manager and project management trainer, I often get asked whether the project management best practices that are applicable for large projects can be applied on smaller projects. Whether or not a project manager needs to be implementing best practices on small projects is an important question and one which all project managers must face up to.

This article is the second of a two part series about project management best practices. The first article in the series Implementing Project Management Best Practices can be found here.

Focusing on project delivery

One of the arguments against using project management methodologies is that they are very process-centric resulting in vast quantities of documentation which are simply not practical or desirable on small projects. This is a powerful argument and any method which focuses on producing documentation at the expense of delivering the real business benefits of the project will be a hindrance rather than a benefit. After all, the name of the game in project management is delivering business objectives, not producing reams of documents.

There is an ongoing and active discussion within the software development community about the best way to produce software. More recently, some software professionals have argued for more agile methods of producing software rather than the more traditional heavyweight methods which focused on producing vast quantities of documentation.

Agile methods focus on delivery of software rather than documentation. With this in mind, I think project managers everywhere can learn something from the agile methods employed in software development. In short, this leads us to focus on delivery rather than documentation, although the critical choice project managers everywhere need to make is how much documentation is really necessary?

Apply the best practices

I am a firm believer in only producing as much as is required. Nothing more and nothing less. A simple rule of thumb is: if it's useful in helping us to deliver the business objectives of the project then produce it, if it isn't useful in helping us to deliver the business objectives then don't waste time to produce it. With this in mind, I believe that in all projects, at a minimum it is best to apply project management best practices.

Let's consider these best practices in turn and see whether or not the overhead lost in applying them is worth the benefits which can be gained.

Defining objectives and scope

The first of our project management best practices is all about defining objectives and scope. Even on the smallest project there will be objectives which must be achieved. As a project manager, it is in your interest to define what these objectives are since you are likely to be assessed on whether the project meets those objectives. It is your responsibility to ensure the project meets those objectives and you are accountable for this. In short, the book stops with you.

Now suppose you don't define and write down what the objectives are, you are always going to be at the mercy of any boss who decides he's got it in for you. The defined and documented set of objectives is your insurance policy against your manager later coming along and saying you didn't meet the objectives.

Similarly with defining the scope. The scope forms the boundary of your project. If you don't define what it is, the likelihood is that it will grow and grow as the project progresses and although you might have started managing a very small project, before long your project could become very much bigger than when you set out.

You still need to document who are the stakeholders on a small project as well. By defining who these are, you can ensure that you cover all of their needs when you define the objectives and deliverables.

Defining deliverables

Somebody is going to have to carry out the actual work to produce whatever is delivered from your project. Even if the deliverables might be small and don't take much time to produce, they should still be written down. By documenting these things and then having them reviewed by others allows errors to be found. Your aim should be to document a detailed enough set of descriptions of the products to be delivered.

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