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Monday, 07 March 2011 11:03

Best Practices for Small Projects

Written by  Curt Finch
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small_projectSmall projects, though often overlooked, can make up the bulk of the portfolio and are crucial to a company\'s success.  They might not involve large sums of money, but the fact is that if managed improperly, these small projects can add up to some major costs in the long run.  The good news is that project managers need only apply standard best practices to these smaller projects in order to manage them more effectively.  Here are the top 3 best practices that can and should be applied to all projects, regardless of size.

Visibility into Resource Allocation

Let’s say you want to assign 40 hours worth of project work to Jack, and you need him to complete it this month.  Before making that assignment, do you know for a fact that he has the time to get it done?  Are you sure he isn’t going on vacation, working on someone else’s project, or spending the month in meetings?  Project managers must know who is available to do the work before they assign tasks to people (or, better yet, before they decide to take on a project at all).  Simply assigning tasks to team members without regard for their current and future allocation, including upcoming vacation time, is unwise.  The goal might be to complete the project on time, but it will never happen unless the resources are, in fact, available when you need them to be.

Not only should resources be available to do the work, but they should be the right resources.  In other words, different projects require different types of employees such as database analysts, programmers, salespeople, marketing professionals or project managers.  For example, if a database analyst is needed for a project, the project manager must have the ability to search for one who is available for the specific time frame. Managers can also use this data to identify staffing gaps. If there is only one database analyst who is consistently working at over 100% allocation, additional database analysts must be hired.  Yet without insight into resource allocation, management might not know that this database analyst is working too hard until he or she burns out and leaves the company.

Unfortunately, many project managers believe that they can simply use status emails or Excel spreadsheets to manage the smaller projects.  These tools, however, are simply not sophisticated enough to handle project management, even on a small scale.  For one thing, they are not as widely accessible or easily updated as a project and resource management system can be.  Let\'s say a department manager assigns an employee to a new project, cutting his available time in half.  Unless this is properly documented and communicated to the entire project team, how will the project manager know to revise her timelines?  How will the other team members know that their tasks, contingent upon this employees\' work, cannot start for another month?

Resource allocation changes all the time, and project managers need a solution for keeping this information up-to-date and accessible at all times.  They cannot afford to have team members working from an older version of the project plan spreadsheet or missing out on crucial emails.

Communication

Another important best practice to apply to smaller projects is to open the lines of communication between team members and project managers.  Are you scheduling projects that your team cannot finish on time?  It can be tempting to just create project plans and demand that team members get it done, but that is a pretty unrealistic expectation that will set you up for project failure and lower employee morale.  The alternative is to allow team members, who are the experts on their own tasks, to provide input on how long it will take them to complete the work. A software developer who has performed hundreds or thousands of similar tasks will be able to tell you right away how long it will take him/her to write that new piece of code while you, as a project manager, probably have no clue.

It is also important to let team members communicate with you while the project is in progress. Small issues or holdups can snowball very quickly if they are not addressed in time. For this reason, project managers who implement project and resource management solutions should make sure that the solution they choose will give team members the ability to submit requests for additional time when necessary.  Not only should everyone on a project team know what is going on, but changes and adjustments like these should also roll up to the general project timelines.

Project Time Tracking

Large and small projects alike are executed in order to bring in a positive return on investment (ROI).  This return, however, cannot be accurately measured unless project managers know what the full investment was in the first place.  In today\'s business world, project costs correspond with the cost of labor, so tracking time to projects is necessary in order to measure project ROI.

This data is not only important for understanding true project cost, but also for monitoring project status at all times.  Keeping tabs on the actual work hours being done allows project managers to identify and address problems early on which, as I mentioned earlier, is absolutely crucial for success.  For example, if 30% of a project\'s allocated budget has been spent and only 10% of the actual work has been completed, there is a serious problem. Project managers who have their team members tracking time to task will find this out early enough to actually do something about it, while those who do not will have to explain to management why they came out over budget.  The project might be a small one with a small budget, but cost overruns can add up fast and really hurt the organization.

Applying best practices to projects of all sizes is one of the best ways to drive success.  When project managers have visibility into resource allocation, give team members a voice and enforce project time tracking, they are well on their way towards executing their projects on time and on budget every time.

About the Author

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Since 1996, Journyx has remained committed to helping customers intelligently invest their time and resources to achieve per-person, per-project profitability. Curt earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Virginia Tech in 1987.  As a software programmer fixing bugs for IBM in the early ‘90’s, Curt Finch found that tracking the time it took to fix each bug revealed the per-bug profitability. Curt knew that this concept of using time-tracking data to determine project profitability was a winning idea and something that companies were not doing – yet… Curt created the world\'s first web-based timesheet application and the foundation for the current Journyx product offerings in 1997. Curt is an avid speaker and writer. Learn more about Curt at http://journyx.com/company/curtfinch.html.

Read 6733 times Last modified on Monday, 07 March 2011 18:17
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