October 19, 2023

Simple Project Management Framework for Smaller Projects

Small projects have a set of specific difficulties. You can’t just use a framework from the PMBOK® Guide. Or any other one. In most cases, you have to follow a custom workflow. It includes practices and tools that have worked before. However, it doesn’t mean that they are optimal.

So, how can you approach the creation of a small-scale project management approach? Frankly

speaking, it has the same logic as for the larger projects. You need to know the life cycle it will follow. You also need to consider the efficiency of the processes and tools.

So, this article is about considerations you need to take to identify the perfect small-scale project management approach.

But before we start:

There are two distinct cases of smaller projects:

  1. Small-scale project in a large organization. Usually, they follow the predefined framework.
  2. A small project in a small organization. In this case, the project management framework develops in time and usually comes from gained experience and expertise.

The tips below are mostly useful for the second case of a smaller project.

1. Know Your Internal Stakeholders

It always starts with stakeholders. However, here, you need to make emphasis on internal stakeholders.

On a small project, there are usually just a few external stakeholders. It’s either a manager from the client’s side or the client himself. Moreover, the client will combine traits of a customer, a sponsor, and sometimes a user.

So, your efforts should be aimed at engaging internal stakeholders in your project. In small companies, there are not many real subject matter experts. Therefore, it is always a struggle to get their time and attention to your project.

Here is a good thing. You need to do it only once. The majority will be the same for all the rest of your projects. Nevertheless, don’t take the presence of the experts for granted. Their engagement might be crucial for your project.

2. Be Ready with a Communications Plan Upfront

Small-scale projects are usually short-term. So, there is not much time to waste. Still, communication during initial periods is way too inefficient.

Also, consider the following.

Usually, on a large project, you will see people with at least some experience in the domain areas. So, your client and key stakeholders will be people proficient in management.

On a small project, you may face customers who have never did organized project management. Moreover, they may know nothing about the nature of the project’s work.

There is a severe risk here.

They don’t understand the amount of time they will have to spend on communication with you.

So, be ready to provide at least a draft of the communications plan upfront. You need to shape their expectations right in the beginning.

My suggestion is to avoid emails as much as possible. Any collaboration application will be better than sending emails back and forth.

3. Collect Requirements

Taking into account the previous two points, the requirements will be changing dynamically. Your customers will learn more about the project and capacities of the team.

Therefore, there will be a lot of changes in the process.

You have to control the changes to the requirement transparently for all stakeholders.

You need to use some tool that can track changes made to the initial document. It can be a simple MS Word document, Confluence page, or any other application with version control. You can do it manually as well. Just mark all changes at the end/start of a document.

Here is another crucial aspect that you must communicate.

A change to the requirements that your team analyzed, estimated, and included in the project scope requires review of the project plan.

4. Create Scope Baseline

All small-scale projects suffer from scope creep.

Lots of minor tasks invisible on a large project hit your estimate really hard. If you want to finish the project on time and within budget, you must define the whole scope of the project.

Here, I suggest following the best practices of systematic scope management. You can read all ins and outs of it in How to Manage Project Scope In a Structured Way article.

And I strongly recommend using a Work Breakdown Structure on a smaller project. Also, read the article on WBS: Ultimate Guide on How to Create a Robust Work Breakdown Structure

5. Track Against Milestones on a Smaller Project

Once you have the scope of the project, you need to make estimates.

Given that the scope is small and the timeline is short, stakeholders will want work to be done as soon as possible. Also, you will have just a few team members. So, they work, and progress will be transparent.

And here is the catch.

You cannot create a tight schedule on a small-scale project.


Any minor deviation and you need to adjust the plan. It boils down to micromanagement. You need to track and control each task each hour the team puts into the project.

The more natural way is to manage the progress on a milestone level. Delegate daily progress tracking to the team leaders. It will keep your sanity.

6. Quality and Risk Management on Smaller Projects

“You don’t have time for that!” They always say it.

The truth is you will not have time to fix defects in the end. Moreover, you will not have any time to overcome any critical risk.

Preventing defects and creating a quality product is your top priority. You can read more on how to do that in the article about quality management

As for the risks, I still believe you need to perform risk management activities. However, the approach is a bit different.

Any risks critical for project success should initiate discussion whether to continue the project or not. At the very least, you need to ensure that any additional efforts do not violate the business case for the project.

Should I Go Agile on a Small Scale Projects?

If you have a formed and mature agile team, it might be beneficial to use Scrum or Kanban. However, you need to make sure you have the required engagement from key stakeholders.

If you and your team don’t have enough experience in using Agile frameworks, you may waste a lot of time making training and coaching.

What About Tracking the Progress?

If you have a task tracker, then you can estimate and track efforts spent there. However, I would suggest focussing on tracking progress only against milestones.

After you commit to the project plan, you either do what it takes to deliver on time, or you make a change request. Then, you update the milestones and try to keep up with them.

Do I Need to Formalize the Framework for Smaller Project?

Small-scale projects require you to get things done. You have a small team and just a few stakeholders. Active communications work better than keeping to the process.

Two things I do recommend to formalize are:

  • Workflow for a task. Define the status of a task and the requirements that it has to meet to change the status.
  • The process of reporting, fixing, and managing defects.

If not done correctly, these two aspects can bring havoc to any project.

How to Organize Change Management Process

After you get approval on the scope baseline and schedule ANY change request should warrant a review of the project plan. Even if you have reserves and buffers baked in.

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