How to manage unexpected small projects

With time and resourcing constraints restricting productivity, seemingly small projects can become big tasks – here’s how to handle them best.

How to manage unexpected small projects
Most HR professionals are highly trained in managing major transformational projects – but often, HR forgets to form a strategy for the numerous smaller follow-up projects that spring up after its completion.

According to Peter Szilagyi, HR business partner at Rio Tinto, small projects can be defined by various aspects. Definition can be done either in financial terms (costing less than $100,000), by time (3-9 months for implementation), stakeholders (2-5 key stakeholders) or by team structures (often a blend of project and operational team members).

These projects often lack the infrastructure of larger projects such as a dedicated Project Management Office with methodologies, tools and templates.

Key project elements

Each project should have the following elements which need to be consistently managed:
  • Scope and stakeholders: Scope defines what is and isn’t being worked on, giving the clearest view on what the project’s outcome will be. Small projects should produce such a scope that is agreed to by all stakeholders, ultimately presenting a picture of ‘what is changing to whom’.
  • Resourcing plan: All too often on small projects time can be borrowed from outside teams at short notice, creating tension for the project manager and the operation or supporting business units. A good way of managing these requests is a forward plan of resource requirements one month ahead of time.
  • Risks and issues: Risks represent events that need to be managed, while issues represent events that have already occurred and require management. The key to effectively managing risks is good process and regular documentation, review and action.
  • Project schedule: The starting point is a work breakdown structure, which is a categorised list of the key activities involved in the project. This forms the inventory in which tasks are created, deliverables defined and owners identified. The key to schedule management is a good outline of activities and deliverables, due dates, and owners and statuses that are all agreed to. The schedule needs to be reported on a regular basis and visible to all stakeholders.
  • Change management: This is the exercise of building awareness, commitment and ultimately buy-in from people impacted by an initiative. The starting point for a solid change plan is to understand the changes to impacted audiences. This is done through an impact assessment which would describe current state, future state and degree of change by audience group. This short, sharp assessment becomes an input into communications planning and deliverables.

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