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Oct 23, 2013 by Patrick Icasas in PM Best Practices & News

Ambition Kills: Why Big Projects Should Think Small

Organizations can sometimes get infatuated with big projects that seem impressive in concept, but wind up being complete wastes of time and money. Bigger companies mean bigger ambitions; and bigger ambitions mean bigger failures.  The goals might be important—even necessary—but taking on a massive project in one go is courting disaster.

A Budget too Big to Swallow

Most PMOs are used to working with tight budgets, scrimping and saving each spare minute of time and effort that they can. While it can be severely limiting, a beneficial side effect is creating a lean, efficient team that can get things done quickly and with minimal bureaucracy.

A monstrous budget, on the other hand, offers plenty of temptation. More money for billable hours tempts teams to take their time, which extends the project calendar. Contractors jack up their prices to take advantage of the larger budget.

Tracking costs for such a huge undertaking would be a project all its own. All those costs for one project can add up to a financial nightmare, as accounting tries to make sense of who spends for what.

The Endless Road

Regular projects can range from a few months to a year or so depending on the industry. But really big projects, like digitizing a nationwide healthcare system, can last years at a minimum.

It’s nearly impossible to accurately plan that far ahead without a crystal ball, but that’s not the real problem. With such a large calendar to work under, project teams risk losing their perspective. Milestones lose their urgency, and teams have a harder time maintaining their focus and motivation. Any effort you might can seem like a drop in the bucket in the larger scheme of things. As a result, costs balloon and deadlines extend for no benefit at all.

Divide and Succeed

The best way to handle big projects is to divide them into multiple smaller, more manageable mini-projects—just like you’d divide a project into tasks.

This can solve a lot of the problems I mentioned above. Each mini-project can have its own defined budget, so that they are still held accountable for their costs, but with extra resources in reserve in case they really need it. It also helps make it easier to track.

Taking things one project at a time also gives your project teams a sense of accomplishment. They’re not slogging away at one huge pile of work anymore. They’re producing many small, important parts of a more cohesive whole. This difference in perspective works wonders for their focus and motivation, and will result in better quality components that will benefit the larger project.

Just to be clear, a large project with grand objectives isn’t a bad thing. But taking the project in one huge chunk is. Doing it in smaller, more manageable chunks will result in work that is faster, cheaper, and of better quality than a single lumbering, overfed project can put out.

Image credit, Flickr, blmiers2

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Patrick Icasas

Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.

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