Project Management Institute

No small task




When I was in graduate school studying project management, all of the case histories we read were about high-profile, big-budget endeavors that took years to complete.

It was easy to conclude that project management was only for mega-corporations.

Then I made my way into the real world, where I've worked predominantly on rather small projects for small and medium-size organizations.

My first project involved a telecom company that had been struggling for nearly a decade to implement a new IT system. Many workers blamed the programmers, but my initial assessment revealed the real problem: A lack of process was interfering with progress. The company's project approach was diffuse and arbitrary, with no designated person leading the charge. On my suggestion, the CEO issued a project charter. I then assembled a team and started approaching the project in a more systematic, cohesive way. Not only did we meet budget, time and quality goals, the company finally got the system it desperately needed.

Over the years, I have managed many more projects of similar small scale and discovered some alarming patterns:

  • Overconfidence. Organizations think they know about project management—and don't find out otherwise until after they initiate a project.
  • Underestimating the challenge. Organizations conclude that they don't need project management because they consider their project too small or simple.
  • Attempted cost savings. Even when companies realize the need for project management, they talk themselves out of it because they don't want to spend the money.

Sell, Sell, Sell

You could find yourself up against a tough audience, so here are some ideas for promoting project management to small and medium-size organizations:

Educate everyone who will listen. The terms project and project management often get bandied about without real clarity, leaving many people confused. Take the time to explain project management in plain language and illustrate your point with examples of how it can benefit both team members and management. Also, spell out the role of a project manager. Organizations often try to leverage existing resources, such as administrative assistants and technical leads, to handle project management. Let them know that just because someone has been assigned the responsibility to expedite a “project” doesn't mean that person is a qualified project manager.

Learn to say no. Sometimes organizations think they need project management when they actually require a new assistant or new operational processes. If that's the case, steer clear. Using project management in the wrong arena could lead to an unfavorable outcome and leave people questioning its value.


Join the discussion on

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Scale down. Don't overwhelm with overly complicated terminology or analysis. Full-blown project management practice can be beneficial to some organizations, but may be overkill for others, so start with only the essentials. Remember, you can always scale up, but if people are put off by excessively complex project management, you probably won't win them back.

Caution Ahead

Once you're in the trenches, how do you avoid project pitfalls?

Secure a project charter. You may need to counter resistance from functional managers or other workers, and going in armed with a project charter can impart authority.

Get it in writing. The need for documentation remains the same for projects of all sizes. Although you may not need a 50-page project plan, critical information needs to be documented and distributed.

Don't succumb to scope creep. Even on small projects, it's human nature to want more. Have a system in place to control change requests.

Set ground rules for communication. Assertiveness and confrontation can actually be more demanding at smaller companies, where everyone knows each other. Encourage honest dialogue and help team members understand that feedback is not a personal attack.

Deliver results. Actions speak louder than words. Once you've shown what project management can do, companies will come back for more.

Bigger doesn't have to mean better. It's up to you to make the case that no matter how small the project or organization, project management can help. PM


Eri Swager, PMP, is president of Luxerge LLC, an IT consulting firm in Houston, Texas, USA. She currently serves as an IT project manager for the United Nations' Principles for Responsible Investment and is a member of the PMI Houston and Tokyo, Japan chapters. Read her expanded take on project management for small and medium-sized organizations in the Knowledge Shelf at


RAISE YOUR VOICE No one knows project management better than you, the practitioners “in the trenches.” So PM Network launched its Voices on Project Management column. Every month, project managers will share ideas, experiences and opinions on everything from sustainability to talent management, and all points in between. If you're interested in contributing, please send your idea to

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