Best Practices To Manage Short Projects

In a projectized organization, if you want to be sure that the work will be done, every unique effort has to become a project. But not all projects are created equal. While complex timetables and spreadsheets are great for longer projects, short projects need to be managed differently so you can deliver results on time, but still keeping an eye on the details.  In this blog post, I will share some ideas and best practices to manage short projects. 

As a project manager,  you may have a lot of short projects (of two to four weeks projects) coexisting with the larger ones. I’m considering here just the calendar days the project lasts (not effort, scope or money) for doing this short/not short classification.

Usually, short projects need simplified management because you have little time to “plan” (forecast) them,  so you may need simpler tools for managing them.  Let’s dig in!

Best Practices To Manage Short Projects

The Risk Analysis Spreadsheet – OUT

The usual risk analysis spreadsheet (or its equivalent in a software tool) has no less than 20 columns, and you have to meet most of the team to discover and evaluate the risks.  Meetings like that and spreadsheets are too long and unnecessary for short projects. On the other hand, no matter the size of a project, you must evaluate the risks. As a best practice to manage short projects, I don’t recommend investing the time in creating a risk analysis spreadsheet. 

The Schedule – OUT

First of all, we have to define what we understand for schedule. Is it an MS Project Schedule with all the requisites, dates, and resources or just a few bars in an Excel spreadsheet?  I usually don’t need a draw for a four weeks project.

Status Report  – IN

The tool I use for short projects management is a report (that could be a spreadsheet, MS Word Document or soft application) with the following sections:

1.- Some project information like id, main stakeholder, report date, etc.

2.- A grid with the milestones of the project. For each milestone, you have to include the expected end-date and owner. The milestones to include are the ones related to deadlines, delivered work (partial or total, including the deliveries between project teams/persons) and/or timelines for the prerequisites for each task.

Please note that the milestones list not only puts down in black and white what we expect of whom and when, but it also works as a project schedule.

3.- One section (in another grid) of pending actions, with date and owner.  This section registers the pending actions, but it also includes the steps needed to manage risks and issues.

It is not necessary to depict all the actions that a person has to fulfill for the project, it is enough to register the ones that are relevant to the other team members.

As a summary, this is a status report with two grids. One for milestones and other for actions (including risks and issues). This should be enough for tracking and report your short project.

How to populate a status report

There are different kinds of meetings, for short projects should be short meetings.

One type of meeting that has been useful to me is the huddle kind (as in sports). These huddles consist of meeting every day for 15 minutes. There, each team member shares good news, warnings, and their priorities of the day.  

Another similar type of short meetings are the daily meetings of the Scrum methodology in which every team member tells what they did yesterday, what they will do that day, and if there is some obstacle to their work.  

Regarding meetings for populating the report, I propose:

1.- One first meeting to understand the project and fill in for the first time the status report template with all the initial information (milestones, risks, and main actions). This meeting is usually longer than daily meetings.

2.- One, three or five 15-minute meetings each week to monitor the advancement of the project.  These control and monitoring meetings don’t have to last more than 15 minutes. You should decide how often you need these meetings according to the nature of your project. You should also take into consideration how is the actions’ owner reliability to fulfill their commitment.

During these short meetings, you have to update the information of the status report. It is important to use the report as a tool to guide the meeting, and also to update it during the gathering so it doesn’t take up additional time after the meeting.

3.- You can also contact some team member directly to get information about a particular milestone/action/risk or to arrange special sessions if any problem that demand more time arise.

As a summary, with a list of what has to be done that details who and when and a list of actions (including the ones for managing risks), is enough for managing a short project.

Ready to these best practices to manage short projects? Let me know how it goes!

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