The Influence of Scale on Projects
My son is studying for his master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems Mapping (think Google Maps and some of the layers of data in there) and he has to write a paper on how he would approach a project to assess and implement a new GIS system. Given what I do for a living he asked me for some advice (first time for everything!). I took him through some project basics, and we got on to the subject of size. “Dad”, he asked me “Does size matter?”.
“Where do I start?” I thought. Yes, yes it does – and it could be the size of the company, the project complexity, the budget, the project team, the project relative to the size of the company, or the company relative to the size of a supplier. Or all those things. With so many variables I tried to split it in to 2 parts: (a) the project concepts that should stay the same regardless of size; (b) how to tailor the project to fit in with the size, culture, governance, and project experience of the company (or companies) that the project is for.
We started with what should stay the same. I told him that the approach you take to a project and the methodology should not change, whether using Prince2, the APM framework, or Agile development. But that the understanding of that approach and the degree to which you use it can vary from business to business. You still need to go through all the various stages such as supplier selection, planning, running the project, development, testing and dress rehearsals, implementation, and post implementation activity. And you must consider all the stages, as you skip them at your peril, but some may be more light touch depending on the size factors. I furnished him with some of my project management notes to review in his own time (yes, I have a small library of notes as even after 20 years in project management I still need to reference the odd thing every now and then).
We then talked about how size should be considered. In my career I’ve delivered projects for large and small financial firms and the experience can be very different. For example, in one firm I worked for the idea that you could just pop in and cross-check something with the CEO was quite refreshing. But depending on the size of client, as a project manager it means you have to be flexible and have to focus on different things to make sure that the project stays on track and is going to be delivered successfully. I drew my son a very basic matrix to highlight some of my observations relative to company size and asked him to relate this to the company he had in mind for his GIS assignment:
|Size of Company||Advantages||Potential challenges|
He then said ‘ok, but what does this really mean in relation to the project?’ I told him it means several things. For example:
Planning – you need to carefully consider the planning process. Understanding how easy it is to get the project fully established and how long it will take to get decisions from those with the authority needs to be accommodated in the plan. You should be clear on the levels of governance required and the volumes and frequency of meetings and reporting as this could add complexity and time into your plan. Consideration should also be given to the lead times for bringing on board any in-house experts, for example checking if subject matter experts are readily available, or are the Business Architects tied up on other projects for the next 3 months. And in larger companies, resources don’t always continue to be available should the project timelines need to be extended, as they are booked to move on to other projects.
Stakeholders – it highlights the importance of identifying and engaging with stakeholders. Large organisations have many varied businesses and departments that could by impacted by the project or could be required to support the project, and you need to find all of these to ensure there are no surprises further down the line. Obtaining stakeholder engagement and buy-in can be a lengthy process but is essential for successful delivery of the project.
Governance – it can determine the governance approach and can Impact on how the project is to be managed. You need to ensure all the appropriate controls are in place, and that you understand all of the project artifacts that need to be delivered. Get the governance structure that suits the needs of the company.
Project team – the size and complexity of the project correlates to the number of people required, the roles to be covered, and how the team is structured. It will also affect the time required to manage people and obtain progress updates. And considering the size of the company, how big is the pool of available resources and what breadth of experience do they have.
Budget – how far does the budget stretch in relation to the required resources, taking into consideration in-house or external needs. You also need to consider if there is any contingency to cover additional expense or extended time, any impact on the scope (e.g. you can’t have everything you want) or does it limit Change Requests and anything targeted for a phase 2.
Supplier – it can influence the company’s bargaining power and how this relates back into budget or scope. You also need to consider if the supplier is going to be able to cope with the scale and demands of a large company in relation to the project.
‘Plenty of food for thought’ he said as he disappeared to start his research.
I’m keen to see how our discussion plays back into his assignment on the conclusion that size does matter.