Big projects equal big challenges

The growing number of start-up companies has created new challenges in project management. These companies got some small projects delivered but encountered project slippage and cost overrun when working on bigger projects or projects in concurrence.

After being “burnt” a few times, most of them started to bring in project managers. Some problems were solved but new challenges arose at the same time. With the earlier small projects, people didn’t need to report their status; now, they were being asked for details on status and issues. Previously, they didn’t need to document the requirements and design; now, the project managers want documentation, checkpoint reviews and change requests evaluation.

And everyone saw these changes differently. Team members complained they had lost their “freedom.” Project managers said that they were managing project risk. Senior management wanted timely project deliverables and predictable project outcomes together with no complaints from team members.

These projects were delivered, but there was more “heat” within the team. What happened?

People had got used to the previously “free” way of running projects. With bigger projects requiring more planning, co-ordination and monitoring, team members have become overwhelmed.

Is there an easy way out? No. There are no hard and fast rules to solve this.

Both sides will need to understand where each is coming from. My advice is to pay more attention to team building. Project managers will also have to be more patient and empathetic, and understand that this change will need time. Team members need to be convinced of the benefits of operating differently. It is important not to over-impose many project management processes at the early stage for these companies.

I am not saying project managers should give up or compromise on their passion for best practices, but too many processes at an early stage will often generate more resistance than benefits. It is better to encourage the team to use a simple project management framework. After some demonstrated project successes, the project manager can begin to lead the team to adopt the framework in other projects. In the third stage, the project manager can lead the team to adopt processes more explicitly. It is important to make the transition in stages from “encourage” to “lead” as well as from “framework” to “processes.”

While project management methodology and systems development life cycle (SDLC) methodology are different things, it will often ease up the life of a project manager if the systems development department follows a SDLC methodology. Another suggestion is to broaden the exposure of team members with lessons learnt from other growing companies. Forums or focus group sessions allow cross-sharing of “growing pain” projects experience.

So do project managers need to change? Project stakeholders today are expecting deliveries within three to six months. Project managers must understand this, pick the appropriate development strategy and avoid spending excessive time in project planning.

Ten to 15 years ago, projects were typically up to two years in duration, with 15 plus team members. In a survey in 2000, it was found that 45 per cent of the projects today have a duration of six to 12 months, 29 per cent of three to six months, 14 per cent of one to two years and seven per cent of more than two years. Nowadays, project managers are often managing two or three projects of many months duration with up to four team members. Speed-to-market and managing several projects in concurrence are more crucial requirements for project managers.

Do you have what it takes to get there to be this “new” type of project manager? We’ll explore that in future columns.

Cheung is a Certified Project Management Professional. She has 20 years of experience in information technology and 12 years in project management. She can be reached at