Observations between small and large projects

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on June 22, 2009 in: Project Management

In my project management work I’ve worked with small and large companies to perform a variety of project management and program management tasks including product implementation, business development, strategy initiatives, and more. I’ve collected some observations over the years from my experience in working with small and large companies and I’m jotting it down here:

My role with small businesses when managing their projects is to help busy entrepreneurs who don’t have time to give the attention to the project that it deserves. They may have a vision for the project but simply don’t have the energy or space to get any traction on it. They’re busy running their business so it makes sense to outsource that effort to someone who can get it done for them.

Larger companies that contract my project management services use me for a different reason: They often have 2 or 3 teams – as many as a few dozen people – working on a single project and those teams need to be managed and corralled and political battles need to be worked out. They have the time and energy to run the project but there are so many voices that want to be heard and personal, professional, and “business-political” agendas that want to be fulfilled. They need someone to keep it all together.

So, to borrow imagery from another time, large businesses need me to keep the horses harnessed and going in the same direction while small businesses need me to find some horses and a harness and hook them up to the wagon.

Some further differences are related to the amount of ownership I’m granted over the project. Small businesses often give me a huge amount of ownership. The business owner “transmits” his or her vision to me and I’m asked to run with it (and often to leverage my own experience and expertise to deliver). Large businesses own the project and expect little in the way of ideas and input on product development itself. By the time they’re ready to move forward with a project, there is already an owner.

Lastly, investment and return on investment are two interesting comparisons. Small businesses will usually work on smaller projects themselves and only engage my services when a project is large. Therefore, when comparing a percentage of the budget, small businesses are dedicating a large amount of per-revenue-dollar-earned to the project than their big business counterparts, for whom a project might only be a small fraction of their budget. But the ROI difference is dramatic: Small businesses that are implementing projects big enough to require a project manager are going to see huge returns, even to the point of total business transformation. Large businesses, though, even if they spend a similar budgetary percentage, are not going to see the same dramatic change.

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