Small Project Plan

Do I Really Need a Project Plan for a Small Project?

So they assigned you a small project to straighten up the supply room. Only two of you are going to work on it. It shouldn’t take more than two weeks. Everybody’s talking about how you need to get this one out of the way so the company can start the really important projects. These factors create the temptation to quickly begin work without a project plan because it’s just a small project.  You’ll “plan as we go,” and get this little project out of the way. Besides, the sponsor and everybody else who even knows about this will be very happy if you start quickly. They say, “Hell, you know how to straighten up the supply room so just get started!” But starting fast without a plan is always the wrong thing to do.

Is the Project Plan for a Small Project the Same As the Plan for a Big Project?

The plan for a small project is very different from the plan for a large project.  The project plan for the effort described above will fit on one side Small project planof a piece of paper. It will contain just these elements:

  • the project scope defined by an acceptance criteria
  • the resources required to deliver that scope
  • the major risks
  • the project constraints
  • the sponsor’s and stakeholders’ sign offs

Let’s talk about these elements one at a time. Why do you need the project scope? It would be foolish to begin work without having the sponsor’s agreement on the deliverable you have to produce.  So you go to the boss and say, “I need to get the scope of this project pinned down.”

The boss gives a sigh of exasperation and looks up at the ceiling before saying to you, “Clean up the office supply room. I’m wasting way too much time dealing with people’s complaints about it.”

Your ears perk up at the mention of complaints about the supply room. So you ask, “Do you want me to just clean it up or do you want to reduce the number of complaints you’re getting?”
The boss says, “You’re right. I don’t want you to just give the supply room a fast cleanup. I want to reduce the number of complaints.”
You ask, “How many complaints do you get now and what would be an acceptable number?”
The boss consults the computer on his desk and says, “I got 25 complaints last week. I don’t expect perfection but if you could cut that down to 3 I’d be real happy with this project.”
“Great,” you say. “So the scope is 3 or fewer complaints a week about the supply room.”
The boss nods agreement and you enter that in your tablet. Then you ask, “What are they complaining about?”
The boss leans back to think and says, “A lot of different things. But 15 of the 25 complaints are about us being out of stock on the items they need.”
You reply, “So if we want to get down to 3 complaints, we have to solve this problem of “stock-outs” and some of the other problems. That may take a lot longer. Can you be satisfied with cutting the complaints to 5 or less a week?”
The boss says, “Yes, I’ll take that. Just deal with the stock-out problem.”
You say, “Okay, I’ll be back with a short, one page project plan for you to sign off. Then we’ll start work.”
Asking a few questions to define the scope and having a conversation to learn what the boss/sponsor wants is always worth the effort. Think about what would have happened if you had done a fast job straightening up the supply room but the number of complaints didn’t change?  The boss might’ve been very unhappy with you. That’s why you should always do a project plan that specifies the scope.

What Is the Rest of the Small Project Plan?

The rest of your small project plan is specifying the high-level deliverables. On this project, they might include setting a reorder point for every item and keeping track of the withdrawals from the supply room.

Then you do a rough estimate of the amount of work that you and your assistant have to do. That might be 20 hours.

Next you identify the constraints on the project. They might be a budget of $5,000 and a duration (completion date) of 2 weeks from the start date. You and your assistant combined can work on the project 10 hours a week.

Then you identify the risks the project faces. They might include lack of cooperation from people in signing out what they take out of the supply room.

Finally, you ask the boss and possibly some of the affected department heads to sign off on your small project plan. Then you start work.

Learn how to create a small project plan in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager via live online video conferences, phone calls and e-mails. You control the course schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences with your instructor as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

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Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on