Small vs. big projects, and the differences in managing them

When projects grow in size and complexity, so do the methodologies used to manage them

Dear Bob ...

I'm a big fan of your "Bare Bones Project Management" book. I've used it to manage a few small projects over the past couple of years, and with great success.

[ Also on InfoWorld: "The world's quickest course in project management" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

I showed it to a professional project manager here, who read it, tossed it back to me, and said it's so oversimplified that it's practically worthless.

He's a good project manager, and in general I trust his judgment. So now I'm confused. What am I missing?

- BBPMer

Dear BBPMer ...

First, let's talk about what your PM friend is missing: You've used the techniques and they work. That's a fact, which means he shouldn't ignore it.

I suspect what he really meant is that for the bigger, more complex projects he has to manage, "Bare Bones Project Management" leaves out far too much to be useful.

He's right.

Among the specifics, here are two to point you in the right direction. The first is risk management. "Bare Bones Project Management" barely touches on it, and for a professional project manager, dealing with risks is vital -- the equivalent of business continuity management, instituted at the project level.

The second is cost management. On big projects with lots of participants coming and going as things progress, keeping track of labor, materials, and capital expenditures can become amazingly complicated. Professional PMs spend a lot of their times acting like miniature accounting departments -- including having to be prepared should the auditors come by for a look.

There's more besides, but this should be enough to get you started.

- Bob