Big Projects, Done Small

Computerworld – Frank Hayes suggests that in order to ensure success of a major project, it should be broken down into many smaller projects.  He quotes Roger Sessions and Fred Brooks, and presents arguments to support this conclusion, but overlooks two major flaws in this proposal.  The dependencies that will exist between the smaller projects, and the evaporation of links between them as they are proposed and considered separately during budget reviews.

Recent research suggests that “sub-million-dollar IT projects have a better-than-75% success rate. Once the budget passes $10 million, the chance of success drops below 10%.”  Enormous projects are popular with C-Level Management and Project Managers as they look good on resumes and bring political clout, successful or not.  On the flip side, once projects of this magnitude are broken up into several smaller projects, they can become subject to scrutiny more often as budgets are considered and reconsidered, and are less impressive.

Rather than breaking a major project into smaller projects and hoping that all of the sub-projects that may appear unrelated or unnecessary for other project successes are approved, re-approved and moved forward, I suggest that they be managed by breaking them into related projects under the Program Management umbrella and maintaining their dependencies and linkages.  Programs are typically longer term projects or groups of projects that will have many components or phases.  They are linked together to achieve the pre-defined goals and objectives of the overarching program.  The key is that the links, dependencies, and big picture goals of the program are maintained over time.  This keeps management from unintentionally stopping progress on the collective program by stalling or stopping a key project.

So, I support the concept, but would insist that the implementation maintain formal direction, management and goal setting alignment efforts.