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Project Management

Importance of Small Projects

Do you want to work on next big project to save the company? Small projects can do the same or wreak havoc. They also may be more fun.

Small internal projects are the glue that pulls large projects together and support daily operations. They make people’s lives easier and can potentially have a huge impact on the bottom line.

This concept applies to ALL projects, not just computer apps. A small construction project can bring in a much larger order later. It did for one company on our house remodeling project.

If managed correctly, they provide wonderful training platforms for new leaders and employees.


A small project may differ in the mind of management when the staff is 200 than from one with a staff of 20.

My first estimate after I joined EDS was in work hours. They were used to thinking in months and could not grasp how long the project would take. I had to change everything to days.

The definition of a small project here is normally work for one individual from start to finish. It can occasionally include more than one person. I was once team lead for a 3-week project with 3 other programmers.

For IT projects, a small project can be from one day to about 3 months as long as it has a full Development Life Cycle, but condensed to a reasonable size .

Some organizations include Maintenance but that means that the project never ends.

For example, EDS had a

  • Large Service Request (SIR) required approval by the coordinating committee,
  • Small Service Request less than 60 development days required approval between the IT and Business manager,
  • Standard One-Day Consultation SIR used for meetings and simple changes.

I used the standard one-day SIR to create a database, complete with maintenance pages, reports and user manual, that coordinated production between two factories — in 7 ½ hours. That included user acceptance testing. It can be done with the right tools.

My manager did not know how to react. It was an entire system (“app” in today’s terminology). They passed a new rule that an entire system had to have its own SIR no matter how long it took.

Users don’t feel ignored

The most common complaint from users is that they are ignored by IT. One problem is that some organizations assign projects based on estimated ROI (Return on Investment).

Small projects don’t normally show much ROI. However, completing a large number of small projects over the year really improves relations between the IT department and the user community.

Unforeseen benefits

I have found that ROI is unpredictable.

In one case, I badgered my manager for two weeks to let me work on one monthly report generated by hand by one person. Finally, I was allowed to work on it after 4:00 PM each day.

When complete, it highlighted to the group VP a pricing problem in one product line. When corrected, profits increased $2,000,000 the next year.

My first project out of college increased the company’s share of the entire market by 20%. I have had others that just made people’s lives easier but had no measurable ROI.

Practical example

In my last position before retirement, I worked in a regional office of a publishing company. They used Excel spreadsheets to enter data into the database.

IT management did not consider Excel to be a professional development platform. There was no test environment!

While becoming familiar with the company during my first two weeks, I created my own small project to set up a test environment. Then, I added a toggle button to all of the workbooks.

When in the test environment, the button changed the heading banners and the upload button to red, pointed to the test database, and warned the reporters that they were in test mode when they saved their data.

Benefits of the new test environment:

  • Users could test changes without damaging production data (expected benefit)
  • I could copy a problem workbook to the test environment to fix problems during crunch time while the reporter continued working. Normally the reporter would stop work while the problem was being fixed (unforeseen benefit).
  • Management used it for training new staff (unforeseen benefit)

Similar projects at other companies have increased our credibility, found millions of dollars in savings, helped immensely with union negotiations and got OSHA off of our back.

Unforeseen risks

Although small projects may not be much in ROI, they can carry very high risks if they fail.

In my article, “Don’t YOU be the Cause of an IT Project Failure”, the companies lost tens of millions of dollars. In all three cases, IT management changed the original project goal and directly caused the project failure.

Stopgap solution

Frequently, a short term project can be implemented to solve part of a business problem, thus making user’s life easier while the mega project is being built. The users are usually grateful to get any help.

Occasionally, the data collected by the small project was later used to populate the larger app. In one case, the Federal auditors required that an interim report be included as part of the final audit process.

New employee training

I used small projects to train new employees in the company’s business environment, technical environment and company culture.

We also evaluated the new employee’s versatility when they had to do multiple programming and project management tasks.

Support for Super Users

Some employees, i.e. Super Users, gain enough expertise to build their own support tools in Excel, MS Access or some other tool.

I always provided expert advice and encouraged them to follow professional standards, such as documentation, user instructions and better techniques.

Benefits for IT:
1. New IT projects when they reach their limit of expertise
2. A good starting point for the new project, easy transfer of knowledge
3. Test data for that new project


It costs too much for IT departments to ignore, or worse belittle, small projects. Just the relationship between IT and the user community can be jeopardized.

Management can benefit the company and themselves if even one or two people are allocated to small projects and the projects are treated in a professional manner.

Supplemental Notes

Post implementation adjustments (defined)
Final implementation is not the time to go on vacation. Users will do things that the development team never dreamed of. Hidden design flaws and coding bugs may manifest themselves. Some will require immediate fixes.

I usually allocate 5% of the construction time to these adjustments. Once through this phase, the project can be signed off.

Originally published at January 22, 2019. Modified for the Medium format.

William “Bill” Myers, Analyzes all, Programmer, retired. If you learn anything new, find enjoyment, have a new thought, then I’m successful. Photo: 1st article

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