Is Your Project Too Big to Succeed?

We’ve all heard the phrase “too big to fail,” but PMs should also be mindful that some projects could be too big to succeed. That doesn’t mean these monster efforts can’t get to the finish line—they’re often strategically important, and failure is simply not an option. Instead, it means project teams need to take some steps to tame their large initiatives and ensure they can deliver the expected results.

big project

First, gather your key team members and project stakeholders for a candid discussion about the size of the initiative. Now look over the proposed project as a group and determine why this effort is bigger than what you normally tackle. Is it long in duration? Are there a multitude of achievables involved? Does it impact several locations? Are you short-handed and simply not staffed as well as usual? You need to know where the project’s large size presents challenges and which factors are likely to cause problems down the road. This is the time to air your concerns and find out what others on your team think. Ask if they feel the project is too unwieldy and drill down into what’s worrying them, too. You may discover their apprehension centers on issues you hadn’t even considered.

Because large projects have a lot of moving parts, you should use this opportunity to document the risks you see on the horizon associated with the enormity of the effort. You may already have a plan or tools available to help mitigate those risks but right now you want to get them on the table so everyone is aware of the potential trouble spots. Risk areas are likely to range from concerns about maintaining engagement with an uncommonly large stakeholder base, for example, to ensuring your project budget remains available even as you cross from one fiscal year to the next. In the early stages of this exercise you don’t want to overlook anything, so create a comprehensive list to help guide you. Also, don’t put energy into developing solutions for these risks yet—you need to bring them into one place before you can start addressing them.

Now consider the details of those potential hurdles you identified in the beginning. For instance, you may anticipate logistical difficulties associated with staffing numerous jobsites. Workforce issues could hamper your ability to sustain the right level of support if the project will stretch over many months. Simply maintaining sponsor engagement could be a cause for concern if your organization is in the midst of leadership changes or a restructuring that might move a key supporter into a role that is no longer affiliated with the project’s goals. Once you’ve thoroughly explored the likely effects of an immense initiative’s scope, you can then begin to develop a plan to make it more manageable.

With a good handle on your concerns and an understanding of where risks lurk within your large project, it’s time to figure out how to turn worry into success. One strategy to explore is breaking your big initiative into several smaller efforts. This often enables more fine-tuning around resource management and task planning, and may also segment your stakeholders into more workable groups. Depending on the project, it might make sense to add internal staff or hire strategically to fill specific expertise gaps. You should also look at the possibility of partnering with a project management consultancy, since time and staffing pressures are likely part of the reason you’re questioning the scope or schedule, and additional competency around planning will give you a significant advantage in ensuring your big project reaches a successful completion.


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