It Was An Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny……

Finding the right balance of documentation and methodology can be challenging on small projects. Here are some guidelines I use when managing smaller projects.

I have been managing small projects for some time now. Some of my project are really tiny, I’m talking about 8 hours of work max. Others can be 2 week or month-long projects. Some span several months, and then you get up into the 6 month and year plus undertakings.

As a student of project management, I have often struggled with finding the right level of planning and documentation for these various sizes of projects. Some things are obvious, as in I’m not going to go through a formal project plan and communication plan, etc. for an 8 hour project.

As a rough guideline, here is what I use:

Level 1 (Projects longer than 6 months in duration)
-Full blown project planning and documentation for whatever is appropriate to the project

Level 2 (Projects 1-6 months in duration)
-Simplified project planning document, which includes brief communications and risk plans, along with scope definition, limitations, objectives, and deliverables. Also containts a simple WBS and Gantt-style task list with dependencies, owners, estimates, and a timeline.
-Weekly status reports to stakeholders
-Project meeting agenda/minutes template – I use this to document the agenda before meetings about the project, then update it immediately after the meetings and send it out to all the stakeholders. It includes a section for decisions regarding agenda items, and a seperate section for action items.

-Project Closure report at the end which summarizes the business benefits gained and effort spent. This is a good post-mortem look at ROI. Lessons learned are also attached to this.

Level 3 (Projects 1 to 4 weeks in duration)
-Simple project request form, where the requestor fills out their definition of requirements and business justification. Since these requests are fairly simple, I normally work out the details of the requirements over the phone with the customer, and just make updates in my project documentation log (which I keep for all projects big and small)
-Weekly status reports to all stakeholders (sometimes yes, sometimes no – depends on the project)

-Project Closure Report

Level 4 (Less than 1 week)
-For this I still have the simple project request form
-Email when the deliverable (usually 1) is ready for validation, asking for approval

I keep detailed activity logs for all levels of projects, even if it’s a 2 hour job. My department has a sharepoint site set up that works really slick for this.

I find that using these guidelines, and the templates I’ve developed, really makes it easy for me to keep my ducks in a row and keep my stakeholders informed about what is going on, for any small to medium project I am managing. For more information, check out this great article by Simon Buehring which I found today and very closely matches my style for managing small projects.

About the author

JoshNankivel Josh Nankivel is a Project Planning & Controls Control Account Manager and contractor for the ground system of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a joint project between the USGS and NASA. His academic background includes a BS in Project Management, summa cum laude.  He can be found writing and contributing in many places within the project management community, and his primary project management website is located at


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