Recently, I experienced the challenge of having a short project, and I mean really short: a 2-week project.
A dramatic reenactment of that would look like this:
I’m called to action. There’s a new project and it’s got my name all over it. I’ve gotten the assignment and I’m ready to really dig into that SoW and prepare for kickoff.
My face shows focus and excitement. Funny… someone must have gotten the dates wrong; the project starts tomorrow and runs for only two weeks. That can’t be right. Is that right? Now my face shows confusion and fear. Messages go out via all known communication methods. Confirmation. It is right.
We had been hired to create functional prototypes for a user testing engagement. There was a finite date for this testing and it was quickly approaching. The prototypes have to take into account about six different flows and countless use cases. Like the delivery date, the budget was also fixed and finite; we had to do some fancy number games to get the right team composition to ensure the success of the project.
- Type of Client Company: Home appliance
- Type of project: Prototyping for user testing
- Cost or cost range: $20,000 – $50,000
- Timeline: 2-3 weeks
- Team size: 5
- Methodology: N/A
- Main goal: Accomplish prototyping to client specifications prior to user panel testing date
- Main challenge: Getting assets needed from the client to turn around a timely prototype
So What Now?
Decisions need to be made around what stays and what goes from your normal project checklist. The team is quickly on boarded and the internal expectations are shaped around the unexpected and unyielding demands of a two-week project.
Project managers face all kinds of surprises, and each one comes with a special flavor all its own. They’re seasoned with “Stay in Scope and Budget”, “Produce the Deliverable” and “Unify the Team”.
On a normal project, these things are par for the course and something we are all trained to do using our charismatic PM ways. But this is no normal project. Condensing a full cadence of ceremonies and processes into a two week period is simply not going to happen without a magic wand.
I haven’t seen any of those in my office, but by all means, if you have one, use it.
Assuming, like me, that you are without magical resources, a real problem has been presented to you and you must find a solution—like, yesterday. The most helpful thing to do is start with a basic list of questions to help you navigate the best path to achieving the deliverable on such a short deadline.
2-Week Project Tips: How To Manage A Short Project
Here are the 5 questions I recommend starting with (and the answers as they pertained to my project):
1. Who comprises my team and are they armed with the tools and assets they need to at least begin work?
Given the parameters, we ended up with a team comprised of a Delivery Director, a Project Manager, an Architect and two offshore Developers. We were relying heavily on the provision of assets to base design on and this became a bit of a blocker at one point, resulting in the addition of another developer for a day or two.
2. What meetings are crucial (daily standups, demos, etc.) and what can be disregarded (retros, grooming, etc.)?
We decided that daily stand ups with the client and demos were the two essentials for a project this short. Namely because the key here is staying aligned and on time. Failing at one of those would jeopardize the success of the whole project.
3. Does your team and your client have a thorough understanding of what is being developed and delivered? Is there complete alignment?
Thanks to the meetings mentioned, our continued touchpoints ensure alignment through delivery.
4. What does the full timeline of this project look like? When are check-in points, QA, revisions…?
The timeline was established going into it but had to remain very flexible. There were quite a few last minute “let’s jump on a call” meetings to clarify issues and defects that arose during development.
5. Does this lead to another SOW that expands on this portion?
In our case, it doesn’t, but more similar work will be granted to us in the future as these prototypes are needed.
Answering these questions, as I did above, will give you a good starting point to guide the following weeks of work. Unfortunately, with a project this short, some of the typical discovery items you’d research during kickoff are going to be revealed along the way, parallel to development.
- At the very start of the project, establish a real-time method of communication with the client. This type of deadline will require immediate response to questions and the standard respectable delay will not suffice. Slack, Hipchat or Gchat or all good options (check out this article for other communication tools).
- It will be very important to allow key players the time needed to actually do the work. Bogging them down with meetings is going to risk your ability to deliver on time. Keep the workers working and be diligent about relaying information as needed.
- TALK TO YOUR TEAM! Keep a constant pulse on what they need, how it’s going and any and all possible blockers. This goes for any project but is especially important for one that is so short-lived.
What Are The Disadvantages Of This Type Of Project?
Maybe disadvantage isn’t the right word, but you will definitely not have certain elements of projects that most DPM really enjoy.
- You will not have time to build the same level of rapport you would on a “typical” project (with your client or your team if it is new).
- You will not get to explore related features as you normally would and strategize best use cases.
- You will not get to test to the fullest capacity and there will still be defects on the last day.
- You may suffer from lack of role clarity because everyone is operating on all cylinders just trying to get to the finish line.
What Are The Advantages Of This Type Of Project?
Believe it or not, there are some things that a short-lived project will teach you.
- You will learn to quickly prioritize and streamline process to get the most successful outcome.
- You will learn to let go of the things that are “nice to have” and focus on the must-haves.
- You’ll find ways to accelerate working relationships. Think of it as going from introduction to marriage and skipping all of the dating in between.
All things considered, It’ll be important not to look at this as simply two weeks. Even if you know for a fact that there is no further work after this project, you have to think of that as a temporary state. This is where your account planning comes in.
If you really deep dive into the account, do you see where your company can be instrumental in improving areas for your client? Do you have contacts that you can introduce to the key players in your departments for discussion on further growth? Building out this kind of account plan, can take what seems like an exercise in futility with a two week project and turn it into a long-standing client relationship.
In the end, you’re the digital project manager—whether you just started or you have earned so many designations that you have begun creating your own acronyms at the end of your name—and it is your job to deliver a successful project to your client. Is there really an optimal length of a project? Or do we simply have projects of various lengths all requiring our skills to mitigate risk and deliver per the agreement?
What Do You Think?
Have you ever done a 2-week project? What’s your experience managing projects on a tight timeframe? What have your experiences been with projects of various lengths?