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Managing Small Outsourced Projects

Project management and outsourcing go hand-in-hand. The problem with project management is that it often accompanies tons of paperwork and overhead. That's why so many people try to avoid it for small outsourced projects. They think a small outsourced project doesn't warrant the same management procedures that a large outsourced project does. And in a sense, they're right. A small outsourced project will certainly benefit from some type of management. It just doesn't need the same type of management a large outsourced project. But don't think that because its size is small, it can be ditched. Completely eliminating project management is a sure-fire way to guarantee a total mess.

Here's how to manage small outsourced projects without going crazy.

Make a Plan. Just because an outsourced project is small, that's no reason to assume its development doesn't need some sort of plan. You'll still need to work out required tasks, estimate how long those tasks will take, work out how many outsourcing service providers are required, and then assign those tasks to the appropriate contractors.

Define Deliverables. Documenting deliverables helps communicate what's to be expected from the contractors working on the project. It doesn't matter if the documentation takes up no more than a page of text, they're important and they need to be present. Without them, people will interpret them in unexpected ways which will could create more work in an effort to correct mistakes.

Minimize Documentation and Focus on Delivery. One of the arguments against using project management methodologies in outsourcing is that they're very process-oriented, resulting in vast quantities of documentation that aren't practical. It's a valid argument, and any method which focuses on producing documentation at the expense of delivering results will be a hindrance. After all, project management is supposed to deliver objectives, not an encyclopedia.

That leaves us with an important question: How much documentation is really necessary? The short answer is as much as is required by the project. If documentation helps deliver business objectives, then produce it. If not, don't waste time with too much of it.

Communicate and Track Progress. Even small projects need diligent communication. It can't be assumed that another person will know what they're supposed to do without tasks being effectively communicated. Tracking and reporting progress will help ensure communication. Even a short daily email message detailing the work completed, work still left to do, and a list of any issues/problems will be sufficient .

Adjust to Changes Quickly. For a small project, there shouldn't be any need for fancy change management. A quick discussion should be sufficient provided you can quickly work out the impact on a project's cost and schedule. Just try to avoid 'scope creep' where the project grows bigger and bigger as more and more changes are added. A project that's subject to scope creep never gets completed.

Don't Forget Risks. There will be risks even on a small project. Most can be prevented by thinking through all the potential risks at the beginning of the project, and then planning how to deal with them when/if encountered. Failing to properly manage risk is one the main causes for projects to fail. Fortunately, the overhead in managing risks is very low. It can take you a little over a couple of hours to properly manage risks for a small outsourced project, and half an hour to review all the risks and think of new ones.