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Friday, 08 August 2014 21:34

How Big is a Project in Your Organization? Featured

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This content is from the Method123 weekly email dated 2014.08.07.

Projects are not routine. They are managed differently than routine operational work. Projects have a start and end-date. There is a point in time when the work did not exist (before the project), when it does exist (the project), and when it does not exist again (after the project). This is the key determinant of whether a piece of work is a project.

Other characteristics of a project include:

  • All projects are unique. They may be similar to prior projects but they are unique in terms of timeframes, resources, business environment, etc.

  • Projects result in the creation of one or more deliverables.

  • Projects have assigned resources - either full-time, part-time or both. This is reflected in a true budget or an implicit budget based on allocated resources.

  • Projects have a defined scope of work. 

That being said, you need to be practical. In theory, projects can be one hour, 100 hours or 10,000 hours (or more). So, you must recognize that, although the creation of a small deliverable is a project, it does not need the structure and discipline of a much larger project. For a one-hour project, you 'just do it'. Any planning, analysis and design is all done in your head. A 100 hour project probably has too much work to plan and manage all in your head. For instance, you need to start defining the work and building a simple schedule. A 10,000 hour project needs full project management discipline.

Our model for scaling projects is to use a scale of small, medium and large. We use effort hours as the key criteria for sizing projects. This seems to be a true complexity factor. Duration is not a good factor since it varies depending upon the resources committed. For example, a 100 hour project could take 20 weeks if you can only spend five hours a week. The basic scale is as follows.

  • Small Project - less than 250 effort hours
  • Medium project - between 251 and 2500 effort hours
  • Large project - over 2500 effort hours 

In your company, the effort hours for categorizing projects may be different. However, in general, smaller projects need very little rigor and structure. Larger projects need more structure. 

Summary. The definition of a project covers work that could be as little as a minute. However, no organization is going to track one minute projects, or one hour projects. Even though these are all technically projects, your organization should have a minimum threshold that you use before you consider the work to be an official project. Our threshold is 250 hours. What is yours?  

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at


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