Three Perspectives on Project Size

There is a discussion that comes up often in different client engagements: how do you define a project as “big?”  Something happened recently which caused me to reconsider different perspectives on project size.  You see, my daughter broke her arm.

When we saw a specialist to get the cast on, he informed us that she would need relatively minor surgery on her elbow before he could put the cast on.  What’s informative are the perspectives at play here:

  1. The doctor does this thing all of the time.  He probably performs the same surgery 3-4 times a week.  To him, this is a small project.
  2. This is my baby we’re talking about.  They’re going to knock her out and open her up.  To me, this is a large project (which requires a communication plan to ensure the stakeholders, i.e. grandparents, are all kept properly informed).
  3. My daughter has no clue what she’s getting into.  She simply assumes it’s a routine doctor’s visit because that’s her only frame of reference.

…replace “operation” with “project” and you have an informative metaphor.  The answer to whether or not a particular project is “big” within your organization is really subjective and highly dependent on:

  1. How does the proposed scope compare to a project scope that you are accustomed to delivering?   It’s small to the expert, but big to the dilettante.
  2. Have you really assessed the scope of the project to identify whether or not it falls within the “usual” size of a project? (Clearly, my daughter hadn’t.)  How do you know the assessment was correct?  At what point would you revisit that assessment?

…or, to put this in a different, and perhaps more telling light, the project appears the same to the person at the level of conscious competence (the doctor) and the person at the level of unconscious incompetence (my daughter). 

Interesting side note: according to the doctor, the local Gypsy population typically opts out of this surgery.  Apparently, there’s a fair sized Roma population in rural Texas.  Who knew?  (Link to the Texas State Historical Association site on the topic.)

Three Perspectives on Project Size

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