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Problems with Scaling in Project Management

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 7/11/2011

In theory, scalability is a desirable feature in any project. Practical considerations however, may make scaling not so desirable. Read on to find out why scaling of size in project management does not work.

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    Scalability in Project Management

    Scaling in Project Management Scalability is the ability of a system or process to handle growing amounts of work or enlarge itself when required. Such resilience comes on the establishment of robust systems and procedures, and establishing a strong knowledge base that makes prioritization of tasks easy. Scalability of an enterprise refers to the business model that allows handling potential growth and where the proportion of variable costs remains the same irrespective of volumes. If the elements of the system fall apart on an increased load, such systems do not have scalability.

    Despite the apparent advantages of scalability and the limitations of a non-scaled system, scalability related to need is not always be a good option in project management owing to factors such as location, budgetary considerations, and complexity.

    Image Credit (MorgueFile)

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    Location Factors

    Scaling the model of a small project for a large project not only means multiplying actions many times over, but also missing some considerations essential for large projects but irrelevant to small projects. Large projects spread over many locations and employing many thousands of employees needs to incorporate factors such as cross-cultural complexities, divergent labor laws, data storage and transfer issues, co-ordination issues, time zone differences, and other factors when implementing projects. Such considerations remain irrelevant for small projects confined to the same geographical location and implemented by a handful of employees. Similarly, scaling down large project models for small projects make many functions and processes redundant, causing loss of operational efficiency and wasted efforts.

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    Budget Considerations

    A major reason why scaling of size in project management does not work is budgetary considerations. Small projects score on their flexibility. Identification of a problem and finding solutions usually leads to earmarking a budget in an ad-hoc manner. Large projects require other considerations such as the executive management’s approval based on consideration of several priorities. Scaling a large project model to smaller projects causes small projects to lose their speed and edge, and scaling small projects to big projects means large project approvals and budgeting not undergoing the required checks and balances.

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    Another reason why scaling of size in project management does not work relates to complexity. Development of big projects that involve complexity based on established methodologies, and success depends on following specific tools and procedures. The success of small projects, however, depends on flexibility and needs strong connectivity between the project process and goal, which big projects do not require. Extending the flexible model of small projects to big projects causes problems such as vagueness, over-dependence on key personnel, and other issues. Similarly, extending big project models to smaller projects might make such projects too restricted to become effective.

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    The Agile Approach

    Many companies approach the problem of scalability in projects by developing many small, self-managing Agile project teams, all working off the same product backlog. Such an approach, however, is not free from issues. Agile development problems relate to insufficient training, poor communications, failure to apply risk management techniques, and more. Success depends on smooth handling of the dependencies and interfaces that grow between such Agile teams, and limiting the single product backlog resultant from this approach to manageable levels.