Scaling Projects and Scaling the Organization

This post is the second in a series following the session I presented at Drupalcon Austin, entitled "Oh look, we're growing!" In this post, I want to take a look at how growth on the project and organization levels are very similar.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. A Formula for Healthy Project Size Compared to Organization Size
  2. Scaling Projects and Scaling the Organization
  3. Unit Change During Project & Organizational Growth
  4. Family-Sized Business Units & the Agency Holding Company Model
  5. Beware the Matrix Model?
  6. Communication Styles and Team Dynamics
  7. Agile Versus Waterfall, Once and For All
  8. Process Frameworks That Weather Growth
  9. "Why" Not "What" Documentation
  10. Project Manage the Organization
  11. Plan or Pain?

Project Scaling

Scaling projects serves as a great model for organizational growth when it comes to inputs, outputs, process, teams, and more. Let's look at some common elements of any project:

  • Budgets: Every project has a budget that needs to be tracked to by the project manager. The budget usually accompanies an invoice schedule tied to dates or milestones. As projects grow, budgets get more complex, and often estimation methods need to change.
  • Schedules: Project timelines provide the common language shared between all stakeholders on a project to set deliverables for what will be completed when. Project managers need to reliably predict and communicate project schedule to ensure everyone is on the same page and projects ship on time. As projects grow, timeline complexity increases and more phases are defined as part of the project life cycle.
  • Scope Each project has definition of scope that may or may not change, and often becomes more clear throughout the course of a project. The project manger is responsible for understanding, tracking, and identifying change in scope. As projects grow, uncertainty towards the beginning of projects tends to increase, making scope more difficult to define early.
  • Teams Each project team consists of individuals usually selected due to their skill set matching the needs of the project. If the team's skill set is mismatched, it either means there will be inefficiency from ramp-up and learning required to complete the project, or the project will fail. As project teams grow, the need for specialization of roles increases.
  • Communication During project growth, the amount of meeting time required increases in order to keep everyone on the same page, both for the internal team and with external project stakeholders. Clear communication management from the project manager is key.
  • Risk Management On the whole, project managers need to manage risk of all forms for the projects. On small projects, the PM's role is diverse and can be very all-encompassing due to a lower level of complexity. With growing projects comes increasing complexity, and the PM role focuses more heavily on risk management and facilitating great communication.

Organizational Scaling

When viewed through the lens of "everything is a project", organizational growth is essentially a grouping of various projects. Steering the organization as a whole can almost be viewed as a singular project with lots of moving parts. As a result, the elements of steering successful growth are very similar between projects and the organization. Let's look at those common project elements when applied to the organization:

  • Budgets: As an organization grows, the need to plan and maintain a budget increases substantially. The org budget will likely wind up much more complex than any project budget, but estimation methods and planning involved to put the budget together often translate well. Forecasting revenue also becomes critical to business health, which bears semblance to forecasting project revenue across all projects.
  • Schedules: Organizations work on a fiscal and calendar year, and often quarters and months are the measurements of time against which the organization plans. With those measurements, maintaining a 90 day plan and a one year plan with strategies, tactics, and desired deliverables is critical to carefully steering and properly planning growth. The project manager role may not be responsible for defining the goals, but you can certainly manage the organization to meet those goals on time.
  • Scope Scope can be very nebulous for a growing organization, but change management is critical. As the organization plans new initiatives, new hires, new business structures, and other shifts and changes over time, assessing and communicating the impact of those changes from a budgetary and timeline perspective will inform whether or not those plans should be put into action.
  • Teams As organizations grow, departments form, and teams get bigger. Specialization of roles happens at the organization-level just like it does at the project level. The consequences of the wrong team dynamics or skill-set mismatches can be drastic at the organization level.
  • Communication Much like the increasing level of communication complexity on projects, internal organization communication will become exponentially more complex as the organization grows. Simple tools and processes to aid communication is important, but just like with project communication, some people will be better at communication than others. The organization-level project manager should look to be a facilitator of communication where it's lacking. Doing so is especially important within company leadership.
  • Risk Management Growth is all about risk. Even if team members have experienced growth previously and know much of what to expect along the way, there will always be ample unknowns. Project management should avoid being a blocker, but instead make sure all risks are identified and quantified where possible. From there, the team can decide on an acceptable level of risk that correlates to how fast growth is desired.

Given all the similarities, I'm a huge advocate for having a member of the leadership team who fits the "project manager" archetype and has project management experience at the project level. I feel lucky and excited to be in that role at Metal Toad, and I'm excited to continue project-managing the organization as we seek future growth.

How about you? Do you agree with my assessment of the similarities? Are there any major differences that you'd call out? Leave a comment!

Catch me at the Digital PM Summit

Interested in the topic of organizational growth from a PM perspective? Join me and a bunch of fellow PMs at the 2014 Digital PM Summit in Austin! I'll be presenting a talk similar in nature to my Drupalcon presentation and related to this blog series, but new and improved after additional months of experience and iteration. The Bureau of Digital Affairs did a great job with the inaugural 2013 event, and 2014 promises even more in store. With a great lineup of speakers, topics, and of course after-parties, you'll definitely get your monies worth. I hope to see you there!

Date posted: June 18, 2014


As being project manager I understand the importance of project management tool. You are more likely to archive boost in productivity when things are being done in a structured way. I use ProofHub in office for project management and it simplifies everything.

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